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"Price of Terror" co-author Allan Gerson

Allan Gerson is the co-author of "The Price of Terror: One Bomb. One Plane. 270 Lives. The History-Making Struggle for Justice After Pan Am 103." A professor of international relations at George Washington University, Gerson provided legal counsel to many of the families involved in litigation against Libya regarding the bombing. Most recently, he served as senior fellow for international law and organizations at the Council on Foreign Relations.

CNN: Welcome to Newsroom Allan Gerson, and thank you for being with us today.

ALLAN GERSON: Hello, I'm glad to be here.

CNN: Individuals were found guilty of perpetrating the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103, yet a lawsuit holding Libya responsible remains unresolved. What's the latest?

GERSON: First of all, there were not individuals found guilty, there were two individuals indicted, and one found guilty. That was a criminal case, which is now in appeal. We anticipate that the appeal will be handled in January. In the interim, Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School has joined the Libyan defense team. We also have a civil action pending, and that is pending in the eastern district court of New York, and that suit seeks to hold the government of Libya, rather than its midlevel operatives, directly accountable. And also, unlike the criminal case, it seeks compensation for the families of the victims.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Were these men associated with any terrorist group?

GERSON: The individuals that were indicted in the criminal suit were described as members of the Libyan intelligence organization, and thus were reporting directly, we contend, to the head of the government. Earlier investigations, prior to the indictment of Libya, also pointed, as we discuss in our book, a finger at the involvement of Iran, Syria, and the PFLP-GC, the radical Palestinian group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command.

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In fact, as we discussed in "The Price of Terror," just months before the bombing of Pan Am 103, a cell in Germany involving radical Palestinian groups was uprooted, and in their possession was found barometric devices, airline schedules, Toshiba radios, and other materials which cause suspicion that they were planning an operation similar to the downing of Pan Am 103. Although arrested by German authorities in an operation called Autumn Leaves, they were however released without accountability before a court of law.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Gerson, hasn't G.W. Bush already made it clear that foreign governments will be held accountable for harboring terrorists?

GERSON: President Bush has made it clear, much clearer than his father, that foreign governments that harbor terrorists will be held accountable, and talks of bringing them to justice. The question that remains is what are the means of bringing them to justice. The means that were used by his father were that of an ordinary criminal indictment filed in 1991 in U.S. district court. That means has shown to be highly problematic. One, because of the difficulty of apprehending the accused. Two, because of the inordinately high standard of proof -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that is required for conviction. Three, because there is natural reluctance on the part of the government to use intelligence information in a public proceeding.

The good news is that President George W. Bush has moved away from that ineffectual mechanism, to open up the possibility of military tribunals, which will adopt a more realistic approach to dealing with war criminals, and perhaps to the countries that harbor them. Still, even in the best of circumstances, the criminal law process, whether administered by the courts, or through military tribunals, has severe limitations. And it is those limitations which the civil cause of action that the Pan Am 103 families are engaged in as discussed in our book, "The Price of Terror," seeks to surmount.

CNN: At least 16 of the terrorists from Sept. 11 were citizens of Saudi Arabia. What kind of liability does that place that country in?

GERSON: It's too early to tell, because we need a full investigation. However, if it is discovered that individuals contributed sums of money or otherwise supported the terrorist operations known today as 9-11, then certainly a good case can be made for going after whatever assets those individuals might have in banks, either in the United States or in foreign countries. The important thing to keep in mind is if there is a will to find accountability, then a way can be found.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think of the apparent "change of heart" of Gadhafi regarding terrorism?

GERSON: I'm not a psychologist, so I can't talk about what goes on in his heart, especially if, as is alleged in the complaint that the U.S. government filed and in the civil action that the families filed, that this man bears responsibility for the intentional downing of a civilian aircraft with 270 people onboard. I can, however, and we discuss this at some length in "The Price of Terror," discuss what in fact occurred to put pressure on Gadhafi to have a "change of heart." After the UN Security Council in 1991 condemned Libya for sponsoring terrorism with regard to the downing of Pan Am 103, it imposed economic sanctions on Libya. Libya estimates that those sanctions cost it $30 billion over the last decade. The World Bank puts the figure at closer to $20 billion. In either event, it appears that the force of economic sanctions, coupled with a desire to enable Libya to return to the family of nations, are the pragmatic considerations which caused a "change of heart."

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Gerson -- what are your thoughts about American Airlines Flight #587?

GERSON: We don't know the full answer yet, but I can only say for the families of Pan Am 103, this event, like the events of 9-11, is a terrible reminder of the tragedy they went through 13 years ago. Hopefully, we will find that this was not a terrorist act, because if we discover that in fact it was a terrorist act, the families of the victims will incur a double burden of grief: not only the normal burden of grieving for the loss of their loved ones, but also a burning sense of injustice, which disables them from leading normal lives as long as they know that the perpetrators and planners of premeditated murder are not brought to justice.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments today?

GERSON: The biggest lesson that we discovered in doing "The Price of Terror" is that this nation allowed itself to slip into a decade of denial and self-delusion -- denial that we were not taking adequate measures to provide airline security, denial that we were not fighting to defeat terrorism with all our hearts and all our resources. The good news is that on November 8, President George W. Bush expressed his desire to distance himself from those policies of the past by saying "we refuse to be in a state of denial." The book, "The Price of Terror," centers around four families, including one from the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and that as early as 1989 showed the moral courage an individual initiative to try to tear down the barriers of denial. They may not have fully succeeded, but they certainly paved the way. They revolutionized international justice by empowering individuals to bring lawsuits against states sponsoring terrorism, and they helped the Congress to formulate aviation security measures, which if implemented years ago, may have gone a long way to preventing the tragedies that occurred on September 11.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Allan Gerson.

Allan Gerson joined via telephone from CNN's Washington Bureau. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Wednesday, November 14, 2001.


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