Libyans Dance on the Graves of American Patriots
When Will Our Heroes Come Home?
Op Ed By William Kelly
If you thought it was wrong to release the convicted Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi, and were upset at the popular welcome he received in Tripoli, then consider the fact that when Libyans gather to celebrate their revolution, as they will next week, they do so at Green Square, where they dance on the graves of American heroes.
As the place where they gather every September 1 to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution and Gadaffi coup of 1969, Green Square is just outside the walls of the old castle fort. It is also the place where the bodies of the men of the USS Intrepid washed ashore and were buried on September 5, 1804, two hundred and four years to the day that Condi Rice visited Tripoli last year.
Richard Somers, of Somers Point, New Jersey, led the twelve volunteers who sailed the Intrepid into Tripoli Harbor at night, on a covert mission to blow up the anchored pirate fleet, but blew up prematurely killing all 13 men.
Buried a few feet below Green Square are the bodies of eight of the men of the Intrepid, including the remains of three officers – Lt. Richard Somers, Lt. Henry Wadsworth, uncle to Longfellow the poet, Midshipman Israel, a teenager, and five seamen. Five other bodies from the Intrepid grave site were reburied in the 1930s at the old Christian cemetery about a mile away.
While the five graves in the cemetery are secure, and maintained by Amerians from the US embassy, the remains of eight of the Intrepid officers and men are in an unmarked grave at Green Square which was recently excavated by the Libyans. They reportedly found “bones and buttons” that may now be relics in the museum at the old castle fort. That’s where the Volkswagon Bug Colonel Gadaffi rode into Tripoli during the coup is kept, along with other Roman and pre-Roman artifacts are kept.
Now that the United States has re-established diplomatic relations with Libya there are no more excuses as to why the bodies of these American heroes continue to be burried beneath a parking lot in Tripoli.
They should be repatriated home and given a proper burial with full military honors, just as those soldiers who die today fighting for the same principles, values and ideals that they fought for 205 years ago.
Buried behind enemy lines for over two centuries is too long, and since all of the other, more important issues have apparently been addressed in the reestablishing of relations, now is the time to repatriate the remains of the men of the USS Intrepid.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi received a heroes welcome when he was freed from a Scottish prision and allowed to go home, and he undoubtedly will be honored again on the September 1st 40th anniversary of the revolution at Green Square, the very place where American heroes are buried in an unmarked grave below a parking lot.
Al Megrahi was released because of the pressures applied by people with money, power and influence, and the men of the Intrepid will not be returned home until similar pressures are applied to our government, the US Navy and the government of Libya.
The fact that the Libyans are dancing on the graves of forgotten American heroes should instigate those Americans to ask questions, complain, petition their Senators and congressman and request the government and the Navy to do whatever it takes to repatriate the remains of our military heroes.
If our official policy is that no one is left behind, then why are they still there?
Help repatriate the remains of the men of the USS INTREPID, sign this petition:
William E. Kelly, Jr. Billkelly3@gmail.com
BEST ANALYSIS SO FAR:
From The Sunday Times
August 23, 2009
The Libyan Ultimatum
Despite denials, talk persists of pressure and plots behind the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber
They are expecting a magnificent party in Tripoli a week on Tuesday when Libya marks the 40th year in power of Muammar Gadaffi and pays tribute to the deft diplomatic footwork of Saif al-Islam, his son.
The only man convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 is finally home; and the suave, shaven-headed Saif, whose name means “sword of Islam”, is credited with a key role in making it happen.
An agreement struck long ago between Tony Blair and Gadaffi had threatened to fall apart with potentially catastrophic consequences for Britain: it has emerged that Libya threatened to freeze diplomatic relations if Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, said to be suffering from cancer, was not released under a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.
In the end, he was freed by Scotland on “compassionate” grounds and escorted home to Tripoli by Saif, who thrust Megrahi’s hand into the air as they came down the steps of Gadaffi’s airliner to a hero’s welcome that has outraged the families of Lockerbie’s victims.
Yesterday the protests were undimmed, but the official responses were evasive — unsurprisingly, because behind Megrahi’s release lie weeks of intrigue between Westminster, Tripoli, Edinburgh and Washington.
Apart from the unfortunate Lockerbie families, everyone seems to have got what they wanted. Gadaffi and his son have their man. Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary, who signed the release order, has burnished his humanitarian credentials.
Gordon Brown has preserved Britain’s politically and economically valuable new relationship with Libya while avoiding any blame for the release. And American politicians have been able to bluster in protest while exercising none of their considerable clout to stop it happening.
The whole exercise reeks of realpolitik and moral evasion.
The reality is that Megrahi’s freedom is a product of the effort to bring Libya out of dangerous isolation. This is as much to America’s advantage as Britain’s, but Washington has too much baggage to be openly involved; it bombed Libya in 1986 in punishment for supporting terrorism, and Gadaffi remains a bogeyman to many Americans. So Britain takes the lead — except when it can devolve the dirty work onto a Scottish politician.
A so-called “deal in the desert” reached between Gadaffi and Blair in a tent outside Tripoli in 2004 led to a broad rapprochement with Libya and a prisoner transfer agreement that Gadaffi saw, from the outset, as a means of bringing home Megrahi. The Libyans became increasingly angry, however, at what they regarded as British foot-dragging over the transfer.
“They were furious with the Foreign Office because things were not panning out as they were told they would,” said a source close to the Scottish administration. “The Foreign Office had been telling the Libyans that they were confident the Scottish government would agree to their prisoner transfer request.”
Megrahi was finally released without resort to the prisoner transfer agreement, but British businessmen made no secret of the pressure they had applied to the government to agree to the prisoner treaty so Megrahi could be repatriated. This removed what Saif regarded as a significant impediment to more lucrative British oil deals with his country.
British officials strongly denied that they had put pressure on Scotland to release Megrahi — or signed the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya — in order to smooth the way for oil deals. But on the way home to Tripoli on Thursday, Saif seemed to contradict them. “In all commercial contracts for oil and gas with Britain, Megrahi was always on the negotiating table,” he said.
There were anxieties in Edinburgh and Westminster when the Libyans raised the prospect of breaking off diplomatic relations, which in effect would have frozen all British dealings in Libya.
“Look at what he’s done to Switzerland,” said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya. “He [Gadaffi] can make life very unpleasant for us all.”
This was a reference to the undeclared war that Gadaffi has waged against the Swiss over the past year since Hannibal, a younger brother of Saif who is renowned as an exuberant playboy, was arrested in a Geneva hotel after complaints that he had been beating his servants.
Gadaffi cut off oil supplies to the Swiss and withdrew billions of pounds from their banks. Switzerland’s grovelling — a formal apology was issued last week for Hannibal’s “wrongful” arrest — might secure Gadaffi’s forgiveness but that is by no means certain and the Swiss stand to lose billions in business.
Some of the secret background to Megrahi’s release has now emerged with the leak of a letter from Ivan Lewis, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, encouraging MacAskill to “consider” Libya’s application for Megrahi to be sent home. It is part of the political game of pass the parcel between Brown and Alex Salmond, the nationalist Scottish first minister.
This began with a fiction that suited both sides. The prime minister claimed that the decision on whether to release the man convicted in a Scottish court of killing 270 people lay exclusively with ministers in the devolved Scottish administration.
Brown, who has a Macavity reputation of knowing when to hide from no-win situations, realised his reputation could be damaged by any association with the decision on Megrahi’s fate. However, no political insider seriously believed that the Westminster government would leave a matter as sensitive to this to Salmond’s unpredictable justice minister.
The idea that the Scottish executive alone was making the decision appealed to Salmond’s vanity. The fact that President Barack Obama publicly criticised the “Scottish government” for its decision to send the Libyan bomber home served only to boost the egos of those involved.
However, the images of Megrahi receiving a hero’s welcome on his return home to Libya on Thursday altered the political dynamics. The Scottish administration faced a public backlash.
UK ministers continued to deny any involvement. Lord Mandelson, the business secretary — who had discussed Megrahi with Saif while on holiday in Corfu this summer — said when leaving hospital yesterday after a prostate operation: “The issue of the prisoner’s release is quite separate from the general matter of our relations and indeed the prisoner’s release has not been influenced in any way by the British government.”
Lewis’s leaked letter to MacAskill suggested otherwise. Writing on August 3, Lewis told MacAskill there was no legal reason not to accede to Libya’s request to transfer Megrahi into its custody under the terms of the treaty agreed between Tony Blair and Gadaffi in 2007.
A source who saw the letter said Lewis added: “I hope on this basis you will now feel able to consider the Libyan application in accordance with the provisions of the prisoner transfer agreement.” The source said the Scottish government interpreted this as an attempt to influence MacAskill’s decision.
Brown’s involvement was highlighted yesterday when Downing Street released a letter he sent to Gadaffi on Thursday, tipping him off that Megrahi’s release was imminent before the decision was announced in Edinburgh.
The jubilant scenes greeting Megrahi’s return to Tripoli also forced some fast footwork in Washington. Obama initially appeared content to express muted disapproval of Megrahi’s release, but once US evening news broadcasts began running extensive reports from Libya, he described the scenes from Tripoli as “highly objectionable”. Yet there was no indication that the administration was planning to take the matter further, and many of the complex commercial considerations that have overshadowed Britain’s handling of the affair also apply in Washington.
Indeed, while politicians and senior administration officials were expressing dismay early last week at the release of a convicted terrorist, a congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, was in Libya.
McCain reported on Tuesday via Twitter, the instant internet messaging site, that he had met Gadaffi, whom he described as “an interesting man”. McCain was reported by the Libyan news agency to have praised Gadaffi’s peace-making efforts in Africa and to have called for expanded US ties with Libya. Exxon and Chevron, the American oil giants, are among companies vying for lucrative new exploration contracts.
Yesterday, Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, said Megrahi’s release “rewards a terrorist”. Nevertheless, diplomatic sources said Washington expected Gadaffi to pay his first visit to America later this year for the next UN general assembly.
From the western point of view, a key part of the process of Libya’s rehabilitation is the courting of a new leadership generation friendly to America and Europe. This is not an exercise in democracy-building, however, and the emergence of Saif as a key player is seen as an advantage — if he can retain his prominence.
For Libya watchers, the recent antics of the young Gadaffi, whose back-channel diplomacy has included befriending Prince Andrew as well as Mandelson, has bolstered the view that he is being groomed to succeed his 67-year-old father.
“I don’t think Gadaffi particularly wants people to know who his successor is but is probably thinking ‘let’s see what the young man can do’,” said Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya, who calls Saif “very personable”.
In his well-cut suits and Bond Street shoes, Saif, a 37-year-old engineer with artistic leanings and a degree in governance from the London School of Economics, is just as much at ease on the business cocktail circuit as he is in his father’s Bedouin tents.
“He has no executive role, but likes to behave like a young prince,” says Dalton. “His father sees virtue in that, provided that he doesn’t cause too much trouble with other constituents.”
This was a reference to the diehard revolutionaries of Gadaffi’s regime who are uncomfortable with the process of modernisation espoused by Saif and other western-friendly technocrats.
Saif’s prominent role in Megrahi’s return should reap him dividends in popular support.He seems to get “more latitude” than Gadaffi’s seven other children, says an acquaintance, adding: “I think all bets are that Saif is the guy who’s going to emerge, but who knows? His father has stayed in power ... by being crafty.”
Gadaffi presents himself as the spiritual guide of the nation but maintains absolute control through the ruthless suppression of all opposition. Human rights groups have denounced torture and other abuses. Foreign workers have been held hostage.
From Facebook to Windsor Castle, where he has been a guest, Saif is the human face of the regime, a behind-the-scenes negotiator attracting sympathy for his quest to bring Libya into the modern world. His hand was detected in the process that led to his father’s abandonment of a programme to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
Last year when Condoleezza Rice, the former American secretary of state, visited Tripoli,Saif exhorted fellow Arabs to support American efforts to promote democracy.
“Instead of shouting and criticising the American initiative, you have to bring democracy to your countries,” he told Al-Jazeera television. “Then there will be no need to fear America or your people. The Arabs should either change or change will be imposed on them from the outside.”
The clues that led to Megrahi
It is almost 20 years since The Sunday Times revealed how the trail to the key suspect in the Lockerbie bombing led to Malta, writes David Leppard.
Painstaking work by British forensic scientists showed how clothing wrapped around the Semtex bomb when it exploded had been made in a factory on the island.
When detectives travelled there in August 1989, nine months after the bombing, they interviewed a shopkeeper called Tony Gauci. As this newspaper reported, he recalled how just two weeks before the bombing a man he described as “a Libyan” had walked into his shop and bought a random selection of clothing. These included a blue Babygro, checked trousers, an imitation Harris tweed jacket and a black umbrella.
Gauci’s unprompted description matched almost exactly the contents of the Lockerbie bomb suitcase.
He later claimed to have identified the Libyan as the purchaser. The breakthrough eventually led to the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, for the murder of the 270 victims.
There were question marks over the reliability of Gauci’s eye-witness testimony; Megrahi always insisted Gauci had the wrong man. His planned appeal might well have vindicated him but Megrahi’s return to Libya now means there will always be uncertainty about his involvement.