The U.S. decision not to support a rival African country for the seat angered families of victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland - some of whom watched the vote in the U.N. General Assembly from the visitors gallery. They said the United States should have done more to prevent Libya from getting a seat on the U.N.'s most powerful body.
Dan Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J., who lost his 20-year-old daughter Theodora, said the vast majority of Lockerbie victims were Americans. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "has more American blood on his hands than any other surviving dictator in the world," he said.
"It is a disgrace that the United States would not even put up a fight and try to defeat Libya," he said. "America just hasn't stood up on this issue at all. ... And the Libyan government is working diligently to get the one person convicted in this case out of jail in Scotland."
Just over a year ago, the U.S. removed the African nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The U.S. had regarded Libya as a pariah state for decades after Gadhafi came to power in a 1969 coup and turned his country against the West. It was the target of U.S. air strikes in 1986, and subject to sanctions.
Libya was blamed for the Lockerbie bombing as well as a West Berlin disco bombing that killed two American soldiers in 1986. The U.S. accused the country of sponsoring terrorist groups from the Irish Republican Army to Palestinian factions and of undermining pro-Western governments in Africa.
In 2003, Libya officially accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and reached a $2.7 billion settlement with families of the victims. The next year, it paid $170 million compensation to the families of the 170 victims of a 1989 bombing of a French passenger jet.
Relations between Washington and Tripoli have improved since Libya's surprise decision in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to dismantle its clandestine nuclear weapons program under international inspection.
The Bush administration said in May 2006 that it was resuming regular diplomatic relations with Libya for the first time in more than a quarter-century.
"The world changes," U.S. deputy ambassador to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff told reporters when asked about Libya joining the council.
He did not reveal whether the U.S. voted for or against Libya, saying the U.S. does not disclose that information.
Wolff took note of the families of Lockerbie victims who watched the vote from the visitors gallery.
"Their presence was felt here today. I felt it and I know other delegations felt it," he said.
Glenn Johnson, who lost his 21-year-old daughter Beth Ann, complained that Libya still owes the families $2 million apiece as part of a settlement it made with the U.S. The families have already received $8 million each, said Johnson, who chairs the group "Victims of Pan Am 103," representing families of about 160 of the 270 victims.
"We really felt let down when the State Department didn't make the objections it has in the past," Johnson said. "The U.S. allowed (Libya) off the hook even though for some reason Libya decided it didn't have to take the last step of the agreement. We can't understand it."
In 2000 the United States successfully blocked Sudan's bid for a council seat, and Washington's candidate, Mauritius, won. But in 2005, the U.S. backed Nicaragua and Peru won. This year, Washington did not back a candidate against Libya.
Wolff said the U.S. is pursuing the compensation issue bilaterally with the Libyan government and will continue to do so.
Libya's U.N. ambassador, Giadalla Ettalhi, said the country received 178 "yes" votes in the 192-member General Assembly.
"It means I can say we are back to the international community, that all the problems we have faced in the past are now behind us," he told reporters. "I think our relations with the U.S. nowadays are back to normal ... and I think they have not worked against our candidacy. We are sure about that.
"We have fulfilled completely our agreement with the Lockerbie people," he added.
Libya was elected to a two-year term starting Jan. 1. It will join the council along with another former U.S. enemy, Vietnam.
The U.S. restored diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1995 - 20 years after the end of the Vietnam War - and is now the country's largest trading partner.
Burkina Faso was also elected with no opposition. Croatia and Costa Rica won seats on the third ballot after their opponents, the Czech Republic and the Dominican Republic, dropped out after two rounds of secret balloting.
Ten of the council's 15 seats are filled for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by its veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.