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Lest We Forget on this Memorial Day Weekend

On December 21, 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland.  On the flight were 189 Americans who never saw their families again.  Before 9/11, it was the single deadliest terrorist attack on the people of America. The killers were linked to Libya and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi.  UN sanctions were placed on Libya, and the U.S. State Department listed Libya as a state sponsor of terrorism, Gaddafi being the kingpin.    

(Hold on to these facts for a few minutes.)

 On May 24, 1984 a man named Charles Taylor was indicted on embezzlement charges in Massachusetts.  He stole $922,000 of government funds intended for buying machinery parts.  On September 15, 1985, Mr. Taylor and 4 other inmates escaped from prison by sawing through a bar in a window.  Shortly thereafter he surfaced in Libya where he went on to receive guerilla warfare training under Gaddafi. In the early 1990s, Taylor emerged in his homeland of Liberia, waging a ruthless war for power that involved cutting the arms and hands off of non-supporters, outright cold-blood killings, rape, and the forced use of child soldiers high on drugs provided by Taylor.  Also, he gave support to a friend he met in Libya, a Mr. Foday Sankoh of neighboring Sierra Leone.  Sankoh and Taylor were rebelling against what they determined were pro-Western regimes that governed their countries.  

 Sankoh traded diamonds for Taylor’s guns.  Together, they embarked on a bloody rampage for power in West Africa. Liberia’s civil war eventually reached a peace agreement in 1996.  Taylor became president in a landslide victory on August 2, 1997.  His campaign slogan sung out by his supporters:  “He killed my pa, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”  Votes drenched in fear.   

 (Hold on to these facts for a few minutes.)    

 In June 2003, the UN issued an arrest warrant for Taylor.  The charges:  war crimes.  The prosecution also stated that Taylor provided refuge to Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Opposition rebel groups were mobilizing in Liberia.  More awful bloodshed was imminent.  International pressure was placed on Taylor to leave Liberia to prevent another bloody war.  Two times in July 2003, President George W. Bush said that Taylor “must leave Liberia.” Taylor did resign and agreed to leave in August of 2003.  Nigeria took him in and set him up with a nice villa in the coastal town of Calabar.  In November 2003, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that included a $2 million reward for Taylor’s capture.     

(Review the facts above.  Follow along.)

 Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as President of Liberia on January 16, 2006.  In attendance at her inauguration were U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush.  Indeed, the world celebrated along with Liberians as Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf became the first female president on the African continent in a fair and democratic election. On March 17, 2006, President Sirleaf requested to the UN for Taylor’s return from Nigeria to stand trial for war crimes.  It was granted on March 25th.  Nigeria released him, but did not agree to extradite him.  On March 28th Nigeria stated that Taylor had disappeared.  Coincidentally, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was in Washington.  President Bush was not pleased to hear of Taylor’s escape.   The next day Taylor was captured by Nigerian police as he tried to cross the border into Cameroon. He was sent to Freetown, Sierra Leone to be tried for crimes against humanity.  It was decided shortly after that he should be tried at The Hague, Netherlands so that he is not able to stir anything up again in West Africa.  He was moved to The Hague.  He awaits trial.    

  (Still following?  This is where the hammer is drawn back.)      

Earlier this month, the Bush Administration decided that Muammar Gaddafi is no longer a terrorist.  He has been cooperative in the fight against terrorism.  He has turned over some documents he got from noted Weapons of Mass Destruction mastermind A.Q. Khan, he turned over some old mustard gas, and he agreed to destroy some empty bomb tubes.  Now, he is longer a threat to the American people.  He is our friend.  On the weekend of May 13-14, 2006, President Sirleaf visited Libya.  While there, Gaddafi expressed opposition to Taylor being tried for war crimes in Sierra Leone.   Gaddafi says the trial may set a “dangerous precedent.” On May 15, 2006, Secretary Rice announced that “Libya will not be certified this year as a country not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts,” meaning Libya is no longer viewed as a state sponsor of terrorism.     

(The facts are lined up.  Now the hammer falls.)      

You would be hard pressed to find a single leader in the world who would say that they are opposed to Taylor being tried for war crimes, except for his old terrorism-perpetrating buddy Gaddafi.  The world is united against Charles Taylor.  Does Muammar fear what may be said during the trial? How does the U.S. say it promotes democracy around the world when it cozies up to a noted supporter of terrorism, a man many human rights groups have documented as a despicable suppressor of the people of Libya, a man who is in his third decade of rule in Libya?  Is this a picture of democracy? What do the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 do now?  What is on their minds when they wake in the morning under this veil of democracy? Why would Gaddafi make nice with the U.S.?  Why would the U.S. want to work things out with Gaddafi?     

(The nail is driven clean through.)    

 Libya has the world’s 8th largest oil reserves.   They were little developed while Libya was under UN sanctions.  Now that the sanctions are over (Gaddafi turned over the bombers and paid some money to the families) and the U.S. has rubber stamped its approval of Libya as a friend, the oil companies are already on the ground in Libya surveying the wealth.    

(written 28 May 2006)

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