Remembrance Week comes full circle with Gadhafi's death

For those involved in this year’s Remembrance Week honoring the 35 Syracuse University students killed on Pan Am Flight 103, the death of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi means a few different things.

For the scholars, his death highlights a need for more discussion about how to prosecute convicted terrorists and the governments who support them. For some families of Pan Am 103 victims, scholars said, Gadhafi’s death has helped to bring a sense of closure and justice served.

In 1988, four days before Christmas, 35 Syracuse University students returning from studying abroad were killed when their flight, Pan Am Flight 103, crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland. The crash killed all 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground.

“It rained death in Lockerbie last week,” Newsweek reported the day after New Years Day in 1989.

Gadhafi’s regime claimed responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing after the only person allegedly involved in the case, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was convicted of in the bombing in 2001.

On Oct. 20, 2011, Gadhafi was killed by revolutionary forces in his hometown of Sirte, Libya. A cell-phone Internet video shows Gadhafi being beaten, blood streaming down his face, drenching his clothes. The death ended Gadhafi’s almost 70-year dictatorship of Libya.

Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora Cohen, was killed in the crash, told the Associate Press she would honor a promise she made long ago in the event of Gadhafi’s death:

"I'm just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate.”

Before Gadhafi’s death, the 2010-2011 Remembrance Scholars began planning a panel discussion about terrorism. Stephen Barton, a senior economics and international relations major and a 2010-2011 Remembrance scholar, said the idea for the panel, “How to bring a criminal to justice,” occurred to him after Bin Laden’s death in May. The panel was held Wednesday night.
Gadhafi is “another case of someone who was killed without a trial,” Barton said.

“One of the questions we want to bring up during the discussion is: What kind of service do trials provide?”

The scholars have been in touch with some of the victims’ families, who said they’ve attained more closure now that Gadhafi has been killed. But Barton wonders if families of the victims might lose an important avenue for their grief if the lone person convicted in the bombing Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, were to die, too.

“I see it being a really empty feeling” for families not to call for justice for Gadhafi and al-Megrahi, he said. “I wonder where they go from there.”

Judith O’Rourke, the director of the SU Office of Undergraduate Studies and a mentor to the Remembrance Scholars, worked in the office at the time of the crash. Gadhafi’s death is two-fold, she said.

“The fact that Gadhafi is dead is sort of a justice in one way,” she said, “but in the other way, whatever information he had to help people understand who was fully responsible for this, no one will ever know now.”

In 2009, al-Megrahi, was released from Scottish prison on compassionate grounds. His release followed a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Al-Megrahi’s release was heartbreaking for the scholars and for families of the victims, O’Rourke said.

“He served less than two months for every person that was killed on that plane,” she said.

Al-Megrahi’s release stirred up feelings of hurt and resentment among the families of the Pan Am 103 victims, more than 20 years after the flight burst into flames over Lockerbie, current Remembrance scholars said.

Upon al-Megrahi’s return to Libya, he and Gadhafi embraced. In October, he spoke with Reuters TV from a hospital bed, saying he had a few months to live at the most.

The release stirred up controversy after the doctor who diagnosed him with prostate cancer and who said al-Megrahi had three more months at the time of diagnosis came forward saying he had been pressured to make a false diagnosis. Word of a deal between BP and the British government over al-Megrahi's release also came to light, upping the controversy.

In fall 2010, SU’s Student Association and the 2010-2011 Remembrance Scholars drew up a statement calling for Al-Megrahi to serve the remaining 19 years of his 25-year sentence.

"Al-Megrahi needs to serve out his sentence to fulfill his punishment for the lives he ended," it said.

Kimberly Ndombe is a 2010-2011 Remembrance Scholar and a graduate of Syracuse University. After hearing of Gadhafi’s death, she immediately wanted to send a letter to the family of Jason Coker, the victim she represented, she said.

“I’m still drafting it,” Ndombe said. “Cause it’s so hard. I don’t know what to say. I’m moved to say something, but how do I word this in the right way?

“And I have to remember Jason,” in light of Gadhafi’s death, she said. “Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t bring anybody back.”

Ndombe, who currently works at a talent management company in Los Angeles, said her decision to move out to LA after graduation without a job was closely linked with her experience as a Remembrance Scholar.

“So much of me feels like I need to live out whatever he could’ve done,” she said, referring to Jason. “I have to succeed for him.”

“At the heart of Remembrance Week,” Ndombe said, “it’s about educating people about terrorism, bringing light to these issues, about remembering theses people and making sure their memory never dies.”

For a list of this year's Remembrance Week events, visit the Remembrance Week website.

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