The Price of Terror

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John Ritter. Marc Singer. Robert Webber. President Bill Clinton called it "an attack against America," but after Libyan agents planted a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight , killing people in the air and 11 on the ground, America did not strike back. Instead, the grieving relatives of the victims did the unthinkable -- as mere civilians-and tried to force Libya to pay for its crime. Lawyers told the families that t President Bill Clinton called it "an attack against America," but after Libyan agents planted a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight , killing people in the air and 11 on the ground, America did not strike back.

Lawyers told the families that they could never sue Libya in American courts, and they were right. This would require changing a bedrock principle of international law -- a change that every government in the world feared and fought, including the United States itself. Working virtually alone at first, Allan Gerson, a former diplomat and prosecutor of Nazi war criminals, took on the case and spent the next eight years on the families' quest for justice. In this high-stakes game of international power politics and legal maneuvering, there were friendships, jobs, and reputations lost, but a precious principle -- that of accountability under the law -- was strengthened and preserved.

Now Gerson and his co-author, NEWSWEEK writer Jerry Adler, follow the threads of this extraordinary tale back to that deadly night over Lockerbie, Scotland -- and forward into a new era of international justice, when terrorists will learn to fear the righteous retribution of their own victims. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published October 23rd by Harper first published October 16th More Details Original Title. Other Editions 8. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

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The Cost of Living and Terror: Does Consumer Price Volatility Fuel Terrorism?

Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. An uncle and two cousins were killed in , when their small plane crashed into the spear-like pines of a South Carolina forest, an event meriting a 30 second report on CNN.

I like to date my fascination with plane crashes from that moment, but in reality, I've been drawn since I was a child watching poorly-cobbled-together made-for-TV movies about Florida Flight 90 Disaster on the Potomac and United A Thousand Heroes. Since then, I've graduated to an obsession with CVR recorders the g An uncle and two cousins were killed in , when their small plane crashed into the spear-like pines of a South Carolina forest, an event meriting a 30 second report on CNN. Since then, I've graduated to an obsession with CVR recorders the greatest examples of professionalism under stress you will ever find and occasionally reading NTSB reports that are available online.

The latter are marvels of the lawyerly art of anesthetizing the ugliest events. My attraction to the subject comes from dread fear. I can't think of a worse way to die than in a plane. Of all the famous crashes - Swiss Air 's fire that melted its cockpit, setting the pilots ablaze; FL 90 plunging into the Potomac, its survivors dying of hypothermia on live television; Value Jet set afire by used oxygen generators meant to provide passengers life support; Egypt Air 's suicidal co-pilot; and of course, the conspiracy-ridden TWA - I think the most haunting is Pan Am Maybe it's that it went down on the darkest night of the year in Maybe it's because the crash happened to Pan Am, the airline that made flying sexy and glamorous I still can't watch Catch Me With You Can without thinking about the Libyan bomb in that company's future.

Maybe it's because the explosion took place four days before Christmas. Maybe it's the 45 college students who lost their lives, along with others.

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The Price of Terror is the story of the families, and their lawyers, who went after the terrorists while a quisling US State Department and recalcitrant Federal Judiciary tried to stop them. The book starts with a brief, horrifying description of the bombing. Half an hour after taking off, 12 ounces of Semtex molded into a Toshiba cassette player exploded as PA cruised at 31, feet. The explosion broke the plane apart: the cockpit and first class separated, heading down immediately; the coach-section of the fuselage continued flying momentarily before plunging ground-ward.

But the people who loved those passengers want to know how it felt at that very moment What exactly where they feeling? Cold, certainly; fifty-degree-below-zero cold, and darkness, and the mile-an-hour wind of their momentum, strong enough to strip the shirts off their backs And then that would have started to fall.


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It would have taken a surprisingly long time. A human body tossed into the air at 31, feet quickly reaches a velocity of around feet per second, or miles an hour, but as the density of the air increases at lower altitudes it actually slows, and hits the ground at around miles an hour. Those who were tossed out of the plane right after the explosion probably took about three minutes to fall. Then there is the investigation - because the plane blew up over land, it was recovered, and the cause of the blast located.

Finally, the book moves on to the trials. From there, things get very complicated. There is the suit against Pan Am, the criminal trial against the two Libyans, al Megrahi and Khalifah, and the civil trial against Libya opposed by the US government at the highest level. The civil suits were immensely complicated to begin with - just assessing damages for each individual victim what is a 45 year-old businessman's life worth, when compared to a 20 year-old female attending Brown makes the head spin, not to mention trying to prove liability - but throw in the arcane and let's be honest, often ephemeral subject of international law, and it gets thorny.

It also makes you think about that Warsaw Convention warning printed on the back of your plane ticket. I looked at it while flying to Dubai a few months ago and thought: Wow, isn't this great? My government has already bargained away the value of my life. Thankfully, though one of the attorney's involved in the book is a co-author, the writing seems to have been done by Newsweek editor Jerry Adler.

Rest assured, even if you haven't taken International Law and International Criminal Law in law school, you will still be able to make sense of the proceedings. Authors Gerson and Adler go to great lengths to clarify and explain without simplifying. They start by defining "tort" and move from there.

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The book also never loses touch of the human element, and makes several of the families - especially sculpture artist Suse Lowenstein - into indelible and indomitable characters. The book often steps away from the legal morass to pay attention to the finer details of the tragedy, such as how the different families chose whether or not to view the bodies: "No one ever regretted having viewed the body of a child or spouse, but many who didn't have been sorry ever since.

When our loved ones die horribly and violently, it is a measure of our love that we can look without flinching at their corpses, at their crushed and gutted bodies, and say, we love you still. In [George:] Williams went to Scotland for the Fatal Accident Inquiry and asked to see the photograph's of his son's body The officials relented and sent the photographs to Williams's lawyer, who looked inside the envelope and told Williams: George, I can't let you see them.

He sent them to Williams's doctor, but the doctor, too, refused to give them to Williams. Williams insisted He opened the envelope and saw that Geordie's face was gone.

Williams recognized him 'from the shape of his head, and his hair, and his legs He ran track and had fantastic thighs In the end, it shows the power of a committed group of people who will not be stopped. I found this to be a morally nuanced, complex story. As Gerson notes, there are many competing interests. When he describes how an unconscious person flung from the plane might be brought to consciousness as the air gets thicker and warmer, it's not just a ghoulish factoid, it's evidence in a court of law. This was a tort case, and the pain-and-suffering of a 3 minute, conscious free-fall is going to be a lot different than the pain-and-suffering of a sudden cabin de-pressurization, where you simply go to sleep forever.

And since this is a story about lawyers, there are the attorney fees, which always cause laypeople so much grief never mind that some of these firms worked contingency for fifteen years. The story is even now ongoing. Al Megrahi, the one man convicted criminally of planting the bomb, has just been granted an appeal by the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal he's also dying of prostrate cancer, because you can bomb all the planes you want, but can't avoid what's coming. Wikipedia has a page devoted to PA conspiracy theories it was the CIA's secret drug smuggling route!

When it comes down to it, all the lawyers, and attorney fees, and court cases can't bring anyone back.

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