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Who Will Have the Last Word on the Lockerbie Bombing?

Final justice is meted out in peculiar ways. Maybe Abdel Al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber who an American journalist found today bedridden at home in Tripoli, is just hanging on until his chief sponsor, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, is finally apprehended or killed. Or maybe Megrahi will finally succumb to the cancer that had moved Scotland two years ago, over strenuous U.S. and U.K. objections, to prematurely release him from prison.

Megrahi, the only person convicted in the horrific 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, was welcomed in Tripoli as a returning hero in August 2009. After all, it was Qaddafi, who, in his self-interest of bettering relations with the U.S. and Europe, had agreed, after years of haggling and denial, to handover Megrahi from his sanctuary in Libya to Scotland to stand trial.

The murder of 270 people, including 189 Americans, who were on board the plane that fateful day nearly 24 years ago was by far one of the most horrific terrorist outrages, even more so because another government had carried it out. Megrahi was convicted in January 2001, and sentenced to life in prison. Nothing could possibly fully bring solace to the families of those murdered, but Megrahi’s imprisonment and Libya’s admitted culpability was a modicum of justice.

Then, shockingly, after only eight and a half years, Scotland released Megrahi “on compassionate grounds,” so he could spend his final days in Libya with his family. He reportedly had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and doctors claimed he would die within a few months.

As the months passed, and Megrahi himself was spotted on occasion not looking too frail, speculation grew that the Scots indeed had been hoodwinked. Had both Qaddafi and Megrahi had succeeded in having the last word on the Lockerbie bombing?

Now that Megrahi has been located and his deteriorating health confirmed, both the Transitional National Council in Libya, and Scotland, have declared little interest in renewed calls for his extradition, either back to prison in Scotland, or to the U.S. for trial.

For the rebels who seized control of Libya their chief goal was to overthrow a man and his regime who terrorized his own people for the past 42 years. They need to focus on rebuilding their country. 

But for the U.S., Europe, and certainly the families of those who perished on Pan Am 103, Qaddafi’s legacy was excelling in perfecting state sponsorship of terrorism.

That’s a very deep wound to heal. Megrahi could tell a lot more about the extent of Qaddafi’s terrorist reach over many years, and, certainly, about who else was involved with the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. But those secrets, never revealed during his trial a decade ago, tragically will go with Megrahi to his grave.

Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.