Sunday, August 30, 2009

No hero's welcome in Libya - Saif Al-Islam El-Qaddafi

INTRODUCTION: I am placing this New York Times op-ed piece here with neither snide comment nor modification. The reason is that it is the point of view of the Libyans, it is void of emotional baggage, it is a valid personal statement, and it is not by any means incitement.

It is a decently formulated short piece, diplomatic and reasonably sensitive.
As such it deserves to be part of the discourse, and needs to be part of the record.

---Chaim ben David

By Saif Al-Islam El-Qaddafi

Tripoli, Libya - CONTRARY to reports in the Western press, there was no "hero’s welcome" for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi when he returned to Libya earlier this month.

There was not in fact any official reception for the return of Mr. Megrahi, who had been convicted and imprisoned in Scotland for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The strong reactions to these misperceptions must not be allowed to impair the improvements in a mutually beneficial relationship between Libya and the West.

When I arrived at the airport with Mr. Megrahi, there was not a single government official present. State and foreign news media were also barred from the event. If you were watching Al Jazeera, the Arabic news network, at the time the plane landed, you would have heard its correspondent complain that he was not allowed by Libyan authorities to go to the airport to cover Mr. Megrahi’s arrival.

It is true that there were a few hundred people present. But most of them were members of Mr. Megrahi’s large tribe, extended families being an important element in Libyan society. They had no official invitation, but it was hardly possible to prevent them from coming.

Coincidentally, the day Mr. Megrahi landed was also the very day of the annual Libyan Youth Day, and many participants came to the airport after seeing coverage of Mr. Megrahi’s release on British television. But this was not planned. Indeed, we sat in the plane on the tarmac until the police brought the crowd to order.

So, from the Libyan point of view, the reception given to Mr. Megrahi was low-key. Had it been an official welcome, there would have been tens if not hundreds of thousands of people at the airport. And the event would have been carried live on state television.

At the same time, I was extremely happy for Mr. Megrahi’s return. Convinced of his innocence, I have worked for years on his behalf, raising the issue at every meeting with British officials.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair recently confirmed my statement that Libya put Mr. Megrahi’s release on the table at every meeting. He also made it clear that there was never any agreement by the British government to release Mr. Megrahi as part of some quid pro quo on trade — a statement I can confirm.

Mr. Megrahi was released for the right reasons. The Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, freed Mr. Megrahi, who is dying of cancer, on compassionate grounds. Mr. MacAskill’s courageous decision demonstrates to the world that both justice and compassion can be achieved by people of good will. Despite the uproar over the release, others agree. A recent survey of Scottish lawyers showed that a majority of those surveyed agreed with the secretary’s decision.

It’s worth pointing out that we Libyans are far from the only ones who believe that Mr. Megrahi is innocent of this terrible crime. In June 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission determined that a "miscarriage of justice" may have occurred and referred the case to the High Court. A retired Scottish police officer who worked on the case has signed a statement saying that evidence was fabricated. The credibility of a key witness, a shopkeeper in Malta, has subsequently been disputed by the Scottish judge who presided in the review. Even the spokesman of a family group of Lockerbie victims has said that the group was not satisfied that the verdict in the Megrahi case was correct.

What’s more, although we Libyans believe that Mr. Megrahi is innocent, we agreed in a civil action to pay the families of the victims, and we have done so. In fact, we could have withheld the final tranche of payments last year, because the United States had not kept its part of the deal, to fully normalize relations within the formally agreed-upon time frame. Still, we made the final payment as an act of good will.

The truth about Lockerbie will come out one day. Had Mr. Megrahi been able to appeal his case through the court, we believe that his conviction would have been overturned. Mr. Megrahi made the difficult decision to give up his promising appeal in order to spend his last days with his family.

Libya has worked with Britain, the United States and other Western countries for more than five years now to defuse the tensions of earlier times, and to promote trade, security and improved relations. I believe that clarifying the facts in the Lockerbie case can only further assist this process.

I once again offer my deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those lost in the Lockerbie tragedy. They deserve justice. The best way to get it is through a public inquiry. We need to know the truth.

Saif Al-Islam El-Qaddafi is the chairman of the Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.

August 30, 2009 Op-Ed Contributor
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


Please note: Many have stated that the families of the Lockerbie tragedy have been denied justice. Perhaps they have.

I do not believe that there has been justice in this matter. But neither do I believe that real justice in this case is even possible. Throughout history state-actors have committed gross crimes and engineered horrible events, often for motives praised and supported by their leaders and their societies.
Almost all nations have done so. And seldom has there been adequate retribution or recompense for those crimes. Human history is an un-ending progression of brutalities and injustices. That's just the way it is.

This does not make it good, nor does it make it right. I am not offering this as an excuse, merely as an observation. We must accept that justice will not always prevail, and that it is unrealistic to expect that it must.

There can never be justice for Babi Yar. There can never be justice for the tens of thousands of Afrikaner women and children starved to death by the British in camps during the Boer War. There can never be justice for the thousands of Yemenis gassed during Egypt's involvement in the highlands (1962 - 1970). There can never be justice for the millions of Punjabis massacred in the sectarian violence of partition. There can never be justice for the quarter of a million people slaughtered by the Japanese Imperial Army after the fall of Nanking.

Once time moves on, identifying the guilty becomes more a matter of passionate argument, and assigning blame frequently devolves to damage control, and limiting the fall-out.
The victims only benefit from the exercise is that they are not forgotten.

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