Lockerbie Suspects Delivered For Trial
By Anne Swardson
President Clinton welcomed the surrender of the two men -- alleged former intelligence agents Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah -- calling it "a moment much awaited and long overdue."
Relatives of those killed in the bombing, however, were less enthusiastic about the hand over and anticipated trial. Among other things, they expressed doubt about whether Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would ever be called to account for his government's alleged role in the bombing, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans.
Libya's decision to turn over the two men culminated long and frustrating negotiations among Gadhafi, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and several high-profile intermediaries, including South African President Nelson Mandela and members of the Saudi royal family.
U.S. and British officials had long insisted that the suspects be tried on British or American soil. Last year, however, they agreed to a compromise under which the Libyans would be tried in a third country -- the Netherlands -- by Scottish judges.
Following their arrival here, Megrahi and Fhimah were formally turned over to Scottish authorities tonight and flown by helicopter to Camp Zeist, a former U.S. air base near the Dutch town of Utrecht. Both have proclaimed their innocence.
"What has been achieved by the states concerned is unprecedented," said U.N. legal counsel Hans Corell, who accompanied the suspects on the four-hour flight from Tripoli aboard an Italian government aircraft flying under the authority of the United Nations.
Both Corell and Annan were careful today to reinforce what Corell called "a very dignified transfer" of the suspects and to show respect for Gadhafi and his authority.
"I am confident that the two suspects will receive a fair trial by a Scottish court in the Netherlands," Annan told reporters in New York. "I am also looking forward to the earliest possible resumption of Libya's relations with the rest of the international community."
Gadhafi negotiated the conditions of the suspects' departure and incarceration to the last detail -- prayer mats have been brought in, and a chef has been trained to prepare Libyan food -- and at the last minute he sprang another surprise. The departure of the men from Tripoli was delayed by a ceremony featuring Libya's foreign minister and 40 dignitaries from around the Middle East and Africa.
Before leaving Tripoli, the suspects said they were leaving Libya of their own accord because they were sure of their innocence, the Associated Press reported.
"We are confident in ourselves," said Megrahi, 46. "The days will prove that what we are saying is true." Fhimah, 42, flashed the victory sign and told Arab diplomats at the ceremony: "We hope to see you upon our return."
Pan Am Flight 103 was knocked out of the sky just before Christmas, on Dec. 21, 1988. The bomb, which was in a suitcase, exploded shortly after takeoff from London and just before the flight would have headed across the Atlantic toward New York. Besides the deaths of all 259 persons on the plane, the crash killed 11 Scottish citizens on the ground.
The United States and Britain identified the two men as suspects in 1991. When Libya refused to hand them over without conditions, the U.N. Security Council in 1992 and 1993 imposed sanctions that included bans on international air service and sales of weapons and oil industry equipment.
Although the suspects' arrival here triggered an automatic suspension of the sanctions, they will not be permanently lifted until Libya meets other conditions, including promising to pay compensation to the victims' families if the suspects are found guilty.
Until the end of the trial, Camp Zeist is legally Scottish soil. The suspects will be tried by Scottish judges under Scottish law, accused by Scottish prosecutors, defended by Scottish lawyers and watched over by more than 100 Scottish police and prison officers.
But the arrangements have angered many relatives of the Lockerbie victims. "I don't care what kind of deal Kofi Annan or anyone else may have made with Gadhafi; this is about the murder of my son," said Kathleen Flynn of Montville, N.J., whose 21-year-old son, John Patrick Flynn, was killed.
"We've already relegated a case of mass murder of American citizens to another nation. It's a sad thing when my husband and I have to take out an atlas to find out where the murder trial of our son is going to take place."
Many relatives expressed concern about a letter sent by Annan to Gadhafi in February that is understood to have contained language saying that the trial will be limited to the specifics of the Lockerbie case and will not become a vehicle for "undermining" the Libyan regime.
"The administration has made so many concessions to the Libyans that this is going to resemble anything but justice," said Stephanie Bernstein of Bethesda. Her husband, Michael S. Bernstein, then 36 and a Justice Department attorney, was among those killed, leaving two children who were 7 and 4 at the time.
"I interpret the promise about 'not undermining' the Libyan government as meaning that the United States has agreed not to go up the chain of command to find the higher-ups who ordered the bombing," she said. "The whole way this was handled -- letting Libya pick the venue and set the terms of imprisonment, ruling out a trial by jury, this party that they had in Libya today -- is very telling. It's an insult to the memory of my husband and everybody else who was killed."
Late today, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger held a 45-minute conference call with about 15 family members. Participants said that the family members pressed hard for explanations of the language in Annan's letter. They also asked for clarifications of what the U.S. government's position will be on formally ending sanctions against Libya and called for the government to support their call for television coverage of the trial.
The sources said that Albright repeated the administration's assurances that the language in Annan's letter does not preclude introducing evidence and testimony in the trial about possible Libyan government complicity. Some sources quoted her as saying, "If the evidence leads to Gadhafi, the United States can indict Gadhafi . . . perhaps as a war criminal."
The family members told Albright that they were strongly opposed to ending the U.N. sanctions. The sources said she responded by reminding them that the United States can veto any Security Council resolution and is prepared to do so if the administration considers it appropriate.
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