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Attorney General William P. Barr Delivers Remarks at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Service for the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103


Arlington, VA
United States

Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s an honor to join you today, and I’m humbled to represent the men and women of the Department of Justice.

I would like to express gratitude to the Color Guard, Master Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Bennear for the singing of the National Anthem, and the Army Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Todd Wolf for delivering the Invocation.

I’d like to commend Mary Kay and Kara for leading Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, and the others who have done so over the past three decades.

Every time I come here to Arlington, I am overwhelmed, not just by the magnitude of the price we have had to pay as a nation. But also one feels here the abiding love and embrace of the American people for those who have paid the price.

I cannot imagine a more appropriate place for this memorial to honor your loved ones than this hallowed ground.

270 people were killed that dark day.

Make no mistake about it – the Americans who died that day were attacked because they were Americans. They died for their country. They deserve to be honored by our nation.

In many ways, the bombing of Pan Am 103 was the opening attack of modern-day mass terrorism against the American people.

Decades before the shock of 9/11, you experienced the horror and profound grief that so many other Americans experienced that day in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia – a day that finally mobilized our country to fight back.

And we also do not forget those of other countries that were killed on Pan Am 103. They remind us that the savagery of terrorism is an assault not just on us, but on all civilized countries and on civilization itself.

I came into the Department the month after the attack on Pan Am 103. The following year I became Deputy Attorney General and then Attorney General. Nothing was more important to me during my tenure than driving the investigation. And there was nothing more important to the whole Department, including all the dedicated prosecutors and FBI agents, and CIA officers, who worked tirelessly to pursue justice for you and for the whole country.

On the one hand, I am proud of the investigation that was conducted by the U.S. agencies and the Scottish police. It remains to this day, one of the most exhaustive and complex investigations in history.

Two years, ten months, and 25 days after the attack – on November 14, 1991, I announced charges against [Abdel Basset Ali] Al-Megrahi and [Lamin Khalifah] Fhimah of the Libyan intelligence agency who, along with other co-conspirators, planned and executed the bombing.

But as you know all too well, questions still remain about the perpetrators and the scale and nature of their evil plot.

I must say that, to this day, I am not satisfied with our country’s overall response to the attack. I never thought that putting two Libyan intelligence officers on trial should be the sum and substance of our response.

The attack was an action coldly plotted and launched by the Libyan regime. And I wanted to see a decisive and overwhelming action against Gaddafi and the JSO. I made the point that had we found out who the perpetrators were immediately after the attack, there is no doubt we would have done that. The fact that we took over two years to assemble the proof, should not have changed our actions.

I cannot help thinking that if we had acted more decisively then, perhaps we would have seen less state sponsored terrorism over the years.

In any event, I want to assure you that I and the Department remain committed to pursuing full justice for this atrocity.

In 1991, I made a pledge to you on behalf of the American law-enforcement community: “We will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice.”

That is still our pledge. For me personally, this is still very much unfinished business. I was pleased to see, upon returning to office, 28 years later, that the Department is continuing to pursue and exhaust all leads.

Obviously, the situation on the ground in Libya has made it more difficult. But we are continuing to press ahead. We’ve engaged the country at all levels, from diplomats to prosecutors, to get more evidence. We’ve expanded our teams, and also added more FBI agents to them. As long as I am AG, that will continue.

Your resolute spirit has been essential in this extraordinary pursuit of justice. Despite the uncertainty and darkness you’ve faced, you have never lost faith. That’s made all the difference.

What you, the Victims of Pan Am 103 have been able to accomplish on behalf of your loved ones is a lasting testament to them and a living memorial. Your strength and perseverance has been a blessing to the country.

You help fight terrorism while remembering those who have died and remaining confident about the possibility of a better future.

Among your many triumphs, you have inspired significant and critical changes to aviation security laws, requiring, for example, passenger bag matching.

Your civil law suits pioneered legal action against terrorist organizations and the states that give them aid. And your testimony to Congress was seminal in the creation of the Victims State Sponsored Terrorism fund, which was recently opened to 9/11 victims, spouses, and dependents as well as to hostages taken from the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

In honor of the 35 Syracuse University students, the Remembrance scholarships are educating students about terrorism, cultivating future leaders, and building strong transatlantic relationships.

And now with the Legacy Award, you’re providing funding to young Americans pursuing advanced degrees.

Another good has emerged from this catastrophe. From the Lockerbie investigation, we created new ways of searching for wreckage on land and in the sea – and for clues and evidence that lead us to criminals. Emergency procedures in airplanes have also changed, as a result. The way we develop intelligence has improved.

Law enforcement is better prepared to serve and protect because of hard lessons learned. That has saved countless lives. This too is part of your legacy and that of your loved ones.

Every December, we think of the year that has passed, and the one that is about to arrive – we reflect upon joys and blessings, but also contemplate what could have and should have been if not for the evil done. You mourn. And the nation mourns with you.

It’s a remarkable journey you’ve traveled. Please know that your fellow citizens – your friends – will never leave your side along the path to justice.

Thank you for representing the United States so magnificently as well as for all the support and inspiration you provide to others.

Thank you again for having me, and may God bless you and give you additional strength in the days to come.

Updated January 23, 2020