MARGARET WARNER: For more on today's verdict we turn to Clare Connelly, a professor of law at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She's director of the Lockerbie Briefing Unit, a team of university legal experts who have been observing the trial. George Williams, the former president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 organization. He lost his 24-year-old son, Gordy, in the crash. Larry Johnson, a former state Department and CIA counter-terrorism official during the Reagan and first Bush administrations. He was with the CIA at the time of the Lockerbie disaster. And Hisham Melhem, the Washington correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir. We invited the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations to join us tonight, but he declined.
Clare Connelly, beginning with you, tell us about the reaction this morning in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.
CLARE CONNELLY, University of Glasgow: Well, quite clearly, there would be some surprise amongst family members at the verdict. There were a few gasps from family members, but largely, I have to say, the courtroom remained quiet. There was very little reaction, and as you know, shortly after the verdict was announced, Dr. Jim Swire collapsed in court, and people certainly were beginning to express great concern for his health. And I'm glad to see that he appears tonight to be well.
MARGARET WARNER: And Dr. Swire, being a member of one of the families who's been watching the trial.
CLARE CONNELLY: That's correct, yes. But yes, really, he headed up the British families and had been a spokesperson for them for the duration of time since the disaster until now, really.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you've been watching this trial for all of these months. Explain to us this split verdict: One man found guilty, one found innocent. Was the evidence that different involving the two of these men?
CLARE CONNELLY: The evidence was very different involving both accused. There was a large quantity of evidence in respect to the first accused, and the nature of that evidence was such that it pointed towards a verdict of guilty being delivered prior to today. And with respect to the second accused, Fhimah, who was acquitted earlier today, there was a lot less evidence -- both in terms of volume and in terms of quality -- that was presented to the court. And in the written judgment, the judges said that even if you could, for example, infer a sinister purpose from the entries in Fhimah's diary in regard to getting in Malta luggage tags, that there was no evidence that he had knowledge as to even why he was asked to get those tags and the reason why he was asked to get them to al-Megrahi. And therefore, there was not enough evidence… to result in a verdict of guilty.
MARGARET WARNER: And what was the piece of evidence that the judges said was most damning about al-Megrahi that really tied him to this crime?
CLARE CONNELLY: Well, he didn't pinpoint one piece of evidence. They pinpointed a number of chapters or pieces of evidence. Perhaps the two that you would be most familiar with is the fact that the timer that was identified as having been used to detonate the bomb had been produced by Mebo, it was an MST-13 timer, and they thought that a link had been established between the company, Mebo, between that timer and both the Libyan intelligence services and the first accused, al-Megrahi. The second most significant piece of evidence related to the clothing that had been found in the suitcases, the fragments of clothing that had been expected to be in that suitcase with the bomb. The owner of the shop in Malta who had sold that clothing, they said that his identification as a first accused was not conclusive -- was enough, and the tracking back of that clothing was enough to tie the first accused into the picture as being the purchaser of that clothing, and therefore the person who placed it in the suitcase with the bomb.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Williams, how do you and how do the families feel about that? Are you satisfied with this verdict?
GEORGE WILLIAMS, Victims of Pam Am Flight 103: We're satisfied that the main character, who was a Libyan... I mean, Libyan intelligence member of Gadhafi's government that was tied to Gadhafi. So, yes, we were pleased. There was... there were a few yelps and hand clapping, and then we waited for the verdict for the second accused.
MARGARET WARNER: And how do you feel about the sentence -- this life in prison but with the possibility of parole in 20 years? I read that some of the family members were disturbed by that.
GEORGE WILLIAMS: I feel that it's probably a just verdict, because we've got to remember that these guys killed 11 Scots on the ground, and you don't kill Scots without the Scots remembering it for a long, long time. This guy, in order to get parole after 20 years, a minimum of 20 years, he has to admit that he did the deed and show, over the period of time, much remorse. I don't think that after 20 years he will get his parole.
MARGARET WARNER: Larry Johnson, what do you think of this verdict? I know you've also followed the trial very closely and the whole case.
LARRY JOHNSON, Former State Department Official: Well, it's good news from the standpoint that finally we now have the second trial where we've tied Libya to blowing up an airplane. The first was in France. Judge Bruguiere indicted a brother-in- law of Moammar Gadhafi and indicted Gadhafi and convicted them for blowing up UTA 772. So now there's no doubt Libya has been in the business of blowing up civilian airliners. So that you've got one of two, I think you have to be happy with that, but by the same token, the United States cannot sit back and say, okay, justice has been done, because justice has not been done. You've still got the families like George and others who have lost children and they have lost fathers and mothers. And just one person taking the heat for this is not enough, because this was more than a one individual operation.
MARGARET WARNER: You've been reporting on this a lot, Hisham Melhem. What's been the reaction today from the Libyan government and the Arab world?
HISHAM MELHEM: Well, the Libyan government repeated today what they have been repeating for many years, that they are not responsible for this, and they are putting their hopes now in the appeal. And also, they are questioning the split verdict. They are saying this shows that there was really no strong case, no strong evidence to indict both... I mean, to find that both of them were involved. I think they will continue to lobby in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, in the… world for lifting of sanctions and pinning their hopes on the appeal. So far, they didn't question the veracity or the integrity of the Scottish legal system. And they said that we respect it, but essentially they are again proclaiming their innocence.
MARGARET WARNER: Clare Connelly, what kind of evidence -- on the question of Libyan government involvement, was there any evidence presented on that point, and did the court come to any conclusions on that point?
CLARE CONNELLY: No, I think we have to remember that this trial involved the two accused. No one else was on trial here, and it was recognized that the first accused, al-Megrahi, had been a member of the Libyan intelligence services. It was accepted that the second accused, Fhimah, had not been, and certainly other individuals or other government agencies were not on trial. Unfortunately, in terms of the questions that family members may have, the trial will never answer all of those. It's not a public inquiry, and something of the nature of a public inquiry would now be required for many questions that lie out with the remit of the court, out with the ambit of the responsibility of these two accused to be both addressed and answered
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Williams, do you expect there to be more inquiries, other kinds of lawsuits involved in this?
GEORGE WILLIAMS: There's an ongoing civil lawsuit right now going after Gadhafi himself. We were instrumental in passing the exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows us, for the first time in history, allows the United States citizens to sue a government and a head of government for actions when he commits a terrorist action.
MARGARET WARNER: And in what court?
GEORGE WILLIAMS: New York. In New York. I don't know exactly what the...
MARGARET WARNER: Federal court.
GEORGE WILLIAMS: Federal court. Yeah, it's federal court in New York, yeah.
MARGARET WARNER: And are you looking for monetary damages? What else?
GEORGE WILLIAMS: Well, in a punitive fashion, I don't care if I were to get a billion dollars or one dollar. But we want to... we want to make it so tough on Gadhafi that other nations, like Syria, Libya... I mean, Iran, Iraq, who tend to get involved in terrorism, must say to themselves, this is too expensive. I cannot do this.
MARGARET WARNER: Where does it go from here, Larry Johnson?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, I think one of the unfortunate parts about the legal process was, you know, in a normal case, when you get two lower-case mopes like Megrahi and Fhimah, you put them in an interrogation room, you put them under pressure, and you get them to start giving up the people up above the food chain. I think right now the Bush administration is going to have a number of choices. One, should they keep the terrorism reward for $4 million on the head of Fhimah? I would argue yes.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, even though he's been acquitted?
LARRY JOHNSON: Yes. The rules of the Scottish court worked against justice in this case. The evidence against him, I believe, is compelling. I was there -- and by the way, I was with State Department when this happened, not CIA -- but I was the one who send the cable out that sent the FBI agents to Switzerland to meet with Mebo folks the first time. That... up until that point, which was like the summer of 1990, we thought it was an Iranian angle, we though it was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And when the evidence of the chip came in, it was like a car slamming on its breaks doing a 180-degree turn.
MARGARET WARNER: The chip?
LARRY JOHNSON: The Mebo timer, there was a piece, it was about the size of a thumbnail that was recovered from a garment that was up in a tree. The garment was connected to Mary's House, as well. And that is what turned the investigation. So this was not just a reflexive, let's go out and beat on Moammar Gadhafi because he makes a convenient villain. This is a case in which the forensic evidence clearly pointed to the government of Libya.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, but so how do you go up in the food chain if, what you're saying is, these two men, and only one is now in custody, has any incentive to point the finger at anyone higher up?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, now that Mr. Megrahi is in custody, I think the United States has a couple of options. One, to work with her majesty's government, and let's put some pressure on this individual to get him to tell the story, because you can possibly... you know, you are going to have to plea bargain. You can maybe lower his sentence in exchange for delivering the goods. Secondly, there's really been a failure to work closely with the government of France, whose plane, UTA 772, was also blown up by Libya, and they had a conviction on that. The fact is, it doesn't appear that there's been good coordination between the government of France and the Brits and the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think there -- you know, there is now talk about whether the U.N., not the separate U.S. sanctions at least, the UN sanctions should be lifted permanently on Libya -- do you think... Where do you think the U.S. government should be on that position?
LARRY JOHNSON: I think the United States government ought to set its heels in like a mule, a stubborn mule, and say, no way. No leader of the world gets away with putting a bomb on civilian aircraft and blowing up men, women and children on purpose. To say that the United States got payback for the blowing up of the Iran Airbus, that was an accident. But to do it consciously, to do it willfully, there must be justice. And just saying, throw us a few bucks, that will settle it, that's not enough.
MARGARET WARNER: Hisham Melhem, explain to us, one, why Gadhafi agreed to this deal to surrender these two guys, and where you think he and his government are going to go from now if they are confronted with opposition like that Larry Johnson just outlined?
HISHAM MELHEM: Well, first we have the pressure of the sanctions, second, the pressure on him. Second, the pressure of the Egyptians, the Saudis, Nelson Mandela and others to cooperate on this issue. Then he proposed sending them to a neutral place, to a third place. Maybe he believed that the United States and Great Britain will not accept this, and we spent many years haggling, they were haggling over this issue.
MARGARET WARNER: But I mean, did he get -- I don't want to read too much into it -- but did he get an agreement in return that this would be the end of it? Does he think this is the end of it?
HISHAM MELHEM: There were reports, there were certain hints that it will not go beyond these two individuals. And that's why... maybe one of the reasons he delivered them. Also, they may have felt that there would be circumstantial evidence but not really concrete, damning evidence, and they felt that the evidence might be somewhat flimsy. And they continued the charge against... the Libyans continue to accuse, indirectly, Libya and certain radicals in Syria, because that was the initial theory and it lasted for almost three years.
LARRY JOHNSON: You mean Iran.
HISHAM MELHEM: Iran, yes, some radicals in Syria did it on behalf of Iran after the Vincennes shot down the Iranian airliner in the gulf. But I think the hope was that it will not go beyond these two gentlemen, and that the evidence may be too murky to implicate the head of Libya. But I think the incident with the French jetliner in 1989, since the Libyans paid some sort of compensation, and... but they did not really... they did not admit responsibility publicly. Maybe they felt that something like that could happen. And don't forget, they approached the families of the victims during the 1980s several times to try to settle this issue out of court by giving them money.
MARGARET WARNER: If the Libyan... Go ahead.
GEORGE WILLIAMS: This idea that we can now pump these guys. There was a letter from Kofi Annan to Libya that we played the dickens trying to get a hold of a copy. We finally got a hold of a copy. And it said, this trial shall not be... shall not be... I don't know exactly the exact words… but that it couldn't go any farther than this, and that the United States and the UK could not question either one of these guys about anything other than the bombing. So, that was the reason why they were turned over. Now, we heartily disagreed with that, but we were... we agreed that maybe that's the only way that got them there. But now that they're convicted, I don't know, there might be a fine line now. They weren't able to question them while they were being held for trial, but maybe we can question them now.
LARRY JOHNSON: I don't view that as a binding international agreement. It's not a treaty. The Senate didn't vote on it. You know, if the Clinton administration wanted to make that agreement, fine, we should go forward.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Ms. Connelly, and gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.