Monday, September 15, 2008

These families can't forgive Libya's terror

Star Ledger

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bob Monetti mourned on Sept. 11, and not just for the 2,975 killed in 2001. He mourned, too, and mostly, for his son Richard, who, but for a now almost forgotten act of terrorism, would have been 40 that day.

The night before, on Sept. 10, not far from the Monetti's Cherry Hill home, Dan and Susan Cohen of Cape May Court House mourned, too. Because, on that day, but for the same act of terrorism, their only child, their daughter Theo, too, would have been 40.

"It's unspeakable what happened, and it just gets worse," Dan Cohen says.

Theodora and Richard and 268 others, many of them Syracuse University students from New Jersey returning home for Christmas from a semester abroad, were killed when a bomb tore their airplane from the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. Eleven Scottish residents were killed on the ground when plane parts hit their homes.

A Libyan agent, Abdelbaset Megrahi, was convicted by a Scottish court, but his case is now on appeal.

The Monettis and the Cohens and the other families now have to endure, not just the continuing pain of 20 years, but, more recently, the images of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cordially meeting Moammar Ghadafi, the Libyan dictator and the man held ultimately responsible for the act of terrorism.

"The Bush administration is just so desperate to have Ghadafi viewed as a success," said Monetti, who, for years, led the organization representing relatives of those killed aboard Pan Am Flight 103. His daughter, Kara Weipz, now heads it.

"It's all just so sleazy," Monetti said.

Said Cohen: "What happened to our children doesn't matter at all."

So many forces are working to reduce the Monettis and Cohens to minor roles despite horrific losses. Powerful forces driven by international politics and oil money.

"We mark anniversaries and are ignored," Cohen said.

The Bush administration has held up Ghadafi's Libya as an example of the success of its efforts in the Middle East. In the face of threats from the United States, Ghadafi forswore development of nuclear weapons and terrorism.

The response was the gradual lifting of sanctions against the North African nation, which, in turn, was tied to the payment of compensation to the victims of Pan Am 103.

"Bribes," Cohen said. "We were bribed with money to stop complaining."

The Cohens pushed for retaliation against, not negotiations with, Ghadafi.

Under the plan, each victim's family eventually would receive more than $10 million, while sanctions against Libya were dropped. After receiving an initial payment, the Cohens opted out, refusing to take more.

The plan, however, hit a snag and payments were suspended. Recently, an agreement was reached under which a "humanitarian fund" would be created to compensate, not just the victims of Pan Am 103, but also Libyan victims of a 1986 raid on that country ordered by President Ronald Reagan.

That attack, aimed at Ghadafi, was ordered in retaliation for the bombing of the La Belle disco in Berlin that killed two American soldiers. Ghadafi's adopted daughter was killed in the American retaliatory raid. The destruction of Pan Am 103 was viewed by the United States as payback by the Libyan leader.

As part of negotiations between the two countries, Ghadafi admitted responsibility for the act of his employee, Megrahi. But Megrahi continues to maintain his innocence, and Ghadafi has never said he ordered the plane blown from the sky.

"We have conveniently forgotten Ghadafi said he was responsible," Monetti said, insisting Rice should have stayed away from the meeting with the Libyan leader.

Ghadafi's son, Saif, last month told BBC that the American families were "greedy." He earlier said Libyans were "innocent" of the Pan Am 103 bombing but admitted responsibility to have sanctions lifted.

The humanitarian fund to compensate Libyans as well as Americans will not include U.S. taxpayer money -- but Rice declined to say who else besides Libyans will contribute to it. Monetti believes international oil companies, eager for full resumption of ties to the oil-rich country, will add money to it.

"It's just about money and oil," Monetti said.

Bob Braun's columns appear Monday and Thursday. He may be reached at (973) 392-4281 or

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