Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Lockerbie bombing: appeal against conviction lodged

[This is the headline over a report published today on the STV News website. It reads in part:]

An appeal against the conviction of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing has been formally lodged at the High Court.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court in March, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

Now, lawyer Aamer Anwar, who made the SCCRC application on behalf of Megrahi’s family, supported by some families of those who died in the 1988 disaster, has confirmed “substantial” grounds of appeal have been lodged with the court.

In a statement, he said he expects five senior Appeal Court judges will hear the case later this year. (...)

“We have now formally lodged with the High Court of Justiciary the appeal grounds in the posthumous appeal on behalf of the late Al-Megrahi,” Mr Anwar said.

“The reputation of the Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi.

“It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed, however, the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.”

Megrahi’s son, Ali Al-Megrahi, said: “The family of my late father, Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi and I wish to extend gratitude to our lawyer Aamer Anwar for the great efforts he has made in bringing this case to the appeal court and for the dedication of his legal team.”

The SCCRC published a decision on March 11 ruling a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in his case on two of the six grounds it considered in the review – unreasonable verdict and non-disclosure.

On the issue of unreasonable verdict, the commission said a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On the issue of non-disclosure, it said the Crown ought to have disclosed certain information to the defence and also its failure to disclose information about reward money bolsters the conclusion he was denied a fair trial. 

Father of Lockerbie victim supports coronavirus memorial cairn campaign

[What follows is excerpted from an article published in today's edition of The Herald:]

As the father of Lockerbie victim Flora Swire, he sadly knows only to well how important having a place to mourn a loved one can be.

Dr Jim Swire and his wife Jane lost their daughter on the night flight Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over the small Dumfriesshire town.

And a memorial was later created in Dryfesdale Cemetery following the tragic events of December 21, 1988 which saw 259 passengers and cabin crew lost their lives and 11 people from the town also died.

When he read of our plans, Dr Swire contacted The Herald to offer his backing to our campaign to create a memorial cairn with the name of every Scot who has died from coronavirus. (...)

Dr Swire said: “Many a time, on our way north to Skye my wife Jane and I have visited Dryfesdale cemetery and seen again the name of our dear daughter Flora on the Pan Am 103 memorial there.

“I would like to thank all those involved in the maintenance of that memorial and for the sympathetic and caring response we have always found in the town whenever anniversaries and other occasions have reminded us all of that awful night in December 1988.

“I cannot speak for others but I would personally warmly support the creation of a memorial cairn for the relatives of the virus victims in Scotland now.” (...)

The Swires' holiday home in Skye is somewhere they still like to travel to, outwith current restrictions, and is a place where Flora visited as a child. (...)

Flora was born on December 22, 1964, near their Gloucestershire family home. She was named after her paternal ancestor Flora MacDonald, who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Skye following the battle of Culloden.

She was training to be a neurosurgeon when she met young American doctor Hart Lidov. She began commuting regularly across the Atlantic to see him and, just before Christmas, decided on a whim to fly to New York so they could spend the holiday together. [RB: The CIA's Oliver "Buck" Revell sued Dr Lidov over an article that he wrote about the Lockerbie case. Revell lost.]

As her sister Cathy dropped her at the airport, she was on top of the world, having just won a place to complete her training at Cambridge, her father's old university.

But just 38 minutes after her plane took off, a suitcase exploded in the hold. All on board died. Now her ashes are buried in the pretty churchyard of the ruined St John's Chapel in Caroy.

When the news first broke on television, the Swires tried to quell rising panic with a conviction that it couldn't be her plane - the timing didn't match the details she had given. But as they realised it had been delayed, the terrible truth hit.

Earlier this year the family of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person to be convicted and jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, were told they can launch a posthumous appeal against his conviction, by Scotland's criminal appeals body has ruled.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has referred his case to the High Court, after ruling a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in the conviction.

The ruling paves the way for a posthumous appeal and is something which Dr Swire supported. Dr Swire has long believed that Megrahi was wrongfully convicted of the bombing and that Libya was not behind the plot.

The court ruled the review of Megrahi’s conviction met two statutory tests for referral – it may have been a miscarriage of justice and it is in the interests of justice to refer it back to the court.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi was the only person convicted of the bombing, having been found guilty in 2001 of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years.

Megrahi died aged 60 in 2012, still protesting his innocence.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Slowly, slowly the mists obscuring the truth are clearing.

[The following are brief extracts from a long letter by Dr Jim Swire to Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer published today on the latter's Intel Today website. The full text of the letter should be read.]

We were thrown from a life as a British NHS GP and family into the hell of bereavement, deceits and official deceptions upon the brutal murder of our elder daughter Flora along with 269 other innocent souls on 21st December 1988. After the first days of numbed grief and disbelief  there was the support of others similarly afflicted.

Prominent among those has been Reverend John Mosey and his wife Lisa who had also lost their daughter on the flight and John and I between us witnessed the entire trial and first appeal. He and I have often discussed how we could force some good to come out of so great an evil as this barbaric act.

We might forgive those who got protection so wrong back in 1988 and those who today continue to support the nonsense of the whole story about the Lockerbie bomb having started from Malta, The truth is now clear: that story is nonsense from beginning to end.

Yet  alas it is obvious that a great deal is known by our Governments here and in America about the real origins of this deeply preventable atrocity. Not only that, but direct action has been repeatedly taken to block our clamour for truth.

On top of that, Justice itself at Zeist was, we can now see, deliberately perverted in order to establish a fable which is without proof and is void.

In  decent societies we all need the truth, and the restoration of impartial justice. Without those we are even denied the chance to extend forgiveness towards those who failed our families and even towards those who in reality cold-bloodily murdered them.

Further, to leave the manner of their slaughter concealed in a fog of nonsense seems to degrade the significance of their lives. (...)

So plain is the gap now for those who have studied the evidence between reality and Government positions and so stark the evidence now available to show that the wrong country and its citizens were blamed, that for the seekers after truth, apparent blindness of Governments and their apparent intrusions in justice at Zeist can only be described as willful. (...)

There is nothing that can replace those we lost that night. But slowly, slowly the mists obscuring the truth about their slaughter will and are clearing.

The trial at Zeist which we worked so hard to support inadvertently revealed so much of the truth, not just to us but to anyone willing to listen, that gradually realisation is emerging even round our virus ridden planet now that we have all been led astray.

The work of younger people and groups such as INTEL TODAY with its tapping of objective professional expertise carries the responsibility of revealing the truth, search their brilliant coverage of PT35b: even now we await the Megrahi family appeal process under Scottish solicitor Aamer Anwar that surely will reveal that the verdict against the one individual Libyan, Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi was false.

Then can we please know what the Governments know as to who really did do it and why our families were not protected?

Friday, 1 May 2020

"The evidence is pointing to crimes more egregious than just a cover-up"

Purely by chance I today discovered an article by Ali Adair headlined William Barr: How many crimes did he commit as the ‘Cover-up General’ for Presidents since the 1980s? that was published on the Keep It Simple News website on 14 February 2020. The article contains a long and detailed section on the Lockerbie bombing and the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. It is a welcome addition to the (short but distinguished) list of commentaries by American writers that recognise the weakness of the official US and UK account of the Pan Am 103 tragedy, and is well worth a read. 

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Coronavirus may be ‘excuse’ in Megrahi appeal papers row, lawyer claims

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the ITV News website. It reads in part:]

The lawyer acting for the family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has suggested the prosecution service may be tempted to use coronavirus as an “excuse” regarding handing over documents in the appeal against the Lockerbie bombing conviction.

The way was paved for the appeal when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) last month referred the case to the High Court, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred. (...)

[Aamer Anwar] has since asked the Crown Office to disclose material he believes is related to the case to assist appeal preparation.

The Crown Office said it is reviewing the material it holds but the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the resources available, adding it is going as far as possible “within current public health guidance”. (...)

The SCCRC published a decision on March 11 ruling a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in his case on two of the six grounds it considered in the review – unreasonable verdict and non-disclosure.

On the issue of unreasonable verdict, the commission said a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On the issue of non-disclosure, it said the Crown ought to have disclosed certain information to the defence and also its failure to disclose information about reward money bolsters the conclusion he was denied a fair trial.

Now, Mr Anwar has criticised the Crown Office’s response to his request for document disclosure.

He told the PA news agency: “Following the decision of the SCCRC on our application, we wrote on March 13 to the Lord Advocate for full disclosure of materials.

“Despite the appeal timelines imposed upon my team we have received absolutely no disclosure to date.

“That is simply unacceptable and a failure by Crown Office. The Megrahi family, the British families of victims as well as the Libyan people have waited far too long for this appeal once and for all to be settled in the Court of Appeal.”

He added: “The Lord Advocate’s team may be tempted to use coronavirus as an excuse however we will not hesitate to seek orders from the Court to recover these documents.

“The Crown were totally aware that the SCCRC would have been making its decision over the last several months…yet now say the materials are not easily accessible.”

Mr Anwar said draft grounds of appeal have been prepared for lodging with the court by April 30.

In a reply to Mr Anwar’s letter, dated March 20, Lothian and Border Procurator Fiscal Laura Buchan said: “In respect of the request for disclosure we are carrying out a review of the material we hold and will reply substantively in due course.

“You will be aware that the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is having a significant impact on the Scottish criminal justice system.

“Whilst the Appeal Court will continue to sit where possible the outbreak will have an impact on the resource we can currently dedicate to that review and disclosure bearing in mind that much of the review is of hard copy materials stored within office premises, and cannot be conducted online.”

She said Ronnie Clancy QC, senior counsel for the appeal, has offered to meet Mr Anwar’s team to discuss disclosure requests but Mr Anwar said his team would not meet the Crown until fuller information had been provided by the SCCRC. [RB: Ronnie Clancy also acted for the Crown in the appeal allowed to Mr Megrahi by the SCCRC in 2007.]

A Crown Office spokesman said: “Much of the material that requires review prior to disclosure is not held digitally, as would be expected given the age of this case and the sensitivity of some documents.

“The Crown is conducting a full review insofar as possible within current public health guidance.

“Legal representatives of Mr Megrahi’s family have been advised of this and counsel for the Crown have offered to discuss the case with counsel for the appellant.”

Friday, 17 April 2020

Procedural hearing in Megrahi appeal postponed

[The procedural hearing in the Megrahi appeal that was scheduled to take place today in the High Court of Justiciary has been postponed on account of the suspension of most court business during the current COVID-19 lockdown. What follows is taken from a recent communication from the Crown Office:]

We are in discussion with the court about when we might have a hearing, and we anticipate that things will be clearer in May on the basis that lockdown provisions in Scotland will continue for at least the next 3 weeks, and we have a very restricted court programme in the meantime.

Legal representatives for the appellant’s family have been given an extension of time by the court to 30 April 2020 to lodge grounds of appeal and both the prosecution and the appellant’s representatives are expecting further supporting documentation from the SCCRC, which we expect towards the end of this month.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

The Americans "dumped the blame on Gaddafi’s Libya"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Robert Fisk headlined How do rogue states get off the ‘terror list’? With cold, hard cash – just like the US and UK published today on the website of The Independent:]

How do you get off a “terrorist” list? It seems that hard cash helps.

Take Sudan. Its ministry of justice has just announced that it’s finalised a February deal with the families of the 17 US sailors killed in the suicide attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour in October 2000. The dead Americans left 11 children behind them and so the reported $70m (£59m) settlement will care for them too. The relatives claimed that Sudan, under its then war criminal president Omar al-Bashir, had provided support to al-Qaeda, which claimed the attack. (...)

The most interesting aspect of the money to be paid out by Sudan – blood money, in Arab eyes – is that Sudan still does not regard itself as responsible for the Cole attack, or any other “terrorist” act.

The ministry of justice in Khartoum made this quite explicit in its formal statement this week. The agreement was made, it said, “because of the strategic interests of Sudan … so it can remove its name from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.” (...)

The problem in this case is that the precedent is not at all new. Most of us have now forgotten just how Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya got off the “terrorism” hook when – after Tony Blair had slobbered over the crackpot dictator and whose surrender of non-existent nuclear weapons was described as “statesmanship” by then-MP Jack Straw – it paid $1.5bn (£1.2bn) in compensation to victims of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing (total dead: 270) and an attack on a Berlin disco that killed two US servicemen and a Turkish woman. Interestingly, this arrangement also called for $300m (£240m) in compensation for the Libyan victims of Ronald Reagan’s later airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi.

The man later imprisoned in Scotland for the bombing, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi (handed over with another agent by Gaddafi), was later released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return home with prostate cancer. A number of UK relatives of the Lockerbie dead doubted that Megrahi was in any way responsible, especially after they discovered that evidence at the trial did not, on later examination, appear credible. And despite the fact that Libya agreed to the compensation, Gaddafi’s son Saif specifically stated that Libya was not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. Gaddafi also claimed he had not ordered the atrocity, although one former member of his cabinet – speaking after Gaddafi’s overthrow – said that the dictator was personally involved.

But the money had spoken. Even while still running Libya, Gaddafi’s regime shrugged off any responsibility once cash had been paid. He was only later blasted from power with the help of Nato, and then reaccused of crimes against humanity, including the mass hanging of opponents in Benghazi in the 1970s.

But Gaddafi was killed. Al-Bashir is still alive. (...)

I doubt if al-Bashir will ever come to trial for the bombing of the USS Cole – even if he was guilty by association – and, as we know, Gaddafi could not be made available for any personal prosecution even before his overthrow. The real question is whether nations can be held accountable. And how much “justice” can be seen to be done by financial transfers rather than real trials.

The US has a wad of “terror” accusations against Iran. Lockerbie might well have been one of them if the Americans had not dumped the blame on Gaddafi’s Libya.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Lockerbie’s only convict may be exonerated posthumously

[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of Middle East Monitor by Libyan journalist and analyst Dr Mustafa FetouriIt reads in part:]

The only man to be convicted of the infamous Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, died in 2012 and protested his innocence until his final breath. His fellow Libyan and co-defendant, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and is still living in Libya. The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 killed all 259 passengers and crew on board as well as 11 people on the ground in the small Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Al-Megrahi was not alone in believing that he and his country were innocent of the crime. His family members are determined to clear his name if not prove his complete innocence. His son Ali is leading the family mission and told the BBC that his father was “innocent and had cared more about the victims than himself.”

The family has just won a huge victory with the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) decision on 11 March that an appeal can be made to the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest criminal court. The SCCRC had to decide if there are grounds for a posthumous appeal on the basis of a possible miscarriage of justice, among other possibilities. The commission found sufficient grounds to question the 2001 trial that convicted Al-Megrahi. Six grounds for review were considered before it was concluded that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred by reason of “unreasonable verdict” and “non-disclosure”.

This specifically raised serious doubts about the process by which Al-Megrahi was identified and linked to clothes found in the suitcase said to have contained the bomb. According to the SCCRC, “No reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser.”

The only witness to link Al-Megrahi to the clothes was a Maltese shop keeper named Tony Gauci, who died in 2016. He was a co-owner of a clothes shop in Malta and he testified that he sold the clothes to Al-Megrahi, who denied vehemently that he had ever been to the shop let alone bought anything from the witness. During the trial, this testimony was central to Al-Megrahi’s conviction, although the crown prosecutor, Lord Advocate Peter Fraser, later completely dismissed Gauci as “an apple short of a picnic” and “not quite the full shilling”. Why he accepted his testimony at the special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in the first place is still a mystery. Could it have been a conspiracy against Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, as the late Libyan leader always claimed? He is not alone in thinking so.

Law Professor Robert Black, who came up with the idea of holding Al-Megrahi’s trial in a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands — the first such occasion in history – now talks of a wider conspiracy to frame Libya. “I think the Scottish prosecution was from the start excessively influenced by the US Department of Justice, FBI and CIA,” Black told me this week when I asked about this possibility. In the late eighties, the US hated Gaddafi for his unrelenting opposition to America’s policies in the Arab world and beyond. He was accused of so many terrorist acts around the world that adding Lockerbie to the list would have been neither difficult to do nor easy to dispute; western media and politicians already projected Gaddafi as a monster capable of any and every evil.

It later emerged that Toni Gauci received $2 million in return for his testimony against Al-Megrahi before he disappeared from Malta altogether. Many experts think that he was coached on his story to be as convincing as possible. Under Scottish law, it is illegal to reward or coach witnesses in any legal proceedings.

According to Professor Black, the High Court of Judiciary could return its verdict before the 32nd anniversaries of the atrocity on 21 December this year. Meticulous as ever, the now retired professor thinks the court is likely to quash the original verdict and thus exonerate the late Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi posthumously. (...) [RB: Given the restrictions on court hearings imposed during the current coronavirus emergency, I am now fairly sure that the appeal will not now be over by the anniversary in December.]

At this stage we might feel entitled to ask what should happen to Libya if the verdict goes the way that Al-Megrahi’s family hope. The North African country had to endure crippling economic sanctions imposed by a series of UN Security Council resolutions starting with Resolution 731 passed on 21 March 1992. If Al-Megrahi is vindicated, might Libya also be vindicated and possibly claim compensation for the damage caused by the sanctions? Can it ask for the reimbursement of $2.7 billion paid to victims’ families? Even though the country accepted responsibility for the actions of its “officials” — Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, who was station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta at the time of the bombing — the money was paid as part of the requirements of the UN Resolutions.

Whatever the Scottish High Court of Justiciary decides later this year, many think that Al-Megrahi and Libya are already exonerated by the fact that the SCCRC has raised serious doubts about the trial and its verdict. Given the obvious US links to the case, it is interesting to note that current US Attorney General William Barr was the acting Attorney General who indicted the two Libyans in 1991. What will he have to say when the Court in Scotland returns its verdict?

Monday, 23 March 2020

Shame on those who accused their country without understanding the facts of the case

[What follows is a translation by the distinguished Libyan journalist and analyst Mustafa Fetouri of a comment posted by him on his Facebook page after the announcement of the SCCRC's reference of the Megrahi conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary. I am grateful to Mr Fetouri for allowing me to reproduce it here.]

The SCCRC has decided to allow al-Megrahi’s appeal to go ahead three years after his family requested it and eight year after he passed away.

The SCCRC admitted the appeal on two grounds one of which is very critical: that al-Megrahi was the person who bought the clothes found in bag that was said to have carried the bomb from Frankfurt to London en route to JFK in New York.

The SCCRC said that the verdict was “unreasonable” since “no reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser".

As we recall Tony Gauci, co-owner of Valetta clothes shop claimed that al-Megrahi was the one who bought the clothes but years after the conviction of al-Megrahi it turned out that Mr Gauci had received money from either the CIA or US department of justice as a witness and he then disappeared from Malta.

I have been following the Lockerbie case very closely from the beginning and I wrote about it many times. I was panelist in an episode of the BBC’s flagship show The Doha Debates in 2009 with Dr Jim Swire, on one side, and Juma Al-Gamatti and a British conservative MP on the opposing side. We defended the compassionate release of al-Megrahi against their accusations and falsified claims.

I have also discussed the case with many foreigner observers including the United Nations appointed court observer, the Austrian, Hans Köchler. He expressed his reservations about the court right after it ended. He repeated the same reservations to me over a phone call while I was studying for my masters degree in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

I have and will always be convinced that Libya and al-Megrahi are innocent of this terrible crime. After the SCCRC decision I would really like to hear from the Libyan scumbags like Juma and ask them where is your evidence that Libya was to blame for the tragedy? How could you accuse your country just because you hated Gaddafi?

I can imagine the late Moammer Gaddafi screaming at the face of those who accused him of being behind the Lockerbie tragedy. It is enough that the SCCRC raised suspicions about the verdict even if it is not overturned. The fact that SCCRC referred the case to the Scottish High Court is in itself an admission of miscarriage of justice and to me is a vindication of both Libya and its citizen al-Megrahi.

Great salute to Dr Swire and Mr Kenny MacAskill the former justice minister in Scotland,  who took the brave and legal decision to release al-Megrahi despite UK and US governments’ objections.

A bigger salute to al-Megrahi’s family who struggled to clear his name. I also salute to Al-Jazeera English team who produced that important documentary which made it easier for the wider public to understand the complicated judiciary process that should have led to different verdict. A great salute to the defense team who defended Libya despite all difficulties.

Shame on those who accused their country (particularly after 2011) without any proof and without actually understanding anything of the facts of the case.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Preliminary procedural hearing fixed in Megrahi appeal

I have been informed by a reliable source that a preliminary procedural hearing in the appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi will take place in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh before five judges on Friday, 17 April. 

It may be, of course, that before then measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 will lead to court hearings being cancelled or restricted.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Megrahi case review may not provide closure but there are people who might be able to

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

The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission’s decision to refer the Megrahi case back to the courts really isn’t a surprise. Issues of concern in the Lockerbie bombing trial include not least the witness payments to Tony Gauci.

That isn’t a criticism of those who presided at the Camp Zeist Trial as that wasn’t known to them. But it’s unacceptable in Scottish trials for a witness to be paid. Moreover, the judges then were caustic in comments about another witness who had been rewarded by the CIA. [RB: It is interesting that Mr MacAskill chooses to focus on the payment to Gauci rather than the (much more important) SCCRC finding that no reasonable trial court could have held on the evidence led at the trial that the case against Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.]

So back the case goes and while it may resolve some aspects relating to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, I won’t hold my breath that it’ll cast any more light on Lockerbie.

That’s a travesty as since the fall of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi both new information and more importantly new witnesses, if not accused, have come to light.

As the regime collapsed, MI6 got the Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa out and back to London where he was debriefed, firstly by them and then by the Americans.

He’s now living an opulent life in Qatar whilst others that he served with rot in jails in Tripoli. They include Gaddafi’s henchman Abdullah Senussi and even the man believed by many to have been the bomber.

They’ll have been spoken to by the Americans if not the British and other bit-part players were also extracted. Will the information they provided be heard and will any of them even be charged?

Sadly, this review will clarify some questions regarding Megrahi, but I very much doubt it’ll provide closure on Lockerbie.

[RB: Kenny MacAskill is clearly sticking to his position that Lockerbie was a Libyan operation, whether or not Abdelbaset Megrahi was wrongfully convicted. His views, originally expressed in his book, have been cogently crticised, not least by John Ashton here and James Robertson here.]

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bombing: Fresh appeal launched to clear Megrahi

[This is the headline over an article by Steve James published today on the website. It reads in part:]

Relatives ... of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi have won the right to posthumously appeal his 2001 conviction for murder following a decision by the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC). (...)

The Lockerbie attack came only six months after an Iranair Airbus, IR655, was shot down in an unprovoked act of mass murder, by the US missile cruiser, the USS Vincennes. In that instance 290 passengers and crew were killed. At the time, most commentary and media coverage assumed that the Lockerbie atrocity was an act of revenge.

From the outset, however, it was apparent there was some level of foreknowledge or complicity on behalf of the US and British intelligence services. Warnings of an attack on Pan Am flights had been issued. PA103, flying just before Christmas, was half empty because of cancellations. On the crash site in Scotland, numerous reports emerged of unrecorded activity by the FBI, items of wreckage being removed under armed guard, and luggage interfered with.

In 1990, UK citizen Martin Cadman, whose son Bill was killed on the flight, attended a briefing at the US Embassy for relatives of victims of the attack. Cadman was, without prompting, told by an unnamed member of the US President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, “Your government and ours know exactly what happened and they are never going to tell.”

By 1991, around the time the Iranian government declared its neutrality during the US Desert Storm war on Iraq, the British and US authorities shifted responsibility for Lockerbie to Libya.

Pinning the blame on Libya served to isolate and pressure the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and provided a pretext for punitive economic sanctions, which undermined the North African country’s oil-based economy.

Magrahi’s trial, at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, was held under Scots law as part of a deal brokered by South African leader Nelson Mandela between the British and Libyan governments. Its purpose was to allow some veneer of legal process on the rapprochement between the two countries, as Gaddafi abandoned his former radical posturing and US and British imperialism eyed the country’s oil resources.

The trial, however, revealed extraordinary inconsistencies in the Scottish Crown Office case. Not least was that there was no proof that Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, had ever loaded a comparable suitcase in Luqa airport in Malta, no proof that any unaccompanied suitcase had travelled from Malta via Frankfurt to Heathrow, to be loaded onto PA103, and no explanation of how Luqa airport’s rigorous security was overcome.

Nevertheless, Magrahi was convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, later increased to 27.

In another of countless inconsistencies, Megrahi’s co-accused, Llamen Fhimah was set free. For his part, Gaddafi duly offered compensation to the attack’s victims without accepting Libyan responsibility. [RB: Libya accepted "responsibility for the actions of its officials" and nothing more.]

Megrahi had an initial appeal rejected in 2002, but the passage of time has only increased the perception that he was the victim of a politically motivated frame-up and show trial.

In 2007, the SCCRC authorised another appeal, reporting there was “no reasonable basis” to place Megrahi in Malta where he had been identified as allegedly purchasing clothing identified as being in a suitcase containing the bomb. However, in 2009 Megrahi, in prison in Greenock, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was allowed to return to Libya following an understanding reached with the Scottish government that his appeal should be dropped. Megrahi died in 2012, still protesting his innocence.

In 2011, 10 years after the trial, US, French and British imperialism launched a bloody neo-colonial war to overthrow Gaddafi. It ended with Gaddafi being hunted down and butchered. The country was pitched into a catastrophic civil war, which continues to this day.

This latest appeal was launched by Megrahi’s family and [supported by] the Justice for Megrahi (JFM) campaign. This includes relatives of several victims of the disaster such as Dr Jim Swire, who has steadfastly campaigned for the truth around his 23-year-old daughter’s murder on PA103.

JFM members include Robert Black, a lawyer and one of the architects of the original Camp Zeist trial. Another member is former police superintendent Iain McKie, whose daughter Shirley was the subject of a debacle which, in the end, discredited the Scottish Criminal Records Office entire finger-printing methodology. Shirley McKie was charged with perjury before finally being exonerated and compensated.

A SCCRC press statement reported grounds for allowing the new appeal. Referring to the identification of Megrahi as the purchaser of clothing in the bomb suitcase by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, the SCCRC concluded that “a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Mr Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

The SCCRC statement found that the Crown failed to “disclose a statement and a police report” confirming that Gauci had photographs of Megrahi in his possession before he identified him. This “deprived Mr Megrahi a real chance of an acquittal.” The commission also found that “reward money to be paid to Mr Gauci under a scheme administered by the US Department of State” meant that “Mr Megrahi was denied a fair trial.”

Gauci was coached by the Scottish police and bribed by the US government—$2 million was eventually said to have been handed over.

The SCCRC rejected further grounds for appeal relating to:

The date on which Megrahi was identified as having been in Gauci’s shop in Malta

* Evidence emerged of the date at which Christmas lights were switched on in Sliema, Malta and which contradicts the prosecution claim that Megrahi made the purchases. Yet, the SCCRC “decided that the fresh evidence in question is not likely to have assisted Mr. Megrahi’s cause.” In a repeated theme, the SCCRC’s pointed to the fact that Megrahi’s defence team “chose not to lead it in connection with his appeal in 2002.”

The metallurgical characteristics of circuit board fragment PT/35(b)

* This fragment was claimed to be part of an MST-13 timer constructed by MEBO AG of Switzerland. The fragment appeared late in the investigation with records of its discovery apparently altered. PT/35(b)’s significance in the case against Megrahi is that it implicated the Libyan government, which had purchased 20 such timers.

Evidence emerged, and was available early in the investigation, to confirm that the MST-13 circuit board fragment could not have been part of the batch of timers sold to Libya, as the board’s soldering had different characteristics from control samples provided by MEBO. When this was made available to Megrahi’s original defence team, they again, for reasons unclear, declined to use it.

The SCCRC nevertheless found that “the decision by the defence team to proceed without investigating the metallurgy issue did not mean that Mr. Megrahi’s defence was not presented to the court.”

Suitcase ingestion at Heathrow

* This is most damaging to the entire case against Megrahi and was clearly explained in the 2013 book Adequately Explained by Stupidity? by JFM member, Dr Morag Kerr.

Kerr makes a detailed and methodical examination of the recorded progress of all items of luggage through Luqa, Frankfurt and Heathrow airports, their position in the luggage container AVE4041 at Heathrow airport, and their subsequent condition and location when discovered on the hills around Lockerbie. Her conclusion is that the bomb suitcase, a Samsonite Silhouette 400, was introduced in London prior to a feeder flight, PA 103A, arriving from Frankfurt carrying any luggage from Malta.

Kerr makes clear that, despite the vast and complex investigation, this suitcase has no known provenance and its owner has never been identified. It was noticed by several airline staff prior to and during transfer to PA 103. It appeared the day after a highly unusual break-in to the Heathrow luggage storage area adjacent to where AVE4041 was loaded.

The SCCRC agreed that “If accepted, this would fatally undermine the Crown case,” but claimed the allegation lacked information highlighted by Operation Sandwood—a four-year police inquiry into allegations of police criminality during the Lockerbie investigation made by JFM.

This counterclaim is not substantiated. Operation Sandwood concluded in 2018 that “no criminality” had been found. Its report has not been published, nor the basis of its findings released.

Learning of the news of the appeal being allowed, Megrahi’s youngest son, Ali, told The Times “If the world discovers the identity of the true bomber, it will have to accept that it was not my father. Those who lost their loved ones deserve to know the truth, who was responsible and why it happened.”

Monday, 16 March 2020

Ghosts of Lockerbie stirred with prospect of posthumous appeal

[This is the headline over a report published this evening on the Al Jazeera website. It reads in part:]

On March 11, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) stirred the ghosts of a painful past when it announced that the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the bombing might have constituted a miscarriage of justice. (...)

Several relatives of victims have also celebrated the legal development.

Jim Swire collaborated with the al-Megrahi family on the SCCRC application. He lost his 23-year-old daughter Flora on the New York-bound flight that exploded over Scotland just 38 minutes after its takeoff from London.

Swire has long believed that al-Megrahi was innocent of the bombing - and is already looking ahead to the next phase of the judicial process which will see the case make its way to Scotland's High Court of Justiciary.

"I'm delighted that the case has been referred back to the Appeal Court - but I'm already concerned about how the case in the Appeal Court will be conducted," Swire, now in his 80s, tells Al Jazeera.

The Glasgow-based legal team highlighted six grounds why al-Megrahi's conviction constituted a grave miscarriage of justice - but the SCCRC upheld just two: "unreasonable verdict" and "non-disclosure" of evidence. (...)

John Mosey, whose 19-year-old daughter Helga was killed in the bombing, also threw his support behind the application.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from his home in England, Mosey, a reverend, said the commission's decision, which prompted him to exclaim "Hallelujah", was the "end of a first step of a long battle".

Like Swire, he remains concerned that the grounds for appeal, as selected by the SCCRC, "are limited".

But the commission's decision will likely reopen painful wounds, especially in the United States where many victims' families and involved law enforcement officials continue to view al-Megrahi as guilty.

However, Richard Marquise, who led the FBI's US Lockerbie taskforce, told Al Jazeera that the "the circumstantial evidence" that put al-Megrahi behind bars in a Scottish jail "was overwhelming".

"I have seen the evidence; know, personally, some of the witnesses and; have read the entire transcript," said the retired special agent of the SCCRC's claim that "no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Mr Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt".

"Those who passed judgment from an ivory tower were never involved in the investigation, nor did they attend one day of trial."

[RB: Dr Jim Swire and the Rev'd John Mosey attended every day of the trial at Camp Zeist. I did not (and I suspect I may be one of the inhabitants of an "ivory tower" that Richard Marquise is intending to refer to) but, like Mr Marquise I read every day's transcript as it appeared. From the day after the verdict was announced I have expressed the view that no reasonable court could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led at the trial. That is the unshakeable view that I continue to hold nineteen years later. And the independent and expert SCCRC, after two separate investigations conducted thirteen years apart by two quite separate and different teams, has twice now reached the same conclusion as me. Mr Marquise's protestations are starting to look rather desperate.]

“We want the world to know it was not our father"

[What follows is excerpted from a report by Marcello Mega in today's edition of The Times:]

The sons of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing believe his name must be cleared and that the “true culprits” should be found and brought to justice.

They have welcomed the news that a new appeal has been recommended by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) for Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who died in 2012, and said the Scottish legal system had a chance to deliver “true justice”.

Khaled and Ali al-Megrahi have always been grateful to the British relatives of those who died in the bombing for supporting their father, and sympathetic to their plight and their wish to see justice delivered at last.

Ali, the younger son, said: “I have always tried to keep my faith in the Scottish justice system despite the politicisation of this issue in the past.

“We want to show the truth to the world, that our father was wronged and the accusations against him were based on circumstances that did not represent reality.

“We salute Dr [Jim] Swire [whose daughter, Flora, died in the explosion], whose efforts have helped us reach this position, and support all efforts towards finding the truth in this matter. The world needs to know the truth that the bomber was not my father. Discovering the true culprits will help to clear his name and deliver justice for the victims.

“If the world discovers the identity of the true bomber, it will have to accept that it was not my father. Those who lost their loved ones deserve to know the truth, who was responsible and why it happened.”

His brother, Khaled, added: “We have always believed that no one can hide the truth forever. It always comes out and we hope and pray that the full truth of this matter will be known at last.

“We want the world to know it was not our father, and we want the world to know the whole truth, for the sake of our family and also for the sake of Dr Swire and all the other relatives who are still looking for true justice.”

Dr Swire welcomed their support yesterday and said he had felt briefly euphoric when he learnt that there would be a posthumous appeal against al-Megrahi’s conviction. However, he felt crushed minutes later, he said, to read a statement released by the commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, and realise that it had closed the door on key evidence that he said could lead to the real killers.

Dr Swire befriended al-Megrahi and visited him several times in prison in spite of al-Megrahi’s conviction (...)

Since al-Megrahi died in 2012 his family has fought for a posthumous appeal. Dr Swire said: “I never believed it. As the SCCRC said as far back as 2007 and continues to say now, no reasonable court could have convicted on the evidence.”

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “We’re not in a position to comment on matters that will be before the Appeal Court.” The SCCRC and Police Scotland also declined to comment.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

The Scottish criminal justice system got Lockerbie disastrously wrong

[What follows is excerpted from a report by Judith Duffy in today's edition of The National:]

The lawyer who was the architect of the Lockerbie trial believes the overturning of the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi would renew pressure for a full inquiry into the disaster.

Last week the family of Megrahi, who died in 2012, was granted permission to appeal his conviction. (...)

Professor Robert Black QC, below, who believes there was a miscarriage of justice, said calls for a full independent inquiry had been blocked until now because of Megrahi’s conviction in 2001.

“The answer has always been we don’t need an independent inquiry, we have had a trial, we have had appeals and we know what happened – one person has been convicted,” he said.

“If that conviction is overturned, then both the UK and the Scottish Government are going to have to come up with a different excuse for not holding a full inquiry into Lockerbie.”

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has referred the case to the High Court, ruling the review of Megrahi’s conviction met two statutory tests for referral – that it may have been a miscarriage of justice and that it is in the interests of justice to refer it back to the court.

The case had been previously referred by the SCCRC to the appeal court back in 2007, but Megrahi abandoned the appeal two years later. A new review of his case was subsequently allowed posthumously after the SCCRC ruled he had dropped the appeal in the belief it would allow him to return to his native Libya, following a diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Megrahi flew home in 2009 after controversially being released from Greenock prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds. He had served eight years of a life sentence.

Black said the appeal ruling by the SCCRC in 2007 had made a “very strong finding” that no “reasonable court” on the evidence led at the trial could have accepted Megrahi was the purchaser of clothes that surrounded the bomb.

He said: “Now the current SCCRC goes even further than that – it now says that the commission believes a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Mr Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

“The composition of the SCCRC has entirely changed between 2007 and 2020, so it is not the same people reaching the same decision again.

“This is two independent expert committees both saying no reasonable trial court could or should have convicted Megrahi.

“You can’t get a much more damning assessment of the trial court’s performance than that.”

Black said it was expected the appeal could proceed quickly and the verdict may even be known this year before the anniversary of the disaster on December 21. He said there was no reason for the Crown to use “delaying tactics” now that Megrahi was dead. (...)

Following the announcement of the permission for an appeal on Wednesday, lawyer Aamer Anwar issued a statement from Megrahi’s son Ali which said the family “finally hope our father’s name will be cleared”.

Others who believe Megrahi was innocent have also welcomed the decision, including Dr Jim Swire, the father of 23-year-old Flora Swire, who died in the disaster.

He said: “All we have ever wanted is a fair court where the evidence can be assessed.

“If the appeal runs through, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell the conviction will stand.”

The Justice For Megrahi group – of which Black is a member – said it would give some hope that the “stain that has lingered over the Scottish justice system for so many years will finally be obliterated.

However the news of potential fresh appeal has not been universally welcomed, with David Mundell, Tory MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, saying many in the Lockerbie community who wished to draw a line under the tragedy were disappointed.

Black, who was one of the architects of the Camp Zeist court in The Hague where Megrahi’s trial tool place, said truth is “more important than feeling of comfort”.

“If closure is based on something completely false, then what is your closure worth?” he said.

“My motivation is my belief the Scottish criminal justice system got Lockerbie disastrously wrong. I am a lawyer, I have practised the law of Scotland, I have taught the law of Scotland. If my legal system, the one I have devoted my life to, has made a disastrous mistake, I want that mistake to be acknowledged and to be rectified.”

He said he did not want to be “overly optimistic” in predicting whether Megrahi’s conviction would be deemed as wrongful if the appeal goes ahead.

He added: “If the verdict is overturned, you have to face it – this is an embarrassment.

“This would be the court in 2020 saying our very distinguished and senior colleagues in 2001 at the trial at Camp Zeist got it wrong.

“That is an uncomfortable thing to say – but I hope their lordships will have the courage to say it.”

[RB: In the same newspaper there is an article on the case by Andrew Tickell, headlined The Lockerbie trial may yet embarrass the Scottish legal systemstrongly supporting the SCCRC's decision to refer the case back to the High Court for a fresh appeal. Here are two sentences from it:]

Last week, the commission concluded that “no reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser”. I find it difficult to disagree with them.

The eyes of the world are understandably elsewhere this week, but make no mistake – the new Lockerbie appeal is a case of global significance, with huge potential to embarrass the Scottish criminal justice system and generate a transatlantic political storm.

[RB: In today's edition of The Observer an article by Kenan Malik headlined Will we finally discover the truth about Lockerbie? contains the following:]

The case against Megrahi was circumstantial and dubious. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103, has devoted his life to unearthing the truth about the bombing, and has long campaigned to prove Megrahi’s innocence. So has Robert Black, one of Scotland’s leading jurists, and the man who came up with the idea of a special trial in the Netherlands.

Many, including apparently the CIA, have suggested that the evidence pointed to Iranian, not Libyan involvement, possibly through a radical Palestinian cell.

Given the horror of the bombing, most people have been happy that someone was convicted, and not worried about the details. But, as Swire and Black bravely attest, truth and justice matter, even, perhaps especially, in a case as terrible as Lockerbie. The appeal may finally throw some light on both.