Lockerbie: Perspective

This has been on my mind and I looked through the archive but couldn’t find this topic. As it’s in the news (here) every day, I thought I’d mention it.

The trial is now underway of the suspects charged with the bombing in which 270 people tragically died (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) – presumably almost all of whom were flying to join loved ones for the Christmas holidays (it happened on 21st December 1988.

In the Persian Gulf on 3rd July 1988, the USS Vincennes, while illegally in Iranian territorial waters, shot down an Iranian civil Airbus with two surface-to-air missiles. The Vincennes attempted to communicate with the plane on at least three occasions (at least two of which were on purely military channels), fired its missiles while the plane was at 7,000 feet and climbing, in a civil corridor, and away from the Vincennes. Over 290 civilians died.

The official Pentagon inquiry found no one to be at fault for the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus, later the Supreme Court refused to hear an application from relatives of the Iranian dead on the ground that “no state of war existed” and a federal judge in San Francisco later rejected a claim against the manufacturers of weapons used in the shooting on the ground that “contractors cannot be sued for negligence by soldiers in wartime” (it was a media dubbed ‘oil tanker war’). That decision was upheld in the District Court.

Because so much of our knowledge is dependent on how the media cover ‘an event’, I wondered:
Does the trial attract much media attention in the States per se, also
Is any connection made between these two tragic events, and
How do people feel about revenge in this situation – would or should the US allow two of its (CIA) citizens to be extradited if the sequence of events were reversed ?

In Chicago NPR (National Public Radio) covers the story every day. NPR is known for longer stories than the 15 second sound bites most stations pump out. They seem to devote at least three minutes a day to the story (so far). I was curious if they’d keep this up for the year the trial is expected to take.

Absolutely none that I’ve heard. I seriously doubt the connection would be made anyway. The terrorists (whoever they are if not those on trial) never said the bombing was in retribution for the Airbus disaster.

I haven’t met anyone yet who can seriously argue two wrongs make a right. If the sequence were reversed in the states I doubt they’d extradite its citizens to a place like Libya. The death penalty is a tough issue over here without shipping off our citizens to places where even worse things can happen. If they were to be shipped to England for trial and incarceration we’d send them in a heartbeat. That said regardless of whether CIA agents would be extradited heads would roll all over Washington (remember…we’re assuming the situation is exactly reversed). This could easily include impeachment of the President of the United States not to mention (at a minimum) demand the resignations of cabinet members and military chiefs. Americans don’t tolerate bullshit like that.

The Iranian Airbus was a tradgedy but there are definite differences between that tradgedy and Lockerbie.

  • The Lockerbie attack was thoughtfully planned out ahead of time. It was a purposeful act. At worst the Iranian Airbus was shot down through extreme stupidity. Small consolation for those on the plane but Americans do make a distinction between malice aforethought and negligence.

  • I’ll admit the record is fuzzy on what happened the day the Airbus was shot down but the radar return showed the Airbus heading FOR the cruiser (indeed…it showed a descending flight path towards the ship) and the cruiser was under attack by Iranian gunboats at the time. The US navy is supposed to be better trained and those gunboats were small threat to the US warship but one can see how people get twitchy in that situation.

  • The Iranian people (victims and government) were compensated by the US government for their loss. While that hardly makes-up for the loss of loved ones it was a damnsight more than the Lockerbie victims received.

Jeff, Thanks for responding.

Ought to tell you, i have no axe to grind here. Just curious to understand. I find that when the whole is considered, very few things seem to happen in isolation.

Unfortunately, i couldn’t find a more official document so this third party extract is taken from the Lockerbie Disaster web site
“Then something happened that psychologists call “scenario fulfillment” - you see what you expect. Petty Officers Anderson and Leach both began singing out that the aircraft, now definitively tagged on the big screen as an F-14, was descending and picking up speed. The tapes of the CIC’s data later showed no such thing. Anderson’s screen showed that the plane was travelling 380 knots at 12,000 feet and climbing. Yet Anderson was shouting out that the speed was 455 knots, the altitude 7,800 feet and descending.”

I guess none of us would feel comfortable being tried in a hostile country where different laws, religion and culture apply.

On whether any connection has been made between the two incidents:

I’m assuming London Calling is British, not just a Clash fan. In Australia, a recent (April) Four Corners documentary, which I took to be a Panorama report showed the commanding officer of one of the ships in the Vincennes group making exactly that connection. Obviously, it is not an established link, just something that has been haunting him.

I take “scenario fulfillment” to be jargon for “lost it”.


Anyone care to wager on how long this takes to turn into a big 'ol flame war?