Tuesday, 3 December 2019

"Unfortunately, all I’ve seen is that the wheels of justice grind infinitely slow"

[What follows is excerpted from an obituary of Allan Gerson, published today on the website of The Washington Post:]

Allan Gerson, a Washington lawyer and legal scholar who helped pioneer the practice of suing foreign governments in US courts for complicity in terrorism, representing victims’ families in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, died Dec 1 at his home in the District [of Columbia]. He was 74. (...)

As a young Justice Department trial lawyer, he pursued Nazi war criminals who had immigrated to the United States, later rising to become senior counsel to two US ambassadors to the United Nations, Jeane J Kirkpatrick and Gen Vernon A Walters.

Throughout, he maintained that the law had a decisive role in public policy and international affairs — a belief that drove his decade-long fight for justice for the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec 21, 1988, en route to New York from London.

The bombing killed all 259 passengers and crew — along with 11 people on the ground — and remains the deadliest terrorist attack in British history. Among the victims were 189 Americans, including many study-abroad students from Syracuse University.

Mr Gerson launched what began as a seemingly quixotic legal effort, seeking to obtain compensation for victims’ families from the government of Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi, which was accused of carrying out the bombing. His work spurred new legislation that paved the way for lawsuits against countries including Syria, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya, where a legal team negotiated a $2.7 billion settlement in 2003 for the Lockerbie bombing.

“It took a lot of creative lawyering to come up with a system that would enable those victims to recover,” said Beth Van Schaack, an international criminal lawyer who teaches human rights at Stanford Law School. “There was no long history of precedents to draw on,” she added. “They were making stuff up as they went along . . . and now it’s become a standard practice. If a terrorist attack happens, there are lawyers who specialize in this area.”

Mr. Gerson’s work on the case emerged out of a 1992 op-ed he wrote in The New York Times, calling for the United Nations to create a claims commission to compensate survivors’ families using Libyan assets. His article caught the attention of Bruce M Smith, a former Pan Am pilot whose wife was killed in Lockerbie and who retained Mr Gerson in an effort to bring the UN proposal to fruition.

That idea never took off, leading Mr Gerson to launch his campaign to sue Libya for damages — a gambit that tested the centuries-old doctrine of sovereign immunity, in which governments are effectively considered above the law, not subject to civil suits or criminal prosecution without their consent. It was also unusual in that Mr Gerson was representing just one of the victims’ relatives, Smith, with other families taking part in a suit charging Pan Am with negligence for failing to detect the bomb.

“If we’d known all the difficulties at the outset,” he later told Washington City Paper, “we probably never would have proceeded.”

Mr. Gerson partnered with a recent law school graduate, Mark S Zaid, and filed suit in a federal court in New York in 1993. By then, he had been forced out of the Washington office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, where a colleague was hired to take on Gaddafi as a client, resulting in a conflict of interest.

Their case proved unsuccessful amid sovereign immunity concerns. But as it proceeded, Mr Gerson and Zaid embarked on a new tack, drafting and championing what became the 1996 Anti­terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which enabled lawsuits against countries designated by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism.

In a phone interview, Zaid said he took the lead on drafting the legislation but credited Mr Gerson with overseeing the broader strategy, and with helping to forge political connections that smoothed its passage in Congress.

“He was very much a visionary, trying to come up with innovative legal theories to pursue claims that other people would have written off without any second thought,” he said. “He saw in his mind a path forward to accomplish justice, especially for these victims of terrorism that no one else was thinking of at the time.”

The legislation was signed into law following another terrorist attack, the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. After Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 2001, a civil suit against Libya moved ahead, resulting in $10 million compensation for each victim, paid out over several years from an escrow account in a Swiss bank.

In 2016, Congress overrode President Barack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which carved out further exemptions to sovereign immunity and enabled 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged support for the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mr Gerson was part of a team representing many of the families, and the case was still working its way through the courts when he died.

“There is a famous quote, that the wheels of justice grind infinitely slow but infinitely fine,” he told City Paper in 2002, while still awaiting resolution on Lockerbie. “Unfortunately, all I’ve seen is that the wheels of justice grind infinitely slow.” (...)

Mr Gerson developed close relationships with some of the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims and discussed their plight in The Price of Terror (2001), written with journalist Jerry Adler. The book also covered the legal drama surrounding the terrorist attack, looking somewhat optimistically toward the future.

“Terrorists who might be undeterred by the threat of American military force,” the authors wrote, “must now weigh the possibility of retaliation by the world’s largest contingent of lawyers.”

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Lockerbie verdict "an aberration in the history of international law"

[What follows is an English translation (by me, with assistance from Google Translate) of an article published today on the website of the German newspaper Die Welt:]

Verdict over Lockerbie attack to be reviewed

In 1988, a bomb tore apart a plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.  A Libyan intelligence officer was convicted for the terrorist attack. But there are some indications that he was not the culprit. At the beginning of 2020, the case could be reconsidered.

More than 30 years after the attack on a jumbo jet of the former US airline Pan Am over Lockerbie, Scotland, a completely new legal review of the terrorist act may take place. In 2001, the Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basit Ali al-Megrahi was convicted as the culprit, but his family has applied for a review.

According to information obtained by Welt am Sonntag, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) will decide at the beginning of 2020 whether to allow an appeal to the High Court of Justiciary, the highest criminal court in Scotland. 

In Germany, the Lockerbie case made headlines in the spring.  The SCCRC had made requests for judicial assistance to the German judiciary, and dozens of former employees of the GDR state security were interrogated. [RB: The interrogation of former East German Stasi officers took place at the instigation of Scottish police and prosecutors, not the SCCRC, as explained here and here. We do not know what information the SCCRC is seeking in Germany, but here is what I said to a Scottish journalist in July:  "I really have no idea what it is that the SCCRC is seeking evidence about in Germany. The only German connections that spring readily to mind are (a) Operation Autumn Leaves in Neuss [https://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2016/10/operation-autumn-leaves.html]; (b) the alleged movement of the bomb suitcase through Frankfurt Airport; and (c) Edwin Bollier's supply of MEBO timers to the East German Stasi. Because the court order granting the SCCRC a European Investigation Order refers to a specific person and his involvement with the Pan Am 103 case (and to possible criminal proceedings), I think (a) is the most likely. But this is merely guess-work."]

The background is that in the early 90s the investigation also followed a trail to East Berlin, which is now being pursued again. The bomb aboard the Boeing 747 exploded on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew. Eleven inhabitants from Lockerbie also died.

The verdict against the Libyan agent al-Megrahi is controversial. Austrian international law expert Hans Köchler, who observed the Lockerbie trial for the United Nations, told Welt am Sonntag: "The Lockerbie trial was more like a secret service operation than ordinary court proceedings." The result was an "aberration in the history of international law" that the international community must correct for its own sake.

The British doctor Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the attack, considers a new procedure overdue. Swire told the newspaper, "I expected my country to find the truth, the whole truth." That the truth has been suppressed so far is "an insult to my murdered daughter."

The SCCRC deals with miscarriages of justice, and describes itself as "independent of Parliament, the Scottish Government, the Crown, the judiciary and the defense." As early as May 2018, the Commission stated that it was "in the interest of justice" to accept the request of the family of the convicted Libyan to consider whether they should be allowed to contest the verdict. At that time it stated that it wished to undertake a "total review", which is now almost complete, reports Welt am Sonntag.

A preliminary investigation into Lockerbie (file reference 50 Js 42.401 / 88) is pending at the public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt am Main. The authority is acting in support of the Scots: "Currently, in Germany witness hearings are taking place by way of legal assistance," said the prosecutor to Welt am Sonntag. In the disaster, four Germans lost their lives, two women and two men, from Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.

[RB: A much longer article, with extensive interviews with Dr Jim Swire, Edwin Bollier and Professor Hans Köchler also appears today, behind a paywall, in Welt am Sonntag

Friday, 15 November 2019

Guantanamo trials a reaction to US dissatisfaction with Lockerbie process

[What follows is the opening section of a very interesting article headed War Crimes, Justice, and the National Interest published yesterday on the website of The Tower, the newspaper of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC:]

Lawrence J Morris, chief of staff and counselor to Catholic University President John Garvey, was presented with the Mirror of Justice Scholars Award on Thursday, November 7th in the Slowinski courtroom at Columbus Law School. Morris’ role as chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo military commissions during the 9/11 trials was recognized with the award. It was presented by the St John Paul II Guild of Catholic Lawyers, which advocates the achievement of justice through law.

Subject to almost two decades of humanitarian criticism, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was established in Cuba at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Enacted by the George Bush administration, the facility was the result of swift action in the war on terrorism following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Twenty men believed to be involved in the attacks were detained on January 11th, 2002 and the prison population expanded to nearly 700 by May of 2003.

Morris was head of the Army’s criminal law branch during the establishment of the prison and was eventually asked to be chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions. 

Morris argued in 2002 for a public trial of the suspected 9/11 terrorists. He wanted to uphold the standards of the American justice system while still laying “bare the scope of al Qaeda’s alleged conspiracy,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Instead, Morris’ proposal was disregarded by the Bush administration which desired more rapid prosecution. Those accused were interrogated clandestinely as the priority of senior officials was prevention of future attacks over standard court proceedings. 

The Bush administration’s initial decision to deny public trials led to disarray. Several setbacks occurred and destructive allegations against Guantanamo drew public attention. Rumors of torture and abuse of inmates spread rapidly to civil rights groups and law professionals. The untimely combination of poor public image and internal disarray lead the administration to bring the cases to public trial, which they then asked Morris to conduct. He hoped to reintroduce military commissions, which are, as described by Morris, a “judicial mechanism and what is colloquially known as war-crimes tribunals.” Morris illustrated this with reference to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, which lead to the deaths of 270 people. 

Libyan prime minister Muammar al-Gaddafi produced the Libyan agents accused of the bombing in Lockerbie, who went to trial on the condition that “they would be tried under Scottish law in a Dutch courtroom,” said Morris. “Needless to say, there were no Americans involved.” [RB: Gaddafi was not the prime minister of Libya, but the "Leader of the Revolution". American lawyers from the US Department of Justice were in fact very heavily involved in the Zeist trial, as was noted by the UN Observer, Professor Hans Köchler, in his report on the trial and as can be seen in the references on this blog to Brian Murtagh and Dana Biehl.]

Thirteen years after the Lockerbie bombing, only one of the agents was convicted.

“We took from Lockerbie a sense of the limitations of relying on other sovereigns for justice,” says Morris.

In 2001, the young Bush administration spotted the similarities between the Lockerbie case and the 9/11 attacks and was looking to make rapid changes in response to past administrations. The thirteen-year delay of Lockerbie was unacceptable to the Bush administration, leading to their failed and controversial interrogation techniques which ultimately turned them to Morris’ appointment as the conductor of the public trials.

Morris turned to military commissions last used after World War II and “began drafting trial regulations and debating points of law with architects of the administration’s broad vision of presidential power,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Morris believed in the provision of due process to those being tried, allowing them similar court proceedings as those of US civilian court cases. However, the administration was steadfast in its view of the accused, one which saw the terrorists as below the fairness for which Morris advocated and which saw itself as above standard court practices. Morris and his team were presented once again with the issue of the disconnect between the meaning of justice to the White House and that to military lawyers, after the previous rejection of Morris’ proposal for public trials.

“Using conventional courts was insufficient [and] unable to bring these killers to justice in any matter that would be timely and just,” said Morris. “There was a need to make a point through the courts… that this was an unlawful attack by unlawful combatants and therefore to resurrect a dormant mechanism for justice that has not been used in years.” 

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Far from a final answer

[On the occasion Syracuse University's annual Week of Remembrance for its 35 students who died in the Pan Am 103 tragedy, the website of central New York State's Spectrum News has published a long article on the Lockerbie disaster. The following are excerpts:]

Soon after the bombing, police and military fanned out on foot. They’d eventually scour hundreds of square miles.

It was the largest murder investigation in British history. In the end, it all came down to a piece of evidence so tiny it would fit on a fingertip.

After initially focusing on a possible Iranian connection, more attention was turning to Libya and its leader, Moamar Qaddafi. The pattern of Libyan action and US response had been building throughout the 1980s.

In 1989, investigators in Scotland discovered some clothing fragments. Embedded in them was a tiny piece of what had been a circuit board commanding a timer that set off the explosion aboard Pan Am 103. It was a brand of timer sold to Libya.

Forensics experts traced the clothing to a shop in the island nation of Malta. The owner of the shop identified the man who had purchased the clothes. He turned out to be a low-level operative in Libyan intelligence named Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.

A second Libyan charged was Khalifa Fhima, a former official of Libyan airlines at Malta’s Luqa Airport. (...)

It took years and tough United Nations sanctions, but Libya’s government eventually handed over al-Megrahi and Fhima for an unusual trial.

“I wanted to kill them. If I could have gone and sat there with an Uzi, I would have shot them dead on the spot,” said Susan Cohen, the mother of a Flight 103 victim. “No regrets, even if I got shot for it. And you want to know something? I still feel the same way.”

When the final verdict came 12 years after the bombing, the three-judge Scottish panel found al-Megrahi guilty and acquitted Fhima. Al-Megrahi would be handed a life sentence in Scottish prison. (...)

In 2015, the BBC reported that the Scottish government had named two new suspects, both reportedly behind bars in Libya at the time. Abdullah al-Senussi is the former Libyan intelligence chief under Gaddafi. Mohammed Abouajela Masud is a suspected bomb maker. Tracking them has been a challenge. (...)

But not everyone is convinced they’re on the right trail. Over the years, an entirely different theory has emerged about whom, and which country, were responsible.

In July 1988, a US warship came under attack by Iranian gunboats in the Persian Gulf. In the midst of the confrontation, the crew aboard the USS Vincennes spotted what it believed to be an approaching Iranian fighter jet closing in on their position. The US response was lethal.

It wasn’t long before the Vincennes crew realized they had made a tragic mistake. It was not an Iranian fighter jet, but an Iranian passenger jet — with 290 people onboard.

There was a quick promise of Iranian revenge.

In the months to come, intelligence agencies would report a series of meetings, organized by a leading Iranian government radical named Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur. Among those in attendance was Ahmed Jibril, leader of a splinter Palestinian group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). Jibril was a close ally of Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Jibril's deputy was Hafez Dalkamoni, a man being closely watched by German police. Police knew of a plot to bomb aircraft flying out of Frankfurt. When they made their move, Dalkamoni and several others were arrested. Weapons were found, including a bomb hidden in a radio cassette player. There were indications that five bombs were produced. Only four are recovered.

A man with close ties to the PLFP-GC was Mohammed Abu Talb. Talb had visited Frankfurt and was later spotted in Malta, shortly before the Lockerbie bombing. At his home, police later found a calendar with the date — December 21, 1988 — circled.

Did Iran pay the PFLP-GC to exact its revenge? An airliner for airliner? (...)

The man who headed the Scottish side of the case against Libya says it’s possible the Libyan agents, knowing of the Frankfurt arrests, may have used details of that plot to cover their own moves, including housing the bomb in a Toshiba cassette player.

Relatives of those who died in Lockerbie sense that the case against the two Libyans was far from a final answer.

Monday, 16 September 2019

In the path of terrorists

[This is the heading over an article published on this date in 2000 on The Lockerbie Trial website, curated by Ian Ferguson and me during the Zeist trial and Megrahi's first appeal. The author is Joe Mifsud, a journalist and writer who covered the trial for various Maltese news media and who is now a judge in Malta. It reads as follows:]

A terrorist, like any other criminal, will do what he can to cover his tracks.  The Maltese origin of clothing in the bomb suitcase does not establish that either the suitcase or the bomb was once in Malta.

The clothing in the bomb suitcase, which was identifiable as having been manufactured in Malta, bore labels to this effect, enabled Royal Armament Research and Development (RARDE) to determine the country of origin as Malta.  So these labels had not been removed by the terrorists.

The Lockerbie investigators established that six items of the clothing and an umbrella, which originated in Malta were new and had been purchased new from the same shop in Malta on the same occasion.

These items of clothing had been purchased from Mary’s House in Sliema, weeks not day's before 21 December 1988.  The prosecution is claiming that the clothes were bought on  7 December, while the defense is suggesting 23 November 1988 as the date.

In my opinion the facts and matters set out above are consistent with an attempt by the terrorists to distract the attention of the investigating authorities away from Frankfurt or Heathrow to Malta in the event of the bomb being detected or as in fact happened of the bomb exploding above land and debris from the bomb and the bomb suitcase being recovered.

It is inherently unlikely that terrorists would have tried to place the bomb suitcase on board Air Malta KM 180 on 21 December 1988 for the following four reasons.

1.  Terrorists do not expose themselves and their plans to any unnecessary risk of detention or of error;

2.  Accordingly the terrorists responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 would not have routed the bomb suitcase through Frankfurt and chosen to run the risk of it passing undetected through the security systems of three different airports on two different airlines when Air Malta during that period flew only three flights each week to Frankfurt but ten flights each week to Heathrow.

3.  Further if the bomb consisted of a timer device, terrorists would not have run the unpredictable risk of the passage of the bomb suitcase being delayed in one or more of the following ways:

a)  on the ground at Luqa as a result of mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert, air traffic control or any other reason;
b)  by being diverted away from Frankfurt for any of the reasons at above;
c)  above Frankfurt as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights (as in fact happened);
d)  by missing the interline connection at Frankfurt as a result of the bomb suitcase being lost, mishandled or detected in the course of x-ray or baggage reconciliation procedures;
e)  on the ground at Frankfurt for any of the reasons at (a) above;
f)  by being diverted away from Heathrow for any of the reasons at (a) above;
g)  above Heathrow as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights;
h)  by missing the interline connection at Heathrow for any of the reasons at (d) above;
i)   on the ground at Heathrow as a result of the connecting transatlantic aircraft being delayed, mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert or any other reason.

4.  Further if the bomb consisted of a barometric pressure device triggered by altitude which itself triggered a timer, terrorists could not have avoided (alternatively would not have risked) the bomb being prematurely triggered on board KM 180 or on board PA 103A from Frankfurt to Heathrow, and then detonating on board either of these flights or on the ground at Frankfurt or at Heathrow.

No terrorist could have predicted in advance the exact altitude at which either flight would have flown or, if such a prediction had been made, no terrorist could have guaranteed that the aircraft would have remained at that altitude and would not have been ordered away from it by air traffic control.  The bomb on board Pan Am 103 exploded approximately 35 minutes after take-off from Heathrow.

It is not clear for me why the Lockerbie investigators choose to blame Malta and Air Malta in this case, when it is so clear that we are the scapegoats for others that lacked security at their airports.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Were Lockerbie suspects handed over by Gaddafi at instigation of US evangelicals?

[What follows is excerpted from a report headlined Power not piety is what the evangelicals worship published this evening on the website of The Times:]

President Trump’s first outing at the National Prayer Breakfast, a Washington institution, was widely panned as a disaster.

He opened his speech with an attack on Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film star who replaced him as host of The Apprentice, and called on his audience of devout Christians to pray for Arnie’s terrible ratings to improve.

Clearly enjoying the joke, the president laughed to himself while a few feet away Mike Pence, the born-again vice-president, furrowed his brow in a look of barely concealed disgust.

It still baffles many why the organisers of Washington’s most prestigious annual Christian event invite the profane president to give their keynote address, or why 81 per cent of white evangelical Americans voted for him in 2016 which is believed to be a record for any president.

The publicity about alleged infidelities and the leak of Mr Trump’s crude locker-room banter about seducing women do not seem very Christian. This completely misses the point, however, according to a Netflix documentary called The Family about the secretive organisers of the National Prayer Breakfast. (...)

As soon as Mr Trump was elected, the Fellowship Foundation, which organises the National Prayer Breakfast and refers to itself as the Family, made a beeline for him. A delegation went to Trump Tower in New York led by Doug Coe, the de facto leader of the well-connected group which had persuaded every president since Eisenhower to attend. Mr Coe, who died in 2017 aged 88, led the foundation since 1969 but assiduously stayed out of the limelight. The documentary sets out just how far-reaching his contacts were with senior US politicians as well as powerful figures overseas, including some of Africa’s most unsavoury leaders from Colonel Gaddafi of Libya to the recently deposed Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.

In 1999, Mr Coe and Mark Siljander, a former Michigan congressman, met a Libyan foreign minister on a freelance diplomatic mission to Tripoli in the name of Jesus rather than the US government. Ten days later Gaddafi handed over the two Lockerbie bombing suspects.

“The bigger the monster, the bigger the work of God,” said Jeff Sharlet, 47, the author who exposed the tentacles of The Family in a book of the same name subtitled ‘The secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power’.

[RB: The implication here is that this "freelance diplomatic mission to Tripoli in the name of Jesus" induced the Libyan regime in the person of Colonel Gaddafi to hand over Megrahi and Fhimah for trial. This is arrant nonsense. The two suspects were not "handed over by Gaddafi". Gaddafi had no power to do so. The suspects themselves took the decision voluntarily  to surrender for trial. The process is accurately set out in the following excerpts from my article From Lockerbie to Zeist:]

[O]n 14 November 1991 the prosecution authorities in Scotland and the United States simultaneously announced that they had brought criminal charges against two named Libyan nationals who were alleged to be members, and to have been acting throughout as agents, of the Libyan intelligence service. (...)

On 27 November 1991 the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States each issued a statement calling upon the Libyan government to hand over the two accused to either the Scottish or the American authorities for trial.  Requests for their extradition were transmitted to the government of Libya through diplomatic channels.  No extradition treaties are in force between Libya on the one hand and United Kingdom and the United States on the other.

Libyan internal law, in common with the laws of many countries in the world, does not permit the extradition of its own nationals for trial overseas.  The government of Libya accordingly contended that the affair should be resolved through the application of the provisions of a 1971 civil aviation Convention concluded in Montreal to which all three relevant governments are signatories.  That Convention provides that a state in whose territory persons accused of terrorist offences against aircraft are resident has a choice aut dedere aut judicare, either to hand over the accused for trial in the courts of the state bringing the accusation or to take the necessary steps to have the accused brought to trial in its own domestic courts.  In purported compliance with the second of these options, the Libyan authorities arrested the two accused and appointed a Supreme Court judge as examining magistrate to consider the evidence and prepare the case against them. (...) [T]he UK and US governments refused to make available to the examining magistrate the evidence that they claimed to have amassed against the accused, who remained under house arrest until they were eventually handed over in April 1999 for trial at Kamp van Zeist.

The United Nations Security Council (of which the UK and the USA are, of course, permanent members) first became involved in the Lockerbie affair on 21 January 1992 when it passed Resolution 731 strongly deploring the government of Libya's lack of co-operation in the matter and urging it to respond to the British and American requests contained in their statements of 27 November 1991.  This was followed by Security Council Resolution 748 (31 March 1992)  requiring Libya to comply with the requests within a stipulated period of time, failing which a list of sanctions specified in the Resolution would be imposed.  Compliance was not forthcoming and sanctions (including trade and air transport embargos) duly came into effect in April 1992.  The range and application of these sanctions was  extended by a further Resolution passed on 11 November 1993.  The imposition of sanctions under these last two Resolutions was justified by the Security Council by reference to Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations on the basis that Libya's failure to extradite the accused constituted a threat to world peace. (...)

[I was] asked if I would be prepared to provide (on an unpaid basis) independent advice to the government of Libya on matters of Scottish criminal law,  procedure and evidence with a view (it was hoped) to persuading them that their two citizens would obtain a fair trial if they were to surrender themselves to the Scottish authorities.  This I agreed to do, and submitted material setting out the essentials of Scottish solemn criminal procedure and the various protections embodied in it for accused persons. 

In the light of this material, it was indicated to me that the Libyan government was satisfied regarding the fairness of a criminal trial in Scotland but that since Libyan law prevented the extradition of nationals for trial overseas, the ultimate decision on surrender for trial would have to be one taken voluntarily by the accused persons themselves, in consultation with their independent legal advisers.  For this purpose a meeting was convened in Tripoli in October 1993 of the international team of lawyers which had already been appointed to represent the accused. (...)

I am able personally to testify to how much of a surprise and embarrassment it was to the Libyan government when the outcome of the meeting of the defence team was an announcement that the accused were not prepared to surrender themselves for trial in Scotland. (...)

The Libyan government attitude remained, as it always had been, that they had no constitutional authority to hand their citizens over to the Scottish authorities for trial.  The question of voluntary surrender for trial was one for the accused and their legal advisers, and while the Libyan government would place no obstacles in the path of, and indeed would welcome, such a course of action, there was nothing that it could lawfully do to achieve it. (...)

Having mulled over the concerns expressed to me by [the Libyan defence lawyer] in October 1993, I returned to Tripoli and on 10 January 1994 presented a letter to him suggesting a means of resolving the impasse created by the insistence of the governments of the United Kingdom and United States that the accused be surrendered for trial in Scotland or America and the adamant refusal of the accused to submit themselves for trial by jury in either of these countries.

[RB: This scheme was accepted in writing by the suspects and their lawyers (and by the Libyan government) within two days.  It remained unacceptable to the United Kingdom and the United States for a further four years and seven months. But finally, in late August 1998, a neutral venue proposal was advanced by the UK which eventually led to Megrahi and Fhimah surrendering themselves for trial.]

French and Israeli media attribute Lockerbie to Palestinian group

Israeli media have recently been publishing articles that suggest that the Lockerbie bombing was perpetrated not by Libya but by a Palestinian group on behalf of Iran. This view is expressed, for example, in an article headlined Did French Caribbean serve as Palestinian terrorists arms route? published in today's edition of The Jerusalem Post; and in an article titled L’aveu de Bonnet prouve la connivence de l’Etat avec le terrorisme palestinien published on 11 August on the website of Le CAPE de Jerusalem

These articles stem from the admission, in a recent report in Le Parisien, by Yves Bonnet (Director of the French intelligence agency DST from November 1982 to August 1985) that the DST made a secret deal with the Abu Nidal Organisation that its members could travel to and live in France provided that they did not carry out attacks on French soil. An English language account can be found in Kim Willsher's report Ex-French spy chief admits 1980s pact with Palestinian terrorists in The Guardian of 9 August.

Yves Bonnet's public expression of the view that the bombing of Pan Am 103 was carried out by a Palestinian group and not by Libya is not new and instances can be found on this blog here.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Lockerbie — appeal decision delayed until 2020

[This is the headline over an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website. It reads in part:]

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is reviewing the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Previously, it had been indicated that the SCCRC’s decision would be handed down by the end of summer 2019. But the SCCRC just announced that a decision is not expected before 2020. (...)

On May 3 2018, The  Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission announced it would examine the case to decide whether it would be appropriate to refer the matter for a fresh appeal.

Christine Grahame — a Member of the Scottish Parliament since its inception in 1999 — has been outspoken in her view that the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the 1988 Lockerbie tragedy is unsafe and represents a miscarriage of justice.

According to Grahame, the commission was expected to report by summer 2019.

RELATED POST: Lockerbie — Christine Grahame MSP: “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied”

However, the SCCRC has just announced that a decision is not expected before 2020.

Obviously, this new delay will cause frustration in some circles.

In an email to Intel Today, a long-time reseacher of the Lockerbie case wrote:

“It should come as no surprise that the SCCRC report is to be delayed: just about every other action by the Scottish, UK and US authorities has been delayed, sometimes by years.

It is a tactic to frustrate hope and retain control of events in the hands of those people who fabricated the Lockerbie false narrative.”

But some people remain optimistic. Megrahi family’s Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar said:

“We presented significant material which requires robust investigation and a number of inquiries have unfolded after issues we raised.

The family want to insure every avenue is looked at and that no short cuts are taken. We have one chance and we expect this to go back to the appeal court.”

In an email to Intel Today, Robert Black QC FRSE – Professor Emeritus of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh and best known as the “Architect of the Lockerbie Trial” wrote:

“While it is disappointing that the SCCRC will not be reporting by the end of the summer, the fact that their investigations are taking longer than anticipated is, in some ways, a hopeful sign.

My worry always has been that the Commission might find that, although there might have been a miscarriage of justice, it was not in the interests of justice that there be a third appeal (Megrahi having lost the first one and abandoned the second one in order to return home to die).

If this was going to be the ultimate decision of the Commission, I do not believe that they would be conducting such rigorous and lengthy investigations.

I’m reasonably confident therefore that the SCCRC will find that there may have been a miscarriage of justice, for the six reasons specified by their predecessors in 2007 and also on at least some of the further additional grounds advanced since then.

And, as I say, I think it unlikely that, having so concluded they would then say that it was not in the interests of justice for there to be a further appeal.”

Most Intel Today readers (90%) believe that the Lockerbie verdict is a spectacular miscarriage of justice.

I understand that a similar poll among Scotland lawyers would be even more devastating.

Truth never dies.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

FBI pulls Lockerbie agents out of Libya as fighting escalates

[This is the headline over a report published in today's edition of The Sunday Post. It reads in part:]

US agents tasked with finding out who assisted bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi have been withdrawn from the fractured country in north Africa.

Families of those who died when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up in December 1988 were told last week in a letter from the FBI.

However, John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga was on the London to New York flight, said: “I think it’s an excuse to say that they’ve found nothing in Libya.”

Many families of those who died believe Megrahi, who was freed from jail because of a terminal illness almost 10 years ago, was not responsible for the terrorist attack that killed all 259 people on the plane and 11 people in Lockerbie.

Mr Mosey said: “Having attended the whole of the trial except for two weeks, we were far from convinced of his guilt.

“When he was released I felt that something a bit closer to justice was being done.”

The FBI continued to pursue Megrahi’s co-conspirators until April, when fighting escalated between forces of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord and political faction the Libyan National Army.

In a letter, Kathryn Turman, the FBI’s Victim Services Division assistant director, told families: “This has created an even greater environment of destabilisation within Libya. It is unknown when the fighting will resolve and which group will take over leadership.

“Due to the current situation, the US government has ceased all movement into Libya and withdrew the limited personnel previously in country.

“Of course, the FBI will continue to work with other investigative leads, including those with our Scottish partners, to focus on efforts outside of Libya, and within Libya when opportunities arise.”

Former police officer Iain Mckie, secretary of the Justice for Megrahi group, which campaigns to clear his name, questioned the decision to pull out of Libya. He pointed to the extradition of the brother of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi last week and said it would appear the UK authorities can still “do business” in Libya.

Mr McKie said: “Where does the Crown Office stand on this given their inquiries are apparently ongoing In Libya?”

Prosecutors in Scotland are working with the FBI to bring those who assisted Megrahi to justice.

The Crown Office said: “Prosecutors and police, working with UK Government and US colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with Al Megrahi to justice. This is a live criminal investigation.”

It emerged in March that Scots investigators were interviewing at least five former agents of the East German secret police over their possible involvement in the Lockerbie attack. (...)

Armed conflict in and around Tripoli escalated on April 4, 2019, when forces from the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive to capture the city from the Government of National Accord.

Civilians and medical workers are among dozens who have died, and a further 100,000 have fled Tripoli.

Both the US and the UK Government has warned citizens not to travel to Libya and those who are in the country have been told to flee.

The Foreign Office said: “Fighting can break out anywhere without warning.

“There’s a high risk of civilians being caught in indiscriminate gunfire or shelling, including air strikes, in all areas where there is fighting.”

[RB: The edition of The Times for Monday, 22 July has picked up The Sunday Post's story. The report contains nothing new, except for its last sentence, which reads: "A decision on whether the family of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who died in 2012, can appeal against his conviction, has been delayed until next year." Previously, it had been indicated that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's decision would be handed down by the end of summer 2019.]

Saturday, 20 July 2019

PanAm103 and MH370 compared and contrasted

[What follows is excerpted from an article published yesterday on the website of The NY Times Post and headlined MH370: Terrifying Lockerbie bombing comparison revealed. It also appears today on the Express website:]

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board and it is still a mystery as to what exactly happened. Meanwhile, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb on December 21, 1988, en route from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York. N739PA came down over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground.

In the aftermath of MH370’s disappearance, certain similarities between the incidents were noticed.

The sudden loss of radar contact and the lack of a distress signal were among these.

Channel 5’s documentary Flight MH370 said: “The instant and sudden loss of radar contact suggests Mh370 simply dropped out of the sky.

“Back in 2014, in the days immediately after the plane goes missing, one explanation being considered is a terrorist bomb.

“That is what brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 killing 270 people.

“Like MH370, there was no distress call and the aircraft disappeared from radar screens instantaneously.”

However, a key difference between MH370 and the Lockerbie bombing is that the wreckage of N739PA was found and it is confirmed to have been an explosion that brought the plane down, whereas the wreckage of MH370 was never found.

The perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing were traced back to Libya and in 2001 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was found guilty of 270 counts of murder.

He was jailed for life but released in 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and he died in 2012.

Meanwhile, Libyan leader General Muammar Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 2003 and paid compensation to the families of the victims.

Curiously however, whilst accepting responsibility he still maintained that he was not behind the attack. [RB: What Libya actually accepted responsibility for is set out clearly here.]

Accepting responsibility was part of a list of requirements set out by the UN for Libya to have crippling sanctions lifted.

In contrast, no perpetrators have ever been identified for MH370’s disappearance.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation with author Richard Marquise

[This is the title of a podcast uploaded yesterday to the Stratfor Worldview website. It takes the form of an interview with Richard Marquise conducted by Stratfor's Chief Security Officer Fred Burton. The podcast can be listened to, and a transcript can be read, here. The introduction reads as follows:]

On December 21, 1988, a plane full of travelers bound from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. All on board were killed, as were 11 people on the ground. The subsequent investigation into the bombing spread over hundreds of square miles in a hunt for evidence that had been blown to smithereens.

The FBI's lead investigator in the case, Richard Marquise, was assigned to the monumental task of helping determine what had happened, who was responsible and, eventually, how to prosecute the case. He talked about his book detailing those efforts, Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation with Stratfor Chief Security Officer Fred Burton.

[RB: The podcast does not cover the criticisms of the investigation, prosecution and trial that have subsequently been made by the United Nations appointed observer at the trial, Professor Hans Köchler; by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission; by John Ashton; by Dr Morag Kerr and by many other persons and organisations. However it does contain interesting material, particularly on relations between the FBI and the Scottish police, and between the Scottish (and UK) authorities and the United States government.]

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Iran Air flight 655 and scenario fulfilment

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Ann Wright published yesterday in Consortium News:]

The Iranian military shot down a US spy drone last week, bringing the two countries to the brink of war.

Iran said the drone was over Iranian airspace (...)

The US says the drone, a $22 million RQ-4A Global Hawk, was in international airspace.  

But why should one believe the US with its history of lying?  

Remember back to 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, when the USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 with all 290 people on board including 66 children.  The regularly scheduled passenger flight was over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf on the routine flight path shortly after taking off from Bandar Abbas heading on the 28-minute flight to Dubai.  Its transponder was signaling it was a civilian aircraft.

The US warship was in Iranian territorial waters after one of its helicopters drew warning shots from Iranian speedboats that were guarding Iranian waterways.

Yet, the US maintained that it was correct in shooting down a civilian aircraft that it said the crew thought was a military aircraft.  It took years before the US offered recompense through the International Court of Justice. 

When a group of us were on a citizens’ peace delegation to Iran in February we visited the Tehran Peace Museum. We knew from previous trips that the wound of the destruction of Iran Air Flight 655 was still raw.  This time we presented the director of the peace museum with a book made by a member of our delegation with the names of all of those killed on Flight 655, along with our apologies.

In a 2000 BBC documentary titled The Other Lockerbie, and in an MIT study  of the Flight 655 shoot-down, US government officials stated in a written answer that they believed the shoot down of Iran Air 655 may have been caused by a simultaneous psychological condition among the 18 bridge crew of Vincennes, called “scenario fulfillment,” which is said to occur when people are under pressure. US officials said that in such a situation, the crew will carry out a training scenario, believing it to be reality while ignoring sensory information that contradicts the scenario. In the case of this incident, the training scenario was an attack by a lone military aircraft when in fact, in reality, the aircraft was a civilian passenger plane on a regularly scheduled flight.

Let’s hope Bolton and Pompeo’s “scenario fulfillment” does not lead the White House to further military confrontation, much less an attack on Iran.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel.   She was a US diplomat for 16 years and served in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the US government in March 2003 in opposition to President George W Bush’s war on Iraq. She is co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

UK should remember prelude to Lockerbie bombing before joining any US attack on Iran

[This is the headline over an article by Kenny MacAskill in today's edition of The Scotsman. It reads in part:]

The USA is ramping up for war on Iran and the UK’s slavishly following, with memories of Iraq all too distant in the minds of some.

Shooting down a US military drone seems arguably legitimate, given the incursion into Iranian territory – and by a giant war machine, not an adult toy.

Besides, given past form of America in the area, it’s hugely suspicious. The prelude to the Lockerbie bombing after all was the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes in July 1988. (...)

But the solution in Iran isn’t to wage war but support moderate reform. President Hassan Rouhani and others need encouraged, not disparaged. Iran’s president is a graduate of Glasgow Caley and, by all account, a Scottophile [sic]. Disparaging Iran will only driving people into the arms of the Mullahs.

Change is wanted in Iran by young people, who just want a better life and a bit of fun.

America should back off and the UK should stop supinely supporting them.

[RB: Kenny MacAskill had already made it clear that he did not believe that Abdelbaset Megrahi was responsible for placing the bomb on Pan Am 103: MacAskill: I’ve never believed Megrahi to be the bomber. Now he goes further and seems to accept that the trigger for the atrocity was not Ronald Reagan's 1986 bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi but the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 in July 1988 by USS Vincennes. In other words, it was an Iranian revenge attack, not a Libyan.]

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Donald Trump, 'Mad Alex' and Megrahi

[What follows is extracted from a long article in today's edition of The Sunday Times in which Stephen McGinty interviews George Sorial, a lawyer and former top executive in the Trump organisation:]

As a lawyer in New Jersey, Sorial first met Trump when he was representing a group of Wall Street executives who wanted to turn the estate of John DeLorean, the disgraced car manufacturer, into a golf course. When Trump bought the project, Sorial negotiated the deal and later bonded with the property billionaire over the fact that both their mothers were born in Stornoway. (...)

Sorial, who was executive vice president of the Trump Organisation, keeps his power dry for Alex Salmond, who as first minister started as Trump’s champion and supporter before clashing over a proposed wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coast. In the book he argues that Salmond misunderstood Trump from the beginning when the first minister’s staff booked an expensive French restaurant in New York for an early meeting. Trump prefers steak and hot dogs.

As Sorial explains: “In public Trump called him ‘Mad Alex’ but in the office we would refer to him privately as ‘stupid bastard’. I can’t tell when the two of them had a proper falling out. The release of Al Megrahi [convicted for the Lockerbie bombing] was a remarkable moment. He called me trying to persuade me to speak to Mr Trump to support (the release). He sent us a statement that he wanted Mr Trump to issue publicly and I’ll never forget walking into the office. We were all New Yorkers. Personally one of my classmates J P Flynn was on Pan Am 104 (sic). That point was the first sign of his stupidity.

“Another time he tried to persuade us to purchase The Scotsman. He thought it would be a great move for us and for Scotland. We had no interest in a newspaper that nobody reads and is so laden with debt - talk about a bad deal. It was another one of many things that Salmond would try and sell us. But they were very different personalities.”

[Alex Salmond's reaction to this story is reported in Monday's edition of The Times, as follows:]

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said that Mr Sorial’s memory “is playing tricks again” and insisted that “at no stage did Alex consider Donald Trump as a likely or serious investor in The Scotsman”.

He added: “The Trump Organisation wanted Alex to move the site of the [offshore] turbines. The first minister refused to countenance that and they then took the Scottish government to court three times and lost three times.

“Two years after the decision to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds the SNP were re-elected as the Scottish government by an absolute majority in a proportional parliament.”

Mr Salmond had been lined up as the figurehead for a takeover of Johnston Press, the owner of The Scotsman, by the Norwegian investor, Christen Ager-Hanssen, last year. However, he was dropped amid fears that his involvement would be too political.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Scottish legal system refusing to face the fact that it made a dreadful mistake

[What follows is the text of a section of Robin Ramsay's The View from the Bridge (starting on page 11) in the current issue (no 77, Summer 2019) of Lobster magazine:]

On 21 March the front page of The Times had a story headlined ‘Former Stasi agents questioned over role in Lockerbie bombing’. It reported that ‘nine officials from the Scottish Crown Office are focusing on the role of the East German intelligence service’ in the event. The piece had three authors, one of them being Magnus Linklater, sometime editor of The Scotsman and much else besides[1]. I shared a platform with Mr Linklater last autumn in Edinburgh. We were nominally discussing conspiracy theories and Linklater regaled us with his experiences on the so-called ‘Hitler diaries’ story while at The Sunday TimesHe also told us that he believed the official version of Lockerbie, that the Libyans had indeed done the bombing. I asked the audience who among them believed this: no-one else did.

By coincidence, on the same day as The Times piece I received a prompt to look at an 8 year-old piece on the Lockerbie plane bombing which is on Cryptome[2]. The article, ‘Policing Lockerbie, A Bella Caledonia Special Investigation’, is no longer on the Bella Caledonia site. Let us take this back a step.

In 2005 The Scotsman ran an article, ‘Police chief – Lockerbie evidence was faked’[3]. This began: 

‘A FORMER Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement
claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated.
The retired officer – of assistant chief constable rank or higher – has
testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in
convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.’[4]

The police officer was not named by The Scotsman. The Bella Caledonia article, however, did name him and it was a legal threat from his lawyer (also reproduced on Cryptome) which resulted in the article being taken off the Bella Caledonia site. [RB: That the person named by Bella Caledonia most certainly was not The Golfer was established on this website here and here.]

That the Libyans did Lockerbie is believed by almost no-one[5]. There was little evidence against the unfortunate Al Megrahi who was convicted of it, and what they had was either paid for by the Americans[6] or fabricated and planted[7]. Former CIA officer Robert Baer told the Daily Telegraph in 2014 that the CIA ‘believed to a man’ that Iran not Libya was behind the attack[8].

A tiny fragment of circuit board purportedly found at the Lockerbie site was allegedly made by the Swiss firm MEBO run by Edwin Bollier. At the trial of Al Megrahi, Bollier was questioned and he acknowledged making electronic equipment for the Stasi and Libya[9]. More than eighteen years after the original wrong verdict, the Scottish Crown office is now talking to former Stasi officers. This suggests that, so long as the Scottish legal system can say that they are still ‘pursuing leads’, it won’t have to face the fact that it made a dreadful mistake in going along with the Americans’ fabrication. 

1 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_Linklater.



4 Oddly, The Scotsman has got the year of the Pan Am flight 103 bombing wrong. It was on 21 December in 1988, not 1989. 


6 The key witness was given $2 million by the US See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/02/lockerbie-documents-witness-megrahi.

7 See, for example, http://tinyurl.com/y2f6aort or https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
article-6502363/Vital-Lockerbie-evidence-doomed-flight.html and http://tinyurl.com/
yytsht45 or https://gosint.wordpress.com/2018/10/17/lockerbie-30th-anniversary-pt-35bthe-most-expensive-forgery-in-history-poll/A detailed analysis of (the lack of) evidence is at http://lockerbiedivide.blogspot.com.

http://tinyurl.com/y3aupqsn or https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism- 

9 Bollier and Mebo were discussed by Simon Matthews towards the end of his ‘The devil has all the best songs: reflections on the life and times of Simon Dee’ in Lobster 58. See https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster58/lobster58.pdf. On this account Bollier looks more like a CIA asset than anything else. Mr Bollier has his own Website on which some of the Lockerbie issues are discussed. See