Wednesday, 20 January 2021

The house of cards that is the legal frame-up of Megrahi

[What follows is taken from an article by Steve James published today on the WSWS.org website:]

Five Scottish judges have upheld the 2001 verdict against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

Last week's decision is the second time an appeal on Megrahi's behalf has been rejected by the courts amid the continued suppression of contradictory evidence.

In 2002, an initial appeal was thrown out. In 2009, Megrahi, already terminally ill, was tacitly offered release from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds if a contemporary appeal was dropped as part of rapprochement between the Libyan and British governments. The most recent appeal was launched by Megrahi's son, Ali Al-Megrahi, to clear his father's name posthumously.

The appeal hearing heard from Claire Mitchell QC that Megrahi's original conviction hinged on Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci’s uncorroborated identification of Megrahi. She pointed to contradictions in Gauci’s testimony and challenged the trial judges' decision that the clothing was purchased on 7 December 1988, rather than 23 November, which was supported by the evidence. Megrahi was not in Malta in November.

Mitchell noted that while the trial verdict "cherry picked" items from a mass of conflicting evidence, no evidence existed that the bomb started its journey from Malta.

The appeal was allowed to go forward following a decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), that a miscarriage of justice may only have occurred because of the manner in which Megrahi was identified by Gauci. Gauci first identified someone else, appeared confused, and was found to have been coached by police in expectation of a huge reward. $2 million was duly paid, a matter about which the trial defence was not informed.

The SCCRC did not consider (...) analysis of the metallurgical characteristics of the alleged bomb timer--proving it was not part of a batch sold to Libya--or devastating evidence of the bomb suitcase entering the luggage system at Heathrow Airport, London, as grounds for appeal.

The reason for the appeal being restricted to Megrahi's identification by Gauci is increasingly clear. Any broader querying of the original verdict threatens to bring down the house of cards that is the legal frame-up of Megrahi.

It is worth recalling some of the contradictions and unconfirmed assertions in the official version of events leading to PA103's destruction, upheld at the 2001 trial and again on two subsequent appeals.

Megrahi was found guilty of loading a suitcase, containing a bomb armed with a complex electronic timer, in Luqa airport, Malta, onto a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. No viable evidence has been presented confirming that such a suitcase existed. No explanation has been given of how Megrahi overcame Luqa's tight security. (...) No explanation has been offered of how Frankfurt airport's X-ray scanning missed a bomb in a cassette recorder when staff had been advised to look out for one.

From Frankfurt, the feeder flight travelled to London’s Heathrow airport, where the bomb was allegedly transferred to Pan Am 103. No such suitcase has been identified.

Not accounted for is the fact that a suitcase closely resembling the one containing the bomb appeared unexpectedly at Heathrow airport before the feeder flight from Frankfurt arrived and was reportedly inserted onto PA103 at Heathrow.

This suitcase was seen by witnesses on the floor of the luggage container in which the explosion later occurred. No explanation or significance has been attached to a break in at Heathrow airport, where security was poor, the night before, adjacent to the luggage loading area for PA103.

The explosion that destroyed the Boeing 747 took place 38 minutes after take-off from Heathrow. This is exactly the time at which a well-known design of barometric bomb, triggered by a fall in air pressure, would explode had one been loaded at Heathrow.

Barometric bombs of this design were, at the time, being manufactured in Germany by a Syrian backed Palestinian group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a group with a history of aircraft bombing. Four of these bombs were seized by German police, a fifth went missing for unexplained reasons.

No explanation has been offered of why the stated design of electronic timer, an MST-13 manufactured by Swiss company MeBo-AG, would not be set to explode at a time much later, over the Atlantic, where any evidence would sink to the ocean floor.

Nor has an explanation been offered as to why evidence relating to the belated appearance of a fragment of MST-13 timer in the Lockerbie wreckage showed evidence of having been doctored, as had the records relating to its discovery. Or why this timer fragment has subsequently been proved NOT to be part of a consignment of timers admittedly sold to Libya by Mebo-AG.

Days before the appeal hearing, the judges ruled that documentation in the possession of the British government since shortly after PA103 was brought down should remain hidden, upholding a public interest immunity certificate signed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in August this year. One of Raab's predecessors, Labour's David Miliband, signed a similar order in 2008 before Megrahi's previous appeal was dropped.

Carloway upheld Raab's view that the documentation was relevant but revealing it would "damage counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states".

The documentation is reportedly a letter from then Jordanian ruler, King Hussein, an ally of the Western powers and a CIA asset, implicating Jordanian intelligence agent and PFLP-GC supporter Marween Khreesat in making the bomb. King Hussein claimed the attack was revenge commissioned by the Iranian government for the US Vincennes' shoot-down of an Iran Airbus at the cost of 255 lives in July 1988. Khreesat was arrested as part of the group that was making bombs in Germany in 1988, but was quickly released. He died in Syria in 2016.

Another remarkable intervention on the eve of the appeal, which coincided with the December 21 anniversary of the disaster, came from outgoing US Justice Secretary William Barr.

Barr announced charges against the hitherto little-known Libyan, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Masud), whom Barr accused of helping Megrahi make the bomb used in the attack and whose extradition to the US is now being sought. Barr claimed the then-Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi personally thanked Masud for his efforts. Masud has been held in a Libyan jail since 2012. Gaddafi's government was violently overthrown by the US and European war machine, and Libya pitched into a catastrophic and ongoing civil war in 2011, but this claim of involvement only surfaced years later.

Barr has a history with the Lockerbie case. Prior to his installation by Donald Trump in 2019, he was known for a series of cover-ups arising from his first period as US Attorney General, between 1991 and 1993, during George H W Bush's term as US President, arising from the successive debacles of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

It was on Barr's watch that Bush handed out pardons to senior state officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, including former defence secretary Caspar Weinburger, who had been charged with crimes of perjury, lying to Congress and obstruction of justice.

Barr oversaw a fundamental shift in the focus of investigation into the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 from the PFLP-GC and Iran to Libya, and announced the November 14, 1991 indictments against Megrahi, and his then co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah.

The transition took place during US preparations for the assault on Iraq in the first Gulf War, launched earlier in 1991. Prior to the war, US officials shuttled around the various Arab regimes in the Middle East seeking support and acquiescence in the planned bloodbath. Then Secretary of State James Baker visited Syria repeatedly and extracted regime support for the assault on neighbouring Iraq. Iran remained neutral.

Speaking of Lockerbie when the war was over and days after the unexpected indictment of the two Libyans, Bush said, "A lot of people thought it was the Syrians. The Syrians took a bum rap on this."

None of this mattered to the Scottish judges. Instead, the 64-page verdict sought to strengthen the case against Megrahi by attributing sinister significance to entries in co-accused Fhimah's diary referring to "luggage tags". Fhimah, however, was acquitted in the original 2001 trial. Both men worked at the airport.

Speaking outside the court, lawyer Aamer Anwar said Megrahi's family were heartbroken by the verdict and intend to take the case to the UK Supreme Court. Jim Swire, 84, whose daughter Flora died in the disaster said, "For a long time I have been persuaded that it isn’t likely the truth will come out during my time left on the planet."

[RB: Another recent article can be read here: Lockerbie 32 years on: imperialism, framings and cover-ups.]

Saturday, 16 January 2021

System cannot admit it made mistake with Lockerbie

[Yesterday's decision by the High Court of Justiciary dismissing the posthumous appeal on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi receives extensive coverage in UK and overseas media. A selection, courtesy of Google News, can be found here

What follows is excerpted from reports by Mike Wade here and here on the website of The Times:]

An attempt by the family of the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing posthumously to clear his name has been rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland.

The family of Abdul Ali Baset al-Megrahi had appealed his conviction after a ruling by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) that “it was in the interests of justice” that his case was reconsidered.

Mr Anwar said that Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted man’s son, said that his family had been “left heartbroken by the decision of the Scottish courts, (but) maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya”.

The family has instructed its legal team to appeal to the UK Supreme Court and an application will be lodged within two weeks. (...)

Megrahi previously lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002. Five years later the SCCRC recommended that he should be granted the second appeal, which he later dropped.

Al-Megrahi insisted in his authorised biography, published in the year of his death, that a Scottish government decision to agree his early release from prison was conditional on his decision to drop his second appeal.

He said that Kenny MacAskill, who was then the Scottish justice secretary, had suggested the deal to a Libyan government official.

In the latest appeal the court was not asked by the SCCRC to consider a tiny fragment of circuit board, believed to have been from the bomb’s timer. This, campaigners insist, was a key piece of evidence that could have cleared al-Megrahi’s name.

After this morning’s decision the al-Megrahi family demanded the release of secret evidence held by the UK government that they believe incriminates others such as Iran and a Syrian-Palestinian group. (...)

In December, on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing, William Barr, the US attorney-general, announced new criminal charges against an alleged bombmaker involved in the atrocity.

Abu Agila Masud, another former Libyan intelligence officer, allegedly admitted to assembling the bomb that blew up the plane as it passed over Lockerbie en route from London to New York. Masud was the third person to face charges in the attack after al-Megrahi and another Libyan, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were charged nearly 30 years ago. Fhimah was found not guilty in 2001.

It was Mr Barr who announced the charges against al-Megrahi and Fhimah in 1991, saying at the time: “This investigation is by no means over.” Al-Megrahi’s supporters claim that Mr Barr’s recent intervention weighed heavily on the appeal court judges.

A source said: “For the judges to overturn the conviction would be absolutely momentous and I don’t think they have the stomach for that. William Barr piled on the pressure by announcing new indictments. It was too much of a hot potato for them.”

Mr Anwar said the first ground for appeal — that “no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted” — was built largely around the evidence of Tony Gauci, who died in 2016.

In the 2001 trial, Mr Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, identified al-Megrahi as the man who bought clothes from him that were later packed in a suitcase containing the bomb. After the trial it was disclosed that he had received $2 million from the US authorities.

In his judgment Lord Carloway said the original trial had given due consideration to Mr Gauci’s identification.

Mr Anwar said the second ground of appeal — the failure to disclose information to the defence — hinged on a “compatibility issue” arising from a question relating to a breach of human rights. This will be the basis for the application to the Supreme Court.

[A further article in The Times, headlined System cannot admit it made mistake with Lockerbie, says lawyer who designed first trial contains the following:]

The Scottish court system is unable to acknowledge that a mistake has been made, the lawyer who designed the 2001 Lockerbie trial has said.

Robert Black, emeritus professor of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, drew up plans to enable a Scottish court to sit on neutral territory in the Netherlands but when the trial ended he was convinced that he had witnessed a miscarriage of justice.

He said yesterday that the Scottish criminal justice system was unable to acknowledge “a mistake has been made” in the conviction of Abdul Baset al-Megrahi and it was “a matter of grave concern” that the most recent appeal had been so narrowly restricted to certain legal areas. The Scottish Criminal Case Review Committee allowed al-Megrahi’s posthumous appeal on only two grounds: that the verdict had been unreasonable and that some evidence had not been disclosed to the defence.

Four other grounds for appeal were rejected by the committee, including evidence about a fragment from a circuit board and a theory that the suitcase that contained the bomb had not been loaded onto an aircraft in Malta.

The Crown argued that the circuit board, part of a timing device, was one of many sold to the Libyan government by Mebo, a Swiss company. It was found in the remains of a shirt collar, which in turn led to a shop in Malta owned by Tony Gauci. Campaigners for al-Megrahi say forensic analysis has shown the circuit board was coated in pure tin and not in a tin-lead alloy, the only kind supplied by Mebo. Independent scientists, consulted by the Crown, had noticed the difference but maintained the tin fragment and the tin-lead amalgam were “similar in all respects”.

Professor Black also cited evidence the bomb suitcase was put on at Heathrow before luggage from Malta arrived.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Megrahi appeal dismissed

The High Court has dismissed the posthumous appeal brought on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi. The 64-page opinion of the court can be read here. [RB: In the version originally issued, the date of the disaster was stated by the court to be 22 December 1988, the same blunder as was made in the trial court's judgement. This has since been corrected to 21 December. Careless.] A summary can be found here

As regards the first ground of appeal, the court concludes in paragraph 87 that, notwithstanding evidence challenging 7 December 1988 as the date of purchase of the items from Tony Gauci's shop, and notwithstanding concerns about the evidence supporting Gauci's "identification" of Megrahi, "... the contention that the trial court reached a verdict that no reasonable court could have reached is rejected. On the evidence at trial, a reasonable jury, properly directed, would have been entitled to return a guilty verdict."

As regards the ground of appeal founding upon failure by the Crown to disclose material that would have been helpful to the defence the court concludes that even if the material had been disclosed it would not have made a difference to the guilty verdict. Paragraph 135 of the opinion reads: "The contention that the Crown failed to disclose material which would have created a real prospect of a different verdict is rejected."

The outcome of the appeal is a cogent illustration of just how difficult it is to have the Scottish criminal justice system acknowledge that a mistake has been made, as I continue to believe has happened here. It is, I contend, a matter of grave public concern, that the appeal was so narrowly confined and that issues such as the metallurgy of the circuit board fragment and Dr Morag Kerr's findings regarding the loading of the bomb suitcase at Heathrow were not ventilated.

The Herald's report on the dismissal of the appeal contains the following statement from the Megrahi family's solicitor, Aamer Anwar:

"Ali Al-Megrahi the son of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing said his family were left heart broken by the decision of the Scottish courts, he maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya.

"As of this morning the Megrahi family have instructed our legal team to appeal to the UK Supreme Court [and] we will lodge an application within 14 days.

"The family demand the release of secret evidence held by the UK Government, which they believe incriminates others such as Iran and the Syrian-Palestinian group, the Foreign Secretary had refused to do so, this must happen for the truth to emerge."

[What follows is excerpted from a press release issued today by Aamer Anwar:]

Significant material has been received by the Legal team over the last several months, but especially since the announcement by Donald Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr on 21 December 2020, where he stated that the USA wished to extradite a former Libyan Intelligence Officer, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud for the Lockerbie bombing, 32 years later.

Masud’s confession to being involved in the conspiracy with Al-Megrahi to blow up Pan Am Flight 103, was supposedly ‘extracted’ by a ‘Libyan law enforcement agent’ in 2012, whilst in custody in a Libyan Prison. No new information appeared to be presented by Attorney General Barr.

What was significant in the US criminal complaint against Masud was his claim that he bought the clothes to put into the Samsonite suitcase that is claimed went on to blow up Pan Am Flight 103.

Of course, the problem for the US Department of Justice is that the case against Megrahi is still based on the eye-witness testimony of Toni Gauci stating that Megrahi bought the clothes. How can both men be held responsible?

The al-Megrahi family believe that if the conviction against their father were to be overturned then the US case against Masud would be non-existent.

Undoubtedly there will now be huge pressure on Libya and the GNA, the Government of National Accord based in Tripoli to extradite Abu Agila Masud to the US, but of course the American authorities will be also aware that if the Megrahi’s were to be successful at the Supreme Court, then so called case against Abu Masud would crumble. 

A reversal of the verdict would have meant that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom stand exposed as having lived a monumental lie for 32 years, imprisoning a man they knew to be innocent and punishing the Libyan people for a crime which they did not commit.

All the Megrahi family want for Scotland is peace and justice, but as Ali stated today their journey is not over, Libya has suffered enough, as has family for the crime of Lockerbie, they remain determined to fight for justice.

They are grateful to their legal team for their unwavering commitment and also to the British families for their compassion and search for justice.

Ali said God willing, he will visit his father's grave one day to tell him that justice was done and that he fulfilled his promise to clear his name and that of Libya.

In this appeal the legal arguments related to two distinct challenges to the conviction. The first was that it was contended that no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted Mr Megrahi on the evidence led, focusing in particular on the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci stating that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were ultimately placed into a suitcase containing the bomb planted on the plane.

The second ground was that the failure to disclose information to the defence, led to the trial being unfair and thus a miscarriage of justice, these related to the reliability of Mr Gauci’s identification of Megrahi as the person who bought the clothes, as well as the content of CIA cables.  

In relation to the second ground of appeal, the failure to disclose information to the defence, the decision of the Appeal Court is the determination of a “compatibility issue” – an issue arising from a question relating to the breach of human rights, in this case article 6 the right to a fair trial.   

Where the Appeal Court in Scotland determines a compatibility issue, it is competent to seek leave to appeal from the Appeal Court of the determination of that issue to the UK Supreme Court in London.  If leave to appeal by the Scottish courts is refused, it is competent to seek leave to appeal directly from the Supreme Court in London. 

... the Megrahi family have instructed us to make an application to the UK Supreme Court.  We must now lodge an application within 14 days. Today’s decision will be carefully considered and intimated to the Crown and the UK Advocate General and lodged with the Justiciary Clerk with 14 days of the opinion of the court which is dated 15th January  2021.

The Justiciary Clerk will then ask for written submissions.  The Crown is allowed to lodge  submissions to object. Written submissions are always required even if there is an oral hearing.  It may be that the court will advise that the matter will be considered on paper submissions only. 

The time for a decision on that application is difficult to estimate, however we would expect the al-Megrahi case to progress relatively quickly and no longer than 2-3 months.

When the decision of the High Court of Justiciary is known - if it is an adverse decision then within 28 days an application for 'permission to appeal' can be lodged with the UKSC Registrar to directly appeal to the Supreme Court. One would hope that if such a process were followed then the appeal would be heard before the end of 2021.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Megrahi appeal decision to be delivered on Friday 15 January

[What follows is the text of a press release issued by Aamer Anwar & Co:]

On Friday 15th January at 09.30 GMT the opinion of the Scottish Appeal Court will be issued to the family as delivered by Lord Carloway, The Lord Justice General in the appeal against conviction by the representative of The Late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi (Appellant) against Her Majesty’s Advocate (Respondent).

The non-appearance advising will be available online (https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/high-court) at 12 noon.

A full statement at 10.00 GMT will be issued on behalf of the family of the late Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi by their lawyer Aamer Anwar, embargoed until 12 noon GMT.

Should you require to carry out an interview, Mr Anwar will be available in Glasgow for face to face interviews (Covid compliant) from 11am onwards or alternatively should you require a zoom, facetime or radio interview please contact our office on 0141 429 7090.

BACKGROUND NOTES:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/24/world/europe/lockerbie-bombing-megrahi-appeal-scotland.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/24/lockerbie-bomber-appeal-begins-at-scotlands-high-court

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/nov/24/lockerbie-bombing-facts-cherrypicked-to-convict-megrahi-court-told

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1767706/world

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-55399551

https://www.thenational.scot/news/18953301.lockerbie-appeal-lawyer-raises-questions-timing-us-suspect-announcement/ 

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Private Eye on the Masud charges

[What follows is the text of an article that appears in the latest edition of Private Eye:]

Late charges 

The parting shot by US attorney-general William Barr just before Christmas that another Libyan, Abu Agila Masud, was to be charged over the Lockerbie bombing will have delighted Scotland's prosecutors. The Crown Office is nervously awaiting the outcome of a posthumous appeal against the copviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 atrocity, which killed 270 people. 

The case against Megrahi was always riddled with holes, and since his 2001 conviction more evidence - some withheld from his trial - has emerged to cast further doubt (Eyes passim). Last March the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred his case back to the appeal court on the basis that no reasonable court could have reached a guilty verdict "beyond all reasonable doubt" and significant non-disclosure of evidence. 

Both grounds related to the damning evidence of the key prosecution witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who said Megrahi resembled a man who bought the clothes found wrapped around the bomb. It subsequently emerged that Gauci was paid $2m by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). But other troubling evidence was excluded from the appeal. That included forensic material suggesting that a circuit board fragment found at the scene could not have originated from the batch of timers said to incriminate Libya and Megrahi, and new evidence indicating that the bomb almost certainly originated from Heathrow rather than Malta (adding to the fact of a break-in at Heathrow the night before the flight).  

Masud, the third Libyan to be charged (Lamin Fhimah who stood trial alongside Megrahi, was acquitted), is now said to be the Lockerbie bombmaker. He is also alleged to have made the bomb for the 1986 La Belle Disco attack in Berlin, which killed two US servicemen and a Turkish woman.  

The new charges are based on an investigation by American film-maker Ken Dornstein,  who lost his brother m the Lockerbie bombing, and on an affidavit by an FBI agent, which describes a confession allegedly made by Masud to "a Libyan law enforcement officer". That "confession" names Megrahi, a fellow intelligence officer, as a co-conspirator. It dates from 2012, when Masud was in prison awaiting trial for making booby-trapped bombs for use against opponents of the Gaddafi regime, which fell in 2011. As it came during a time of revenge and score-settling, key questions will be what side the Libyan law officer was on and under what circumstances the confession was made. 

US prosecutors might also seek to rely on a key witness in Dornstein's documentary, Musbah Eter, a Libyan former diplomat who was convicted in 2001 of the La Belle bombing. He claims Masud told him he was involved in Lockerbie. However, as declassified East German Stasi documents revealed, Eter has a credibility problem - not least because he was a CIA "asset" who had never previously claimed any knowledge of Lockerbie. 

Nevertheless, the news has received a guarded welcome by those convinced of Megrahi's innocence. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the blast, would like any evidence properly tested in open court to try to get to the truth about Lockerbie and what US and UK investigators knew. But he tells the Eye that if the case is linked to Megrahi and Malta it is already fatally flawed. 

The DoJ has been sitting on Masud's damning confession and evidence gathered by Dornstein for years, so why did it wait until last month before charging Masud? Might the answer be, as Swire suggests, that it is Barr's attempt to salvage his own credibility? Or, as those representing Megrahi's family believe, a timely attempt to add to the already considerable pressure on the Scottish appeal judges to uphold the only conviction? 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Crown Office not happy for US to take lead on new Lockerbie trial

[The following article has been contributed by Marcello Mega and expands upon his report in The Mail on Sunday yesterday:]

Scotland will argue that any future trial relating to the Lockerbie bombing should be conducted under Scots Law before Scottish judges. 

Outgoing US Attorney General William Barr appeared to stake his country’s claim by announcing, just before he left office last month, that efforts would be made to extradite and try two more Libyans. 

But well-placed sources in law enforcement have revealed that Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC believes that while both Scotland and the US can claim jurisdiction as both countries lost many citizens, Scotland has the greater claim. 

Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, allegedly bomb-maker for the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Abdullah al-Senussi, former intelligence chief and Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, are the untried suspects. 

Mr Barr was Attorney General in 1991 when the blame for the Lockerbie bombing, which claimed 270 lives on 21 December 1988, was first shifted from Iran to Libya.  

In virtually his final act in his final stint as Attorney General, he again put the spotlight on Libya, and appeared to presume the US would lead efforts to prosecute either or both of the suspects. 

One source said: “It’s early days but already there have been discussions among senior figures in the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate seems to have arrived at a position where he would not be happy to see the US lead on this. 

“Both countries lost many citizens, but the crime happened over Scottish soil. Primacy has to be decided, but our argument should be the stronger.” 

He added that it was unlikely a Scottish trial would involve a jury and would be more likely to follow the precedent established by the trial of the late Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the only man convicted of the atrocity. 

He and his co-accused, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, who was acquitted, were tried under Scots law in the Netherlands, a neutral third country, by a panel of three Scottish judges without a jury. 

The source said: “Lockerbie was a unique event in Scottish criminal history, and the extraordinary measures taken were partly out of necessity to persuade the accused they would have a fair trial. 

“If there were to be a second trial, it would be very unlikely that ordinary people would be put under pressure to decide a trial involving international terrorism.” 

He added that only two of Scotland’s current crop of High Court judges had no prior involvement with Lockerbie – five are currently considering a posthumous appeal brought by Megrahi’s family – but more judges could be appointed. 

Robert Black QC, Professor Emeritus of Scots Law at Edinburgh University and the architect of the first trial in a neutral country, said that Libya would be far more likely to co-operate with Scotland than the US. 

He said: “There is no way Libya could be seen to send one or more of its citizens to be tried abroad in a country that has the death penalty. 

“There would also be an absolute certainty among Libyans that America would find a way to convict. 

“We did not cover ourselves in glory with the conduct of Megrahi’s trial, with so much evidence that would have helped his case being withheld from the defence, but I still think Libya is more likely to trust Scotland than the US.” 

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora on Pan Am 103 a day short of her 24th birthday, marked the 32nd anniversary last month by saying he was sick of the ‘charade’ of blaming Libya. 

He said: “I have already written to William Barr warning him that if the US persists on pursuing a second trial against Libya for Lockerbie, he’d be as well building a palace on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. It will crumble soon enough.” 

He argued that the International Criminal Court would be the only tribunal that could guarantee a fair trial.  

He added: “Any future prosecution certainly should not be in the hands of US prosecutors. The accused would not get a fair trial, and you cannot have that when the death penalty is likely to follow. 

“The prosecution of Megrahi was a disgrace, but at least he was treated humanely and when diagnosed with advanced cancer, he and his family were shown compassion and he was allowed to go home to his loved ones. 

“The Americans would not have allowed that. 

“Scottish and American prosecutors need to stop posturing. None of the evidence they used against Libya stands up to scrutiny, yet they persist when there is a much stronger case against Iran.” 

The Crown Office said it had no comment to make ‘given that the Scottish criminal investigation is ongoing and there is an appeal before the court in relation to this crime’. 

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Embellishing intelligence reporting to fit a preconceived outcome

[What follows is excerpted from an article by John Holt published today in The Blogs section of the website of The Times of Israel:]

As a former CIA operations officer, I am breaking 20 years of silence about one of the most heinous plane bombings on record, Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. I can now tell you, as I have been telling the CIA and FBI since being interviewed by them in early 2000, that I and many other intelligence officers do not believe that Libya is responsible for the bombing. Iran, as the original evidence clearly showed, is the true perpetrator of this deadly attack and should be brought to justice.

Two weeks ago, just before stepping down as US attorney general, William Barr, who was also AG in 1992 and oversaw the investigation and indictment of the case, announced new charges against a Libyan man known as Masud for supposedly constructing the bomb that detonated on the plane. I believe Barr and the Justice Department announced this new indictment purely for the purpose of shoring up Barr’s original, faulty 1991 indictments.

The evidence and logic in the current case against Mr Masud are as flimsy as the cases were two decades ago when Barr steered focus away from the obvious culprit, Iran.

I know Libya is not behind the bombing because I was the long-time handler for the principal US government witness Abdul Majid Giaka, a Libyan agent who never provided any evidence pointing to Libya or any indication of knowing anything about that nation’s involvement in the two years after the bombing. Yet years later, he testified against the convicted Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, at the Lockerbie bombing (Pan Am 103) trial conducted at The Hague in 2000.

The US Government prevented my testimony and hid from evidence the cables I wrote that proved Giaka knew nothing. When my cables were finally released to the trial at the demand of the defense, the court dismissed Giaka along with the two CIA operations officers sent to the trial to testify to his credibility.

Yet today, the charade continues. The FBI acknowledges they have not even interviewed Mr Masud themselves and are entirely dependent on an 8-year-old statement by an unnamed Libyan police officer from a country in the midst of a devastating civil war. Moreover, Masud had no history or signature for making the type of bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 nor for concealing bombs in Toshiba radios. The PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command) did.

We just observed the 32nd anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am 103. It is time to drop the routine CIA procedure of embellishing intelligence reporting to fit a preconceived outcome rather than following the facts. The families of Pan Am flight 103 victims have suffered long enough and deserve to now be able to rest assured that the real perpetrators of this act of terrorism, Iranian actors, are brought to justice.

I am asking that the case be reexamined due to the availability of evidence against Iran and irregularities in the US government presentation of evidence at the first trial. The son of the man convicted made a similar request. He recently appealed the conviction of his father to the High Court in Scotland. The panel of five judges is currently reviewing the appeal, which was presented in late November 2020.

Now is the time for former Attorney General Barr, who signed the original warrants against Megrahi, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who led the DOJ investigation, to answer some questions: If Libya is truly the culprit, why did the US not indict Libyan intelligence chief Sanussi, who has reportedly been sitting in a Libyan jail since that nation’s revolution in 2011, and would have been in charge of any such high profile operation at the time of the bombing? And why was credible evidence pointing toward Iran ignored, given Iran’s clear motive for the attack as retaliation for the downing of a civilian Iran Air Airbus and its proven capacity to carry out attacks similar to the bombing over Lockerbie? (...) 

A second Scottish Lockerbie trial?

The following short piece by Marcello Mega appears in today's Scottish edition of The Mail on Sunday.
 
click on image for increased legibility

I am sceptical about the likelihood of another Scottish Lockerbie trial. In the first place, extradition of the suspects from Libya is highly unlikely. Secondly the evidential value of the alleged confession by Abu Agila Masud to making the bomb is highly questionable. Before relying upon it in support of an indictment and presenting it in evidence to a court the Scottish prosecutors would require to be satisfied (a) that it was in fact made and (b) that it was not obtained through torture or undue pressure or inducement. The cautionary experience of relying at the Zeist trial on a witness -- Majid Giaka -- supplied and vouched for by the US Department of Justice might indicate to the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office the wisdom of proceeding with great circumspection. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Lockerbie mystery never solved

[This is the headline over an article by Farouk Araie published today in the South African newspaper The Star. It reads as follows:]

Thirty-two years ago Pan Am 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the only man convicted of the worst terrorist crime in UK history. He has proclaimed his innocence and unsuccessfully appealed against his conviction.

A new suspect has been charged 32 years later. Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud is alleged to have built the bomb and worked with Megrahi to carry out the attack.

The case of Megrahi was a complex one since the day he was indicted on 270 counts of murder in November 1991.

Malta has been dogged over the past 32 years by the Lockerbie prosecution’s contention that the bomb responsible for one of the most heinous terrorist acts in history began it’s deadly flight on an Air Malta flight out of Luqa. Many nations have conspired to cover up the true identities of those responsible for planning and executing the Lockerbie crash.

The shocking truth is that Western intelligence agencies were complicit in the murders. From the moment the plane went down, a supposedly impartial investigation was distorted to conceal this dark reality from the victims’ relatives and the public.

Many analysts believe that Megrahi was framed and that the Scottish government was part of the cover-up.

No one in authority has the guts to reveal the truth about the bombing. The British government, in effect, blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his release.

Had the appeal gone to a higher court, new and suppressed evidence would have shown that a fragment of a circuit bomb and bomb timer, discovered in the countryside of Lockerbie, and said to have been in Megrahi’s suitcase, was a plant. A forensic scientist found no trace of an explosion on it. The evidence would demonstrate the impossibility of the bomb beginning its journey at Malta before it was allegedly transferred through two airports undetected to flight 103.

Megrahi’s trial was a politically influenced sham from the start, in which key witnesses were bribed and coached and crucial evidence was tampered with. New witnesses and crucial evidence would have shown that it was impossible for Megrahi to have bought the clothes that were found in the wreckage of Pan Am 103.

The accused was convicted on the word of a Maltese shop owner who claims to have sold him the clothes, then gave a false description of him in 19 separate statements ...

During the course of our lifetime, someday, someone will reveal the ultimate truth.

[RB: The Hogmanay edition of The National covers this story in a report headlined Lockerbie bombing: Western intelligence agencies ‘complicit’ in disaster.]

Monday, 28 December 2020

Campaigners write to Lord Advocate about 'prejudicial' US Lockerbie briefing

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The National. It reads as follows:]

Campaigners who believe that the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was innocent, have written to the Lord Advocate criticising a briefing by the US which they say is prejudicial to the family of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi as they try to clear his name.

The committee of Justice for Megrahi (JfM) – which includes professor Robert Black QC – architect of the Camp Zeist trial that saw Megrahi convicted, and Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing – wrote to James Wolffe QC saying the briefing by outgoing US attorney general William Barr on December 21, its 32nd anniversary, caused “extreme distress” to the bereaved UK families.

Barr said the US had charged a “third conspirator” – Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi – who allegedly acted along with Megrahi and his acquitted co-accused Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, to bring down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.

Scots lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represents the Megrahi family in their appeal, accused Barr of “grandstanding”.

JfM said they agreed with John Mosey – whose daughter died in the bombing – that Barr’s action was, “bizarre, disrespectful, insensitive and extremely ill-considered”.

In their letter to Wolffe, JfM said Barr and others had referred to the Megrahi family appeal, identifying him as an accomplice of the new suspect, along with Fhimah, who was cleared of all charges in the Lockerbie trial.

“We, and many other commentators, consider the statements made by Mr Barr and others, and the contents of the affidavit, to be prejudicial to the Megrahi family’s appeal, and that had they been made in Scotland they would have been deemed to be in contempt of court,” JfM wrote.

“Over many years Justice for Megrahi has, alongside other individuals and groups, consistently raised doubts about Mr Megrahi’s conviction and provided detailed evidence in support of these doubts.

“We have been in regular correspondence with yourself and Crown Office and in 2010 lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament calling for an independent inquiry.

“That petition is still being considered by the Parliament’s Justice Committee.”

They added: “If the American statements are accurate, it would appear that you and Crown Office are closely linked to the American actions and conclusions, as outlined in their briefing and in the affidavit, and have agreed to them.”

JfM asked why Masud was not indicted in Scotland given the disaster happened here; why was a media briefing not held in Scotland and if the Lord Advocate agreed that the briefing should have been held on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing.

“Given that Kara Weipz, president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, was fully briefed on the American enquiry and was present at the briefing, why did Crown Office not ensure that the interests of UK groups like ‘UK Families Flight 103’ were similarly updated and represented?”

JfM asked if Wolffe agreed that statements in the US briefing were prejudicial to the Megrahi family appeal.

They added: “Do you agree that had this media briefing been held in Scotland some of the statements made at it would have been deemed to be in contempt of court?"

Thursday, 24 December 2020

The search for justice goes on and William Barr's actions are unlikely to help

[This is part of the headline over a long article by Kim Sengupta in The Independent. It reads in part:]

With great fanfare, on the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, the US has announced charges against the supposed bomb maker who blew up Pan Am flight 103, the worst act of terrorism in this country, with 270 lives lost.  

One of William Barr’s final acts as Donald Trump’s Attorney General, a deeply controversial tenure, is supposed to fit one of the final pieces of the jigsaw in the hunt for the killers.  

There are historic links between the Lockerbie investigation and the current, turbulent chapter of American politics. Barr was also the Attorney General in 1991, in the George W Bush administration, when charges were laid against two Libyans, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, over the bombing. The inquiry was led at the time by Robert Mueller, the head of the Department of Justice’s criminal division.  

Mueller, of course, became the Special Counsel who examined if Trump was the Muscovian candidate for the White House. Barr was the Attorney General, in his second term in the post, accused of distorting the findings of Mueller’s report to protect Trump from accusations of obstruction of justice, which he denies.  

The charges which have been laid against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, another Libyan, are intrinsically connected to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who is the only person to have been found guilty by a court of the bombing.  

Megrahi is now dead. There are good reasons to hold that the investigation, trial and verdict which brought his conviction were flawed and a miscarriage of justice has taken place. This is a view shared by bereaved families, international jurists, intelligence officers and journalists who had followed the case.  

Last month, an appeal hearing began at the High Court in Edinburgh to posthumously clear Megrahi’s name. This was the third appeal in the attempt to prove that the verdict against him was unsound, with his legal team focusing on the veracity of the prosecution evidence at his trial. 

Much of the case against Masud, a former Libyan intelligence officer, now charged, comes from an alleged confession he made in jail, where he had ended up after the fall of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Masud, according to the FBI, named Megrahi and Fhimah as co-conspirators, who had together manufactured an explosive device using Semtex during a trip to Malta. Masud has said that he had bought the clothing which had been wrapped around the bomb, hidden in a radio-cassette player, before being placed in a Samsonite suitcase which was put on the flight.  

There are two points which are immediately relevant. The same trial which convicted Megrahi had acquitted Fhimah of all charges. And one of the key allegations against Megrahi, which the judges said made them decide on the verdict of guilt, was that it was he who had bought the clothing put around the explosive device.  

These contradictions are among many, big and small, which have marked the official narrative presented by the US and UK authorities of what lay behind the downing of the airliner.  

I went to Lockerbie on the night of the bombing, attended the trial of the two Libyan defendants, and met Megrahi at his home in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where he had been allowed to return after suffering from cancer. I have followed the twists and turns of the case throughout.   

Soon after the downing of the Pan Am flight, American and British security officials began laying the blame on an Iran-Syria axis. The scenario was that Tehran had taken out a contract in revenge for the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner, Iran Air Flight 655, which had been shot down by missiles fired from an American warship, the USS Vincennes, a few months earlier. The theory went that the contract had been taken up by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which specialised in such operations.  

But the blame switched to Libya, then very much a pariah state, around the time Iran and Syria joined the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. Robert Baer, the former American intelligence officer and author, was among those who held that the Iranian sponsored hit was the only plausible explanation for the attack. This was the firm belief held “to a man”, he stated, by his former colleagues in the CIA.  

After years of wrangling, Megrahi, the former head of security at Libyan Airlines and allegedly in the Libyan security service, and Fhimah, allegedly a fellow intelligence officer, were finally extradited in 1999. (...)

The two men were charged with joint enterprise and conspiracy. Yet only Megrahi was found guilty. (...)

So, deprived of finding a partner in crime for Megrahi, the prosecutor switched to claiming, and the judges accepting, that he had conspired with himself.  

The prosecution evidence was circumstantial; details of the bomb timer on the plane were contradictory; and the testimony of a key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper, extremely shaky under cross-examination. Five years on from the trial, the former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmville – who had been responsible for initiating the Lockerbie prosecution – described the witness, Tony Gauci, as “an apple short of a picnic” and “not quite the full shilling”. Gauci was, however, flush in dollars: the Americans paid him for his testimony.  

The performance and evidence of a supposedly prime “CIA intelligence asset”, Abdul Majid Giaka, codenamed “Puzzle Piece” who turned up in a Shirley Bassey wig, was widely viewed as risible. It emerged later that important evidence had not been passed on to the defence lawyers. Ulrich Lumpert, an engineer who testified to the validity of a key piece of evidence, admitted later in an affidavit of lying to the court.  

It has also emerged that Giaka had been described by his CIA handler, John Holt, in an official report as someone who had a “history of making up stories”.

Holt was denied permission to appear at court. Earlier this month he reiterated in an interview that, like his CIA colleagues, he believes the Libyan connection was a concocted red herring and culpability lay with PFLP (GC). "I would start by asking the current Attorney General, William Barr, why he suddenly switched focus in 1991, when he was also Attorney General, from where clear evidence was leading, toward a much less likely scenario involving Libyans”, he said.  

The observer for the UN at the trial, Hans Kochler severely criticised the verdict. Writing later in The Independent, he described a case based on “circumstantial evidence”; the “lack of credibility” of key prosecution witnesses who “had incentives to bear false witness against Megrahi”; the fact that one was paid cash by the Americans; and that “so much key information was withheld from the trial”.    

Robert Black, a law professor born in Lockerbie, who played an important role in organising the Camp Zeist proceedings, later became convinced that a great injustice had taken place, as have many other eminent jurists.  

Some who were in Lockerbie on that terrible night and dealt with the aftermath also felt the same way. Father Patrick Keegans, the parish priest at the time, joined the “Justice for Megrahi” campaign after meeting the convicted man’s family and has backed appeals to clear his name.  

Many members of the bereaved families feel that justice has not been done, among them Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing and became a spokesman for “UK Families 103”.  

When there were objections to the severely ill Megrahi being allowed to return to Tripoli, he pointed out “the scandal around Megrahi is not that a sick man was released, but that he was even convicted in the first place. All I have ever wanted to see is that the people who murdered my daughter are brought to justice.”  

After the charging of Masud, Dr Swire said: “I'm all in favour of whatever he's got to tell us being examined in a court, of course I am. The more people who look at the materials we have available the better.”  

He wanted to stress: “There are only two things that we seek, really. One is the question of why those lives were not protected in view of all the warnings and the second is: what does our government and the American government really know about who is responsible for murdering them.”  

Some bereaved families have criticised the presentation and motivation of the US move. The State Department had sent an invitation for livestreaming of the event.  

Reverend John Mosey, who lost his 19-year-old daughter Helga in the bombing, said the “timing and particularly the choice of this specific day, which is special to many of us, to be bizarre, disrespectful, insensitive and extremely ill considered”. He added: “Why exactly, when the Attorney General is about to leave office, has he waited 32 years to bring charges?”  

Behind the controversy over who carried out the attack, the political manoeuvres and legal actions, lay the human tragedy of Lockerbie, a scene which is difficult to forget, even after three decades, for many of us who went there.  (...)

There is also the memory of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, at his home in Tripoli in 2012. He lay in his bed attached to a drip, on red sheets stained by dark splashes of blood he had coughed up. An oxygen mask covered his skeletal face; his body twitched as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He was in the advanced stages of cancer: medicine he desperately needed had been plundered by looters; the doctors who had been treating him had fled. He died a few months later.  

The bitter accusations and recriminations over Lockerbie are unlikely to cease. But the search for justice for this terrible act of violence which took so many lives, and caused so much pain and grief, continues to remain elusive among the secrets and lies. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Libyan Interior Minister calls for formation of "legal-political" team to defend Libya in Lockerbie case

[What follows is the English language text of a report published today in Arabic on the website of the Libya 24 television station:]

The Minister of the Interior of the Interim Government, Ibrahim Bushnaf, called for the formation of a legal and political team with knowledge of the law and international relations to defend Libya, after voices rose in the United States of America to reopen the Lockerbie case file.

Bushnaf explained that the aim of reopening the case is to seize Libyan resources, considering that the issue is urgent and must be worked on quickly away from political positions.

He pointed out that the issue was settled politically in the past, and Libya at the time endured the actions of its subordinates on the civil side, indicating that the current request wants to drag Libya into political responsibility, saying: “Falling into this slope will make Libya more permissible than it is now.” [RB: Google Translate renders this quote as "This slippage will make Libya more oppressive than it is now."]

He indicated that criminal responsibility will result in political responsibility, and thus future generations will be shackled to their burdens, pointing out that Libya has suffered from the ravages of the siege because of this issue.

Monday was the 32nd anniversary of the bombing of the American plane in 1988, over the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, when it was on a flight from London to New York, which killed 270 people, and Libya was accused at the time of masterminding the incident.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

The enduring scandal of al-Megrahi’s conviction

[Don't call this a conspiracy theory is the heading over a letter published in The Times today. It reads as follows:]

Sir, Magnus Linklater (“Why I cannot believe Lockerbie conspiracies”, Scottish edition, Dec 21) has cast as conspiracy theorists those of us who believe that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. Yet in making his case he is guilty of a common failing of conspiracy theorists — misrepresenting certain facts and sidestepping others. He suggests that we believe that a fragment of circuit board was substituted for the one that implicated al-Megrahi and Libya. Had he read my biography of al-Megrahi he would know that I knocked down that claim. He would also know that I set out the scientific evidence — much of which had been produced by prosecution experts — that disproved the prosecution’s central claim that the fragment originated from a batch of timers that was supplied to Libya. Mr Linklater also ignores powerful evidence, most of which was unavailable to al-Megrahi’s trial judges, that the Lockerbie bomb began its journey at Heathrow, rather than, as the prosecution claimed, at Luqa airport, Malta. The enduring scandal of al-Megrahi’s conviction is that the prosecution failed to release numerous items of exculpatory evidence to the defence. Whether that was a result of a cock-up or a conspiracy is moot. What matters is that al-Megrahi was denied a fair trial.

John Ashton

Author, Megrahi: You Are my Jury

Monday, 21 December 2020

US charges third suspect in 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland

[This is the headline over a report just published on the website of The Washington Post. It reads in part:]

The Justice Department on Monday announced it had charged a suspected participant in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people and is considered one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in US history.

Abu Agila Mas’ud was charged in a criminal complaint with helping make the bomb used in the attack, Attorney General William P Barr said at a news conference. Barr said the operation was ordered by the leadership of Libyan intelligence, and that then-Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi personally thanked Mas’ud for his work.

“At long last, this man, responsible for killing Americans and many others, will be subject to justice for his crimes,” Barr said.

The charges were unsealed on the anniversary of the attack, which brought down a flight from London bound for New York. (...)

Mas’ud has been on US and foreign law enforcement’s radar since at least 2015, when a three-part series on PBS’s “Frontline” named potential suspects. US prosecutors had decades earlier charged two others in the case: Libyan intelligence operative Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and his alleged accomplice Lamen Khalifa Fhimah. At the time, Barr was serving his first stint as attorney general under President George H W Bush.

Barr said a breakthrough came when law enforcement learned in 2016 that Mas’ud had been arrested after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and interviewed in 2012. Though Mas’ud remains in Libyan custody, authorities turned over that interview to law enforcement, who used it to build a case, Barr said.

Acting DC US Attorney Michael Sherwin said Mas’ud described his role and the role of his conspirators. He said travel records also showed Mas’ud traveling from Tripoli to Malta around the same time as his co-conspirators.

It’s unclear what the likelihood is of the United States taking Mas’ud into custody for trial. Barr said he was optimistic that Libyan authorities would turn him over. (...)

The case has long vexed federal law enforcement. Libya resisted extraditing the charged men to the United States for years, and in response, the United Nations and the United States imposed stiff economic sanctions and penalties on the country.

In 1999, Libya agreed to an unusual arrangement to turn the men over to be put on trial in the Netherlands before Scottish judges. Megrahi, who maintained his innocence, was convicted and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison, while his co-defendant Fhimah was acquitted.

In 2009, Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison on medical grounds after a prostate cancer diagnosis, and he returned home to a hero’s welcome in Libya. He died three years after his release.

[RB: The US Department of Justice press release can be read here; and the US Attorney General's speech here.

As far as Scotland is concerned, the Lord Advocate has issued a statement today which reads as follows:]

“For 32 years the families of the 270 people murdered in this atrocity have shown extraordinary and enduring dignity in the face of the loss they suffered on the terrible night of 21 December 1988. Today, our thoughts are with them once again.

“Scottish prosecutors and police have had a long-established and strong working relationship with US law enforcement agencies throughout this investigation.

“This relationship will continue to be important as the investigation progresses with the shared goal of bringing all those who committed this atrocity to justice.

“Scottish prosecutors will continue to work with US colleagues but we will not comment in detail on today’s announcement given that the Scottish criminal investigation is ongoing and there is an appeal before the court in relation to this crime.” 

[RB: A statement from Chief Constable Iain Livingstone reads as follows:]

“This announcement by the US Department of Justice is a significant development for the families of the victims, and my thoughts remain with them, particularly today, the 32nd anniversary of the bombing.

“Since 1988, policing in Scotland has been committed to carrying out the largest terrorist investigation ever undertaken in this country. Police Scotland will continue to work closely on this investigation, under the direction of the Crown Office, with our American law enforcement colleagues and other international partners.

“As judicial proceedings continue in Scotland, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Go on, Mr Barr, surprise us with more lies

[This is the headline over an article by Libyan journalist and author Dr Mustafa Fetouri. I am grateful to him for allowing me to publish it here.]

Whatever the United States Attorney General, William Barr, plans to throw in our faces around 15:30 GMT today he will find us patiently waiting for his Hollywood-like bang that usually precedes the release of any new action movie. Except this time we have already seen the movie and it is hardly new!

Those who have been closely following the Lockerbie tragedy, like victims’ families, lawyers and independent observers like me already know what is coming tomorrow, is another unreliable, arbitrary and groundless accusations targeting new one or two Libyans as being culprits in the tragedy—continuation of the twisted Lockerbie narrative the US has been very good at alas with little success.

Whatever William Barr will throw at the world tomorrow will be much about lying and far less about the truth which his department, government and the UK authorities has made as elusive as ever. Yet it has been very obvious for last 32 years.

Libya today is so weak and chaotic. This means it is susceptible to blackmail even by its own criminal gangs and armed militias, as is the case everyday, let alone by imperialist hegemonic superpowers like the US. Let’s remember here that Mr. Barr’s own government, and more than 30 others, made sure in 2011 that Libya will never be viable independent state ever again.

Even worse Libya’s own so called Government of National Accord (GNA), the only one recognized by the United Nations, lacks any patriotic credentials and viewed, by the majority of Libyans, as a gang imposed on them by the West in a UN package.

Most GNA politicians, and those rivalling it in the east of the country, know very little about the Lockerbie bombing. On top of that they do not want anything to do with it. We have seen GNA defunded the defence team and I have firsthand account of how that happened and why.

GNA knew, long ago, that the third appeal was coming and it has great chances of succeeding in throwing out AL-Meghahi’s 2001 guilty verdict. While the lawyers stood at the court’s door GNA betrayed them by refusing to resume funding despite its repeated promises. This is actually against Libya’s domestic laws which oblige the government to help, financially, citizens abroad, should they face legal issues.

After Al-Meghrahi’s legal team launched their his appeal, posthumously, I started writing about the case in Arabic, the only Libyan journalist so far, I have been warned off at least twice and I risk being harmed once I return to Libya.

After the defence lawyers setup crowd funding page, I tried to do the same inside Libya but could not. Privately I have received hundreds of message from ordinary Libyan willing to help but I could not do anything really! It is not only GNA’s stooges that prevented me but also the financial and administrations issues it has failed to tackle in the country. Banks, for example, do not have cash in a country where other payment systems or credit cards unheard of. I could not publically announce funding campaign inside Libya except on my social media accounts.

On top of that some GNA linked individuals and supporters have been prejudiced towards my Facebook posts when I write about Lockerbie— something I do extensively nowadays.

I consider the entire country as victim of the Lockerbie tragedy. To me the case is much bigger than Gaddafi and Al-Meghrahi, both dead now, but the scars of Lockerbie still with every Libyan just as they are still with the families of the 270 innocent people who died in the tragedy. It is about Libya, its people and the injustice done to them.

The entire 6 million-plus Libyans paid heavily, in one way or another, as a result of crippling economic sanctions and ban of air travel imposed on them, for over ten years, in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing.

Gaddafi, however villain many see him, was a patriotic proud man full of dignity and love for his country and despite being the weakest link in the international power game he always maintained his self esteem and that of his people.

Today Gaddafi is gone and whatever legacy he left behind, at least as strong dignified leader to many, is being wiped out or distorted by western stooges, criminals, double agents, traitors, and outright terrorists he once kept at bay making Libya one of the safest countries in the most troubled parts of the world. To those who do not know Libya, this sounds like cheap nostalgic outburst but in fact it sums up the feelings of most of my fellow Libyans.

No wonder the majority of Libyans, including Gaddafi’s staunchest enemies, never dispute his loyalty to Libya nor his protection of its citizens and sovereignty.

Today Libya not only lacks strong and independent leadership but lacks the fundamentals of the normally functioning state courtesy, in part, of Mr. Barr’s government.

Most of those in power in Tripoli know very little about Lockerbie bombing and those few who know prefer to see Libya continue to be synonymous to the tragedy as if that is a victory for them against a murdered man –Gaddafi!

Mr Barr, on his way out of the justice department, maybe seeking to create false feeling of heroism, to chew on in his retirement.

Instead he is about to destroy another Libyan family and anger some victims’ families by intruding on their grief on the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing.

His announcement, in couple of hours, is no more than yet another attempt to divert the search as away as possible from the truth we all seek.

[RB: A version of this article has now been published in The National.]