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Loose End, Rough Justice | REnotated

Loose End, Rough Justice

  • Although Muammar Qaddafi will never face trial and be forced to answer for his many crimes, his recent violent end brought finality to decades of terror and murder.  It was certainly long overdue.  Although the synergy between NATO airpower and the courageous efforts of the Libyan people was at times uncoordinated and even chaotic, it eventually was able to overcome and destroy Qaddafi and his regime.  France and other NATO allies of the US took lead roles in hitting Qaddafi in the only way that made a difference – with force.  Twenty-five years obviously changed a lot, because the last time the US tried to deal with Qaddafi using force the US had to act alone.

    Prior to last year, we had to look all the way back to 1986 when President Reagan ordered the bombing of Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.  The strike was in response to Libyan agents detonating a bomb inside the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, which killed two American soldiers, Sergeant Kenneth Ford and Sergeant James Goins, and Nermin Hannay, a Turkish woman, along with wounding more than two hundred others.  There had also been a foiled plot in Berlin linked to Libya that involved blowing up a bus filled with the children of US diplomats.  These events had been preceded by the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher, a British policewoman, who was killed by someone firing from inside the Libyan embassy in London during a protest in April 1984.  Amazingly, no one was ever charged for the policewoman’s murder or the injury of ten others in the incident.  Libya was also directly linked to shootings at the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985 in which nineteen people were killed and more than one hundred wounded.

    Back in 1986, France, Spain, and Italy refused to grant the US access to their airspace, so the US Air Force jets, which were based in Britain, had to fly a long, circuitous route in order to attack Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.  Incidentally, the US pilots accidentally dropped a bomb on the French embassy in Tripoli during the raid (there were no French injuries).  Lacking support of allies and the world community in general, the token US strike against Qaddafi along with continued confrontations between US and Libyan forces in the Mediterranean did little.  The Qaddafi regime continued to carry out the murder of numerous Libyan exiles living abroad and to be a lead promoter of terrorism around the world.

    Qaddafi’s worst international act of terrorism came in 1988 with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people, including 190 Americans (many of them college students) and 11 on the ground in Scotland.  Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan security and intelligence operative went to prison for the bombing, but he was later released and others who were implicated in the conspiracy either received immunity or were acquitted.  What had been Qaddafi’s punishment for Lockerbie?  Nearly fifteen years later in 2002 Qaddafi agreed to pay $2.7 billion in reparations to families of the victims ($10M per family).  This was part of a grand deal that was carried out between the West and Qaddafi.  In exchange for renouncing international terrorism (after thirty years of killing), giving up on developing weapons of mass destruction, and paying reparations (a small amount of oil revenue), Qaddafi got access to Western technology and capital to further develop his oil wealth.  Because of Libya’s oil and his ability to potentially help in the fight against Al Qaeda, he got a pass for mass murder.

    That may have been the final chapter; Qaddafi reinventing himself as a “friend” to the West, helping in the fight against terrorism, and having him and his family become even more wealthy and powerful.  The missing piece in the equation, of course, was the Libyan people themselves.  Even if Qaddafi had given up supporting external terrorism, he remained a despotic, murderous ruler to his own people.  When the Libyan people finally rose up, the West was granted one last chance to do the right thing.  In helping Libyans rid themselves of Qaddafi, NATO also finally achieved some justice for our murdered citizens.

    Unfortunately, we may never know all the details behind what actually happened in Lockerbie or the identities of everyone who conspired to commit the bombing and many other killings over the years, but the individual primarily responsible for setting it all in motion is now dead.  Qaddafi’s death certainly does nothing to diminish the pain of his many victims and their families, but at least he will never hurt anyone else ever again.  It may have been a loose end tied up with rough justice or loose justice resulting in a rough end, but Qaddafi is no more and sometimes imperfect justice is better than none at all.

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