Lockerbie's lasting emptiness
LONDON, May 23, 2006 -- Steven Russell Berrell. Alexander Lowenstein. Frederick Sandford "Sandy" Phillips.
A fellow fraternal brother, a surfer with a big heart, a student government vice president who had returned to study -- fellow Syracusans I knew. All murdered.
They were undergraduates. I was a graduate student at Syracuse's Maxwell School. They were young men, bright minds in their prime. Along with 32 of our fellow students, they were blown up on Pan Am Flight 103. It was Dec. 21, 1988.
I cried for them. I raged for them. I prayed for them.
Steven was a fellow fraternal brother in Phi Delta Theta, just a stone's throw from Lambda Chi Alpha -- my fraternal home. I had gone to Phi Delta's parties as an undergraduate; I had almost pledged there. His brother, Rob, was a friend who had worked with me at WJPZ Radio, Z89 -- the first student-owned and operated radio station in the United States. Steve had a deep love for his family.
Alexander was a free spirit, a sunny boy, a charmer. I remember that his fellow students universally trusted and confided in him. He liked to laugh. He was an avid scuba diver. Mostly, he loved surfing. To honor his memory, his fellow surfers named the pre-eminent surfing spot in Montauk, Long Island after him.
Sandy had returned to academia in his late 20s. He was respected and liked among his student government colleagues. He was especially dedicated to his role as student government vice president. I had served as student government comptroller five years earlier. He often asked my advice. He was an athlete and musician. He loved poetry. A little older, he liked being a positive influence on the other students.
I had been working at Hendricks Chapel as a graduate assistant on that painful day. Hendricks Chapel is a gift of former Sen. Francis Hendricks, a one-time Syracuse mayor and Syracuse trustee. The beautiful and stately structure with its imposing columns, with their roots in the Roman Pantheon, is at the end of Syracuse's main Quad. Every Syracusan knows the building, many return to marry there. Many of us have prayed there.
On this day, I had no time to handle my emotions -- and they were nearly out of control. I had tried to call Dr. Richard Phillips, dean of Hendricks Chapel, who had left for the Christmas holidays. Mary, his trusted secretary, was frantically trying to locate phone numbers. Cellular phones were in their infancy. The phone lines were blocked as the press -- in the thousands -- descended on the university like a swarm of locusts. It was not one of our stellar moments.
Between press calls and interviews, I called my friend and confidante Lore Heath, the deputy director of the department of international programs abroad. Lore was a rock in the storm. She had no choice but to be so, as the students were all on her program. She calmed me down. She had reached the Rev. Dr. Phillips. I asked if there was anything I could do. "Try to handle the press. It will be nearly impossible. Just do your best." "Thanks," I said, and hung up.
Some of my undergraduate fraternity brothers had come to Hendricks to comfort me. I looked at them, and just broke down, as did they -- completely. I do not remember the order of my emotions. I just remember there were many -- compounded and confused, and out of control. At some point rage hit me, and my famous temper took control as I hurled a scream of uncontrollable rage -- of hurt -- through the room.
And, so nearly 18 years later, all the emotions of that time are brought full circle as the U.S. government establishes full diplomatic relations with Col. Moammar Gadhafi's Libya.
President Reagan rightly dubbed Gadhafi "the mad dog of the Middle East." Even today, the colonel is far from clean. The 1984 shooting in London of Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher from the Libyan Embassy remains unsolved. Evidence points to Gadhafi's role in the assassination attempts on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. And his WMDs? Sources tell me they exist and have been stashed in two African countries.
Gadhafi is the slime who has taken responsibility for the downing of Flight 103.
He is an opportunist who has recognized the moment. He is clever. He has quite simply bribed his way into the United States' good graces.
However, he is not the primary candidate responsible for Flight 103.
President George Bush Sr. probably looked the other way and thought he had good reason to ignore the facts about Flight 103. Bush had been given documents showing six U.S. agents were on board. He had received reports about Iranian and Syrian responsibility for the downing of the flight; Libya played a minor supporting role. Regrettably, he had received all of this on the eve of the first Gulf war.
From Bush Senior's perspective, it was important to keep Iran from cooperating with Iraq -- with whom Iran had a secret agreement. Saudi Arabia -- who would cover 80 percent of the cost of Desert Storm and was the key Arab ally -- wanted Syria to be part of the war effort. President Hafez al-Assad relished the opportunity to bring Saddam Hussein down and be involved. Bush felt this might bring Syria in from the cold.
But why would the current Bush administration allow the charade of Col. Gadhafi claiming responsibility for the downing of Flight 103?
Despite strong evidence to the contrary, so a reliable source says, Bush Junior does not want to embarrass the elder Bush. The administration has calculated that it is easier to let Gadhafi accept responsibility, pay blood money and bring him into the fold than to bring him to justice. And, if Gadhafi wants to take credit for downing Flight 103, let him; it is easier than reopening the case and bringing-in the true perpetrators.
Visiting Lockerbie, Scotland, in 2004 was a catharsis. But, as I pass the London Syracuse campus -- rain pouring upon me -- I have deep pain. I see my dear friend Lore Heath, who has since passed. I think of Steve, Alex and Sandy who studied here in 1988.
Soon, it will be 20 years since their murder.
For me, and many others, justice remains far off.
I feel neither comfort nor closure, just emptiness.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a Senior Associate at Syracuse's Maxwell School. He may be reached at email@example.com)