On September 19, 1989, 170 people were killed when UTA Flight 772 was destroyed by a suitcase bomb planted by Libyan agents. A two-hundred-foot-diameter silhouette of the UTA 772 stands in the Ténéré desert in the south central Sahara not far from where the plane was destroyed; 170 panes of cracked glass represent each of those who were lost. Le Memorial du Ténéré stands as a powerful reminder of this tragic loss.
Despite being one of the deadliest terror attacks in history, outside France it remained overshadowed by the Lockerbie bombing that had taken place ten months earlier. Both attacks were carried out at the instruction of Libya’s dictator Muammer Qaddafi, but while ‘Lockerbie’ became synonymous with international terrorism, UTA 772 became the ‘forgotten flight’.
170 panes of cracked glass represent each of those who were lost
Stuart H. Newberger represented the families of the seven Americans killed in the UTA 772 attack. He now tells the story of the ‘forgotten flight’. In doing so, he weaves a story of how the dogged determination of a French criminal investigation paved the way for unique US litigation proceedings against Libya, and explains how the fight for justice is intertwined with broader political and diplomatic considerations.
Perhaps most striking about the first part of Stuart’s book – which surveys the landscape of terrorism and politics between the years 1989-2001 – is the erie resemblance to terrorist activities in recent years. So much so, that it is at time a hugely affecting read. At the same time, the story of the French Investigating Magistrate Judge’s – Bruguière – determination to obtain justice is compelling, and genuinely reads as a thriller.
The second half of the book surveys the years 2001 to 2013, brings the fight for justice to the United States. Quirk of fate and expertise acquired through a long standing commitment to pro bono work propel Stuart into the frame, where he assumes a key role in the pursuit of justice that had long eluded the families of those lost.
Perhaps most striking … is the erie resemblance to terrorist activities in recent years
Also critical were 1996 amendments to the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act which permitted any US victim of terrorism to sue a country listed by the State Department as a “state sponsor of terrorism”. Although enacted in a different context, this opened the door to legal action against Libya. As did the further erosion of the traditional sovereign immunity protections by the National Defense Authorization Act – Terrorism Exception to Immunity (or the Lautenberg Amendment), which broadened the scope for recourse against State assets.
“The Forgotten Flight” tells of the collision between the law, politics and diplomacy in the fight for justice. It is an important story for our times.
Listen here to Helen Mountfield QC interview Stuart Newberger about his book and experiences, with an introduction from the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emerson QC.
Stuart H. Newberger is a senior partner at Crowell & Moring LLP in Washington, D.C. His practice centres on handling complex international disputes, many involving the actions of governments.
Helen Mountfield QC is a founder member of Matrix Chambers. She is an administrative and human rights law specialist, with particular expertise in the cross-over between international and national law, and terrorism and national security law (among other areas).
Ben Emmerson QC is a founder member of Matrix Chambers. He is an international lawyer, specialising in European human rights law, public international law and international criminal law. He is the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights.
Download on iTunes here.
Download on Soundcloud here.