From thousands of miles away they came to cheer their hero – to wave flags, to shout their encouragement, to show they were proud of him, even as many around the world thought this “hero” was a murderer who was undeserving of the pomp and ceremony. History is always repeating itself.
Three days ago, the scene was Tripoli, Libya, where Libyans welcomed convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Four years ago, the scene was Pennsylvania Avenue, where Americans welcomed the motorcade of George W. Bush as he made his way to another inauguration.
Apples and oranges? Let’s hear the words of London mayor Ken Livingstone, who said in the months before Bush’s re-election that the president should be “prosecuted for the war crimes he has overseen and unleashed.” And let’s hear from Kenyan vice president Moody Awori, who said in the days after Bush’s re-election, “We are going to see more dictatorship on an international scale. We are going to see more extremism come out of there. We are going to see even more isolationism where America will not bother about the United Nations. To me that is a very sad affair.”
Four years after Bush’s re-election, two books – “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder” and “George W. Bush, War Criminal?” – outlined the reasons that Bush is guilty of actions (illegal Iraq invasion, prison conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.) that led to the deaths and maiming of thousands of Americans, Iraqis, Afghans and other nationals. In “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder,” U.S. attorney Vincent Bugliosi – who successfully prosecuted Charles Manson – writes that Bush committed “what I believe to be the most serious crime ever committed in American history . . . (he) knowingly and deliberately (took) this country to war in Iraq under false pretenses, a war that condemned over 100,000 human beings, including 4,000 young American soldiers to horrible, violent deaths.”
So, how is Bush greeted now? With the same type of applause and flag-waving that escorted his motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue – as happened last month in Woodward, Oklahoma, where thousands showed up to give Bush not one or two or three but six standing ovations. Months earlier, Bush was given thunderous applause in Calgary, Canada, where he gave a speech that netted him tens of thousands of dollars.
Cut to Tripoli, Libya, and al-Megrahi’s de facto red-carpet treatment. Libyans waved flags, shouted out their praise, honked their car horns, and even played music for the man who was convicted of taking part in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103. The explosion and crash killed 270 people, most of them Americans. Because al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer, Scottish authorities released the former Libyan security officer after he served just eight years of a lifetime sentence. Understandably, many people – including Barack Obama and the families of those who died on flight 103 – were livid at the hero’s reception for al-Megrahi.
In an interview with a London newspaper after he returned home, al-Megrahi maintained his innocence. Regardless, the spectacle of his home-coming has shocked Americans as much as others are shocked at the reception that George W. Bush still gets in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. One person’s hero is another person’s enemy. This was a truism long before Bush and al-Megrahi made international names for themselves.