Ostensibly, Western air and naval units have been attacking Libyan military facilities for the past few days in order to protect the rebels and surrounding civilian populations, principally in Western Libya, from Col. Gaddafi's murderous onslaught. Many observers suspect that the West's real and principal aim is really to topple the 42-year-old Gaddafi regime.
But history has been lost in the daily hubbub of exploding missiles. And it is worth noting that an element of revenge is surely at play here as well, and rightly so.
Back in the 1980s, America contested Libyan claims to sovereignty over the Gulf of Sidra, a watery Mediterranean basin or dip roughly lodged between Tripoli and Benghazi, and a series of American-Libya air and naval clashes ensued. The Libyans lost aircraft and boats. In response, Col. Gaddafi sent a team of terrorists to bomb a West Berlin nightclub, La Belle, frequented by American servicemen. In the exlosion on 5 April 1986, three died and 230 were injured.
But this wasn't the end of Gaddafi's revenge. On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland, on its way from London to New York, killing 259 passengers and 11 villagers of Lockerbie, onto which fell the massive Boeing 747's debris.
The bombing was carried out by two Libyan intelligence agents, tried and convicted in a Scottish court in 2001. The senior figure, sentenced to life imprisonment, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was freed in 2009 by Scotland on compassionate grounds – he was said to have terminal cancer, with a few months to live, and returned to a hero's welcome in Tripoli. The British government, seeking Libyan oil contracts, was much embarrassed when the details emerged. At last report, al-Megrahi was still alive, perhaps living the life of Reily.
In 2003 Libya admitted "responsibility" for the Lockerbie bombing, though it offered no apology. But, under Western economic and political pressure, it began paying compensation to the victims' families. Last month, a former Libyan justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil asserted that Gaddafi had personally given the order for the bombing.
In 1987, French-backed Chadian forces defeated Gaddafi's troops in a desert battle at Maaten al-Sarra, on the Chad-Libya border, putting an end to Gaddafi's imperial designs to extend Libya's reach into black Africa. Again, terrorism ensued. A team of Libyans planted a bomb on a DC-10 French airliner, belonging to the Union des Transports Aeriens company, flying between N'Djamena, Chad, and Paris. The airliner fell from the sky on 19 September 1989, killing all 171 on board, the passengers including the wife of the French ambassador to Chad.
After a protracted investigation, the French identified the six Libyans involved, who included Gaddafi's brother–in-law and deputy head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah Senussi. In 1999 the six were tried and convicted in absentia. In 2004, Libya in effect accepted responsibility and began paying out large sums in compensation to the families of Flight UTA 772's victims.
But the United States, France and Britain—Libyan admissions of responsibility, conviction of Libyan agents and payments of compensation notwithstanding— have never forgiven Gaddafi for these outrages, and rightly hold him personally responsible. What we are seeing now, in part at least, is the long-delayed, but sweet, payback. The man, indeed, is a monster.