Libya is making staunch efforts to emerge from its pariah status, but periodically shows how it had earned it in the first place.
Last May, a Libyan court condemned to death contract health workers — five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor — for allegedly deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with the AIDS virus. International observers found the trial grossly unfair and believed the doctor and two of the nurses when they said they had been tortured.
Most tellingly, a renowned AIDS expert — a French researcher and the codiscoverer of the virus — Dr. Luc Montagnier, testified that the six could not have been at fault because the children were infected more than a year before the health workers arrived in Libya.
The accepted explanation — accepted by everybody but Libya — is that the infections were caused by poor hygiene in the hospital. But that would make the government of Moammar Gadhafi look bad.
Recently, a Libyan ostensibly representing the infected children said charges would be dropped against the five nurses if Bulgaria pays "appropriate" compensation of, say, $13 million or so per child. The doctor went unmentioned, presumably because the Palestinians don't have that kind of money. The Bulgarian government, not surprisingly, said no, because the nurses weren't guilty.
Around that time, Gadhafi's son, Seif, who holds no official position, announced the death penalty was being waived as part of a rethinking of capital punishment. He mentioned that the five nurses might be "extradited."
According to Libyan news Web sites, Seif then proposed that they might be freed in exchange for the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the Libyan secret agent convicted by an international court of masterminding the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, with the loss of 270 lives. He is serving a life sentence in Scotland.
Seif Gadhafi is quoted as saying, "We have to address the issue of the Libyan prisoner in Glasgow. We can't expect to extradite someone from here and not expect them to do the same for our citizen."
It says something about the continued insularity of Libya that the son probably has no idea how sick the rest of the world finds his offer. If Gadhafi senior wants to be taken seriously, he'll forget the blackmail, free the health-care workers and tell his kid to zip it.