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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 20, 2006


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Posted by Derek

Many readers are probably aware of this story, but those who aren't should be. A court in Libya has (re)sentenced six foreign medical workers to death for allegedly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. That sounds insane on the face of it, and (as you would well imagine) the evidence for any such thing is just not there.

Instead, this seems to be a problem with poor hygiene in the health care system in Benghazi, which is not something that stretches the imagination like, say, a deliberate plot to infect Libyan children does. The molecular biology evidence is that this is a local strain of the virus which was already spreading before the medics even arrived in the country. Nonetheless, the Libyan courts seem determined to make a huge case out of this, and the Libyan media (state-run, needless to say) have been whipping up the crowds.

No one can say how this will play out, because there are still many slow, painful steps to go in the Libyan legal process, which certainly seems rather baroque for a country not exactly used to the rule of law. With Libya trying to open up to the West and bring in foreign investment, a horribly circus like this would seem to be just what they don't need. But it's already been dragging on for a couple of years now, in the face of all evidence and reason.

As I've said before, one of my general rules is that questions which begin with "I wonder how come they. . ." are often answered with "money". And that's probably the case here. Speculation is that all of this will come down to paying Libya some sort of "compensation". That's a nice word for what's really just an ugly, immoral shakedown - the sort of thing that the better class of gangster might feel is beneath them. Not the government of Libya, however. The Libyan people deserve better. The medics in this case, for their part, deserve to be freed immediately.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. A-non-y-mous on December 20, 2006 1:11 PM writes...

Think Libya would be tackling this "issue" (whether real or perceived) if the workers were from the US, or the UK, or Germany? I think not.

I also think it's more than a shakedown. Bulgaria has a very real, rampant problem with violence and segregation between christians (~85% of population) and muslims (~15% of population). So I see this as a sort of religous "payback." I don't know the religous background of the Bulgarian workers, but I can make a pretty good guess. I truely hope that this is not the case, and that all of this can be sorted out peacefully.

Or, maybe we are wrong, maybe they are guilty. And if so, whatever Libya has in mind for them is not severe enough.

Permalink to Comment

2. Liberal Chemist on December 20, 2006 1:46 PM writes...

It is tragic. There is no escaping the simple, awful reality that in many places "the truth" is not important. The real issue here is that "the truth" in this situation will not be defined by objective laboratory analysis but by the subjective decision of somebody. We live in a society where the idea that truth is a) real and singular and b) universal for all levels of society. It is a luxury that we take for granted. In most parts of the world, the poor especially, know that the truth is relative and life is not fair. It is when we in the West travel and expect our definitions of a fair and just society to surround us like a bubble (or to be fair, impose them on the societies that we travel to) that the rest of the world really gets worked up about us.

All I really know about life is that it is constantly more complex and deeper than I am aware of. I believe that for many in the world the tacit unfairness makes that complexity deeper and more tragic. It leaves us in the situation of hoping that someone in the diplomatic corps can figure out a way (after years of failure) to solve this problem or that the "powers-that-be" will simply get bored of it and let go.

This is a tough time of the year to be hearing this message and out hearts have to go out to their families.

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3. een of andere vent on December 20, 2006 2:47 PM writes...

One man on trial is not Bulgarian but Palestinian. So the 'religious payback' will ask the sacrifice one Arab. It is said that Muammar al-Gaddafi has some real trouble with the whole case. He wants to satisfy the West as well as the Lybian people. Tripoli was having a party when they were sentenced to death, but Gaddafi knows that his efforts to open up for the West will be antagonized by this. Some European newspapers predict that they will be sentenced to death but will receive clemency in order to show goodwill to Europe. A few papers say that the Palestinian guy could be the real victim here while the Bulgarian nurses are kicked out of Lybia.

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4. jim on December 20, 2006 2:52 PM writes...

A minor point, given this horrible case, but one should not conflate religion and ethnicity. A certain percentage of Palestinians are Christian (as well as Arab). Not the crucial point, here, obviously.

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5. John Novak on December 20, 2006 3:18 PM writes...

No one can say how this will play out, because there are still many slow, painful steps to go in the Libyan legal process, which certainly seems rather baroque for a country not exactly used to the rule of law

To the contrary, I think it's fairly obvious how it will play out. As you rightly note, Libya has been trying to get foreign investment for years. However, to add some context, their biggest road to success here is investment in their energy/oil sectors.

Picking a fight with Bulgaria might not seem extremely harmful, which is what they did a few years ago with this. However, when Bulgaria joins the EU, this translates directly into picking a fight with all of Europe... because Bulgaria, as a member state, will have a veto on EU foreign policy. Like, energy policy.

Not to mention, the dollar amounts match up rather strikingly with the dollar amounts demanded of Libya for its previous terror victims.

As delusional tinpot dictators go, Qaddafi is less delusional than most. This is not a winnable fight.

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