Debra J. Saunders

Every American should look at Libya through the prism of the 1988 Pan Am 103 terrorist bombing that left 270 people dead. Moammar Gadhafi -- the man whom Ronald Reagan called the mad dog of the Middle East -- ordered an attack that killed mostly American civilians in a bombing over British soil. Yet rather than be beaten by more powerful nations, he lived to crow about it.

It took more than a decade for international investigators to uncover the crime and the international community to pressure Libya to hand over two suspects for a Scottish trial -- given America's death penalty, Tripoli would never go for a U.S. trial -- conducted in a Dutch courtroom.

In 2001, three judges acquitted one defendant, but found onetime Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi guilty of the bombing and sentenced him to life -- which made him eligible for parole after 27 years.

In 2003, to the shock and outrage of many, the United Nations named Libya to chair its Human Rights Commission.

Libya eventually accepted "responsibility for the actions of its officials" in the bombing and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to victims' families to end economic sanctions against Tripoli.

Gadhafi also agreed to surrender Libya's unconventional weapons and open its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors. Many on the right -- including me -- saw the move as proof that the war in Iraq had a chilling effect on tyrants with weapons of mass destruction. Washington and London looked at Gadhafi and saw a bully who had been beaten and cowed.

With these moves, and title to Africa's largest oil reserves, Gadhafi won his way into the bosom of international capitalism.

From that perch, Gadhafi then was able to engage in what a report released by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., last year called "commercial warfare" to free his man Megrahi. It used a $900 million oil exploration deal with BP as leverage to pressure the British government.

As The New York Times reported, in 2009, Libyan officials warned executives from top energy companies that there would be "serious consequences" if they didn't cough up $1.5 billion to defray Tripoli's Pan Am 103 payments. In his greed, Gadhafi appealed to the greed in others, and with some companies, it worked. A State Department cable described Libya as a "kleptocracy" in which the Gadhafi family and its allies claimed "a direct stake in anything worth buying, selling or owning."

On Aug. 20, 2009, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill released Megrahi, who ostensibly had less than three months to live. He is still alive, and according to news reports, driving a Lamborghini.

Debra J. Saunders

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