Gadhafi Shows His True Colors by Bernard-Henri Levy

OPINION WSJ.COM
SEPTEMBER 1, 2009, 7:13 P.M. ET

Gadhafi Shows His True Colors
Libya's dictator has contempt for democracy. Surprise, surprise.

By BERNARD-HENRI LéVY

On Thursday, Aug. 20, Abel Basset Ali Megrahi, the mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing, returned to a hero's welcome in Tripoli. It was an astonishing event.

The official line from Scotland is that Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer and thus was being released on "compassionate grounds." In theory, I support the humane principle of allowing people to die in their home countries. But the reality seems to be that Megrahi's release was, as Moammar Gadhafi's son proclaimed in the Scottish daily The Herald, negotiated in exchange for oil and gas exploration contracts for British companies.

The former spy—who is responsible for the deaths of 259 passengers on the Pan Am flight, as well as 11 villagers who were crushed by the wreckage—was repatriated in one of Gadhafi's private jets.

As if that weren't enough, Gadhafi arranged for a large audience to greet him on the tarmac. The crowd was delirious, singing patriotic songs. And this was in a country where outbursts of jubilation are rarely spontaneous.

It's true: There is a small lobby, including the journalists Pierre Péan and Edward Baer, that deploys a lot of energy trying to exonerate the Libyan regime of responsibility for this massacre. Its so-called counterinvestigations are pathetically weak, and the truth is that the Libyan regime has never denied its guilt. On the contrary, in 2003 it committed to contributing $10 million to compensate each one of the families of the 270 victims.

So Megrahi was repatriated to a country where a man is treated like a hero not because he is believed to be innocent, but because he is known to be guilty of murdering people whose only crime was happening to be citizens of democratic countries.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his ministers can proclaim their outrage at the welcome this terrorist received all they want. They have disgraced themselves. Their Scottish counterparts, we now know, had received assurance from Libyan authorities that "any return would be dealt with in a low-key and sensitive fashion," according to Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

When Gadhafi goes on television and thanks his "friend" Gordon Brown, the Queen of England, and "her son Prince Andrew," it feels as if he were spitting on Winston Churchill and the heroes of the Battle of Britain.

Scotland and Britain are not alone. Switzerland can't seem to apologize enough since the colonel's other precious son, Hannibal, was arrested in Geneva last year for altercations with hotel staff. Yesterday in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi laid the first stone of a highway meant to reaffirm the Italo-Libyan accord a few hours before the kick-off of the dictatorship's 40th anniversary festivities. And my country was at the vanguard of the movement to rehabilitate Gadhafi when President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed him to France in 2007. I am waiting for my government to draw the same conclusion that this newspaper came to: This terrorist's release was "a second Lockerbie outrage."

As far as France goes, who was right? Those, like Mr. Sarkozy, who thought that Gadhafi had changed and that it was necessary to extend a hand to help reintegrate him into the community of nations? Or those like French Secretary of State for Human Rights Rama Yade, who regretted that our country was becoming a "doormat" on which any tyrant "could come to wipe his feet of the blood of his crimes"?

Now we have the answer. Gadhafi hasn't renounced his contempt for democracy. That contempt is the true root of terrorism today.

Mr. Lévy is the author, most recently, of "Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against The New Barbarism" (Random House, 2008). This op-ed was translated from the French by Sara Phenix.

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