Seeking Justice in a Higher Court
by Rob Herzog
1998 will mark the 10th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The victims are long buried, families have had several years to heal; but justice has still not been served. Two suspected Libyan terrorists are still hiding in Libya, despite a resolution of the U.N. Security Council to turn them over to British and U.S. Authorities for trial.
In an effort to stop the ICJ from assuming jurisdiction, which could remove one of the only political levers the U.S. has against Libya, John Crook '69, the State Department's Assistant Legal Advisor for United Nations Affairs, is on his way to The Hague, Netherlands. He will argue that the ICJ has no authority to try to the two men and that the U.S. and United Kingdom should be the nations to mete out justice.
Why does the U.S. continue to pursue this matter nearly 10 years later? Crook says, "It is a situation where you can't say it's over and done, it's ancient history, let's forget about it. There are 270 people who are dead-and you can't forget that." In the Lockerbie case, the pursuit of justice will take time and patience. "It is a waiting game," insists Crook.
The ICJ is expected to rule on the matter in the spring. "Hopefully, we will knock the [Libyan] case out," Crook says, which would allow the U.S. and Britain to continue pursuing the terrorists with Security Council backing.
Crook claims that during his 25-year career with the State Department he has never been evacuated or shot at like of some of his colleagues. That doesn't mean he hasn't been on the front lines of American foreign policy, however. As the Lockerbie case implies, Crook has spent considerable time picking up the legal pieces after international crises. From 1984 to 1987 he arbitrated cases with Iran to facilitate the return of billions of dollars of frozen assets between the two countries after the conclusion of the hostage crisis in Tehran. From 1990-1995, he was the counselor for legal affairs in the U.S. mission in Geneva, setting up a similar claims process with Iraq after the conclusion of the Gulf War.
Back in Washington since 1995, Crook finds Iran on his agenda again. In the fall of 1987 and the spring of 1988, the United States attacked and destroyed several Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. As a result, the Iranians filed a claim against the U.S. for $1 billion in the International Court of Justice. The U.S. contends the platforms were being used as naval surveillance posts to track and target U.S. and other ships.
Why would so-called rogue states such as Iran and Libya work through international tribunals when they frequently subvert other international norms? "It's often hard to tell," says Crook. Among other motives, "Iran and Libya appear to use the court as part of a broader political strategy to weaken support for sanctions against them." His direct contact with representatives from these countries is minimal, however. As the proceedings of international tribunals are quite formal, lawyers representing these states are often foreign nationals with experience working in these forums, and not nationals from the state itself.
Of the many leaders and interesting political moments Crook has been involved with, one of his most memorable involved the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
"The time I was most nervous was the first time I ever did a presidential event as director of the [State Department's] treaty office," Crook recalls. He was directing Reagan and Gorbachev as they were signing the historic treaty to eliminate intermediate nuclear forces. "I was a little bit nervous about getting the guys to sign the right page," he chuckles. "It was a very complicated task."
Crook would gladly perform the task again. Reflecting on his career thus far, he says "I've never found anything else that is this much fun." His sense of fulfillment will certainly be reinforced should the two Libyans he is helping the U.S. and Britain to pursue come to justice.