Saturday, 27 May 2017

Sidelining Megrahi’s chosen lawyers

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in The Scotsman on this date in 2008:]

The Westminster Government set out a "remarkable" proposal yesterday for judges to go into private session during a preliminary hearing in the Lockerbie bomber's appeal.

Under the plan, claimed to be in the interests of national security, not only would the public be excluded, but Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's legal team would also be denied entry. He is seeking access to a classified document, and a vetted lawyer would be appointed to represent his interests at the hearing.

The behind-closed-doors session of the Court of Criminal Appeal would be the first of its kind in Scotland.

"This may initially seem remarkable, and I accept that," said Lord Davidson, QC, the Advocate-General for Scotland, on behalf of the foreign secretary, David Miliband. "This is an area of very considerable difficulty and one forced on the government because of extraordinarily difficult times...in the prevention of terrorism," he added.

Megrahi's lawyers are expected to give their response to the proposal today. (...)

[Megrahi] lost an appeal in 2002, but last year the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court. One of the reasons cited was that there may have been a miscarriage of justice because the Crown had not disclosed to the defence a document which an unidentified country, not the United States, had provided to the UK government in 1996. It is understood the paper relates to the timer alleged to have been fitted in the bomb.

Megrahi's defence team petitioned the appeal court, seeking access to the document and related papers. In response, Mr Miliband issued a public interest immunity (PII) certificate, stating: "It would cause real harm to the national security of the UK because of damage to counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states."

The appeal court has said there should be a hearing to consider the merits of the foreign secretary's public interest immunity plea. The current hearing is to determine the procedure to be followed at the hearing on the merits.

Lord Davidson said the Government was entitled to take steps to protect UK security.

His proposal was that the document be disclosed to a five-strong appeal Bench and a "special representative" who would look after Megrahi's interests.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Minor nutjobs

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2011.

Making curiosity uncool…


[This is the heading over an item posted today on bensix's blog Back Towards The Locus. It contains the following:]

I’ve noted how media critics of “conspiracy theories” aren’t just opposed to grandiose, unfounded claims but to suspicion of official or quasi-official narratives. Here are some notes on how the charge of “conspiracy theory” works to discredit this scepticism.

For example, with regards to the Pan Am attack, Geoffrey Robertson wasted no time in dismissing sceptics of Megrahi’s guilt…

"If Megrahi was guilty of the Lockerbie bombing (and, conspiracy theories aside, the evidence justified the verdict), then Gaddafi must have given the order…"

I will say this for Robertson: he’s remarkably efficient. What’s the point of explaining the biased procedure, dodgy witnesses and meager evidence of the prosecution when you can dismiss all scepticism as the work of minor nutjobs?

[RB: Quite. Minor nutjobs like Benedict Birnberg, Ian Hamilton QC, Hans Koechler, Anthony Lester QC, Len Murray, Gareth Peirce and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, to name but a few.] 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Very serious unanswered questions

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in The Scotsman on this date in 2004:]

Tony Blair told families of Lockerbie victims yesterday that he would use his renewed links with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to press for further information about the 1988 Pan Am tragedy.

The families emerged from a meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street to say they were "encouraged" by Col Gaddafi’s reaction to their demands for further action to uncover the truth about the bombing.

They requested the meeting after becoming concerned that, despite the renewal of Britain’s relations with Libya, little progress has been made to identify those responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

They have long called for a full public inquiry into the outrage, but a spokesman for the families, Dr Jim Swire, declined yesterday to say whether that specific demand had been made at the meeting. He said: "The Prime Minister did listen very carefully to all the things we asked for and didn’t reject any out of hand.

"We expect the issues we raised to be considered and we expect to be informed as to what decisions are made about them. I am encouraged."

Asked whether he believed an inquiry would be called, Dr Swire said: "We shall have to wait and see. Time will show.

"The Prime Minister of our country has spent considerable time listening to the concerns of people who have been bereaved now for 15 years and firmly believe that there are very serious unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances of that bereavement.

"All we can hope for, I think, is that he - as someone who was not in the know politically at the time - will now indeed consider - and I am sure he will do, as he has undertaken to do - what has to be done about the mess that currently still exists."

Dr Swire said he hoped the families would hear Mr Blair’s response within "quite a short timescale" but said he was unable to estimate how long it would be. (...)

A Former Libyan intelligence agent, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, 51, was convicted of the bombing at a special trial in the Netherlands in 2001 and is serving a life sentence at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.

But the UK Families Flight 103 Victims Group has made it clear that his conviction did not answer their questions about the outrage.

They want Mr Blair to use the UK’s improved relations with Libya, following Col Gaddafi’s renunciation of weapons of mass destruction last year, to press for the truth about how the bombing was planned, financed and perpetrated.

In a statement issued before yesterday’s meeting, the families said: "Recent letters from [the Foreign Office minister] Baroness Symons and the Lord Advocate make it plain that the criminal investigation is effectively inactive and that no further initiatives are planned by government to take advantage of the renewed relationship with Libya.
"Libya is not being asked to abide by its written commitment to the UN Security Council to co-operate ‘in good faith’ with any further inquiries into Lockerbie.

"We will therefore be asking Mr Blair to find a means to address the outstanding and unresolved questions about the circumstances of the biggest mass murder of the 20th century in the UK.

"What was the motivation for the bombing of Pan Am 103? Who was responsible? How was it financed?

"How was the bombing allowed to happen, given the amount of information available to the intelligence and security services? What lessons have been learnt from Lockerbie?"

After the meeting, the Rev John Mosey, whose daughter Helga, 19, died at Lockerbie, said that the families had raised questions over why Flight 103 was the only transatlantic service with empty seats in the busy pre-Christmas period and whether this was as a result of intelligence that it could be a target.

Mr Mosey said: "The Prime Minister said he is going to look into certain things we raised - the fact that there has never been a forum granted to ask the important questions about how this disaster was allowed to happen.

"He has undertaken personally to look into certain matters on warnings and they are going to get back to us. We have to wait and see whether he is as good as his word."

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Serious questions raised by serious people

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2012.

Lockerbie inquiry calls rejected


[This is the headline over a report just published by The Press Association news agency.  It reads as follows:]

Fresh calls for an inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing have been rejected by the First Minister.

Only a court of law can determine guilt or innocence, Alex Salmond said during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.

He was urged by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to consider an inquiry less than a week after the man convicted for the atrocity died in Libya.

More than 40 politicians, religious leaders and journalists signed a letter on Tuesday calling for an independent inquiry into Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's conviction. The "perverse judgment" has left Scotland's criminal justice system a "mangled wreck", the letter says.

Mr Rennie said: "The First Minister has previously said he would be prepared to co-operate with a UK inquiry. If he has no objection to an inquiry in principle, and this group wants a Scottish inquiry, will he agree to hold it?"

Mr Salmond said: "The place where you determine guilt or innocence of an individual is a court of law.

"As Willie Rennie should know, the relatives of Mr Megrahi have the ability, if they so choose, to go back to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission and seek further leave to appeal. That is the process which can be followed."

Mr Rennie said the conduct of the Crown should be looked at, rather than focusing on guilt or innocence.

He asked Mr Salmond: "Surely it can't just be left in the hands of a family somewhere in Tripoli for that to be determined? If he chooses to act on this inquiry he'd have the support of Desmond Tutu, Terry Waite, John Pilger and so many others. This is not a normal case. It's Scotland's biggest terrorist atrocity. These are serious questions raised by serious people, and the world is watching."

Mr Salmond replied: "They're looking for an inquiry for the responsibility, ultimately, for Lockerbie. That touches on matters of huge international importance which would be beyond the ability of the Scottish inquiry to summon witnesses, compel evidence, etcetera."

[Mr Salmond gravely misrepresents the nature of the inquiry that Justice for Megrahi is seeking.  The true position is, as has been pointed out on many occasions, that what is being called for is an inquiry into the investigation, prosecution and conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. Each and every one of these matters is within the jurisdiction of Scots law and the remit of the Scottish Government:

  • The event occurred over and on Scottish territory.
  • The case was investigated by a Scottish police force.
  • The trial was conducted under Scots Law.
  • Mr Megrahi was convicted under Scots Law.
  • Mr Megrahi was imprisoned in a Scottish gaol.
  • The SCCRC referred the second appeal to the Scottish Court of Appeal.
  • Mr Megrahi was given compassionate release by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

That is the nature of the inquiry that Justice for Megrahi's petition is asking the Scottish Government to convene. A more wide-ranging inquiry into what really happened to Pan Am 103 would involve non-devolved issues.  Such an inquiry would have to be instituted by the UK Government (or by the UK and Scottish governments jointly -- the Inquiries Act 2005 specifically envisages such joint inquiries in section 32 read with section 1(2)). But we are and always have been clear that our request to the Scottish Government relates exclusively to matters that are within devolved Scottish jurisdiction.  

In a statement after First Minister’s Questions, Willie Rennie said:

“A liberal society should be one that is prepared to look hard at its justice system, even if it is worried about what it might find.

“I have called for a Scottish public inquiry into the Lockerbie prosecution.

“The First Minister has the opportunity to shine a light onto the conduct of the Crown Office, which for years has been left blemished by the six separate grounds of appeal identified by the Government's own Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

“On matters which relate to the integrity, fairness and justice of the Scottish justice system, it is simply not good enough to leave this to a family in Tripoli.

"Questions relating to Scottish justice are not a matter to be left to a UK inquiry. It has the backing of 40 leading figures, is about Scotland's biggest terrorist atrocity and potential flaws have been identified by the Government's own review body. We need the First Minister to act."] 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Security-vetted advocates abomination

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Lockerbie ruling on disclosure may see Scots stripped of their lawyers in controversial court cases that was published on Peter Cherbi’s website A Diary of Injustice in Scotland on this date in 2008:]

Yesterday in The Herald newspaper, there was a report of an alarming development in the Lockerbie case, where the Lord Advocate will go to Court to have special "security vetted' advocates represent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi in the hearing to decide if confidential documents are to be made public which may have a significant bearing on Mr Megrahi's conviction for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

From The Herald story :

"The Crown Office will ask judges to bypass the defence team of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and appoint special security-vetted advocates to represent him in a court hearing to decide whether a previously confidential document should be made public.

If the bid for a closed-door session is successful, it would be the first time in Scotland that such a step has been taken in a criminal case."

Such a move does indeed appear to be a first in Scots Law ... but all things being equal these days, such a power granted to the Crown to remove an accused's legal representation in favour of one it feels 'comfortable with' could so easily be used at will in attempts to stall or simply close down cases which involve serious injustice.

It boils down to this - If the Lord Advocate gains the power to strip a defendant's lawyers in favour of Crown "vetted" or appointed legal agents, any defendant in a case subsequently before the court in a criminal matter could face the possibility to lose their legal team simply on the basis that issues contained in their case are not in the public or Crown's interest to be examined with any regard to a person's right to a fair hearing and once that power is granted, it is there to be used any time, as the Lord Advocate feels applicable.

So ... Crown doesn't like your lawyer, but you might stand a chance of winning a case or perhaps an appeal against a wrongful conviction, showing the Crown case up or proving evidence is withheld ... Crown applies the procedure to you, you lose your own lawyer and one, perhaps less willing to push your case, is appointed.

[RB: The article in The Herald can be read here. The court eventually decided -- quite wrongly, in my view -- that a special security-vetted advocate should be appointed.]

Monday, 22 May 2017

The end game came down to damage limitation

[What follows is the text of a report published on the Socialist Worker website on this date in 2012:]  

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man who didn’t commit the Lockerbie bombing, has died.
He was convicted in 2001 of murdering 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded above the Scottish town of Lockerbie 13 years earlier.
Grubby imperialist power politics overshadow the case. The shifting sands of who the US and Britain wanted as allies in the Middle East shaped the framing of Megrahi.
As political allegiances changed, so did official investigations into the Lockerbie disaster.
In the run-up to the 1990 Gulf War, original suspects Syria and Iran were dropped and Libya was blamed.
In the years since the sands shifted again. For instance, Libya handed over Megrahi to face trial in order to get sanctions on the country lifted. The trial, held specially in the Netherlands, was a farce.
When Britain wanted Libya as an ally, mostly because of its oil reserves, Megrahi again became a bargaining chip.
No one among the establishment has real concern for the victims of the bombing. They don’t want the truth of the Lockerbie bombing revealed.
Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 after serving eight years in jail.
Both the Scottish and Westminster governments were involved in the blackmailing of Megrahi into unnecessarily dropping his appeal as a condition of his release.
Megrahi said that he did so because Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, suggested it would be easier to send him home if the appeal was stopped.
Dropping the appeal meant that important new evidence wasn’t heard in court.
Former CIA officer Robert Baer was part of the initial investigation into the case. He said, “Your [Scottish] justice secretary had two choices—sneak into Megrahi’s cell and smother him with his pillow or release him.
“The end game came down to damage limitation because the evidence amassed by his appeal team is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice.”
The case was sent back to court after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission concluded that there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
The bombing was most likely retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner.
David Ben-Ayreah, a spokesperson for the victims of Lockerbie families, said, “As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty. Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”
Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, said, “I met him face to face in Tripoli in December last year, when he was very sick and in a lot of pain.
“But he still wanted to talk to me about how information which he and his defence team have accumulated could be passed to me after his death.”
Swire added, “Right up to the end he was determined—for his family’s sake, he knew it was too late for him—how the verdict against him should be overturned”.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A victim of injustice whose trial had been riddled with flawed evidence

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date five years ago:

NYT admits Lockerbie case flaws


[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of Consortiumnews.com.  It reads in part:]

Even in death, Libyan Ali al-Megrahi is dubbed “the Lockerbie bomber,” a depiction that proved useful last year in rallying public support for “regime change” in Libya. But The New York Times now concedes, belatedly, that the case against him was riddled with errors and false testimony, as Robert Parry reports.

From the Now-They-Tell-Us department comes The New York Times obit of Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted by a special Scottish court for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. After Megrahi’s death from cancer was announced on Sunday, the Times finally acknowledged that his guilt was in serious doubt.

Last year, when the Times and other major US news outlets were manufacturing public consent for a new war against another Middle East “bad guy,” ie Muammar Gaddafi, Megrahi’s guilt was treated as flat fact. Indeed, citation of the Lockerbie bombing became the debate closer, effectively silencing anyone who raised questions about US involvement in another war for “regime change.”

After all, who would “defend” the monsters involved in blowing Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans? Again and again, the US-backed military intervention to oust Gaddafi in 2011 was justified by Gaddafi’s presumed authorship of the Lockerbie terrorist attack.

Only a few non-mainstream news outlets, like Consortiumnews.com, bothered to actually review the dubious evidence against Megrahi and raise questions about the judgment of the Scottish court that convicted Megrahi in 2001.

By contrast to those few skeptical articles, The New York Times stoked last year’s war fever by suppressing or ignoring those doubts. For instance, one March 2011 article out of Washington began by stating: “There once was no American institution more hostile to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s’s pariah government than the Central Intelligence Agency, which had lost its deputy Beirut station chief when Libyan intelligence operatives blew up Pan Am Flight 103 above Scotland in 1988.”

Note the lack of doubt or even attribution. A similar certainty prevailed in virtually all other mainstream news reports and commentaries, ranging from the right-wing media to the liberal MSNBC, whose foreign policy correspondent Andrea Mitchell would seal the deal by recalling that Libya had accepted “responsibility” for the bombing.

Gaddafi’s eventual defeat, capture and grisly murder brought no fresh doubts about the certainty of the guilt of Megrahi, who was simply called the “Lockerbie bomber.” Few eyebrows were raised even when British authorities released Libya’s former intelligence chief Moussa Koussa after asking him some Lockerbie questions.

Scotland Yard also apparently failed to notice the dog not barking when the new pro-Western Libyan government took power and released no confirmation that Gaddafi’s government indeed had sponsored the 1988 attack. After Gaddafi’s overthrow and death, the Lockerbie issue just disappeared from the news.

A Surprising Obit
So, readers of The New York Times’ obituary page might have been surprised Monday if they read deep into Megrahi’s obit and discovered this summary of the case:

“The enigmatic Mr Megrahi had been the central figure of the case for decades, reviled as a terrorist but defended by many Libyans, and even some world leaders, as a victim of injustice whose trial, 12 years after the bombing, had been riddled with political overtones, memory gaps and flawed evidence.”

If you read even further, you would find this more detailed examination of the evidence:

“Investigators, while they had no direct proof, believed that the suitcase with the bomb had been fitted with routing tags for baggage handlers, put on a plane at Malta and flown to Frankfurt, where it was loaded onto a Boeing 727 feeder flight that connected to Flight 103 at London, then transferred to the doomed jetliner.

“After a three-year investigation, Mr Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the Libyan airline station manager in Malta, were indicted on mass murder charges in 1991. Libya refused to extradite them, and the United Nations imposed eight years of sanctions that cost Libya $30 billion.  …

“Negotiations led by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa produced a compromise in 1999: the suspects’ surrender, and a trial by Scottish judges in the Netherlands.

“The trial lasted 85 days. None of the witnesses connected the suspects directly to the bomb. But one, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold the clothing that forensic experts had linked to the bomb, identified Mr Megrahi as the buyer, although Mr Gauci seemed doubtful and had picked others in photo displays.

“The bomb’s timer was traced to a Zurich manufacturer, Mebo, whose owner, Edwin Bollier, testified that such devices had been sold to Libya. A fragment from the crash site was identified by a Mebo employee, Ulrich Lumpert.

“Neither defendant testified. But a turncoat Libyan agent testified that plastic explosives had been stored in Mr Fhimah’s desk in Malta, that Mr Megrahi had brought a brown suitcase, and that both men were at the Malta airport on the day the bomb was sent on its way.

“On Jan 31, 2001, the three-judge court found Mr Megrahi guilty but acquitted Mr Fhimah. The court called the case circumstantial, the evidence incomplete and some witnesses unreliable, but concluded that ‘there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt’ of Mr Megrahi.

“Much of the evidence was later challenged. It emerged that Mr Gauci had repeatedly failed to identify Mr Megrahi before the trial and had selected him only after seeing his photograph in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court. The date of the clothing sale was also in doubt.

“Investigators said Mr Bollier, whom even the court called ‘untruthful and unreliable,’ had changed his story repeatedly after taking money from Libya, and might have gone to Tripoli just before the attack to fit a timer and bomb into the cassette recorder. The implication that he was a conspirator was never pursued.

“In 2007, Mr Lumpert admitted that he had lied at the trial, stolen a timer and given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.

“The court’s inference that the bomb had been transferred from the Frankfurt feeder flight was also cast into doubt when a Heathrow security guard revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the bombing, a circumstance never explored.

“Hans K√∂chler, a United Nations observer, called the trial ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice,’ words echoed by Mr Mandela. Many legal experts and investigative journalists challenged the evidence, calling Mr Megrahi a scapegoat for a Libyan government long identified with terrorism. While denying involvement, Libya paid $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003 in a bid to end years of diplomatic isolation.”

Prosecutorial Misconduct
In other words, the case against Megrahi looks to have been an example of gross prosecutorial misconduct, relying on testimony from perjurers and failing to pursue promising leads (like the possibility that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, not transferred from plane to plane to plane, an unlikely route for a terrorist attack and made even more dubious by the absence of any evidence of an unaccompanied bag being put on those flights).

Also, objective journalists should have noted that Libya’s much-touted acceptance of “responsibility” was simply an effort to get punishing sanctions lifted and that Libya always continued to assert its innocence.

All of the above facts were known in 2011 when the Times and the rest of the mainstream US press corps presented a dramatically different version to the American people. Last year, all these questions and doubts were suppressed in the name of rallying support for “regime change” in Libya.