Friday, August 21, 2009

Lockerbie Victim's Mom Upset with Obama

Calls President's Remarks over Release of Pan Am 103 Bomber Soft

Thursday: Scotland officials release the terminally-ill convicted terrorist behind the infamous Lockerbie bombing; Also, school officials concerned over H1N1 virus; And, two friends set out on an unusual humanitarian mission.

Susan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora, then 20, died on Pan Am Flight 103. (CBS)

"I was furious and I was sick," Susan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora, then 20, died on the flight.

Cohen reserved some of her anger toward the Obama administration as well. Thursday, President Obama called the release of Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi after serving eight years of a minimum 27-year sentence in Scottish prison, a "mistake."

Cohen called Mr. Obama's remark "soft," during an interview with CBS' "The Early Show" Friday, adding that she has pushed the president to do more. There is "no one even in prison for the crime," she said.

Later Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration had registered its outrage with Libya and thought the images of the bomber's homecoming were "outrageous and offensive."

He said the administration would continue to watch the actions of the released bomber and the Libyan government.

Cohen and other relatives said they believe al-Megrahi was released to appease Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi because access to his nation's oil is so important.

Across the U.S., other family and friends of Pan Am 103 victims expressed shock and disgust over al-Megrahi's release. Some stared at their televisions in disbelief. Others were too furious to process the news.

Scottish officials said the former Libyan intelligence officer has advanced prostate cancer and was given only months to live. They said they were bound by Scottish values to release him.

Asked about al-Megrahi's condition, Cohen was unmoved. "It doesn't matter to me," she said. "He's a terrorist."

More than two decades after a terrorist bomb blew a Pan Am jetliner out of the sky, victims' relatives watched in anger as the only man ever convicted in the attack boarded another flight to his freedom in Libya, then arrived home to a hero's welcome.

"This is not fair to the families," said Stan Maslowski, whose 30-year-old daughter Diane was returning from London for Christmas when Flight 103 went down on Dec. 21, 1988. "This shows a terrorist can get away with murder."

Maslowski and his wife, Norma, turned on the TV at their Haddonfield home to watch the developments. "You get that lump in your throat and you feel like you're going to throw up," Norma Maslowski said.

"He got on the plane looking fairly ill, and he got off the plane looking like he could do a dance," said Joanne Hartunian of Delmar, N.Y., who lost her daughter Lynne, a student at the State University of New York at Oswego. "It just made me physically ill."

"It brought it all back to Day One," Hartunian said. "I thought we had gotten past that horrible, horrible pain that we felt, but I felt the same pain today."

Many struggled to explain their feelings.

The bombing turned the families of some of the 270 victims into activists who became deeply versed in terrorism policy, international relations, airline security and victim compensation.

The families, which organized as Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, have evolved from communicating through phone trees to keeping in touch through Facebook.

From the beginning, many were bitter that neither the United States nor other nations spoke out more strongly about the attack, although the White House on Thursday said Scotland should not have released him.

President Barack Obama called the release a mistake and urged the Libyan government to place al-Megrahi under house arrest.

Thursday's release is likely the end of the legal saga.

"Twenty years later, this is the last sad chapter where government leaders have no moral backbone," said Bert Ammerman of River Vale, whose brother Tom was killed on the flight.

Still, the victims group intends to go on. They planned a conference call Friday to discuss what to do next, and expect to join protests next month when Gadhafi is scheduled to visit New York, said Bob Monetti, whose brother was on the flight.

Monetti said he was disappointed but not surprised by the welcome al-Megrahi received in Libya. He hopes as many people will come out to protest Gadhafi in New York as came out to celebrate al-Megrahi's return home.

Peter Sullivan, a college roommate of victim Mike Doyle, said the criminal case does not have to end.

"I would like to see the United States expeditiously indict al-Megrahi and seek his extradition for trial in the U.S. for the murder of 189 innocent Americans," said Sullivan, of Akron, Ohio.

But not all the relatives thought the release was wrong.

"This is just one little thing that says this is not going to hurt any of us for him to be released and go die with his family," said Caroline Stevens of Little Rock, Ark., whose son Sandy Phillips died in the bombing. "We've got to look at one another in a more compassionate way and not rely on war and revenge and all that."

Ann Rogers said she had not been aware that al-Megrahi was close to getting his freedom. Her 21-year-old daughter died in the bombing.

"We haven't thought about him in a long time," said Rogers, of Olney, Md. "Whatever happens to him, the bottom line is Luann's still gone."

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