Why Did the Libyans Welcome the Lockerbie Guy as a Hero?
August 23, 2009 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Regarding the Lockerbie bomber, recently released and returned to Libya, where he was given a heroes welcome (in defiance of Obama's warning that such a homecoming would affect American/Libyan relations)....has anyone read an article, perhaps in the foreign press, explaining the feelings Libyans (the people, not the whacky regime) have for this guy?
posted by jimmyjimjim to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is a fairly large body of evidence that suggests he was wrongly convicted. Without wanting to turn your AskMe into a debate on whether that is the case or not, let's just say that any people, whether from wacky regimes or not, would welcome someone home who they believed had been falsely imprisoned in a foreign land for many years.
posted by IanMorr at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


IanMorr, I wasn't aware of that. Is there any one particularly good article or web resource to read up on that? If not, I'll just surf around.

And, if I were to ask a Libyan, would that be the main or only reason given for the welcome?
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:05 AM on August 23, 2009


Hugh Miles' LRB piece is a good introduction. There are others gathered by the NY Times Lede blog, in response to fairly acrimonious exchanges between British and American commenters. The most comprehensive piece is probably the late Paul Foot's special Private Eye dossier, but it's not online (though available as a paid download).

There's a genuine transatlantic divide here, because I think plenty of British people who have been exposed to the investigative reporting on Lockerbie were surprised that it hadn't permeated the American media. I don't think it's too much of a reach to say that most Libyans believe that they were chosen as a convenient scapegoat, and that the various steps taken to normalise relations over the past decade have been part of a long charade for the benefit of the US. Though as Robert Fisk notes, Libya was probably culpable for blowing UTA 772 out of the sky over Chad in 1989.
posted by holgate at 8:36 AM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Setting aside all of that, the article I read stated that Qadaffi has two sons vying for the "throne" he sits upon. One is weaker, and was originally or later became, a political stalking horse for the radical islamist (is there another word for that?) parties. The weaker son showed up at the airport with TV cameras and made a speech. Quadaffi looked handcuffed and surprised.

So my subsequent guess is that Qadaffi's statements praising "Brown, my friend" are to find political cover. He's got to placate internationally without being outflanked locally.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:14 AM on August 23, 2009


Whether he was falsely convicted or no, there is also the argument that one person's rabble-rouser is another person's heroic revoutionary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on August 23, 2009


Not to sound cynical or snarky, but keep in mind that the "hero's welcome" could have been partially or wholly created for the cameras with people paid and/or coerced to cheer at appropriate moments. There's a looong line of examples of various dictators in many difference countries doing this.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:19 AM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The LRB piece holgate links to is excellent, but for a short summary, this article in the Irish Independent covers the bases reasonably well regarding the possibility of al-Megrahi's innocence.

Should you become a Lockerbie bombing trial geek, Robert Black's blog has plenty to get your teeth into.

While you're googling around the issue, be aware that, as so often in Middle Eastern politics, many of those expressing an opinion are doing so based on their established beliefs rather than a disinterested concern for justice. For example, a lot of ultra-Zionist pundits would love for the to PFLP to be responsible in order to discredit Palestinian politics in general. That doesn't make it any more or less likely, of course, but caveat lector.

Finally, don't underestimate the power of nationalism and the unwillingness of many people to countenance a fellow-citizen being imprisoned in a foreign country based on that country's justice system, regardless of which nations are involved e.g. Louise Woodward, Amanda Knox
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:28 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a short article by Paul Foot here, from The Guardian in 2004.
posted by punilux at 9:45 AM on August 23, 2009


According to Daniel and Susan Cohen's book on Pan Am 103, at first all the evidence pointed to Syria as the culprit. They and the other Pan Am 103 families were as surprised as anyone else when men from Libya were charged.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:22 AM on August 23, 2009


I just started reading The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky, Ken Dornstein's memoir about his brother, David (a young American who was on the Lockerbie plane). While it's obviously mostly about his brother, he includes some discussion of Pan Am's security policy, as well as quoting a rumor that the plane's bombers were actually on the plane that day (Scottish records allegedly show that there were two more bodies found than were accounted for in official passenger lists).

I realize that you're looking for Libyan/Middle East opinions on Lockerbie, but this book might have a bit of interesting background.
posted by vickyverky at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wonderful, interesting stuff, guys, thanks. I particularly liked this:

"Finally, don't underestimate the power of nationalism and the unwillingness of many people to countenance a fellow-citizen being imprisoned in a foreign country based on that country's justice system"

So true. Every time I see a report of an American arrested on foreign soil and accused of, say, spying, my instinctual reaction (and that of many others, I'm sure) is vexed outrage. Which, of course, is irrational. How do I KNOW the American hikers in Iran weren't spies? Or that the journalists in North Korea weren't acting exactly as charged? We assume so quickly and easily, and with no real basis of knowing. So why shouldn't the Libyans do likewise?
posted by jimmyjimjim at 12:01 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


My understanding, from people who are more knowlegable and experienced in this matter is that Qadaffi is trying to normalize relations with the West. Or to meet his country's international obligations while trying to keep the peace at home. Knowing that railing against the world is gonna get him in the end.
posted by gjc at 12:31 PM on August 23, 2009


From the comments on an Al-Arabiya story about Megrahi's return to Libya, here are some of the opinions expressed by Libyans and other Arabs:

- Megrahi is innocent, just a scapegoat, a political hostage, etc.
- His release is a Libyan/Arab victory to be proud of.
- He must be innocent, since they would never have released him if he were guilty.
- He must be guilty, since the Libyan government would never have paid the victims' families compensation money if he were innocent.
- The US killed innocent people in its air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, so if Megrahi did kill innocent people, it was only payback.
- Megrahi killed hundreds of innocent people and should stay in jail forever/be executed, not welcomed as a hero.
- Those who released him showed a lot more mercy to him than he did to those he killed.
- Western governments are much more humane than Arab governments; if Megrahi had been imprisoned by his own government, he would never have been released for any reason, let alone humanitarian ones.
posted by gg at 1:03 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Finally, don't underestimate the power of nationalism and the unwillingness of many people to countenance a fellow-citizen being imprisoned in a foreign country based on that country's justice system, regardless of which nations are involved e.g. Louise Woodward, Amanda Knox

Gary McKinnon is another for that list.
posted by galaksit at 2:33 PM on August 23, 2009


There is a fairly large body of evidence that suggests he was wrongly convicted.

In most Western nations it is very extremely unlikely for the criminal trial of a factually innocent person to result in conviction. Just sayin'.
posted by applemeat at 3:55 PM on August 23, 2009


In most Western nations it is very extremely unlikely for the criminal trial of a factually innocent person to result in conviction.

Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Bridgewater Four. and that's just four well known UK cases.

Here is an article about 200 miscarriages of justice in California alone, bearing in mind here these are just the ones that have come to light.

Miscarriages happen, how frequently is a matter of debate as, for obvious reasons, we don't know how many have gone undetected at any point. It is certainly possible for the likelihood of a miscarriage to be impacted where the crime is so politically sensitive.
posted by biffa at 4:43 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I saw a pretty good BBC interview with a former British ambassador to Libya, who when asked exactly this question said that what we say was anything but a hero's welcome. In fact, I believe he used the phrase "quite subdued by Libyan standards" (or something like that). He pointed to the fact that it was held at a military airfield rather than the international airport; no Libyan television media was present during the event, and it was not broadcast on Libyan TV (unlike here, where we had lots of live coverage); there was no parade through the streets of the capital; while there was a small youth brigade reception party, none of the usual suspects that are almost required at any Libyan function were present; there was no jubilant partying in the streets. Standard fare for a Libyan hero's welcome (and for people with far less fame than the Lockerbie bomber) is much grander, much larger scale, and so much more of an event than this.
posted by Dysk at 6:02 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


In most Western nations it is very extremely unlikely for the criminal trial of a factually innocent person to result in conviction. Just sayin'.

In Canada, a partial list: David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin, the late Donald Marshall (a man who won at the Supreme Court later in his life in a case over aboriginal fishing rights), William Mullins-Johnson (a man convicted in the 1990s - well into the DNA era - of a murder that not only did he not commit, but that NEVER EVEN TOOK PLACE - his niece died of natural causes and the pathologist essentially fabricated evidence of his guilt).
posted by Dasein at 8:12 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]




In most Western nations it is very extremely unlikely for the criminal trial of a factually innocent person to result in conviction. Just sayin'.

This statement is horseshit. Just sayin'.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:54 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


This site is SO good sometimes. You know where it says "Before you ask, please try searching for previous threads about your topic."? Well, I was about to ask "What was the meaning of Mr al-Megrahi's welcome - were they pleased to see him home because they think he DID do it, or because they think he DIDN'T?" so I dutifully searched and, hey look, found this. It's just brilliant. Thank you.
posted by vogel at 4:05 AM on September 2, 2009


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