The New Libyan Regime Protecting the Lockerbie Bomber

Dick Cawley was a friend of mine at the University of Virginia.  I still remember his crooked grin and his offbeat sense of humor.  Sitting in French class one day, he offered to show us his appreciation of French art.  The wacky redhead lifted his pant leg to expose his garters.  For some reason, young men in those days thought decorated garters were cool.  But Dick Cawley was wearing wheat jeans and Weejuns -- with no socks.

Still, we burst out laughing when he flashed his garters.  They were illustrated with pictures by Gustave Doré of buxom naked women in Dante's Purgatorio.  Our French professor took a dim view of Dick's cutting up in the back row.

I think of Dick Cawley every time I read about modern-day Libya.  Dick Cawley was flying home from Europe on Pan Am 103.  He was murdered by Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.  Dick Cawley died with hundreds of others on that jet and on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.  The flight included many American college students eager to get home for Christmas.

I never understood the rationale for not killing Gaddafi, the man behind the mass murder of Americans.  Nor did I understand the Scots, who let al-Megrahi out of prison in 2009 for supposed compassionate reasons.  The Scottish officials told us al-Megrahi was dying of cancer.  But I thought the fact that he had not been hanged for mass murder more than compassionate in his case.

Then, there was the arrival ceremony in Tripoli.  The New York Times reported it with a straight face:

Mr. Megrahi was greeted in Tripoli by hundreds of young Libyans who had been bused to the military airport to welcome him, cheering and waving Libyan and Scottish flags.  British and American officials had sought a low-key reception for the convicted bomber.

I want to know who those "American officials" are who sought a low-key reception for al-Megrahi in Tripoli.  These are people whose salaries we pay who apparently think that the mass murder of Americans is to be atoned for by not giving their killer a raucous reception in his honor.

Former President Jimmy Carter was widely quoted in 1986 denouncing President Reagan's raid on Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli.  Carter didn't object that the U.S. Navy jets had failed to kill the Libyan dictator.  Carter thought it a war crime that we even tried to take out this killer of Americans.  Carter's reaction to the Reagan raid was of a piece with those unnamed American officials who wanted to keep al-Megrahi's Tripoli homecoming more decorous.

Of course, Carter's spinelessness was abundantly demonstrated and a major reason why voters in forty-four states in 1980 booted him unceremoniously from the White House.  When Navy fliers asked President Reagan how far they could pursue aggressive Libyan jets, Reagan slapped down the Carter Rules of Engagement.  "All the way into their damned hangars," the commander-in-chief retorted.

Ronald Reagan spoke of the days of his youth, the days when a U.S. citizen could put a little American flag in his lapel and go anywhere in the world.  Those days never truly existed, but American policy under Reagan was to make sure that American lives and American property were not menaced with impunity.

Reagan wielded Theodore Roosevelt's Big Stick with confidence and skill.  It's a pity he did not get Gaddafi in the 1986 raid.  Dick Cawley and hundreds of others on Pan Am Flight 103 might be alive today.

The new regime in Tripoli is protecting Abdel Bassett Ali al-Megrahi.  They refuse to give him up to the U.S. or to Britain.  They say it was wrong for Gaddafi to hand him over in the first place.  Because they protect a convicted mass murderer, because they greeted him with whoops of joy at his release, I have no confidence in this new regime or in their barbarous country.

I'd prefer to see them all pictured in a Gustave Doré engraving of the Inferno.  And it would be good to see Jimmy Carter and those nameless, gutless American officials who prefer kinder, gentler receptions for terrorists there, too.

Robert Morrison is a Washington writer.  He served in the Reagan administration.

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