Government betrays Pan Am Flight 103

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By Daniel Cohen

How would you feel if the man who murdered your child was forgiven -- and embraced -- by your government?

Thats what happened to me Monday when the State Department announced that Moammar Gadhafis Libya was being taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism and that the U.S. would establish full and friendly relations with the regime.

Libya, you may recall, was the country that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. The blast killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans. It was the worst terrorist attack on American civilians before 9/11. My daughter, Theodora -- everyone called her Theo -- was a Syracuse University drama student returning home from a semester in Britain on the flight. She was our only child, and her killing shattered our lives.

I know national policy cannot be influenced by the personal grief and rage of a single family. But the Bush administration has dishonored our country. The excuse the administration gives for its actions is that Libya has changed: It has given up its weapons of mass destruction. But Libya never really had weapons of mass destruction. Yes, it had materials bought from Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khans nuclear supermarket, and maybe Gadhafi was nuts enough to believe that he could build nuclear weapons someday. But he didnt actually have any, and his program had been completely compromised long before he magnanimously agreed to give it up.

Libya had no biological weapons either, apart from some World War I-era mustard gas. The truth is, Gadhafi gave up nothing of value. Its hard to see how his example will inspire North Korea or Iran, countries that really do have nuclear weapons or the means to make them. The message they will take away is that the United States can be rolled.

Has Libya embraced democracy? Not according to human rights groups, which say that Gadhafi remains a brutal and unstable dictator. So much for President Bushs doctrine of spreading democracy. The message here is that the U.S. doesnt really mind doing business with tyrants.

Has Libya helped the U.S. in its fight against terrorism? Yes, the Gadhafi government has ratted out some of its former associates. But the Islamists have been trying to kill Gadhafi for years. We are helping him get rid of his own enemies.

With oil at nearly $70 a barrel, Libya will be allowed to open a new embassy in Washington; it will soon be hosting lavish parties. Perhaps Gadhafis daughters will be spied shopping on Fifth Avenue or on Rodeo Drive. Perhaps the leader himself will be invited to Washington.

What hurts me the most is that the Bush administration is letting Gadhafi off the hook without making him take responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. Yes, the Libyan government issued a well-lawyered, very limited statement of civil responsibility in order to avoid United Nations sanctions. But Gadhafi himself has continued to insist that Libya had nothing to do with the bombing, and after all his voice is the only one that really counts in Libya. Throughout the Middle East and Africa, most people think Libya was framed -- as do many in Europe and even Britain. The Libyans are making vigorous and persistent attempts to get the only person convicted for the atrocity out of a Scottish prison. A British novel and a Scottish play pinned the bombing on the United States or Israel. In September, an English National Opera presentation will portray Gadhafi as a flawed but charismatic hero. Nothing can bring back Theo and all the other slain innocents. Gadhafi and his cronies who planned and carried out the bombing are now beyond reach. But at least we should leave a clear record of what happened -- and who was responsible. By normalizing relations with Libya and exonerating Gadhafi -- and that is clearly what the Bush administration has done -- we have even lost that chance. Is it any wonder that I feel betrayed, horrified, outraged, helpless and deeply depressed.

Cohen and his wife, Susan, are authors of Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals, and the Bereaved Familys Search for Justice.

Special to the Los Angeles Times

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