New York and New Jersey's four Democratic Senators intend to block a diplomatic mission to Libya that would attempt to negotiate the freedom of five nurses and one doctor who have been sentenced to death for treating children who were later found to be infected with HIV. The Senators say that no diplomatic relations with Libya should be established until the country has coughed up the remaining cash it owes the families of Americans killed in bombings in 1986 and 1988.
It is unclear to me how letting six innocent medics be executed is going to help.
The nurses and doctor were sentenced to death after a number of children in the hospital where they worked were found to be infected by HIV. Libya claimed the medics had purposely infected the children as part of an Israeli/CIA plot. Investigations by Luc Montaigner, the co-discoverer of HIV, showed that the infections predate the medical workers' arrival in Libya, and that conditions at the hospital, including a failure to follow sterile procedures in the hospital, likely are to blame for the virus spreading so widely.
The Libyan Supreme Court has rejected the final appeal by the six, and their last hope lies in a decision today by the Supreme Council for Judicial Authority, which has the power to commute their death sentences despite the Supreme Court's decision. The decision is a political one, and a last-minute deal reached this weekend by a foundation representing the families of HIV-positive children, that would compensate them over $400 million, is likely to pave the way to the medics' release.
This trial has been political from its beginning, steamrolling science in a rush to find someone other than Libya itself to blame for a tragedy affecting many Libyan children. Scientific proof and legal evidence were always on the side of the innocent, but counted for nothing. A political and diplomatic solution was the only option.
President Bush took the unusual step last week of nominating the first US amabassador to Tripoli in almost 35 years, in direct and immediate response to the Libyan Supreme Court's ruling. To me, the response is a day late and a dollar short, but it is better than nothing.
That is why it is so baffling to me that four Democratic senators would want to stonewall the diplomatic negotiations. First, I don't recall these four speaking up as US companies invested in a Libyan development symposium in Tripoli. Second, since other countries were already opening negotiations with Libya for the release of the medical workers, I don't see what was to be gained by keeping the US from influencing the final disposition. And most importantly, the senators' main concern seems to be Libya's failure to pay the final $2 million per victim out of a $10 million per victim settlement for the 1986 and 1988 bombings. To me, consigning the fate of innocent health workers to others' hands because we haven't received our last 20% payment is, on the surface, indecent.
Maybe there is more going on here. But on the face of it, a 20%-unfulfilled settlement on 20-year-old killings is not worth abandoning diplomacy, especially in a case that affects the willingness of health workers to travel to serve in the poorest countries -- and their safety while doing so.