Global Focus: CHAT ABOUT THE LOCKERBIE BOMBING

The Washington Post 21/12/1998

The following is the text of discussions marking the tenth anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. Mark Zaid, a lawyer representing the families of the victims of the crash, was our guest, December 21, 1998. The text follows below:

Philadelphia, PA: What exactly are you doing for the victims' families in relation to the government of Libya. Why would you start representing them 5 years after the bombing?

Mark Zaid: I represent approx. 30 families in all aspects of the case. Primarily I am the fact and international law expert for my legal team. We filed the first civil case against Libya in 1993. Before this time most of the families were involved in litigation against Pan Am. I have actually been involved since the bombing itself. Two of my schoolmates at the University of Rochester, as well as someone from my hometown, were passengers on the flight.

Germantown, MD: Why is it taking so long to bring these terrorists to justice?

Mark Zaid: The two suspects are presently in hiding, or under protection, in Tripoli, Libya. Unlike President Reagan's response to the 1986 terrorist attack in Germany which led to the bombing of Tripoli that April, President Bush decided to turn the matter over to the United Nations. Thus, a diplomatic rather than a military solution is being sought.

Alexandria, VA: Mr. Zaid, What is your feeling about the sanctions that have been imposed on Libya? It doesn't seem they are too effective in getting the two Libyans to trial. Is there anything else that the U.S. can or should consider?

Mark Zaid: The use of international economic sanctions is a matter of intense debate, particularly since many nations violate them. Many of the families support the sanctions program against Libya, but advocate the imposition of a full oil embargo. Only this would likely have a major impact upon Libya. The US has had full sanctions against Libya in place since 1986. While the US has been lobbying for an increase in sanctions, allied countries such as France, Germany and Italy, each of which buys its oil from Libya, are opposed.

washington dc: At least as long ago as 1991, Libya offered to release the accused for trial in a neutral venue. are you willing to accept such an offer? If not, why not?

Mark Zaid: For years Libya has offered to hold a trial in a neutral venue. It has suggested such countries as Malta, Switzerland, Canada and Egypt. The Netherlands, which serves as a seat of international justice, is now the likely place. Most of the families, although quite hesitant at first, now support the notion of a criminal trial in The Hague under Scottish rules of evidence and procedure. I have personally advocated this position since 1993.

Harare, Zimbabwe: Will this trial not be biased based on the ten years of anti-Arab terrorist publicity that has characterized the global media?

Mark Zaid: I do not believe so. For one thing, there will be no jury. The trial will be handled by Scottish judges. There will also be international observers to ensure a fair trial. In fact, earlier this year the United Nations sent a team to Scotland to review Scottish rules of evidence and procedure to explore this very question. The U.N. favorably endorsed the trial.

Bethesda, MD: How would you describe the feelings of the families that you represent? Is there a sense of resignation that this may never come to trial?

Mark Zaid: The families hold very mixed feelings. And this is very important to understand. For many years the general public has held the belief that the families are united in all respects. Unfortuntately, this is not true. On some issues there is a great deal of conflict. The best way to describe my clients - after ten years has passed - is cautiously optomistic.

Missoula, MT: Can an airline "foresee" all possible disasters? If not, what is the benchmark beyond which there is a "lack of foreseeability"

Mark Zaid: Although airline security today has improved since the bombing of Pan Am 103 ten years ago, there is much to be done. Terrorists are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques and cost-cutting by airlines increases vulnerability. Sad to say, but the manner in which Flight 103 was bombed ten years ago could happen again. Certainly, one can never "foresee" or protect against all terrorist attacks. El Al, the Israeli state airline, likely has the strongest security. But American consumers are not patient enough to show up at the airport two hours before a flight and never leave their bags from their sight. That is the cost of security.

Washington, D.C.: Would you personally handle the litigation in any such neutral location?

Mark Zaid: Although I would hope to personally be on site for a criminal trial, I only handle the civil case. The criminal trial would be prosecuted by government attorneys from the United Kingdom and United states.

Amherst, New York: Why has it taken so long for these families to get the justice and closure that they deserve? How supportive of this effort is the US Gov't?

Host, Tim Ito: On the last question, how would you evaluate--overall-- the U.S. government efforts over the last 10 years on this issue?

Mark Zaid: There are many reasons why this has taken so long. Obviously the fact that the suspects are still in Libya is a primary one. Also, several of our key allies have not been willing to place principles over economic need. The US govt has been very supportive over the years, but given the passage of ten years the families want and need more. What that might be is subject to debate. US efforts to battle internatio ... US and Americans in general are more of a target world-wide, for terrorists so in that sense being in close proximity to us is more dangerous than, for example, flying on an Icelandic airline. Nevertheless, in order to combat international terrorism, allies - such as the US and UK - need to unite together for the common cause.

Washington, D.C.: What was the most important lesson learned from the Lockerbie tragedy?

Mark Zaid: There are many lessons that we have learned, and still continue to learn. It is difficult to identify just one. The bombing has demonstrated not only the frailities of life, but also the strengths of our resolve, particularly to attain justice. And perhaps the attainment of justice is the most important lesson. It must never be discouraged, not for political, idealogical or economic reasons.

Washington DC: I thought I saw someone on TV mention that he had fought to go after Libyan government assets, but that the Dept of State had blocked that avenue. Is the issue likely in your opinion to bounce into the diplomatic arena as a barrier for families to see Libya's government pay.

Mark Zaid: Actually, the effort was to go after Iranian assets in order to execute a judgment obtained by the family of Alyssa Flatow, a 20 year old American student killed in Israel by terrorists. This same issue, however, will arise in the Libyan case as well once we obtain a judgment. Hopefully the matter will be resolved by then, but it might require additional legislation to do so.

Walla Walla, WA: I believe that the two Libyan agents were most likely involved in the Pan Am 103 bombing. If this is proved in court, will the next process be to indict their leader, Qaddafi, whom they worked for? And will the evidence of Iran and/or Syria involvement be followed up?

Mark Zaid: That is a very good question, and the answer will depend on the political resolve of the United States. Certainly this is a primary concern of Ghadafi in arriving at his decision on whether to surrender the two Libyan suspects. The families obviously wish to punish whomever was responsible, even if only having played a minor role.