Another Lockerbie trial? Gadhafi’s downfall spurs new calls for bomber’s extradition

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

With the fall of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi regime widely anticipated, some American lawmakers are calling anew on Libyan opposition leaders to agree to turn over the Libyan official who was convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, 59, a reported former Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted by a Scottish court in 2001 for the bombing and sentenced to life in prison.

Scottish authorities released Megrahi two years ago and allowed him to return to Libya, citing compassion because Megrahi supposedly was dying within weeks of cancer. Megrahi received a hero's welcome upon his return to Libya. The United States government as well as some of the Lockerbie victims' families denounced the deal; several American lawmakers have since raised concerns that it was done less on any medical-legal basis than to benefit British business interests in Libya, including those of British Petroleum.  The British government has of course denied that to be the case. (The 2009 return of Megrahi to Libya occurred under then British prime minister Tony Blair and was opposed at the time by David Cameron, the current Conservative Party British prime minister who was then serving as an opposition member of Parliament.)

Not only has Megrahi not died in the two years since he was returned to Libya, but last year a British doctor involved in the medical recommendation said that Megrahi probably had a 50 percent chance of living several more months, maybe even years.

Last month, Megrahi--apparently very much alive--was seen on video attending a pro-Gadhafi rally in Tripoli (see the photo on the top right)."The release of al-Megrahi was a total miscarriage of justice," said Kristin Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from New York, in a statement Monday. "Seeing him participate in good health at a pro-Gadhafi rally recently was another slap in the face not just for the families of the Lockerbie victims, but for all Americans and all nations of the world who are committed to bringing terrorists to justice."

Libya's transitional government "should immediately seek justice and hold this terrorist accountable by sending him back to prison," Gillibrand continued.

Her call was echoed by other lawmakers from the New York and New Jersey delegations. (Many of those killed in the 1988 terrorist act were study abroad students originally from the New York and New Jersey area.)

Libya's opposition National Transition Council "should begin to engage responsibly with the world community by extraditing Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to the United States to face justice for the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," Nita Lowey, a Democratic representative from New York, said in a statement Monday.

Joel Rubin, a former Senate and State Department staffer who has worked on Libya and the Lockerbie case in the past, said it's understandable that members of Congress with constituencies that include the families of Lockerbie victims are demanding Megrahi face justice. But he said there should be a formal legal process set in motion in the countries where there were victims from the Lockerbie bombing--likely the U.S. or the UK--before extradition requests.

"It's an issue best directed to the countries whose citizens were killed in the Lockerbie attack ... and to whether or not they'd be willing to charge Megrahi for that crime," Rubin, who is now director of government affairs for the Ploughshares Fund, told The Envoy by email Tuesday. "If so, then they should do it, and then seek extradition.  I don't think that we can skip that step and just plain call for him to be returned.  After all, the Brits released him ... meaning that they'd be the logical ones to re-indict him."