Pan Am Flight 103 lawyer talks truth, accountability in international law

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The first attorney to sue a foreign government for acts of terrorism spoke about international litigation in a post 9/11 world Wednesday evening in Lerner Hall.

Dr. Allan Gerson, who won a $2.7 billion civil suit against Libya on behalf of the families of victims who were killed on the 1988 Pam Am Flight 103, focused on the importance of accountability in the court of law during the event.

“It’s about knowing the truth – who died, who is responsible and what the implications are for the future,” Gerson said.

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing the 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. Authorities on the scene said it was evident a bomb had caused the disaster, but it took more than eleven years to bring anyone to trial.

Gerson, who once taught international law at George Mason, told his audience how past criminal tribunals still hold governments responsible.

Gerson used the Nuremberg Trials after World War II as an example of how international law can hold individuals accountable for crimes against humanity. But Gerson lamented that only the top leadership was punished for their actions after the Holocaust.

“One million perished in the Treblinka [concentration camp] alone. Only top Nazi leadership made it to trial. What about the guards, the police chiefs?” Gerson said.

He ended the discussion by stressing the importance of accountability as a tool to inform society of crimes committed against humanity.

“In my experience, victims would rather have the world know about the people who hurt them than send the perpetrators to jail without anyone hearing about it,” Gerson said. “What’s more important than punishment is accountability, to remember what happened.”

The event kicked off Holocaust Awareness Week series hosted by GW Hillel.

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