Beyond the court's remit lay the biggest questions, the ones that have not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny of any judge, Scottish or otherwise, and may never be. Who besides al-Megrahi decided the plane should come down? Was Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader and guardian of his country's perpetual revolution, the man who gave the nod? Might al-Megrahi and others have been set on their murderous task by others, such as the Iranians or a Palestinian terrorist group with close ties to Syria and Iran? What role if any did the realpolitik of the West's parlous relations with the Middle East play in this case?
The Scottish judges didn't get into any of that. In its closely reasoned ruling, the court laid out why it believed evidence that the bomb, concealed in a Toshiba radio-cassette player, was placed in a brown Samsonite suitcase amid clothes purchased in Malta. Exactly how that suitcase was spirited aboard an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt is unknown, but the court was convinced that it had been, that it was transferred to a Pan Am flight in Frankfurt and then in London again to the New York-bound plane. The court put ample credence in Maltese shopowner Tony Gauci, who described a man who seemed strangely not to care just what clothes he was buying when he stopped in at Gauci's shop on a rainy day in late 1988. While acknowledging that Gauci "never made what could be described as an absolutely positive identification" of al-Megrahi as the purchaser of those clothes, later found imbedded with Toshiba parts in Scotland, it was "nevertheless satisfied that his identification ... was reliable."
That, together with al-Megrahi's trip to Malta under a false name on Dec. 20 and his association with Edwin Bollier, the Zurich electronics expert the court believes manufactured the timer for the bomb, was enough to dispel any reasonable doubt as to his guilt. The judges felt the prosecution's case was insufficient against Fhimah, former station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta. Though entries in his diary suggest he gave Air Malta luggage tags to al-Megrahi, the court wasn't convinced he was "necessarily aware" that they would be used to spirit a bomb onto a plane; nor did the prosecution present evidence that Fhimah was at the airport in Malta on Dec. 21, when he was alleged to have used his position to get the suitcase aboard a plane.
Most of the victims' relatives saw last week's split verdict as a bitter victory. "The overwhelming fact is we made the link to state-sponsored terrorism," said Aphrodite Tsairis, whose 20-year-old daughter Alexia was killed on Flight 103. Many families had stopped daring to hope for a conviction, and it came as the culmination of a draining struggle against complacency and despair. When Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was on the Pan Am flight, heard the verdict, he fainted in the court gallery. But the ruling also underlined another challenge: to start from this now legally established link and go up the chain to the real instigators. President George W. Bush said "the United States government will continue to pressure Libya to accept responsibility for this act and to compensate the families." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook insisted that Libya is required to do both under the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
That principletrying the makers of murderous policy, not just its executorshas become imperative since the war crimes trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, and it stands at the heart of the ongoing international tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But those special international courts can range more broadly than the Scottish one, which despite the oddity of being in the Netherlands had the fundamental task of judging a mass murder that occurred in Lockerbie. The court thus explicitly accepted testimony that al-Megrahi was a member of Libya's intelligence service but left it to others to draw further conclusions. Bert Ammerman, a New Jersey resident whose brother Tom was on the Pan Am flight, was quick to do so. "Al-Megrahi's conviction leads straight to the doorsteps of Gaddafi," he said after viewing the verdict on a closed-circuit broadcast in New York with dozens of other relatives. "He is a coward. He is a rogue leader. And Libya is a rogue state."
Gaddafi led the press to his own doorstep last week to deliver his singular reading of the verdict and the road ahead. With his arm draped over the acquitted Fhimah, he posed before the destroyed Bab Al Aziziya compound, which was bombed by U.S. planes in April 1986, killing Gaddafi's adopted daughter Hana and several dozen others. An ebullient Gaddafi challenged the verdict of the court he had vowed to respect, saying he would come forward with new evidence of al-Megrahi's innocence so compelling that the judges would be moved to "commit suicide, resign or admit the truth." Al-Megrahi, still in custody in the Netherlands until his expected appeal is heard, is likely to be among those wondering why the Libyan leader didn't speak up sooner.