Mark Zaid

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Alma materUniversity of Rochester, Albany Law School
The Washington DC attorney who successfully sued Libya for US$2.7 billion

Mark S. Zaid is a Washington DC attorney focused on national security law, free speech, constitutional claims and government accountability[1] who represented victims of the December 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing.[2] He was named as a 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 DC Superlawyer for his work on behalf of national security whistleblowers.[3]

On 1 April 2021, after five Scottish Judges refused Ali Abdelbaset al-Megrahi permission to take the posthumous appeal against his father's Lockerbie bombing conviction to the UK Supreme Court,[4] Mark Zaid tweeted:

"Good news out of Scotland in #PanAm103/#Lockerbie case.

"We're closer to finally having this legal effort end.

"#Megrahi was convicted of murdering 270 innocent ppl in 2001, released in 2009 & died in 2012. His family have continued to pursue his exoneration.

"Not gonna happen."[5]

Lockerbie campaigner Patrick Haseldine tweeted in response:

"#AliAlMegrahi, who promised to clear his father's name, is to appeal directly to the #UKSupremeCourt.

"That's gonna happen.

"Hope you'll support my petition when #Megrahi's conviction is overturned: 'Why doesn't Scotland Yard launch a Bernt Carlsson murder inquiry?'"[6]

Mark Zaid replied on Twitter:

"Not gonna happen"[7]

Legal education

Mark Zaid is a 1989 graduate of the University of Rochester, and a 1992 graduate of Albany Law School of Union University in New York, where he served as an Associate Editor of the Albany Law Review.[8]

Legal practice

Mark Zaid practises in litigation and lobbying on matters relating to national security, federal employment, foreign sovereign and diplomatic immunity, international transactions, international torts and crimes, defamation, the Constitution (First and Fifth Amendments), and the Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOI/PA).[9]

Through his practice, Zaid often represents former or current federal employees, intelligence officers, whistleblowers who have grievances against agencies of the United States government or foreign governments. Additionally, he represents members of the media and the public in First Amendment and FOI/PA disputes. He has handled national security matters including security clearance revocations/denials, IG investigations, and other employment issues throughout the national security and military communities. He currently teaches the DC Bar CLE courses on FOIA and security clearances.[10][11]

In 1998 Mark Zaid founded the James Madison Project, an organisation dedicated to reduce government secrecy through use of the Freedom of Information Act and giving a voice to government whistleblowers.[12] He is the co-editor of "Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws."[13]

Well-known cases

Some of Mark Zaid's cases are well-known, including:

  • suing Libya for the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 which resulted in a $2.7 billion dollar settlement in 2003, the largest of its kind against a foreign government for terrorist activities;[14] and,
  • obtaining a court-ordered injunction in 2004 effectively shutting down the US Department of Defense's mandatory anthrax vaccination program for two years.[15][16]

More recently, Mark Zaid has been quoted in print and online news reports as an expert in National security law and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).[17][18]

Zaid has also appeared as a commentator on CNN[19] and MSNBC.[20]

Pan Am Flight 103 bombing

Mark Zaid has spoken about the Lockerbie bombing of 21 December 1988 on many occasions, of which these are three:

Q&A session in 1998

The following is the text of a Q&A session on 21 December 1998 which marked the tenth anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Mark Zaid, a lawyer representing some of the families of the Lockerbie victims, was the guest of The Washington Post and fielded all of the questions:[21]

Philadelphia, PA: What exactly are you doing for the victims' families in relation to the government of Libya. Why would you start representing them 5 years after the bombing?
Mark Zaid: I represent approximately 30 families in all aspects of the case. Primarily I am the fact and international law expert for my legal team. We filed the first civil case against Libya in 1993. Before this time most of the families were involved in litigation against Pan Am. I have actually been involved since the bombing itself. Two of my schoolmates at the University of Rochester, as well as someone from my hometown, were passengers on the flight.
Germantown, MD: Why is it taking so long to bring these terrorists to justice?
Mark Zaid: The two suspects are presently in hiding, or under protection, in Tripoli, Libya. Unlike President Reagan's response to the 1986 terrorist attack in Germany which led to the bombing of Tripoli that April, President Bush decided to turn the matter over to the United Nations. Thus, a diplomatic rather than a military solution is being sought.
Alexandria, VA: Mr Zaid, what is your feeling about the sanctions that have been imposed on Libya? It doesn't seem they are too effective in getting the two Libyans to trial. Is there anything else that the U.S. can or should consider?
Mark Zaid: The use of international economic sanctions is a matter of intense debate, particularly since many nations violate them. Many of the families support the sanctions program against Libya, but advocate the imposition of a full oil embargo. Only this would likely have a major impact upon Libya. The US has had full sanctions against Libya in place since 1986. While the US has been lobbying for an increase in sanctions, allied countries such as France, Germany and Italy, each of which buys its oil from Libya, are opposed.
Washington DC: At least as long ago as 1991, Libya offered to release the accused for trial in a neutral venue. Are you willing to accept such an offer? If not, why not?
Mark Zaid: For years Libya has offered to hold a trial in a neutral venue. It has suggested such countries as Malta, Switzerland, Canada and Egypt. The Netherlands, which serves as a seat of international justice, is now the likely place. Most of the families, although quite hesitant at first, now support the notion of a criminal trial in The Hague under Scottish rules of evidence and procedure. I have personally advocated this position since 1993.
Harare, Zimbabwe: Will this trial not be biased based on the ten years of anti-Arab terrorist publicity that has characterised the global media?
Mark Zaid: I do not believe so. For one thing, there will be no jury. The trial will be handled by Scottish judges. There will also be international observers to ensure a fair trial. In fact, earlier this year the United Nations sent a team to Scotland to review Scottish rules of evidence and procedure to explore this very question. The UN favourably endorsed the trial.
Bethesda, MD: How would you describe the feelings of the families that you represent? Is there a sense of resignation that this may never come to trial?
Mark Zaid: The families hold very mixed feelings. And this is very important to understand. For many years the general public has held the belief that the families are united in all respects. Unfortuntately, this is not true. On some issues there is a great deal of conflict. The best way to describe my clients - after ten years have passed - is cautiously optimistic.
Missoula, MT: Can an airline "foresee" all possible disasters? If not, what is the benchmark beyond which there is a "lack of foreseeability"
Mark Zaid: Although airline security today has improved since the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 ten years ago, there is much to be done. Terrorists are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques and cost-cutting by airlines increases vulnerability. Sad to say, but the manner in which Flight 103 was bombed ten years ago could happen again. Certainly, one can never "foresee" or protect against all terrorist attacks. El Al, the Israeli state airline, likely has the strongest security. But American consumers are not patient enough to show up at the airport two hours before a flight and never leave their bags from their sight. That is the cost of security.
Washington, DC: Would you personally handle the litigation in any such neutral location?
Mark Zaid: Although I would hope to personally be on site for a criminal trial, I only handle the civil case. The criminal trial would be prosecuted by government attorneys from the United Kingdom and United States.
Amherst, NY: Why has it taken so long for these families to get the justice and closure that they deserve? How supportive of this effort is the US Government?
Host, Tim Ito: On the last question, how would you evaluate--overall--the US Government efforts over the last 10 years on this issue?
Mark Zaid: There are many reasons why this has taken so long. Obviously the fact that the suspects are still in Libya is a primary one. Also, several of our key allies have not been willing to place principles over economic need. The US Government has been very supportive over the years, but given the passage of ten years the families want and need more. What that might be is subject to debate. US efforts to battle international "terrorism" is a very crucial part of our foreign policies. There are counterterrorism offices in almost every federal agency, such as CIA, FBI and the Department of State, that handle Pan Am Flight 103 issues and other terrorist cases.
Jericho, NY: Ten years is a very long time. What can the citizens of the United States do to show their dissatisfaction that this situation has not been settled?
Mark Zaid: If agreement can not be reached on a criminal trial in The Hague, the next step is to push for increased international economic sanctions through the United Nations. Most importantly, this includes a full oil embargo. In order for this to occur, the United States must demand from some of our key allies that sacrifices must be made so that justice can be attained. Americans can assist this effort by demonstrating their support and informing their Congressional representatives, the Secretary of State and the White House.
Washington, DC: What is the significance of the court decision last week allowing Libya to be sued for the bombing? Does this have any practical effect?
Mark Zaid: The decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was a very significant one, and one which we have fought for over the last 5 years. Most likely the Libyan Government will appeal the decision thus delaying the case for another year as we proceed to the Supreme Court. Once the SC decides whether or not to hear the case, and most likely it will not, the case will be sent back to the district court for a trial on the merits. Thus, the civil case may very lead to the introduction of evidence for the first time.
Host, Tim Ito: We have half-an-hour remaining in our discussion with guest, Mark Zaid.
Amherst, NY: There has been no mention of Iran's involvement. Intelligence reports point the finger at Iran, as the country who ordered the bombing. Why is the Clinton Administration silent?
Mark Zaid: Iran was, in fact, the primary suspect after the bombing. On July 3, 1988, the US Navy destroyed Iran Air Flight 655 killing 290 persons. The Iranian Parliament publicly asserted that revenge would be sought. Five months later, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed. However, after nearly three years of investigation, the US determined that Libya, and not Iran, was involved. Nevertheless, many people still believe that Iran shares in the complicity and this is an issue still to be determined.
Rockville, MD: What are the chances that libya will ever agree to extradite those responsible to another country for trial?
Mark Zaid: A very difficult question to answer. Actually the terms of the UN resolutions speak of "surrender" because there are no extradition treaties between Libya, the US and the UK. In any event, this is a very sensitive issue for Libya based on internal conflicts. To surrender the two individuals may very well prove damaging to Gaddafi internally, and he is obviously mindful of that concern.
Washington, DC: When you say there is a great deal of "conflict" among the families of the victims, what do you mean? Don't they all have a common goal of bringing these guys to justice?
Mark Zaid: There is certainly a common objective among the families to bring those responsible to justice. However the means by which this should be achieved varies from family to family. Some want military strikes to be conducted, others wish for an increase in the sanctions, still others wish to pursue the civil action (which, unlike the criminal action, seeks to prosecute the Libyan Government).
Greenwich, CT: "The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103: The real tragedy"
How Long Ago: 10 Years
When: 4 Days Before Christmas
Who: Libya/Gaddafi
What: Terrorist Bomb
Why: To Kill Americans
Where: 31,000 Feet
Number Dead: 270
Justice: None
The Problem: American Resolve
How long can government sponsored mass murder continue with impunity?
(Prepared by Paul Zwynenburg, brother of Mark Zwynenburg (10.14.59 - 12.21.88) Greenwich, CT 203.661.5734)
Mark Zaid: My answer, of course, is it cannot. This is a difficult concept that is finally taking root throughout the world. The Pinochet case in London and the war crimes tribunals in The Hague are both examples of this. 20 years ago neither would ever occur. But we have a long way to go, and the Pan Am Flight 103 case is a perfect example. How long must we wait for justice for your brother and the 269 other innocent victims? This is one reason why we have pursued the civil action instead of solely waiting for the criminal prosecution to occur.
Arlington, VA: Have the lobbying efforts of the families produced adequate results?
Mark Zaid: The Pan Am Flight 103 families have been a very effective lobbying force. Following the bombing the 1990 Aviation Security Improvement Act was passed solely due to the efforts of the families. And in 1996, we were able to pass an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that now permits American victims of "terrorism" to sue certain foreign governments. I was fortunate enough to work on that legislation for three years and it was only due to the power of the families that we were able to achieve its passage.
Frederick, MD: If someone is killed in an air crash, why is some relative who is not financially dependent upon him, entitled to millions of dollars? Isn't this whole business of monetary damages mostly a severe abuse of the justice system by unscrupulous lawyers to enrich themselves?
Mark Zaid: In our civil case against Libya, we have brought suit for persons who were not financially dependent on the victim. While I cannot speak to other aviation civil actions, as I do not handle such cases, we have emphasised intentional infliction of emotional distress, for example, as a means to not only recover damages for the families but to - and more importantly - inflict punishment on the responsible party. This case is not just an accidental tort case, it is an intentional tort case of the worst kind. Innocent people were specifically targeted to be killed in order to promote a political and idealogical message. The greater the punishment we can inflict, including through monetary awards, the stronger message we send to other terrorist states that we will not tolerate this type of conduct.
Arlington, VA: What will happen if another ten years go by and still there is no resolution to this problem? Will we still be doing the same thing---pressing ineffective sanctions against Libya and calling for a trial somewhere?
Mark Zaid: I certainly hope we will not have to wait another ten years, but obviously much of this is out of the hands of the families and their civil attorneys. We will continue to press our civil case and most likely reach a resolution in this regard within 3 years. The criminal case is strongly influenced by political and international concerns that change day to day, so it is nearly impossible to predict what might happen tomorrow, next week or next year.
London: Do you agree that the less relations Britain has with the US, the safer the British public will be. My point is that when the US go about causing trouble, other people get hurt, eg Lockerbie.
Mark Zaid: I do not. Obviously the US and UK share not only a strong historical link, but also we share many of the same beliefs. The recent bombing of Iraq demonstrates the strong connection between our two countries. I would agree that the US and Americans in general are more of a target world-wide, for terrorists so in that sense being in close proximity to us is more dangerous than, for example, flying on an Icelandic airline. Nevertheless, in order to combat international "terrorism", allies - such as the US and UK - need to unite together for the common cause.
Washington, DC: What was the most important lesson learned from the Lockerbie tragedy?
Mark Zaid: There are many lessons that we have learned, and still continue to learn. It is difficult to identify just one. The bombing has demonstrated not only the frailties of life, but also the strengths of our resolve, particularly to attain justice. And perhaps the attainment of justice is the most important lesson. It must never be discouraged, not for political, ideological or economic reasons.
Washington, DC: I thought I saw someone on TV mention that he had fought to go after Libyan government assets, but that the Dept of State had blocked that avenue. Is the issue likely in your opinion to bounce into the diplomatic arena as a barrier for families to see Libya's government pay.
Mark Zaid: Actually, the effort was to go after Iranian assets in order to execute a judgment obtained by the family of Alyssa Flatow, a 20-year-old American student killed in Israel by terrorists. This same issue, however, will arise in the Libyan case as well once we obtain a judgment. Hopefully the matter will be resolved by then, but it might require additional legislation to do so.
Walla Walla, WA: I believe that the two Libyan agents were most likely involved in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. If this is proved in court, will the next process be to indict their leader, Gaddafi, whom they worked for? And will the evidence of Iran and/or Syria involvement be followed up?
Mark Zaid: That is a very good question, and the answer will depend on the political resolve of the United States. Certainly this is a primary concern of Gaddafi in arriving at his decision on whether to surrender the two Libyan suspects. The families obviously wish to punish whomever was responsible, even if only having played a minor role.
Ridge, NY: I'm interested in finding out about the tenth anniversary ceremony at the monument in Arlington? Please send me any info as soon as possible I'd really like to be there.
Host, Tim Ito: Mark, I know you are going to this ceremony marking the tenth anniversary at Arlington today, can you tell us a little bit about this, even though our friend from Ridge, NY may not be able to get there?
Mark Zaid: The 10th anniversary ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, which I am on my way to attend, begins at approx. 1:15 pm. In attendance will be President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Attorney General Janet Reno, among others. At 2:03 pm, the names of the 270 victims will be read aloud. The ceremony takes place around the Memorial Cairn, which is a Scottish memorial of 270 stones taken from the same quarry that was used to build the base of the Statue of Liberty. Ceremonies are also underway at Syracuse University, which lost 25 of its students in the bombing, and in Lockerbie, Scotland.
Host, Tim Ito: Well, that's all the time we have for today. Many thanks to our guest, Mark Zaid, who joined us live from our offices in Arlington, VA.

University address in 2013

On 18 November 2013, Mark Zaid spoke about the Pan Am bombing in the Hawkins-Carlson Reading Room at his alma mater, the University of Rochester, NY.

Upon graduating from UR law school, Zaid began pushing for legislation that would allow for a civil lawsuit against any countries that promoted state-sponsored "terrorism". The legislation was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996, and Zaid went on to represent about 30 of the Flight 103 families in a lawsuit against Libya, the home country of the national who was eventually convicted of the bombings.

Eventually, Muammar Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the attack — though he claimed he did not order it — and settled with the affected families for $2.7 billion, or $10 million per family, in 2003.[22]

A comment on the Democrat & Chronicle website reads:

"Mark Zaid made millions of dollars out of having Abdelbaset al-Megrahi wrongfully convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, and getting Libya to shell out $2.7billion in compensation (30% of which went to lawyers like Zaid in contingency fees)!
"Allan Gerson and his colleagues Frank Duggan and Mark Zaid represented most if not all of the remaining 82 Lockerbie families. Gerson's team could thus have shared, between the three of them, as much as $246 million in contingency fees."[23]

25th anniversary on Fox News

To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, Mark Zaid made a powerful re-statement of the Lockerbie Official Narrative on Fox News, asking: "25 years later, will there ever be justice for Lockerbie Pan Am 103 victims and survivors?"

"There are still, even after 25 years, those, including myself, who have questions surrounding the full extent of who perpetrated the bombing of Pan Am 103.

"I have spent more than 20 years representing families of the victims of this tragedy, and was part of the legal team that filed the first civil lawsuit against Libya in 1993. And it's personal: Two of my schoolmates in the class behind me at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) were among those killed.

"While the civil lawsuit achieved an unprecedented settlement of $2.7 billion dollars I have always regretted that we never uncovered any new facts. Significant world changes now lead me to question what, if anything, the U.S. and U.K. governments are doing to seek justice for the victims and their families.

"So many questions with so little time, as each passing year sees more surviving family members join their murdered loved ones.

"Twenty-five years is too long to wait for justice to be fully achieved. Unless there are new criminal charges forthcoming, the US and UK governments should tell us what they know. At least this would achieve some additional closure and justice for the Pan Am 103 victims and families."[24]

Lockerbie contingency fees

On 3 June 2013, Patrick Haseldine posted an article headed "Why Megrahi's Lockerbie appeal had to be dropped" on the Justice For Al-Megrahi group's Facebook page:

$810 million legal fees

"There were at least 810 million reasons why Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's appeal against his conviction for the Lockerbie bombing had to be dropped.

"If Megrahi's second appeal (authorised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission) had gone ahead, his conviction would almost certainly have been overturned.

"The $2.7 billion compensation package that Muammar Gaddafi had paid to the 270 Lockerbie victims' families would then have had to be returned to Libya.

"But US lawyers representing the Lockerbie families had already helped themselves to 30 per cent of that $2.7 billion as contingency fees: a mere $810 million. Since those lawyers had no intention of paying back any of the money, Megrahi's appeal had to be dropped!"[25]

Mark Zaid's reasoned opinion

On 4 June 2013, Mark Zaid reacted by emailing Patrick Haseldine (copying to Buck Revell, Richard Marquise and Frank Duggan) as follows:

Patrick -

"Once again you are promoting untruths. I don't know if you authored this bio-piece on my colleague Allan Gerson or not but you/they have it all wrong on the settlement. You should not assume all the lawyers received 30% because they did not. Nor was there any clause in the settlement agreement, or any legal requirement anywhere, that would have returned the $2.7 billion dollars, regardless of the ultimate result of the appeal.

"Instead of 810 million reasons why Al-Megrahi dropped his appeal, I will give you one: he was guilty.

"BTW, I wish I had received the amount of fees believed as I would be retired now!!!!!!


Patrick Haseldine's reply

On 5 June 2013, Patrick Haseldine published this email in reply:

"Dear Mark,

"I calculate that Allan Gerson's team (including you and Frank Duggan) could have shared as much as $246 million in Lockerbie contingency fees.

"Please let us know exactly how much of Muammar Gaddafi's money you personally received.


"Patrick Haseldine, Emeritus Professor of Lockerbie Studies"

Media comment

The editor of News Junkie Post, John Goss, emailed this comment:

"Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was not guilty. No reasonable person believes he was today. Even dissenters from Patrick Haseldine's speculations do not believe al-Megrahi had anything to do with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
"Libya was probably not involved at all. Gaddafi only coughed up because he respected the findings of the court. Not a shred of evidence links Libya with the bombing that I know of, but I know that Bernt Carlsson was on that flight, and to my mind the place to start looking is those with the most to lose if Namibia had been given independent mining rights (what Carlsson was trying to engineer).
"Did anybody investigate South Africa, or the United States, as likely bombers?
"Everything centred on a Western-created pariah with a lot of high-quality oil."

"Wilfully blind"

The site owner of Wikispooks, Peter Presland, offered this emailed explanation:

"Thanks Patrick,
"You really would have to be wilfully blind to contend that sums of money like that (and the millions paid to secure star witness 'evidence') had/have no effect the outcome, reporting, understanding and continuing official obfuscation of all things Lockerbie, eh?
"Peter Presland"

Social media

Among Mark Zaid's many friends on Facebook are Edwin Bollier, Patrick Haseldine and Buck Revell.[26]

On Twitter Mark Zaid has close to 118,000 followers.[27]


  1. "Real Clear Politics website"
  2. "Lawyers and families react to deal"
  4. "Judges reject Lockerbie bomber family's bid to appeal to UK's highest court"
  5. "Megrahi's son refused leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court"
  6. "Ali al-Megrahi, who promised to clear his father's name, is to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court"
  7. "Not gonna happen"
  8. Official Mark Zaid website biography. Accessed February 23, 2010.
  14. "Libya, Families of Victims of Pan Am 103 Bombing Agree on $2.7B Compensation Fund"
  17. Kara Scanell, "SEC Gets FOIA Foil in Financial Law: Regulatory Revamp Gives Agency Greater Rein to Deny Document Requests; 'Is That a Good Thing?'." Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2010. Found at WSJ online. Cited at The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "Freedom of information: Debate continues over scope of SEC FOIA exemption," August 4, 2010, found at The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website. Both accessed August 6, 2010.
  18. Andrea Stone, "WikiLeaks Diaries Raise Question: Is Secrecy Dead?" AOL News, July 26, 2010. Found at AOL News website. Accessed August 6, 2010.
  19. CNN website.
  20. See MSNBC website 1 and MSNBC website 2.
  21. "Global Focus: Chat about the Lockerbie bombing"
  22. "UR graduate to talk about Pan Am bombing"
  23. "Mark Zaid Made Millions"
  24. "25 years later, will there ever be justice for Lockebie Pan Am 103 victims and survivors?"
  25. "Why Megrahi's Lockerbie appeal had to be dropped"
  26. "Mark Zaid on Facebook"
  27. "912 Following 117.9K Followers

External links

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