Libya’s New Government Should Give Up the Lockerbie Bomber

by Benjamin Weinthal

Berlin — As Moammar Qaddafi’s 42-year tyranny comes to an end, the transitional government faces enormous challenges in establishing democratic institutions and eradicating the vestiges of terrorism in Libya.

In its first gesture to the international community, Libya’s Transitional National Council should arrest and extradite the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who celebrated his second year of freedom from a Scottish prison only this past weekend. In 2001, a Scottish court convicted Megrahi of engineering the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on its way to New York, which resulted in the deaths of 270 passengers (including 190 Americans) in 1988.

The Scottish government discharged Megrahi in 2009, believing that he suffered from terminal prostate cancer and had only three months to survive. Upon his release, Megrahi received a hero’s welcome in Tripoli, in what later turned out to be an unsavory quid pro quo between the British government and Qaddafi. In exchange for Megrahi’s release, it seems the British oil giant BP secured a $900 million Libyan energy contract. The Obama administration’s meek approach to the deal to free Megrahi was nothing short of alarming.

Two years later, Megrahi’s staying power recalls a line from The Godfather Part II, when Michael Corleone notes that an aging rival gangster seems to have been dying from the same terminal disease for the last 20 years. As recently as July, Megrahi appeared at a pro-Qaddafi rally, prompting  British Foreign Secretary William Hague to say, “The appearance of Mr. al-Megrahi on our television screens is a further reminder that a great mistake was made when he was released.”

If the Transitional National Council is serious about building democracy and good relations with the West, extraditing Megrahi would be a symbolic first move. Like Qaddafi, the dictator who hosted him, Megrahi has killed hundreds of innocents, and has surely earned incarceration for the rest of his days.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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