The Moral and Political Cost of Libya's Rehabilitation

[Daily Standard] David Schenker - Secretary of State Rice's visit to Libya represents the final step in a decades-long U.S. effort to reform and rehabilitate the rogue state. A charter member of the U.S. Department of State's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, after its nuclear program was disclosed in 2003, Tripoli demonstrated contrition and agreed to compensate American victims of the 1988 Lockerbie terrorist attack. The Bush administration considers the reintegration of Libya to be a roadmap for other rogue states. Indeed, in 2006 Secretary Rice described Libya as "an important model as nations around the world press for changes in behavior by the Iranian and North Korean regimes." The rollback of Libya's nuclear program was a strategic achievement, but it was not without a political and moral cost. An August deal known as the "U.S.-Libya Comprehensive Claims Settlement" establishes a fund in excess of $1 billion to cover Lockerbie, the 1986 Libyan-sponsored attack on the La Belle Disco in Germany, and any future U.S. terrorism-related damages claims against Libya. But the settlement also stipulates that the fund will compensate Libyans who were killed and injured during the U.S. military retaliation for the La Belle disco bombing. Some 40 Libyans were killed and 80 wounded in the April 1986 U.S. airstrikes. On the face of it, the quid pro quo implicitly equates the intentional targeting of civilians (i.e., terrorism) with unintentional collateral damage incurred during a legal act of self-defense. The administration's embrace of moral equivalency to seal the deal is stunning. In a surreal twist of events, Libyan leader Muamar Qaddhafi - who ordered the attack on the La Belle - could be eligible for compensation for the death of his adopted daughter, who was said to have been killed in the U.S. counterstrike. The U.S. has never accepted the legal obligation to pay compensation for unintentional collateral damage incurred during legitimate military actions, and nothing in the Geneva Conventions specifies it. Even though the fund will be financed by Libyan and U.S. corporate contributions, there is a very real danger that the Libya settlement could serve as precedent for future claims of this sort. By equating those killed in the U.S. counterstrike on Libya with American victims of Libyan terror, the administration has inadvertently muddled a principled position on terrorism that differentiates between terrorist and counterterrorist operations. The writer is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2008-09-12 01:00:00

Full Article


Visit the Daily Alert Archive