Friday, December 22, 2006

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Libya's legal farce

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Libya's legal farce
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: December 21, 2006

If Libya really wants to repair its tattered relations with the West, Muammar el-Qaddafi will need to intervene to prevent a terrible miscarriage of justice. This week, a Libyan court condemned to death six foreign medical workers on the widely discredited charge that they deliberately infected hundreds of children with the virus that causes AIDS. It was the second time in this case that a Libyan court has made that judgment.

This can only be deemed a travesty given expert testimony — by no less an authority than Luc Montagnier, a co-discoverer of HIV — that the outbreak started well before the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor had even arrived in Libya. The likely cause was an appalling lack of sanitary procedures at a hospital where the virus was spread, probably through contaminated needles or infected blood products. Patient records reportedly show that at least some of the children were infected either before or after the six foreign medical workers were on the scene.

With the case against the medical workers so flimsy, if not concocted, it is no wonder that more than 100 Nobel laureates and dozens of other eminent scientists have called for a new and fair trial. None of the exonerating evidence was even admitted in the latest trial.

Two factors seem to be driving these outrageously unfair verdicts. Libya is eager to deflect public outrage by blaming foreigners rather than the country's unsanitary hospitals. And the families of infected children, presumably egged on by the government, want to extract unwarranted compensation from the Bulgarian government or other donors — as much as $10 million per child, the amount Libya paid to each family of the victims killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Lawyers for the condemned say they will appeal to Libya's Supreme Court, which quashed a previous death sentence. If the court fails to do so again, the children's families have the power under Libyan law to grant clemency in return for compensation. Qaddafi should urge them to stop trying to extort big money. An international fund has already been set up to provide medical care for the children and better equipment for the hospital.


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