U.S. Secretary of State Address on Flight 103

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright  

Statement on venue for trial of PanAm #103 Bombing Suspects 

Washington, D.C., August 24, 1998 

As released by the Office of the Spokesman  U.S. Department of State

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning. As the President said last week, we are engaged in a long-term struggle against terrorism in which we will use every means, including diplomatic, economic and force where necessary, to hold terrorists accountable and to protect American lives.

Last week, we used armed force to protect Americans from continuing terrorist attacks. The President announced a freeze on the financial assets of a terrorist network. Our law enforcement investigation of the African embassy bombings continues. And today, I?m announcing another effort to bring terrorists to justice.

It has been a decade since Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 others on the ground. From the outset, America?s goal and that of the United Kingdom has been to apprehend and bring before the bar of justice those responsible for this cowardly act of mass murder.

A lengthy and exhaustive investigation by British and US law enforcement officials developed compelling evidence implicating a senior Libyan intelligence official and the former manager of the Libyan Arab Airlines office in Malta. Both were agents of the Libyan Government; both were indicted in US and UK courts for their parts in the crime.

Since those indictments, the UN Security Council has repeatedly directed that the Libyan Government turn over the two suspects for trial before a US or Scottish court. The Council agreed to impose sanctions until Libya complies. Those sanctions have been regularly reviewed and reaffirmed.

Unfortunately, year after year has passed without resolution. The sanctions have not altered Libyan intransigence. The families of the victims have become increasingly and understandably frustrated. The cause of justice was not being served.

Accordingly, the United States and the United Kingdom began exploring whether it might be possible for a Scottish court to hold a trial presided over by Scottish judges outside Scotland. This step is fully consistent with UN Security Council resolutions, and has been suggested to us as a way to call the Libyan Government?s bluff and to bring the fugitives into court at long last.

After consultations with The Netherlands, we have concluded that such a trial is, indeed, possible. Accordingly, we have decided to go forward with a trial of the two suspects before a Scottish court with Scottish judges applying Scottish law. We thank The Netherlands Government for indicating its willingness to host this proceeding.

We note that Libya has repeatedly stated its readiness to deliver the suspects for trial by a Scottish court sitting in a third country. This approach has been endorsed by the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement. We now challenge Libya to turn promises into deeds. The suspects should be surrendered for trial promptly. We call upon the members of organizations that have endorsed this approach to urge Libya to end its ten years of evasion now.

Let me be clear — the plan the US and the UK are putting forward is a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposition. It is not subject to negotiation or change, nor should it be subject to additional foot-dragging or delay. We are ready to begin such a trial as soon as Libya turns over the suspects. We expect — and the families deserve — and immediate answer.

In closing, I want to add a personal note. For years now, as US Ambassador to the United Nations and as Secretary of State, I have been in contact with many of the families of those murdered on Pan Am 103. I was in touch with them again this morning. As may be expected, these families don?t all agree on the proper strategy for achieving accountability in this case. But they all agree on that goal, for they all share the anguish of having lost a loved one to terror. And they all agree that the delay in bringing the suspects to trial have gone on for far too long.

In dealing with a tragedy as profound and gut-wrenching as this one, we cannot speak of achieving true justice in the human sense. For true justice implies a balancing of the scales; and there is no action or force or thing on Earth that can balance the loss of a husband, a daughter, son, parent or wife. But we can and do demand accountability. One way or another, terrorists must answer for their crimes.

As the events of recent days illustrate, America is determined to see that the perpetrators of terrorism past are brought to account; to respond swiftly and firmly to present acts of terror; and to deter and prevent such crimes in the future. We owe that to the families of Pan Am 103, to other victims of terror, to all Americans and to decent and law-abiding people everywhere.

Thank you.