The important lesson from the response to the Scottish government's perplexing and apparently politically motivated move is that the emotional wounds of terror are not easily healed. This group of families had worked tirelessly to push both the U.S. and Scottish governments to find the culprits and waited for years until Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to release the suspects for trial in the Netherlands. The trial took place in 2000, 12 years after the bombing. The conviction was welcomed by most of the families.
The families waited 12 long years for justice, enduring shabby treatment by the airline and the state department; years of dealing with successive administrations, some more responsive than others; and embarrassing treatment by the Pan Am corporation during litigation. Finally, one person was convicted of this heinous crime. Perhaps there are others, but the evidence pointed to this man and his co-patriot, who was acquitted. Now, just eight years later, al-Megrahi is set free to enjoy his remaining days as a hero in his country.
Death by terrorism is unique in that the victims are random, cut down in the daily activities of life. They are not soldiers, but ordinary citizens. For the family members, the grief process, extensive and intensive, becomes even more complicated by the political realities of the day. Despite the setbacks, they as a group have made a significant impact on making the way we all fly safer. They worked the halls of Congress to pass legislation and to bring the Libyan government to release the suspects and provide compensation. Many of them later responded to the victims of 9/11, providing the comfort of those who have walked in their shoes.
In the face of these terrible events, a false expectation arises that the powers that be will do the right thing. Living through the last 20 years, many family members shared with me their bitter disillusionment with the people they thought were there to protect and care for them in their time of need. The recent example of the revelation that the Bush administration manipulated the terror levels for its own political gain provides no better example of the impact of politics. Imagine the emotional stress on Americans, in particular the victims of 9/11 and Pan Am 103, to hear that another attack was possible when, in reality, no such threat existed.
It is heartening to see the outrage of people across the world in response to al-Megrahi's release. It raises legitimate questions regarding what impact his release will have on future terrorists, the role of oil and big business and the realties of the Scottish government. The costs of this move are yet to be determined.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
From a Times of Trenton op-ed by a father of a Pan Am 103 bombing victim: