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Western Press Review: Papers Give Lockerbie Verdict Mixed Reviews

  • Don Hill

Prague, 1 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Headlines tell the story in Western press editorials and commentaries today about the Scottish judges' verdict yesterday in what has become known as the Lockerbie case.

Here's a sampling: Financial Times -- "Lockerbie Crime;" The Washington Post -- "A Muted Victory;" Times -- "Just a First Step;" Guardian -- "The Truth Is Still Hidden;" New York Times -- "Courts a Limited Anti-Terror Weapon;" Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- "Macabre."


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commentator Klaus-Dieter Frankenburger quotes -- dubiously -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair as saying that justice has been done. Frankenburger writes: "To the end, there remained a veil of conjecture over what Western intelligence agencies really knew about the perpetrators and their motives."

The writer says that Libya agreed to allow the trial of two accused saboteurs so that it could put its whole guilty story behind it. He writes ironically: "Now, Libya will formally abjure terrorism. It is a macabre prospect for the relatives of the victims of this monstrous deed."


Britain's Financial Times urges the world to keep its guard up toward Libya. The newspaper says in an editorial that the families of victims may well be disappointed. The editorial says: "One Libyan intelligence agent has been found guilty. The other defendant has been acquitted. And Colonel Muammar Gadhafi, presumed to have ordered the crime, remains firmly in place."

The newspaper says: "[Gadhafi's] taste for mischief should not be underestimated, as evidenced by his attempt last year to smuggle Scud missile parts through Britain. They are a stark reminder that Libya still has to be treated with suspicion."


Washington Post correspondents John Lancaster and Alan Sipress write in a news analysis that the Lockerbie case may be closed, "but it is hard for anyone to celebrate the outcome." They say, "In convicting a Libyan intelligence officer who almost certainly acted on orders from his government, the panel of three Scottish judges in the Netherlands only underscored the limitations of available weapons in the war against state-sponsored terrorism."

The writers continue: "By treating the bombing as a criminal case, rather than a political act, the United States and Britain all but guaranteed that those ultimately responsible would get away with murder."


The Guardian says in an editorial that the Lockerbie verdicts bring "a kind of closure" to the matter. It says that, at least, "One painful question -- who did it? -- has been partly answered."

The editorial continues: "A kind of closure -- but by no means the end of the matter. Just as the pain continues, so too do the questions. It is plainly absurd to suggest that [Libyan Adelbaset Al] Megrahi acted alone; but his sole alleged accomplice was acquitted. From whom did he take his orders? Given all that is known about Colonel Muammar Gadhafi's paranoid, autocratic regime in the '80s, it is inconceivable that such an atrocity could have been executed without the knowledge and perhaps involvement of the country's leadership."


The New York Times' David Johnston writes in a news analysis: "The split verdict in the trial of two Libyans charged in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 brought to a muddled close a prosecution that represented one of Washington's most ambitious attempts to use criminal law as a weapon against a horrific act of international terror."

Johnston adds, "The verdict against Mr. Megrahi and the acquittal of a second Libyan, Al Amin Khaifa Fhimah, was a deeply unsatisfying result."


The Times, London, in an editorial strikes a positive note: "The Lockerbie verdict is a vindication of Scottish justice." The editorial continues: "No one believes that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi acted alone in perpetrating the worst act of mass murder in recent times by blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people. [As British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said yesterday], the real culprits are the persons unknown who conspired with the accused."

The editorial says: "As the trial has demonstrated, Libya is firmly implicated in this crime." The newspaper reports that many relatives want some kind of additional extra-judicial inquiry, and concludes: "It is hard to see how such an inquiry would serve further purpose. The forensic analysis of the trial, the obligation on witnesses and exacting investigation would be unlikely to be better. [The trial at the Netherlands'] Camp Zeist has told us all we may ever know about this barbarity."


Commentator Magnus Linklater writes in the same newspaper that there still may be what he calls a "faint hope" that the full truth will emerge one day. "At the heart of the case," Linklater writes, "were the results of some old-fashioned detective work. These established a link between bomb, detonator, suitcase, contents and perpetrator that the defense never managed to undermine."

The writer says: "With no help available from Western intelligence agencies, there was [not much for the defense] to go on. Everyone, including the Libyan regime, seemed content that the case should be self-contained and placed at the door of the two Libyan accused. That in itself should send out warning signs. It was all just a little too convenient."


The Wall Street Journal Europe declares that the conviction of al-Megrahi becomes a kind of synecdoche -- that is a metaphor in which the part stands for the whole -- that convicts Gadhafi's Libya as well. The newspaper says in an editorial: "When a Scottish court yesterday found a Libyan terrorist guilty of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, it was not only convicting him but [also] the regime that fostered his fanatical zeal."

The editorial says: "For the moment, justice has been served. The Lockerbie verdict doesn't solve the problem of state-sponsored terrorism, [but] it does, however, demonstrate to the world that before a fair-minded court, political lawlessness can find little justification."


Libya deserves no thanks for delivering the defendants and should get no credits now that the trial is complete, The New York Times says in an editorial. The newspaper says: "The bombing that blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, more than a decade ago is impossible to forget." It says: "The Libyan government was not a formal defendant in this trial. But it has been part of the Lockerbie case all along. It took seven years of UN sanctions to persuade the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gadhafi, to turn the suspects over for trial."

The New York Times continues: "UN sanctions have been suspended since the suspects were delivered for trial in 1999. They should not be fully lifted until Libya fulfills its remaining international obligations. These include accepting responsibility for the actions of Mr. Megrahi, disclosing all it knows about the Lockerbie bombing and paying appropriate compensation to the victims' families."