Television footage of the only man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing lying in bed, purportedly comatose with advanced prostate cancer at his Tripoli home, has provided a focal point for a question asked with new urgency in places far from Libya: With Col. Muammar el-Gadhafi's government in ruins, what reckoning is likely for the terrorist bombings that were once a signature of the former Libyan leader's war with the Western world?
So terrorism was Gadhafi's "signature," and many "nations" hope a full accounting will be forthcoming. What's the record that Burns has put together?
Obviously he talks about Pan Am 103, which is the most visible example. But there are serious questions about the link between Libya and the Lockerbie bombing. Burns mentions the 1986 Berlin nightclub bombing, which killed three people. The judge at the 2001 trial said the Libyan government bore some responsibility, but a connection to Gadhafi could not be established. The Times account of the trial mentioned in passing that prosecutors alleged that the disco bombing was launched "to retaliate against the sinking of two Libyan boats by the United States in the Gulf of Sirte." It's unlikely that many people remember these acts, which likely killed a fair number of Libyans.
The other examples Burns cites are support for the Irish Republican Army–similar schemes were undertaken around the world, including here in the United States–a shooting outside a British embassy that killed a police officer and the disappearance of a religious leader in Lebanon during a visit to Libya.
This is not to suggest that Gadhafi was innocent of any of these charges. His rule in Libya was marked by vicious attacks and repression inside the country.
But it's difficult to imagine someone at the Times writing about international hunger for accountability for terrorist acts supported, linked to or committed by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. It's not as if it would be difficult to point to their "signature" acts–support for deadly, anti-democratic death squads in Latin America, the massive destruction and violence unleashed on Iraq, or the torture and prisoner deaths that occurred on Bush's watch. But something tells that if you were to to try to write about these "signature" acts of American terrorism in connection to either–or even to Henry Kissinger's record–someone at the New York Times might try to have you committed.