Although straightforward and well-written, Susan and Daniel Cohen's book (New American Library, 2000, $21.95) is not easy reading. The Cohens have written a searing account of their pain and anger, still raw today, at the loss of their only child, 20 year old Theodora, a talented and vibrant drama and music student at Syracuse University, murdered with 269 others when Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. As Daniel Cohen put it: "Theo will always be just yesterday and a lifetime ago." Newspaper reports on the poor performance of the chief prosecution witnesses as two Libyans are finally being tried in the Netherlands for the crime suggest that the outcome is likely to exacerbate their bitterness and sense of betrayal.
The Cohens increase the sense of immediacy by alternating voices throughout the book, each describ-
There is evidence that Palestinian terrorists may have been involved in the Pan Am bombing.
The families, the Cohens included, first turned their wrath upon Pan Am: there had been warnings of planned terrorism that were ignored; security guards had little or no training; the airline had failed to follow FAA regulations prohibiting unaccompanied luggage from being loaded on a plane. Pan Am did not help matters by trying to shift responsibility from itself through promoting the claims of some of the shady characters and con artists who thrust themselves upon the scene, including the inevitable Israeli (falsely claiming to be a "Mossad" officer) who came up with a wild, elaborate and wholly unsupported conspiracy theory involving drug-running sponsored by the U.S. government. In the end, after defeat in the courts and a series of failed appeals, Pan Am reached a financial settlement with the families. Under pressure from the attorneys, determined to end the case, the Cohens too reluctantly agreed to the settlement.
In their campaign for punishing the actual mur- derers, the Cohens have found themselves on a permanent rollercoaster. The families united in a group called Victims of Pan Am 103 only to split on a mixture of tactics (confrontational or conciliatory?), personalities and organizational goals (serve as support group or pressure group on authorities). The Cohens soon broke with both groups, pursuing their own high-intensity path. Even identifying those responsible for destroying the aircraft proved enormously frustrating: after a strong start focussing on Palestinian terrorists working with Syria and Iran, the U.S. and British investigation hit a dead end, later to refocus on Libya, where the focus has remained.
At first the Cohens were deeply suspicious of the change in direction. Not until 1991, over two years after the destruction of Pan Am 103, was Libya first publicly mentioned. The Cohens suspected shifting politics at work. Syria had supported the U.S. in the recent Gulf War while Qadaffi had been an outspoken proponent of Saddam. However, the Cohens gradually became convinced that there was solid evidence Qaddafi was in fact responsible (although they continue to believe that, given the web of international terrorism, Palestinian terrorists hired by Syria and Iran may also have been involved). A key event causing U.S., British (and the Cohens) rethinking: Libya was quickly and clearly established as the culprit when a French plane was blown up over Niger with 171 killed and the similarities to Pan Am 103 were overwhelming, including fragments of the same timer in the wreckage of both.
But obtaining any sort of U.S. action was another matter. The Cohens are equally angry at Presidents Bush and Clinton, whom they compare to Lewis Carroll's the Walrus and the Carpenter. The Walrus (Clinton) wept for the oysters and the Carpenter (Bush) said nothing, but the walrus ate even more oysters. Qaddaffi denied all responsbility (he said a lightning bolt had brought down Pan Am 103) and refused to turn over for trial in the U.S. or Scotland the two men identified as the Libyan agents in Malta who had transferred the Samsonite bag with the bomb onto Pan Am 103 at its stopover there. (Qadaffi offered to try them in Libya.) The Cohens opposed the U.S. decision to turn the whole problem over to the UN and were angry when the UN confined sanctions to a ban on Libyan commercial flights -- like many of the other families, they wanted an oil embargo against Qadaffi. They felt betrayed again when the U.S. government, without even informing the families, agreed to do what it said it would never do -- hold the trial in a "third country" (not the U.S. or Scotland). When it turned out that even to obtain this concession, Kofi Annan had made a written promise to Qadaffi that he would not be held accountable and only the two men he turned over were at risk, the Cohens boiled over. On a reception line (his first after being impeached) an unhappy Clinton was told by an infuriated Susan Cohen that he had sold out for a "compromise trial of a couple of triggermen."
The Cohens found few allies in their battle to win justice for Theo. Among politicians they have the highest praise for Senator Edward Kennedy, who made Pan
[(Continued on p.9)]
Outpost - 8 - October 2000