Victoria Cummock’s war against Moammar Gadhafi’s Libyan regime outlived the notorious strongman, and now will outlive the one man convicted of bombing the airplane that killed Cummock’s husband 24 years ago.
On Sunday, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi died of prostate cancer at his home in Tripoli, Libya. He had lived there for almost three years after Scotland freed him from prison on a “humanitarian” waiver in 2009 after he had served eight years of his life sentence. At the time, he was given just months to live.
The decision appalled Cummock, and she expressed little satisfaction in Megrahi’s death.
“I feel a sense of relief that he is gone,” Cummock, 59, said Sunday from her Miami home. “There really is no sense of justice.”
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Cummock spent Sunday conducting about a dozen interviews with news media worldwide, reflecting her role as perhaps the leading voice for relatives of the 270 people killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988.
Her husband, John, had traveled to London on a business trip as head of marketing for Bacardi. He was supposed to fly home on Dec. 22, but hopped on a flight back to New York one day early to make a surprise appearance at their daughter’s third birthday party. They had three children; the oldest was 6.
After her husband’s death, Cummock served as President Bill Clinton’s commissioner on aviation security. Clinton handed her a pen used to sign a 1998 law that allowed U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments over terrorist attacks. She pursued — and ultimately obtained — an undisclosed court settlement with Libya, a deal that involved meeting Gadhafi’s son in Paris.
Last fall, with the Gadhafi regime crumbling, Cummock said she hired a legal team out of London and Egypt to travel to the besieged city of Benghazi to interview a former Gadhafi aide who claimed to have proof that Gadhafi ordered the Lockerbie bombing.
That man, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, became Libya’s president after Gadhafi’s Oct. 20 death at the hands of a rebel mob. At the time, Cummock said no one seemed interested in Jalil’s evidence.
“Here’s his former justice minister who had defected and goes public saying, ‘I have proof that Gadhafi ordered the bombing of Pan Am 103 and nobody wants to talk to him?’ Why?” Cummock recalled Sunday.
When Jalil came to the United Nations in September, Cummock traveled to New York for a meeting. She hopes to see more Gadhafi henchmen prosecuted, though she does not think U.S. and British leaders are eager to revisit the Lockerbie attack.
“The list of culpable Gadhafi aides is actually quite long,” Cummock said. A Scottish court convicted al-Megrahi in 2001, but acquitted another defendant accused of plotting the bombing. Gadhafi had admitted responsibility for the bombing, but not guilt.
The victims’ relatives do not speak with one voice. Cummock says she is the only family member to turn down a $10 million settlement from Gadhafi, because it included a provision under which Libya would admit not fault in the bombing. She did ultimately “resolve” her suit against Libya, but under terms Cummock said she cannot disclose.
Jim Swire, whose daughter Florida, 19, died in the bombing, insists al-Megrahi was innocent. The Associated Press reported Sunday that Swire reported seeing a dying al-Megrahi in December, saying, “We talked as two old friends who were saying goodbyes.”
For Cummock and most victims’ relatives, al-Megrahi’s release was a significant slap. They suspected Libya’s rich oil reserves played a role in the Scottish decision.
“It exemplified the classic case that no matter how heinous the crime, ultimately justice can be bought and sold,” she said. “Al-Megrahi should have died in jail.”