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Conviction of Lockerbie bomber upheld

CAMP ZEIST, THE NETHERLANDS – Ending a trial that raised almost as many questions as it answered, five Scottish judges Thursday upheld the conviction of a former Libyan intelligence agent for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 13 years ago, killing 270 people.

The verdict brought a soft cry of "yes" from a victim's relative and a shriek of grief from the wife of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who now faces the rest of his life in a Scottish prison.

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Libyan officials criticized the decision as being political. "The American government made the judgment," said Hafid Ghoga, Libyan bar association president.

Mr. al-Megrahi was convicted last year for putting a bomb-laden suitcase aboard a flight from Malta to London, tagged for New York and timed to blow up en route for America.

Questions have been raised about the trial itself, which was held under Scottish law but convened in Holland, without a jury, to overcome Libyan reservations about handing over the two suspects to an unfair hearing.

The ad hoc arrangement was negotiated between the US, British, and Libyan governments over several years, only after the United Nations Security Council had imposed sanctions on Tripoli to force its compliance. The trial and appeal, which lasted more than two years and cost more than $100 million, saw one man convicted and an associate, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, acquitted.

"These procedures have demonstrated what the judicial can achieve when the international community acts together," said Colin Boyd, chief Scottish prosecutor, after the appeal.

Some legal observers are skeptical, however. Given the trial's length and costs, "I think ... the US and British governments will never want to do this again," says John Grant, professor of international law at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. He points to President Bush's post-Sept. 11 plan for special military tribunals as an indication of US reluctance to rely on traditional judicial channels in countering international terrorism.

The man who helped design the Lockerbie procedure, however, Scottish law professor Robert Black, sees things differently. "Justice is expensive, but it is an expense you have to put up with as a touchstone of civilization."