What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2009.
Do not set 'guilty' Lockerbie bomber free, detectives plead
[This is the headline over an article in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]
The investigating officers who led the original inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing have made an unprecedented intervention in the case to argue against the release of the Libyan convicted of the attack.
In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish police chief and the FBI boss who led the international investigation 20 years ago launch a powerfully worded plea against the release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who is serving a minimum sentence of 25 years for his part in the bombing.
In the letter obtained by The Times, Stuart Henderson, the retired senior investigating officer at the Lockerbie Incident Control Centre, and Richard Marquise, the FBI special agent in charge of the US taskforce, whose detective work helped to convict Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, insist that he is guilty. They also argue that his release would “nullify the dedicated work of dozens of law enforcement and intelligence officials around the world”. (...)
In the letter sent to Kenny MacAskill last month, Mr Henderson and Mr Marquise claim the evidence they gathered added to a “strong circumstantial case” against al-Megrahi, and point out that Libya has admitted culpability for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on a number of occasions since.
They say that releasing him would make a mockery of the work undertaken during the Lockerbie investigation, the biggest murder inquiry in British history, involving Scottish police, Scotland Yard, the FBI and other agencies from around the world.
The pair write: “To release Mr Megrahi to a regime which has admitted culpability for killing 270 citizens of the world would be a mistake. It would nullify the dedicated work of dozens of law enforcement and intelligence officials around the world who only wanted to find the truth.”
The detectives acknowledge al-Megrahi's poor health but contend it should not be a reason to release him.
“The eight judges who have already heard the evidence including three who were able to observe each witness under direct and cross-examination came to the same conclusion the rest of us did - Mr Megrahi was guilty of murder. His current health situation does not change that.”
Mr MacAskill, who is awaiting independent medical reports assessing al-Megrahi's condition, is expected to make a decision on his future by the end of this month. On Wednesday, the minister took the unprecedented step of visiting the Libyan in jail, prompting accusations that he was undermining the legal process. Al-Megrahi's second appeal is currently under way, although he will be forced to abandon his attempt to clear his name if he wishes to pursue a prisoner transfer. Release on compassionate grounds would allow him to continue with the appeal after being freed.
[Note by RB: Mr Henderson and Mr Marquise are gravely in error when they say that "The eight judges who have already heard the evidence ... came to the same conclusion as the rest of us did - Mr Megrahi was guilty of murder." Only the three judges at the Zeist trial heard the evidence and reached that conclusion. The five judges at the 2002 appeal made it clear that they had not considered the sufficiency of the evidence against Megrahi nor whether any reasonable tribunal could have convicted on that evidence. In paragraph 369 of their Opinion they said:
“When opening the case for the appellant before this court Mr Taylor [senior counsel for Megrahi] stated that the appeal was not about sufficiency of evidence: he accepted that there was a sufficiency of evidence. He also stated that he was not seeking to found on section 106(3)(b) of the 1995 Act [verdict unreasonable on the evidence]. His position was that the trial court had misdirected itself in various respects. Accordingly in this appeal we have not required to consider whether the evidence before the trial court, apart from the evidence which it rejected, was sufficient as a matter of law to entitle it to convict the appellant on the basis set out in its judgment. We have not had to consider whether the verdict of guilty was one which no reasonable trial court, properly directing itself, could have returned in the light of that evidence.”
The true position, as I have written elsewhere, is this:
"As far as the outcome of the appeal is concerned, some commentators have confidently opined that, in dismissing Megrahi’s appeal, the Appeal Court endorsed the findings of the trial court. This is not so. The Appeal Court repeatedly stresses that it is not its function to approve or disapprove of the trial court’s findings-in-fact, given that it was not contended on behalf of the appellant that there was insufficient evidence to warrant them or that no reasonable court could have made them. These findings-in-fact accordingly continue, as before the appeal, to have the authority only of the court which, and the three judges who, made them."
In June 2007, after a three-year investigation, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission came to the conclusion that Megrahi's conviction may have constituted a miscarriage of justice. One of its six reasons for so finding was that in respect of absolutely crucial findings in fact by the trial court (the date of purchase of the clothing that surrounded the bomb and, hence, the identity of the purchaser) no reasonable tribunal could have reached the conclusion that the evidence established that it was Megrahi.
And whether Libya has admitted culpability for the Lockerbie tragedy has no bearing on whether a particular Libyan citizen was properly convicted or should now be released on compassionate grounds. But, of course, Libya has not admitted culpability. Here is a link to the official Libyan position which is that "Libya accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials". If, as a result of the present appeal, Megrahi's conviction is quashed there is no Libyan government admission of responsibility or culpability.]