Monday, 26 September 2016

Reminder of Justice Committee meeting

A reminder that Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) seeking an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial features on the agenda for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s meeting to be held tomorrow, Tuesday, 27 September 2016 in Holyrood Committee Room 2, beginning at 10.00. It is unlikely that this agenda item will be reached before 11.00. Further details can be found here. The proceedings will be televised on Parliament TV.

Defector Giaka in witness box at Zeist

[On this date in 2000 Abdul Majid Giaka entered the witness box at the Lockerbie trial. His evidence extended over three days. What follows is the text of the report on the BBC News website of the first day:]

A former Libyan spy has told the Lockerbie trial he saw the accused with a suitcase similar to the one alleged to have contained the bomb.

Abdul Majid Giaka, a key prosecution witness, has been giving details of his role as a Libyan secret service officer at Luqa Airport in Malta.

The prosecution alleges that the two Libyans placed a bomb in a brown Samsonite suitcase and routed it onto Pan Am Flight 103 from Malta.

Giaka told the court he saw Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah with such a suitcase shortly before the bombing in December 1988.

Mr Giaka has been living in the US for 10 years under CIA protection after defecting from Libya.

He was escorted to the special Scottish court at Camp Zeist, Holland, by 30 US marshals.

Speaking in Arabic from behind a screen and with his voice distorted to protect his identity, Mr Giaka told the court he was recruited to the JSO (the Libyan security service) after graduating from university.

He told prosecutor Alastair Campbell QC that he started working for the Libyan security service in 1984 and in 1986 he moved to become assistant station manager in Malta.

This posting, based at Luqa Airport, was part of the intelligence service's airline security section, to protect aircraft, passengers and crew of Libyan Arab Airlines.

The two defendants also worked at the airport for the Libyan airline and were also allegedly members of the Libyan security service.

In court he identified Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi as the head of the airline security section and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima as the station boss.

BBC Scotland correspondent Reevel Alderson, who is in court, said this was the first time in the trial that Fhima had been identified by a witness.

Giaka described how, shortly before the bombing in 1988, he saw the two accused arrive from Tripoli. They were carrying a brown Samsonite suitcase.

He also said that, two years before the bombing, Fahima had showed him two bricks of what he said was the explosive TNT.

The TNT was in the drawer of a desk in the office they shared.

He said: "Fahima told me he had had 10 kg of TNT delivered by Abdel Basset (Megrahi).

"He opened the drawer and there were two boxes which contained a yellowish material."

Mr Giaka went on to outline the role of the JSO in terrorism and assassinating dissidents outside Libya and said his concerns led him in 1988 to contact the American Embassy.

He became a double agent, providing information about Libyan intelligence and people suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Defence lawyer Bill Taylor QC complained that much of what he had to say was "mere tittle-tattle and gossip," and reminded the court that hearsay can be inadmissible in a Scottish murder trial.

Giaka's appearance in court came after weeks of wrangling between the prosecution and defence.

At the heart of the objections has been the issue of the availability of notes of interviews held between Mr Giaka and his CIA handlers in America.

These papers - or cables - have been trickling out with varying degrees of censorship.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that very few relatives of the victims are watching the trial on closed-circuit TV at four sites in the US and Britain.

Virtually no-one has been to the site in Dumfries, while even in New York there is usually only eight to 10 people watching.

[RB: A verbatim transcript of Giaka’s evidence can be found here, starting at page 2095.]

Sunday, 25 September 2016

UK authorities have known for 20 years Megrahi was innocent

On this date in 2009 former ambassador Craig Murray wrote this on his blog:

“As I have previously stated, I can affirm that the FCO and MI6 knew that al-Megrahi was not the Lockerbie bomber.

“I strongly recommend that you read this devastating article by the great lawyer Gareth Peirce, in the London Review of Books. Virtually every paragraph provides information which in itself demolishes the conviction. The totality of the information Peirce gives is a quite stunning picture of not accidental but deliberate miscarriage of justice.”

He then quotes at length from Gareth Peirce’s The Framing of al-Megrahi.

What follows is from another of Mr Murray’s blogposts:

The information on Lockerbie published in today’s Daily Mail from an Iranian defector, matches precisely what I was shown in a secret intelligence report in the FCO just around the time of the first Iraq war – that a Syrian terrorist group was responsible acting on behalf of Iran.  It was decided that this would be kept under wraps because the West needed Iran and Syria’s quiescence in the attack on Iraq.

“I was at the time Head of Maritime Section in the FCO’s Aviation and Maritime Department. I was shown the report by the Head of the Aviation Section, who was deeply troubled by it.

“The UK authorities have known for over 20 years that Megrahi was innocent. The key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper named Tony Gauci, was paid a total of US $7 million for his evidence by the CIA, and was able to adopt a life of luxury that continues to this day. The initial $2 million payment has become public knowledge but that was only the first instalment.  This was not an over-eagerness to convict the man the CIA believed responsible; this was a deliberate perversion of justice to move the spotlight from Iran and Syria to clear the way diplomatically for war in Iraq.

“It will of course be argued, probably correctly, that now Syria and Iran are the western targets, it is in the interests of the CIA for the true story to come out,  (minus of course their involvement in perverting the course of justice).  That is why we now hear it was Syria and Iran.  But it so happens that is in fact the truth.  Even the security services and government can tell the truth, when the moment comes that the truth rather than a deceit happens to be a tactical advantage to them.”

Saturday, 24 September 2016

New legal team for Megrahi and Fhima

[On this date in 1998 there were media reports about a change in the Libyan legal team representing the Lockerbie accused, Megrahi and Fhima. What follows is taken from Asharq al-Awsat:]

Dr Ibrahim al-Ghuwayl [Legwell] lawyer of 'Abd-al-Basit al-Miqrahi and al-Amin Khalifah Fahimah, the two Libyans accused in connection with the Lockerbie case, has refused to join a new team formed by the Libyan Government to defend the two Libyans suspected of blowing up a PanAm plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.  In a statement to Al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday Al-Ghuwayl attributed his refusal to disagreements over "strategy."

Dr al-Ghuwayl added that the new team is headed by Kamil Maqhur, a former foreign minister, and includes lawyers from a number of law practices in Libya.

Asked about the reasons for this official Libyan action, al-Ghuwayl said:  "I do not know the reasons; you should ask those who made the decision."  Dr al-Ghuwayl stressed that it was al-Miqrahi and Fahimah who chose him as a lawyer to defend them, "and I am still safeguarding their interests and will continue to do so until they decide otherwise." Al-Ghuwayl had objected to the US-British initiative for his clients to stand trial in the Netherlands.

[RB: A few days later a letter from me was published in The Scotsman in response to that newspaper’s report on the matter. The letter reads as follows:]

Your report  ("Lockerbie suspects' lawyers sacked", 24 September)  claims the new Libyan defence team had been appointed by the Libyan Government (or by Colonel Gaddafi). What evidence is there for this?

I met five members of the team in Tripoli last Monday. The chairman, Kamel Hassan Maghur, said he and his colleagues (who include the present President of the Tripoli Bar Association and the most senior past-President) had been appointed by the two suspects themselves; that their sole concern was with representing the interests of their clients;  that those interests did not necessarily coincide with the wishes or interests of the Libyan Government; and that if the Government sought to interfere in their work or to influence in any way the advice which the lawyers might render to their clients, they would not hesitate to publicise this fact in the international media.

Mr Maghur (who as well as being a former Foreign Minister, is also a retired Libyan Supreme Court judge) said nothing to indicate that his team wished to dispense with the services of Alistair Duff, the Edinburgh solicitor who for many years has represented the two suspects in Scotland: indeed, quite the reverse.

If, as you state, Dr Ibrahim Legwell is claiming (a) still to represent the suspects and (b) that the new team has been foisted on them without their consent, then this conflict should be speedily resolved by direct consultation with the accused themselves. I was deeply impressed by the professionalism, commitment and independence of the Libyan lawyers. If they do indeed now represent the suspects, I am convinced that their interests are in capable hands.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Justice Committee to resume consideration of Megrahi petition

[Justice for Megrahi’s petition (PE1370) seeking an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and trial features on the agenda for the meeting of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s meeting to be held on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 in Holyrood Committee Room 2, beginning at 10.00. The committee clerk’s note on this item reads as follows:]

Terms of the petition
PE1370 (lodged 1 November 2010): The petition on behalf of Justice for Megrahi (JFM), calls for the opening of an inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.

Recent background to the petition in Session 4
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
17. On 5 November 2015, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) announced that: “it is not in the interests of justice‖ to continue with a review of the conviction of the late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. Consequently, the application has been refused.” In a news release published that day the Commission‘s Chairman, Jean Couper said:

“A great deal of public money and time was expended on the Commission‟s original review of Mr Megrahi‟s case which resulted, in 2007, in him being given the opportunity to challenge his conviction before the High Court by way of a second appeal. In 2009, along with his legal team, Mr Megrahi decided to abandon that appeal. Before agreeing to spend further public money on a fresh review the Commission required to consider the reasons why he chose to do so. It is extremely frustrating that the relevant papers, which the Commission believes are currently with the late Mr Megrahi‟s solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, and with the Megrahi family, have not been forthcoming despite repeated requests from the Commission. Therefore, and with some regret, we have decided to end the current review. It remains open in the future for the matter to be considered again by the Commission, but it is unlikely that any future application will be accepted for review unless it is accompanied with the appropriate defence papers. This will require the cooperation of the late Mr Megrahi’s solicitors and his family.”

Operation Sandwood
18. Operation Sandwood is the operational name for Police Scotland‘s investigation into the nine allegations of criminality levelled at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, police and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes relating to Megrahi‘s conviction. The allegations range from perverting of the course of justice to perjury. Police Scotland‘s report of this operation is expected to be completed before the end of the year. The S4 Committee received a number of updates from JFM asking that an “independent prosecutor” be appointed to assess the findings of Operation Sandwood.

19. The S4 Committee wrote to the Lord Advocate seeking his views on the appointment of an “independent prosecutor” as proposed by JFM. His response outlined arrangements made by COPFS to employ independent Crown Counsel not involved in the Lockerbie case to deal with the matter. JFM rejected the involvement of independent Crown Counsel as they consider it does not represent an “independent, unbiased and constitutionally sound approach”. The S4 Committee sought further information regarding the appointment of an independent prosecutor in September 2015 to which the Lord Advocate reiterated his earlier response.

20. On 5 January 2016, the S4 Committee wrote again to the Lord Advocate, asking him to respond to JFM‘s most recent submission which questioned the Lord Advocate‘s intention to appoint Catherine Dyer, the Crown Agent, as the Crown Office official responsible for co-ordinating matters with the “independent counsel”. (Ms Dyer has since retired from the COPFS.)

21. On 29 February 2016 the S4 Committee received a response from the Crown Agent setting out the steps which will be taken by COPFS to ensure that the police investigation into allegations of criminality by JFM in connection with the Lockerbie case, known as Operation Sandwood, are dealt with appropriately. The Crown Agent attached copies of previous correspondence from 26 June 2013 setting out the specific arrangements which pertain to Operation Sandwood and from 25 February 2013 and 25 March 2013 which include general details of how COPFS deals with allegations of criminal conduct by prosecutors or former prosecutors.

Session 4 Legacy Report
22. The S4 Justice Committee last considered the petition on 1 March 2016. It agreed to seek further information about the progress of Operation Sandwood and to keep the petition open. In its Legacy Report in respect of PE1370 the S4 Committee stated—

PE1370 lodged by Justice for Megrahi (JfM) in November 2010 calling for an independent inquiry into the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1998. Much of the Committee‟s recent activity has focused on receiving progress updates on Police Scotland’s “Operation Sandwood‟. This operation is its investigation into JfM‟s nine allegations of criminality levelled at the COPFS, the police, and forensic officials involved in the investigation and legal processes around Megrahi‟s conviction. In addition, the Committee has been examining the process for the COPFS appointing independent counsel to examine the findings of Operation Sandwood when available. We requested a final update on progress with Police Scotland‟s investigation in March 2016 for consideration by our successor committee.

Latest information available
23. The most recent response from Police Scotland was received on 11 March 2016 and can be found in Annexe E. It states that the Deputy Chief Constable expected to receive a detailed report by mid May. This report and its findings would then require be scrutinised and assessed by the independent Queens Counsel appointed by Police Scotland. Police Scotland confirmed that a definitive timetable to complete the process could not be provided at this stage. There has been no public statement since then, of which the clerks are aware, indicating whether this process has proceeded as indicated in the 11 March letter.

24. On 2 June, the issue of comments about the Megrahi case made in a recent book by former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, were raised during First Minister‘s Questions. The First Minister stated that "it is not for me, for any First Minister or for any member of the government to decide that a conviction is unsafe. That is a matter for the courts of the land. That is the case in this case and it is the case in any other criminal matter." She added that it remained open for Megrahi's close relatives to ask the SCCRC to refer the case to the appeal court: “Ministers have repeatedly made clear that they would be comfortable if that was to happen but that is the process that must be undertaken if this case is to be looked at by the appeal court."

25. In September there were press reports that Mr Megrahi‘s eldest son Khalid al-Megrahi intends to come to Scotland to resurrect the appeal against conviction which his father had dropped on his return to Libya in August 2009. The petitioner‘s response (Annexe F) refers to this and confirms they have no information as to the truth or otherwise of these reports.
26. The Petitioner for PE1370 has provided a written submission which can be found in Annexe F.

Options for action on petition PE1370
27. The Committee is asked to consider and agree what, if any, action it wishes to take in relation to the petition (see paragraph 6* for possible options).

28. As ever, there is the option of closing the petition. If the Committee wished to keep the petition open, it might wish to consider writing to Police Scotland seeking confirmation the Operation Sandwood report has been received and trying again to seek clarity on the future timetable for completion of the process.

*Options available to Committees considering petitions
6. Once a petition has been referred to a subject Committee it is for the Committee to decide how, or if, it wishes to take the petitions forward. Some examples of how this can be done are set out below although the list is not exhaustive. The Committee can choose to:  
  • Keep the petition open and write to the Scottish Government or other stakeholders seeking their views on what the petition is calling for, or views on further information to have emerged over the course of considering the petition;
  • Keep the petition open and take oral evidence from the petitioner and / or stakeholders;  
  • Keep the petition open and await the outcome of a specific piece of work, such as a consultation or piece of legislation;  
  • Close the petition on the grounds that the Scottish Government has made its position clear or that the Scottish Government has made some or all of the changes requested by the petition, or that the Committee, after due consideration, has decided it does not support the petition;  
  • Close the petition on the grounds that a current consultation, call for evidence or inquiry gives the petitioner the opportunity to contribute to the policy process.

[RB: The various Annexes referred to in the clerk’s note, including the submission from Justice for Megrahi, can be read here.]

The first SCCRC application

[On this date in 2003 an application was submitted to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on behalf of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. A report on the MailOnline website reads as follows:]

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has received an application from solicitors acting for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.

Al Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the murder of the 259 passengers and crew on board Pan Am flight PA 103 from London to New York, and 11 residents of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

The commission is an independent body set up in 1999 to consider alleged miscarriages of justice in Scottish courts.

It can decide whether it is in the interests of justice to refer the case to the Appeal Court for a fresh appeal to be considered.

A previous appeal was unsuccessful.

Al Megrahi's solicitor, Eddie MacKechnie, said there was new evidence never mentioned before included in the team's case, but he refused to give details.

"The Commission is an independent body which will decide, in due course, after considering the application and making whatever inquiries it deems to be appropriate whether in this unique and important case there may have been a miscarriage of justice.

"I do not consider it to be appropriate to publicise, in advance of the Commission's deliberations, any precise details of the case now presented.

"All I can say is that the case contains detailed legal arguments not previously presented, including allegations of unfairness, abuse of process, insufficiency of evidence, errors in law, non-disclosure of evidence and defective representation."

[RB: The SCCRC did -- eventually -- find that there might have been a miscarriage of justice and referred the case back to the High Court of Justiciary. The delays that occurred throughout the whole process were utterly outrageous and would have been so even in the case of someone not suffering from terminal cancer.]

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Pan Am 103 case: A study in propaganda service

[This is part of the headline over a long article by Professor Emeritus Edward S Herman of the University of Pennsylvania that was published on the Global Research website on this date in 2007. It reads as follows:]

New York Times propaganda service has often been dramatically displayed in connection with the shooting down of civilian airliners. The editors were hysterical over the Soviet shooting down of Korean airliner 007 on August 31, 1983: 270 articles and 2,789 column inches during September 1983 alone, along with an editorial designation of the incident as “cold-blooded mass murder.” The paper took as truth the official and party line that the Soviets knew they were shooting down a civilian airliner. Several years later the editors acknowledged that their assumption had been wrong, but they blamed this on the government, not their own gullibility (ed, The Lie That Wasn’t Shot Down, Jan 18, 1988). It had done no investigative work on the case in the interim, and the lie was shot down based on information developed outside the media.
In a markedly contrasting response, when Israel shot down a Libyan airliner over the Sinai desert in February 1973, although in this case there was no question but that the Israelis knew they were downing a civilian airliner, the New York Times covered the incident much less intensively and without expressing the slightest indignation, let alone using words like “cold-blooded” or “murder.”
Equally interesting, the paper recognized the political importance of their treatment of each of these events: in the Soviet case, in a year-later retrospective, Times reporter Bernard Gwertzman wrote that US officials “assert that worldwide criticism of the Soviet handling of the crisis has strengthened the United States in its relations with Moscow.” With the orchestrated intense and indignant coverage of this shootdown the Soviets had suffered not only harsh criticism but boycotts for its action. By contrast, Israel suffered not the slightest damage. The New York Times editorialized that “No useful purpose is served by an acrimonious debate over the assignment of blame for the downing of a Libyan plane in the Sinai peninsula last week” (ed, March 1, 1973). Within a week of the shootdown, the Israeli Prime Minister was welcomed in Washington without incident or intrusive questions. In short, blame and debate is a function of utility, which is to say, political advantage. Where it helps, as in putting the Soviets in a bad light, we support assigning blame, indignation and debate; where it would injure a client, “no useful purpose” would be served by such treatment. And somehow the UN and “international community” react in ways that conform to what the US government and New York Times perceive as useful.
In the case of Pan Am 103, the political aspect of assigning blame has been clearly and, arguably, overwhelmingly important. The plane was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988, with 270 plane casualties (and 11 persons killed on the ground). This followed by only five and a half months the US navy’s shooting down of Iranian airliner 655 in July 1988, killing 290, mainly Iranian pilgrims. The link between the two events was quickly seen, and the likelihood that the later event was an act of vengeance by Iran was a working hypothesis, supported further by an unproven claim of Western security forces that Iran had offered a $10 million reward for a retaliatory act. As the case developed it was soon a consensus of investigators that the Pan Am action had been the work of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) under the leadership of Ahmed Jibral, based in Syria, and responding to the Iranian offer.
But then, as relations with Saddam Hussein deteriorated in 1989 and 1990, and the United States sought better relations with Syria and Iran in the run-up to the first Persian Gulf War, Western officials became quiet on the Syria-Iran connection, followed by a fairly rapid shift from “definitive” proof of PFLP-Syrian-Iranian involvement to “definitive” proof that it was a Libyan act. As Paul Foot noted, “The evidence against the PFLP which had been so carefully put together and was so immensely impressive was quietly but firmly junked” (Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice, Private Eye, May/June 2001, p 10). Libya provided a suitable new culprit, as it was already on the U.S.-UK hit list and had been subjected to a series of efforts at “regime change,” a hostility based on its independence, support of the Palestinians and other dissident forces (including the ANC and Mandela in their resistance to the apartheid regime), as well as occasional support of anti-Western terrorists. So Libya it was.
The Libyan connection lasted in pristine condition from 1990 into 2007, during which time Libya was subjected to intensive vilification, costly sanctions imposed by the Security Council, and a highly publicized trial in Scotland that resulted in the conviction of a Libyan national for the Lockerbie murders, with further bad publicity for Libya and Kaddafi, and a payment of several billion dollars in victim compensation that Libya felt compelled to provide (although still denying any involvement in the shootdown). All this despite the fact that many experts and observers, including some victim family members, felt that the trial was a political event and a judicial farce that yielded an unwarranted and unjust conviction.
This belief in the injustice of the court decision was greatly strengthened in June 2007 when a Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission issued a decision that found the 2001 trial and decision flawed and opened the way for a fresh appeal for the convicted Libyan. If this decision is validated, the world will be left without a party responsible for the Pan Am-103 bombing, but with the strong likelihood that attention will be refocused on the PFLP and its sponsors, Syria and Iran. Is it not an amazing coincidence that this second turnaround occurs as Libya becomes more acceptable to the United States and its allies and these Western powers are now retargeting Syria and Iran?
We should note one other set of facts in this controversy that bears on the quality of “international justice.” That is, the treatment by the United States, New York Times, and international community of the shooting down of the Iranian airliner 655 by the US warship Vincennes in July 1988 and the process of bringing justice to the families of the victims of that act. It is true that this was not a planned destruction of an airliner, but it was carried out by a U.S. naval commander noted for his “Rambo” qualities and the civilian airliner destroyed was closely following its assigned air space (in contrast with 007). A point rarely mentioned in the U.S. media is that the U.S. naval vessel that shot the plane down was on a mission in aid of Saddam Hussein in his war of aggression against Iran.
The Reagan administration did express “deep regret” at the incident, although blaming Iran for hostile actions that provoked the U.S. action (which were later shown to have been non-existent) and for failing to terminate its war against Iraq–and as the United States was supporting Iraq, by definition Iran was the aggressor. It also paid some $132 million as compensation, including $62 million for the families of the victims. This is, of course, substantially less than Kaddafi felt obligated to pay the victims of Pan Am 103, the ratio of payments to the respective victims being roughly 30 to 1.
The New York Times, which had had an editorial entitled “Murder” in connection with the 007 shootdown, asserted back in 1983 that “There is no conceivable excuse for any nation shooting down a harmless airliner,” but it predictably found one for the 655 case: “the incident must still be seen as not as a crime [let alone “murder”] but as a blunder, and a tragedy.” Neither the UN Security Council nor International Civil Aviation Organization condemned the United States for this action, although both had done so as regards the Soviet Union in the case of Korean airliner 007, and of course the Security Council would eventually take severe action against Libya in regard to Pan Am 103. There was no punishment whatsoever meted out to Rambo Captain Will Rogers, who got a “hero’s welcome” upon his return to San Diego five months after the shoot-down (Robert Reinhold, Crew of Cruiser That Downed Iranian Airliner Gets a Warm Homecoming, NYT, Oct 25, 1988), and was subsequently awarded a Legion of Merit award for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service.” The Iranians were naturally angry at this reception and treatment of the man responsible for killing 290 mainly Iranian civilians, and were possibly a bit resentful at the workings of the system of international justice as it impacted them.
Polls indicated that the warm greeting Rogers got in San Diego was not an aberration—the public was pleased with his accomplishment. This reflected the fact that media coverage of the 655 shootdown had focused on official claims about the reason for the deadly act, not the plight of the victims and the grief of their families—which was the heavy and continuing focus of attention in both the 007 and Pan Am 103 cases. The alleged suffering of Captain Rogers got more attention than that of the 290 victims and their families. We are back to the contrast between “worthy” and “unworthy” victims, and the “useful purpose” of the focus of attention, as seen by the U.S. establishment and media.
One further note on international justice concerns the treatment of the US bombing of Libya on April 14, 1986. That attack followed by little more than a week the bombing of a discotheque in Berlin that was quickly blamed by the Reagan administration on Libya, though proof of this connection was never forthcoming. The US bombing attack targeted Kadaffi’s residence, and, while failing to assassinate him, killed his young daughter along with 40 or more Libyan civilians. This was an act of state terrorism and a straightforward violation of the UN Charter, but here again a US (along with supportive British and French) veto prevented any UN Security Council condemnation, let alone other action, in response to this terrorism. The UN can act only when the United States wants it to act; it can never do anything in response to US or US client state violence, no matter how egregious. And the case of Libya and Pan Am 103 affords strong evidence that when the United States wants the UN to act against a target, serious penalties and other forms of damage can be inflicted that are based on false charges and a corrupted legal process (as described below).
We may note also that the New York Times editors were delighted with the 1986 terroristic attack on Libya. Their editorial on the subject stated that “The smoke in Tripoli has barely cleared, yet on the basis of early information even the most scrupulous citizen can only approve and applaud the American attacks on Libya” (ed, The Terrorist and His Sentence, April 15, 1986), The “early information” showed only that while the assassination attempt had failed scores of what the editors would call “innocent civilians” in a reverse context were killed. Thus once again the editors expose their belief that international law does not apply to the United States, and it demonstrates once again that civilians killed by the US government are “unworthy” victims whose deaths the editors can literally applaud.
As in the case of the shooting down of 007, on November 14, 1999 the New York Times had big headlines and lavished a great deal of attention and indignation on the US-British indictment of two Libyans alleged to have been the bombers of Pan Am 103, and it provided similar headlines, attention and indignation when the Scottish court found one of the two Libyans guilty on January 31, 2001. By contrast, the report that the Scottish Review Court had found the trial of the Libyans badly flawed and suggested that justice called for a new trial, was given no editorial attention and a single question-begging article (Alan Cowell, Lockerbie Ruling Raises Questions On Libyan’s Guilt, June 29, 2007).
At no time did any of the 15 Times editorials on the Pan Am 103 shootdown and Libya connection express the slightest reservation about the process or substance of the charges against the Libyans. As regards the politics of the case, with the seemingly strong case involving the PLP, Syria and Iran abandoned just when the United States was briefly cozying up to Syria and Iran, shifting to the continuing target Libya, the editors did refer to “cynics” who thought the administration “finds it convenient to downplay Syria’s dreadful record now that Damascus has joined Middle East peace negotiations” (ed, “Seeking the Truth About Libya,” March 30, 1992), but the editors refused to accept this cynical notion and, most important, it didn’t cause them to examine the evidence against Libya more closely. This was their government, Libya was a villain, and patriotism and built-in bias kept their blinders firmly in place.
As regards legal process, following the US-Scottish charges against the two Libyans, Libya immediately arrested the two suspects and started a judicial investigation, which followed precisely the requirements of the 1971 Montreal Convention dealing with acts of violence involving civil aviation. Libya promised to try the two men if evidence was supplied it, and it offered to allow observers and requested international assistance in gathering evidence. The United States and Britain rejected this on the ground that Libya would never convict its own, although if the trial was flawed they could have demanded action from the World Court. An exceptional Times op-ed column by Marc Weller argued that what Libya did was in accord with international law and that the US-UK action was not only illegal but also abused and politicized the Security Council (“Libyan Terrorism, American Vigilantism” Feb 15, 1992).
The Times’ editors ignored the Weller argument: as always, for the editors international law doesn’t apply to the United States. Also, it was clear to them that Libya could not be trusted to try its own—just as it never occurred to them that a trial of Libyans in the West could be anything but justice in action, even though the advance publicity by Western officials, once again demonizing the alleged villains and alleging “irrefutable evidence,” put great pressure on judges and juries and made a fair trial problematic.
A standard form of propagandistic journalism is to provide “balance” by citing on the “other side” the villains and their sponsors rather than independent critics. In past years the New York Times regularly cited Soviet officials for balance, rather than dissident US citizens who would have had more credibility with US audiences. In the Libya-Pan Am 103 case, the Times regularly cited Kaddaffi (“ranting”) and other Libyans as charging political bias in the proceedings, while neglecting Westerners with more authority. Most notorious, the Times has yet to cite Dr. Hans Köchler, [an Austrian] legal scholar who was Kofi Annan’s appointed observer at the trial of the two Libyans in the Netherlands (Camp Zeist) under Scottish law. Köchler produced a powerful Report and Evaluation of the Lockerbie Trial in February 2001 that was widely reported and featured in the Scottish and other European media, but was never once mentioned by the Times in its news or editorials. The other expert almost entirely ignored by the Times was Professor Robert Black, a Scottish legal authority who was an important contributor to the arrangements for the trial at Zeist, who followed it closely, and was immensely knowledgeable on both the trial and Scottish law. Black was mentioned briefly twice in Times news articles, but never in an editorial. It can hardly be a coincidence that the ignoring of Köchler and marginalizing of Black paralleled their finding the trial a travesty, badly politicized (Kochler) and with a judicial decision unsupported by credible evidence (Black [“a fraud”] and Kochler).
The Times has repeatedly claimed that the case against the Libyans resulted from a model police effort—they used the phrase “meticulous British and American police work” more than once—and it was allegedly supported by “hundreds of witnesses” and “thousands of bits of evidence.” Thus, while the trial never yielded a smoking gun, it provided compelling “circumstantial evidence.” At no point does the paper acknowledge any possible mismanagement or corruption in the collection and processing of evidence. Among the points never mentioned are that:
Not only “police” but the US CIA and other personnel were on the crash scene on December 21, 1988 within two hours of the disaster, moving about freely, removing and possibly altering evidence in violation of the rules of dealing with crash-scene evidence, and over-riding the supposed authority of the Scottish police (for details, John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, Cover-Up of Convenience, chapter 12, “’An Old-Fashioned Police Investigation’”). Presumably, for the Times, just as international law doesn’t apply to the United States, neither do the rules of proper assembling of evidence.
The key piece of evidence, a fragment from a timer, was first marked “cloth, charred,” but was later overwritten with the word “debris,” a change never adequately explained. Some months later, upon examination by UK forensic expert Thomas Hayes, a note about this fragment was written by him, but the page numbers were subsequently overwritten and renumbered, again without explanation. Months later, marks on the timer were allegedly identified with MEBO, a Swiss firm that manufactured timers, and one that did business with Libya. This was “conclusive evidence,” although MEBO also sold the timers to East Germany, Libya might have provided the timer to others, MEBO had reported several break-ins at its factory to the Swiss police between October 1988 and February 1989. Furthermore, when finally shown the fragment MEBO’s owner said it was a different color from his own, and it turned out that the CIA had this very timer in its possession.
All three forensic scientists who worked intensively on this case, one for the FBI (Tom Thurman) and two for a branch of the UK ministry of defense (Allen Feraday and Thomas Hayes) had run into trouble in the past for concealment of evidence (Hayes), wrong conclusions (in one case, false testimony on a explosive timer—Feraday), and fabrication of evidence (Tom Thurman). (See Foot, op cit, App 2, “The Three Forensic Geniuses.”)
The CIA had a major role in creating the case, their primary witness being the Libyan defector Majid Giaka. The CIA offered him to the prosecution even though years ago they had decided that he was a liar and con man. Giaka had said nothing about any Libyan connection to the Pan Am bombing for months after it took place, and he came through only when threatened with a funds cutoff. Paul Foot asks ” Why was such an obviously corrupt and desperate liar produced by the prosecution at all?” It is also testimony to the quality of the legal process that for a while the CIA refused to produce cables and e-mail messages regarding Giaka, arguing that they were irrelevant. When finally reluctantly produced they were not irrelevant, but showed the CIA’s own low opinion of Giaka. The Times did have a news article or two that described Giaka’s poor record and malperformance on the stand, but none of the 15 editorials mentioned him or allowed this phase of the proceeding to limit their admiration for police and prosecution.
Neither the US nor UK governments nor the Zeist court was willing to explore alternative models, several of which were more plausible than the one involving Libya. The one already mentioned, featuring the PFLP-Syria-Iran connection, was compelling: PFLP’s German members were found in possession of radio cassettes and workable timers; they had already used these in bombing attacks; they were known to have cased the Frankfurt airport just before the day of the bombing; one of their operatives had visited Malta and the shopkeeper who sold the clothes found in the Pan Am-103 debris first identified this individual (Abu Talb) as the purchaser; and there was evidence of this group’s link to Iran and claims of a paid contract, among other points.
In a related scenario, the bomb was introduced by the PFLP into the suitcase of Khalid Jaafar, an agent in a drug-running operation, protected by the CIA as part of its hostage-release program. The CIA involvement in this drug-running operation may have been one reason for the hasty and aggressive CIA takeover of the search at the crash site; and it, and the closely related desire to avoid disturbing negotiations with Syrian and Iranian terrorists holding Western hostages, may also help explain why President Bush and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher apparently agreed in March 1989 to prevent any uncontrolled investigation of the bombing.
Not only were these governments unwilling to look at alternatives, they actually blocked other inquiries and pursued and tried to damage individuals who did so (see Ashton and Ferguson, Cover-Up, chap 8, “The Knives Come Out”). The Zeist court conformed to this program, with the result that actors for whom the “circumstantial evidence” was far more compelling than in the case of the Libyans were excluded from consideration.
The Times found the original US-British charges and the Scottish court’s decision satisfying, although based only on “circumstantial evidence.” They provided no serious analysis of this evidence, and both Robert Black and Hans Köchler, among many others, found the evidence completely inadequate to sustain a conviction except in a court where a conviction was a political necessity. Consider the following:
Although the case was built on the argument that the two Libyans carried out the operation together as a team, only one was convicted. As Köchler said: “This is totally incomprehensible for any rational observer when one considers that the indictment in its very essence was based on the joint action of the two accused in Malta.” This result can best be explained by the need to have somebody found guilty.
There is no evidence that the convicted Libyan, Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, put a suitcase on the connecting flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was supposedly transferred to Pan Am 103. Air Malta is notable for its close checking of baggage, and when UK’s Granada Television claimed that the death bag had gone through it to Pan Am 103, Air Malta sued. Its evidence that only 55 bags with ascribed passengers—none of whom went on to London–were on that flight was so compelling that Granada settled out-of-court, paying damages and costs. This of course never made it into the New York Times, and had little effect on the Zeist court, which eventually said that how the unaccompanied bag was put on the plane “is a major difficulty for the Crown case,” but it didn’t interfere with the finding of guilt.
The identification of al-Megrahi as the Malta purchaser of the clothing whose remnants were found in the wreckage was a travesty of judicial procedure. The selling storekeeper, Tony Gauci, originally said the buyer was six feet tall and 50 or more years old—al-Megrahi is 5-8 and was 37 years old in 1988. Gauci then identified Talb as the man, but eventually latched on to al-Megrahi after having seen his picture in the paper. There were many other weaknesses in this identification, including the timing of the purchase, so that like the disposition of the suitcase this also was another beyond-tenuous “circumstantial.”
The logic of the official scenario also suffers from the fact that putting a bomb-laden bag through from Malta that had to go through a second inspection and two stopovers in the delay-frequent Christmas season, would be poor planning as it risked either apprehension or a badly timed explosion; and including clothing that could be traced to Malta and with the alleged bomber (al-Megrahi) making his purchase openly would be extremely unprofessional. On the other hand, a timer frequently used by the PFLP was estimated by a German expert to explode 38 minutes after takeoff, and Pan Am 103 exploded 38 minutes after takeoff.
As noted earlier, the timer with the MEBO insignia came forth belatedly. It was gathered in a crash scene effort that violated all the rules and was then worked over in questionable circumstances by people who had an established record of creating and massaging evidence. These lags and problematics should have ruled out the acceptance of this evidence in a criminal trial by a non-political court. But even taking it at face value it fails to prove Libyan involvement in the bombing attack as this timer was available to others, and may have been stolen from the MEBO factory in the 1988-1989 break-ins.
The Times notes that “prosecutors credibly linked him [al-Megrahi] to bomb-making materials and presented persuasive testimony that he worked for Libya’s intelligence services.” Yes, this goes beyond his Libyan.citizenship, and the man was also sometimes in Malta! Imagine how the Times would treat an accusation against a CIA agent based on the fact that the accused had “access to weapons” and was in fact a member of the CIA! The Times doesn’t ask for much in the way of “evidence” when in the patriotic mode.
In its low-keyed news article on the Scottish Review Commission’s repudiation of the Zeist court’s decision ( “Lockerbie Ruling Raises Questions on Libyan’s Guilt,” June 29, 2007), Times reporter Alan Cowell does a creditable job of protecting his paper for failing to question another “lie that wasn’t shot down.” The Review Commission apparently leaned over backwards to avoid charging the Zeist court with judicial malpractice, so Cowell latches on to the fact that the Review stresses “new evidence that we have found and new evidence that was not before the trial court,” as well as their denial that there was proof of fabricated evidence. But much of that new evidence was deliberately excluded by the trial court, and some of it was hidden by the prosecution and its US and UK political and intelligence sponsors. And while there is perhaps no hard proof of fabricated evidence, there is solid documentation of its questionable handling and possible fabrication, which should have precluded its acceptance by the trial court.
Instead of citing Hans Kochler or Robert Black, Cowell quotes Dan Cohen, whose daughter went down with Pan Am 103, who expresses regret that al-Megrahi might go home a hero. Possibly more honorable would have been a Times apology and expression of sympathy for the Libyan victim, who will have spent 6 or 7 years in prison on the basis of manipulated and laughable evidence in another show trial, but which the Times repeatedly claimed was justice in action.
In her 1993 memoir The Downing Street Years, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote that after the 1986 US bombing of Libya, which used British airbases and in which Kaddaffi’s two-year old daughter was killed, “There were revenge killings of British hostages organized by Libya, which I deeply regretted. But the much vaunted Libyan counter-attack did not and could not take place.” Ms Thatcher seems to have forgotten Pan Am 103, or could she have momentarily forgotten that Libya was supposed to have been guilty of this act, and, writing honestly but carelessly for the historical record implicitly acknowledged here that this was a fraud that she had helped perpetrate. This nugget was reported in South Korea’s OhMyNews, but was somehow overlooked by the paper of record.