Libya is still in the process of paying compensation to the relatives of those who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie air disaster of 1988.
While it is difficult to put a value on anyone’s life, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s offer of $10 million dollars per passenger, $270 in total – was deemed acceptable by both George W Bush and Tony Blair.
I’m not really sure how the price was reached. Could it have been down to skin colour or class? No, nothing as overtly racist or imperialistic as that, I’m sure; it probably had more to do with zip codes, passports, nationalities and oil.
On Blair’s farewell vanity tour it is worth noting that during his cosy desert farewell with his new best friend Colonel Gaddafi they were also joined in the Sahara by BP Chairman Peter Sutherland. Hours later BP said it has signed a £450 million agreement, with the prospect of 17 oil wells being drilled. A spokesman added that if all this exploration reached its full potential the deal could be worth £13 billion which almost makes Gaddafi’s ‘blood money’ pale into insignificance.
Oil deals aside, it is the first time any compensation has been awarded to the bereaved families of those killed in a terrorist atrocity by a state designated a sponsor of terrorism. As I have said many times before, I can not differentiate between a Stealth Bomber or a suicide bomber; other than the fact the Stealth pilot usually wipes out more innocents and can always fly back to base, re-load and return to drop more bombs of death and destruction as many times as is deemed necessary.
Both these methods of killing wipe out innocents, and therefore both are to be condemned. Neither is carried out with military precision and I think we all recognise now there is no such thing as a surgical strike. So should Britain, America, Israel and other states who kill innocent civilians follow Libya’s lead and pay compensation to the families of loved ones blown apart by indiscriminate bombing?
I was one of the first journalists into Lockerbie that ghastly night in December 1988, just as I was one of the first journalists to get into the Palestinian town of Jenin in April 2002 where more than 50 men, women and children were slaughtered by the Israeli Army. (The United Nations was stopped by Israel from investigating war crimes). A year later I was in Afghanistan to watch a grieving mother bury ALL of her nine children from a babe in arms to her teenage daughter after a US laser guided missile was deliberately sent into her home.
And I can faithfully record that the twisted, blown up limbs of the passengers on Pan Am flight 103 were very similar to the blackened, bloated, broken corpses dragged from the rubble in Jenin and that family home in the village of Bermil near Shkin in Paktika. Not only did they all look the same but the smell of death which hung in the air was identical.
However, there was a difference; the majority of the 270 Pan Am passengers were Westerners with 189 of the victims being Americans making Lockerbie the deadliest attack on US civilians until 9/11. Like it or not, the life of a Westerner is worth so much more than someone from the Muslim world.
The Pan Am families also had the benefit of excellent lawyers from the top New York law firm, Kreindler & Kreindler. On a point of interest, families of those who perished in 9/11 have so far received an immediate payment of $50,000. The average award is expected to be $1.8 million with the final award being based on the victim’s age, number of dependents and earning power.
And no, I don’t begrudge any of them a single dollar.
But if there is to be any justice in this world then there has to be equality and sadly we live in a world where your nationality, passport and postcode does have a value.
I have often said Muslim blood is cheap and there are rivers of it pouring through Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and elsewhere at the moment. The only time I have been aware of America offering any compensation was in May 2003 when a total of 11 Afghan children were wiped out in an air strike on their home by mistake.
One of the grieving mothers I interviewed at the time had lost all of her nine children. She was given less than 10,000 dollars in blood and hush money and an apology from a US commander who turned up later in a 15-vehicle, heavily armed convoy. And I have to say that was only forthcoming when the US military heard a Western journalist (me) was investigating their war crime.
If Sawara Khan had lived in Lockerbie she would have been awarded 90 million dollars by Colonel Gaddafi, but life in Afghanistan is so much cheaper.
She told me at the time: “Some say I am a lucky to be alive but I am not a survivor. I can’t count myself blessed. I am also a dead person now. I am dead inside. All my children have gone. My two-year-old boy Hazrat was crushed to death as he lay in my arms.
“It is like hell has visited our home. On Tuesday I had a family and by Wednesday I had nothing.” I clearly remember the words of the dead children’s father Mawes who said: “Nothing will ever be able to compensate me for the loss of my family. How can you put a price on a human body?”
May be that is a question that Tony Blair might want to address before he leaves office; after all there are at least 650,000 dead on his illegal war in Iraq, and the tens of thousands of innocents who have perished in Afghanistan.