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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 11:32 GMT
Lockerbie: What the papers say
Lockerbie memorial
A lone visitor to the memorial in Lockerbie
The verdict in the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands has generated huge press comment with many papers vexed over the limitations of the court proceedings and how the American and British governments should now treat Libya.

The Washington Post says it is hard for anyone to fully celebrate the outcome.


Both America and Britain prejudged the issue and convinced the world of the guilt of the two Libyans, thus enabling a decade of sanctions to be imposed on Libya

Gulf News

"In convicting a Libyan intelligence officer who almost certainly acted on orders from his government, the panel of three Scottish judges in the Netherlands only underscored the limitations of available weapons in the war against state-sponsored terrorism."

The paper argues that: "By treating the bombing as a criminal case, rather than a political act, the United States and Britain all but guaranteed that those ultimately responsible would get away with murder. And yet they may have had little choice."

The New York Times says the split verdict "brought to a muddled close a prosecution that represented one of Washington's most ambitious attempts to use criminal law as a weapon against a horrific act of international terror".

It questions whether any trial could have ever produced a result that would have fully satisfied the relatives of those who died.

"The verdicts left open broader questions about whether the rules of courtroom combat, with strict standards of evidence, are adequate in the face of brutal acts of terror.

"Such attacks are devised by the perpetrators to make it difficult, if not impossible, to detect who is responsible, and frustrate the criminal justice process," the paper says.

Arab warnings

The Lebanese paper, Al-Safir sees the verdict as only causing more problems.

The court "issued a political verdict ... which neither condemned nor exonerated Libya and so will not contribute to getting the sanctions imposed on Libya lifted immediately.

"Rather it will subject it to even more disputes, especially regarding compensation to families of the Lockerbie victims."

Qatar's Gulf Times agrees: "The fallout from the Lockerbie bombing will continue to trouble international relations for a long time to come."

Dubai's Gulf News has strong words for Washington and London.

The verdict "raises the question of how it is possible for two of the most advanced security and investigation forces in the world, the US and the UK, to be so right in the case of one person and so wrong with the other.

"Both America and Britain prejudged the issue and convinced the world of the guilt of the two Libyans, thus enabling a decade of sanctions to be imposed on Libya."

The London-based Arabic daily, Al-Sharq al-Aswat argues that it is "Libya's right to expect that this crisis will be consigned to the past.

"Washington and London... must respond to the Libyan initiative announcing it will respect the verdict and help to close this chapter."

Not sensible

The Glasgow Herald in Scotland is pessimistic about the prospects for further investigations into the case.

"Circumstantial evidence against one man after a decade of police investigation makes it unlikely that further inquiries will result in more prosecutions.

"Of course, the case must be left open because of the unresolved issue of the guilt of others, but it is simply not sensible to require active investigations to continue."

And the Herald argues that there are tensions between London and Washington as to the next steps.

"Mr Bush is intent on pursuing a hard line against Libya, at least for the moment, but [the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's] supportive noises do nothing to hide the desire of the British government to get back to more normal relations with Libya,", the paper says.

Full account

"We profoundly hope the victims' families are comforted by the verdict, but they surely cannot be entirely convinced or satisfied by it," says The Independent of London.

"Manifestly, a single Libyan intelligence officer did not carry out this elaborate crime on his own," the paper points out.

"The automatic assumption is that he was acting on behalf of his government, and therefore of Colonel Gaddafi."

The Libyan Government, the paper adds, "should... provide a full account of its role in the atrocity".

"The full truth of Lockerbie has yet to emerge," the Independent says. "A realist would concede that it is less likely to do so with every year that passes. But the effort to discover that truth must continue."

The paper urges that that once the appeal against the life sentence has been heard, "our government should set up a full public inquiry. History and above all the relatives deserve no less".

Another London paper, The Times, disagrees. It finds it "hard to see how such an inquiry would serve further purpose".

"The forensic analysis of the trial, the obligation on witnesses and exacting investigation would be unlikely to be bettered. Camp Zeist has told us all we may ever know about this barbarity," the paper says.

Die Welt of Germany has less faith in the Scottish judicial process, saying that the judges "clearly aimed at a compromise solution - one guilty, one acquitted".

"How should we now deal with Libya?" the paper asks. It believes that gradual international rehabilitation might be the right answer, because "it would keep the Libyan ruler under control".

"Gaddafi is not mad," Die Welt argues. "He's looking for a way out. That's where he differs from Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic."

Austria's Der Standard thinks that rehabilitation will come.

"While Washington insists that Libya must accept responsibility for the tragedy", other Western countries will probably choose a more diplomatic way of responding to Libya's demand.

"They will opt for normalisation," Der Standard concludes.


Full verdicts
Lockerbie opinion posted by Scots Court Service
Lockerbie megapuff graphic

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See also:

31 Jan 01 | In Depth
31 Jan 01 | Americas
31 Jan 01 | Europe
01 Feb 01 | Media reports
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