Thursday, 13 September 2018

In memoriam: Robert Forrester

On 22nd March 2018 Justice for Megrahi (JfM) lost a valued supporter and friend.

Robert Forrester brought intellect, skill and enthusiasm to his role as JfM Secretary. We will miss his unique talents and personality and are left with a deep and profound sense of loss.

Over the years many of us had heard Robert express his determination to be buried in Highgate Cemetery in London beside his hero, Karl Marx. Many saw this as a wish unlikely to be fulfilled.

We should have known better. On Friday 31st August members of our committee joined with family and friends in celebrating his unique life at the interment of his ashes at Highgate Cemetery in the shadow of a large bronze bust of Marx's head and shoulders set on a magnificent marble plinth.

In true Robert style this unique ceremony took place with the music of a jazz band reverberating around the gravestones and tombs of Highgate’s great and good and somehow this musical invasion appeared completely appropriate in this haunting sepulchral place.

At the gathering afterwards we joined his family, friends and students he had taught over the years. We shared memories, laughter and tears as we followed Robert’s journeys and adventures as he travelled in the Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Italy and China before returning home to Scotland.

Robert’s work for Justice for Megrahi should never be underestimated and will remain as a fitting memorial to him. He brought a range of unique talents and a deep sense of justice into play as we worked to uncover the duplicity and deceit behind the system’s efforts to cover up the truth about the Lockerbie tragedy and to remove this massive stain on Scottish Justice.

We wish you could have remained with us to see the results of your work, Robert, but will always be thankful that our paths crossed albeit for too short a time.
JfM Committee: 12 September 2018 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

In the path of terrorists

[This is the heading over an article by Maltese journalist (now magistrate) Joe Mifsud published on website on this date in 2000, during the course of the trial at Camp Zeist. It reads as follows:]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a)  on the ground at Luqa as a result of mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert, air traffic control or any other reason;

b)  by being diverted away from Frankfurt for any of the reasons at above;

c)  above Frankfurt as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights (as in fact happened);

d)  by missing the interline connection at Frankfurt as a result of the bomb suitcase being lost, mishandled or detected in the course of x-ray or baggage reconciliation procedures;

e)  on the ground at Frankfurt for any of the reasons at (a) above;

f)  by being diverted away from Heathrow for any of the reasons at (a) above;

g)  above Heathrow as a result of air traffic control delays for incoming flights;

h)  by missing the interline connection at Heathrow for any of the reasons at (d) above;

i)   on the ground at Heathrow as a result of the connecting transatlantic aircraft being delayed, mechanical failure, poor weather, security alert or any other reason.

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

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

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

Joe Mifsud is currently following the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist for ONE News and Kullhadd.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

The Crown and the CIA

[This is the headline over an article authored by me that was published on this date in 2000 on website which Ian Ferguson and I ran during the period of the Zeist trial and first appeal. It reads as follows:]

When the trial resumed on Tuesday 22 August [2000], the defence teams complained to the Court that they had just learned the previous day that certain CIA cables relating to the Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, which they had thought had been made available to both the prosecution and the defence only in a censored or redacted form, had in fact been seen by members of the prosecution team on 1 June 2000 in uncensored or unredacted form.  The defence contended that the principle of equality of arms enshrined in article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights required that the defence should have similar access to this material.  The Crown opposed the defence's application.  They conceded that it is the duty of a Scottish prosecutor to supply to the defence any material available to the prosecution which advances the defence case or is relevant to a defence attack on the credibility of a prosecution witness. However, in the course of the Crown's lengthy submissions, it was stated by the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, that the deletions from the versions of the cables supplied to the defence related only to matters which were (a) irrelevant both to the facts in issue in the Lockerbie trial and to the credibility of the witness Majid Giaka or (b) related to sensitive matters of United States national security.  Indeed, it was for the purpose of ensuring that the Crown were in a position to fulfil their disclosure obligations that members of the Crown team inspected the unredacted cables on 1 June.  To quote the Lord Advocate:

"First of all, they considered whether or not there was any information behind the redactions which would undermine the Crown case in any way.  Secondly, they considered whether there was anything which would appear to reflect on the credibility of Mr Majid.  They also considered whether was anything which might bear upon the special defences which had been lodged and intimated in this case.

"On all of these matters, the learned at Advocate Depute reached the conclusion that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the Defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special defence... 

"There is nothing within these documents which relate to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid on these matters."

The Court was unimpressed by the arguments of the Lord Advocate and instructed him to use his best endeavours to secure the release by the CIA to the defence of the unredacted or uncensored cables. 

These cables were in due course made available to the defence, and on Tuesday 29 August various excerpts from them were read out in open court by defence counsel in an attempt to convince the judges that further CIA cables relating to Giaka should be made available to the defence, if necessary by means of a request by the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist to the appropriate Federal Court in the United States of America for an order compelling the CIA to disgorge the relevant material.  The Court, wishing to avoid the delays which would necessarily be caused by any recourse to the American courts, has instructed the Lord Advocate again to use his best endeavours to secure the release by the CIA of these additional cables.  Only if he is unsuccessful will the Scottish Court reluctantly consider the option of a formal request through the American courts. 

The previously blacked-out passages read out to the Court from the cables now in the hands of the defence indicated that, as at 1 September 1989 (more than eight months after the destruction of Pan Am 103), Giaka's CIA handlers were highly critical of him and of the lack of important information supplied by him.  He is described in the now-revealed portions of the cables as a man in the business of selling information for his own benefit; as someone who will never have the penetration of Libyan intelligence services that had been anticipated; as someone who had never been a true member of Libyan intelligence; and as someone whose CIA salary of $1000 per month should be cut off if he supplied no significant information.  It seems to be the natural inference from this that, by 1 September 1989, Giaka had still not informed his CIA masters that his Libyan colleagues in Malta had been responsible for the Lockerbie bombing: if he had done so, it is difficult to see how these criticisms of his value and of the worth of the information supplied by him could conceivably been made. 

But apart altogether from that, if the excerpts read out in court on Tuesday 29 August and summarised in the preceding paragraph accurately reflect passages from the cables which had been blacked out from the versions originally supplied to the defence, it is somewhat difficult to appreciate how it could possibly have been accurate or justifiable for the Crown to state to the Court on Tuesday 22 August that the redacted or censored portions within the documents contained nothing "which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid."

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A mosaic of supposition and surmise

[What follows is a short excerpt from a profile of special prosecutor Robert Mueller published in today's edition of the Sunday Herald:]

In 1982, he became an assistant US attorney in Boston, investigating and prosecuting major cases that ranged from terrorist to public corruption. He then had spells as partner in law firms or in public service. In July 1990, he took over the criminal division of the US Department of Justice.

In his book Enemies: A History of the FBI, author Tim Weiner says FBI agents “instinctively liked [Mueller], despite his aristocratic demeanour ... [He] had a sharp mind, a first-rate temperament, and a high regard for well-crafted cases ... [He] was a born leader”.

One of the cases that fell to him was the investigation into the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. Weiner says that at that time, the investigation was “a mosaic of supposition and surmise ... Someone needed to take charge”. Mueller quickly put FBI Special Agent Richard Marquise, who had been involved with the case from the outset, in full charge of it now, tasking him with turning intelligence into evidence.

Intelligence began to be shared much more widely and diligently, and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was charged and convicted.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Kofi Annan and Lockerbie

The obituary of Kofi Annan in today's edition of The Guardian contains the following paragraph: 

'He was by nature a conciliator, a “diplomat’s diplomat”. But he also had the courage of his convictions and stuck to his guns even when powerful UN members urged retreat. A notable example was his intervention in Baghdad in 1998 to defuse a crisis over UN arms inspections in Iraq, where he went ahead with negotiations, against strong pressure from Washington to stay away; and he spoke out against the US invasion of 2003. Similarly, he defied Britain and the US when he negotiated with Libya to end a security council stalemate over the Lockerbie bombing.'

My own perception of that period, as someone peripherally involved, is that Kofi Annan's office found the negotiating with the United Kingdom and the United States much more difficult and taxing than negotiating with Libya. Here is something that I wrote some years ago:

'Although the British proposal [for a Scottish non-jury court to sit in the Netherlands] was announced in late August 1998, it was not until 5 April 1999 that the two suspects actually arrived in the Netherlands for trial before the Scottish court.  Why the delay?  The answer is that some of the fine print in the two documents [that set out the details of the proposal] was capable of being interpreted, and was in fact interpreted, by the Libyan defence team (now chaired by Mr Kamel Hassan Maghur as successor to Dr Legwell) and the Libyan government as having been deliberately designed to create pitfalls to entrap them.  And since the governments of the United Kingdom and United States resolutely refused to have any direct contact with either the Libyan government or the Libyan defence lawyers -- their attitude being that the scheme had been advanced on a “take it or leave it basis” and that no negotiations would be entered in to -- these concerns could be dealt with only through an intermediary, namely the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan (or, in practice, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations, Hans Corell).   This meant that issues that could have been thrashed out and settled in a matter of a few hours in a face-to-face meeting took weeks and months to resolve.  The US government, particularly the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, took every available opportunity to accuse the Libyan government and lawyers of stalling and trying to wriggle out of the assurances they had given over the years to support a “neutral venue” trial.  My own clear impression, however, through my continuing contacts with the Libyans, was that if anyone was looking for pretexts to avoid a trial ever taking place, it was the US and UK governments.'

Saturday, 18 August 2018

A huge mushroom cloud appeared...

[Today's edition of The Herald features a long article about Sergeant Colin Dorrance who, as an 18-year-old rookie police officer, was one of the first members of the emergency services on the scene when Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie. The following are excerpts:]

At ten to six, as he was driving into Lockerbie his life took a different turn. [RB: His recollection of the time is faulty: the plane fell on Lockerbie at around 7.05 pm.]

“A huge mushroom cloud appeared about half a mile ahead of me," Colin said.

"There was black smoke billowing across the road obscuring the view.”

At first he thought was there may have been been a chemical explosion on the M74.

The blast seemed to be in the direction of the motorway where ironically that week, he and other greenhorns had been training in how to tackle a hazardous chemicals incident.

Or maybe the petrol station had exploded?

It was a while before the dust settled. Confusion reigned as he reached Rosebank Crescent – houses had been struck by parts of the plane’s fuselage, including one which had had its side wall sheared off, exposing the cosy living rooms.

Lockerbie’s fire crew was at Sherwood Crescent, on the other side of the railway line – where whole families had perished and the wing of the plane, had torn a crater in the road.

“We didn’t have the communications we had now," he said. "Some of us had FM-style walkie-talkies, but there weren’t even many of them - they were only issued to people when they went on duty.”

Police and emergency services tried to coordinate a response, still not sure knowing what they were dealing with. A crashed training flight, or a mid-air collision, perhaps?

“At 7.40pm an officer found luggage labels and it became clear it had been a Boeing, bound for JFK airport, from Heathrow,” he added.

Colin cancelled his leave. Colin knew to secure the area, minimising the risk of further casualties. He knew the rules on the handling of evidence. (...)

Later that evening he would be back at his old school of Lockerbie Academy – his knowledge of the building invaluable as it became the nerve centre of emergency responders.

But the horror of that night is brought into sharp focus by one memory. As he stood outside the Town Hall, which had been converted into a makeshift morgue, a farmer pulled up with wreckage from the 747 in his trailer.

It had been strewn across over his land and didn’t know what to do with it.

In the passenger seat was something else he had found. A child, less than five years old.

“I don’t even know now whether it was a boy or a girl," he said. "He or she was unmarked but plainly dead.”

As the farmer disappeared into the night, Sergeant Dorrance cradled the child and walked into the Town Hall. It was the first body to be placed in the 'mortuary'. (...)

One legacy has been better support for those on the ground at such tragedies.

“At the time there was no counselling. There was no structure for it. It was a learning ground for the police,” he said.

The Lockerbie bombing has bookended his career in a remarkable way.

His 30 year term of service up this summer, he has just retired. Meanwhile his son, Andrew, has just returned from New York State, the second of Colin’s children to do so.

On December 21,1988, 35 students from Syracuse University perished in the disaster above Lockerbie. A scholarship scheme, set up in the wake of the terrorist outrage, has led to strong and enduring links between the University and the Scottish border town. (...)

In 1994, Colin was transferred to Lockerbie, where he lived in a police house close to Sherwood Crescent and started a family. The double-glazing of his home was still pockmarked from the explosion, but it wasn’t until his daughter Claire applied for the scholarship programme that his interest in the bombing was reawakened.

“It was important to me that she understood what had been lost,” Colin said, but in fact he had insulated himself from those same questions. “It reawakened an interest in what had taken place, for me.” Claire’s involvement also alerted Syracuse University to him.

“It dawned on them that I was someone who knew an awful lot about the crash and could add to their social history. I’m like the old lady in Titanic,” he said.

The university dispatched researchers to speak to him.

“I found it really fulfilling and quite rewarding to understand what happened on the lives of people in the aftermath,” he says.

And Colin is still involved. This autumn, to commemorate its 30th anniversary of the plane crash, he and representatives of Lockerbie Academy, fire and ambulance services and the RAF search and rescue, will cycle to Syracuse, in time to take part in the University’s remembrance week in November.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The dark past of special prosecutor Robert Mueller

[This is part of the headline over an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website. What follows is the section of the article devoted to the Lockerbie case:]
Robert Mueller was assistant attorney general in the United States in 1991 when indictments were issued for the two Libyan suspects, Megrahi and Al-amin Khalifa Fimah. At the Zeist trial in 2001, Fimah was found NOT guilty but Megrahi was found guilty.
During the indictment speech, Mueller explained the importance of PT/35(b), a small fragment of a circuit timer that was allegedly found among the debris of Pan Am 103 near the town of Lockerbie.
PT/35(b) was the key piece of evidence of the Lockerbie Case. As Richard Marquise (FBI Agent who led the US side of the investigation and reported directly to Mueller) himself said:  “Without PT/35(b), there would have been no indictment.”
This fragment was eventually matched to a timer (MST-13) discovered among the weapons and material seized from rebels after an attempted coup in Togo on 23rd September 1986.
This MST-13 had been manufactured by the Swiss company MEBO and supplied “solely” to Libya.
Today, we know that PT/35(b) is a forgery. We also know that at least one witness was well aware that PT/35(b) could not have been part of the MST-13 timers delivered to Libya and that this witness deliberately withheld  this information from the court.
But back in 1992, it would appear that some folks at the Crown office had their own doubts…
Following submission of the Police Report (section 30.0 dealing with PT/35b to the Crown), it was requested that certain further tests which had earlier been carried out on the fragment also be performed on the control sample [ DP/347(a)] of MST-13 circuit board.
Five tests were carried out in the period from 28 February 1992 to 6 March 1992. The conclusion of the report states that none of the scientists would say conclusively that PT/35(b) and DP/347(a) were specifically the same material or from the same source.
In fact, all these scientists had pointed out correctly various methods to establish that PT/35(b) was NOT similar to the control sample of the timers delivered to Libya.
At that point in time, it would have been scientifically straightforward to demonstrate that PT/35(b) — the key piece of evidence linking Libya to Lockerbie — was a forgery.
But nothing was done and a few weeks later — on 31 March 1992 — the UN Security Council passed resolution 748 imposing mandatory sanctions on Libya for failing to hand over Megrahi and Fhimah.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Abdelbaset Megrahi and Oscar Slater

"Since 31 January 2001 -- the day the guilty verdict against Abdelbaset Megrahi was announced by the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist –- I have made no secret of my belief in his innocence. His conviction, on the evidence led at the trial, was nothing short of astonishing. It constitutes, in my view, the worst miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a Scottish criminal court since the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 for the murder of Marion Gilchrist."

These words were published by me on this blog on 26 October 2008 (and republished here on 26 October 2014). Today Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer has posted on his Intel Today website a fascinating article entitled Miscarriages of Justice — The Stunning Similarities of Oscar Slater & Abdelbaset Megrahi Trials. In it he points out startling parallels between the Slater and Megrahi cases, many of which came as a surprise to me even though I have studied both cases closely!

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Lockerbie secret files

[What follows is a section headed Lockerbie Secret Files from an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website:]

Until this week, we knew of two secret sets of Lockerbie files. The first is the so-called Lockerbie X file. This set of docs deal with Major McKee, CIA Matt Gannon — and others US personal — who died on Pan Am 103. IT probably also deals with the large amount of cash and drugs recovered from the crash site as well as the presence of US explosives illegally carried by the civilian airliner. It is unlikely that this file was updated in 1992-93.

RELATED POST: FBI PSA : “Think Before You Post” — FLASHBACK : “The Helsinki Warning”

We also knew from the SCCRC Report that the two secret letters (under PII) were sent by the King of Jordan to John Major in September 1996.

I have already explained that the SCCRC findings clearly suggest the content of this letter. The reasoning of the SCCRC implies  that these “SECRET Letters” point to the PFLP-GC having received – one way or another – at least one MST-13 timer. (Whether this allegation is true or false is yet another story.)

The SCCRC concluded that if these documents had been made available to the defence, the judges could not have reached some of the conclusions that were necessary to convict Megrahi.


RELATED POST: The Lockerbie Secret Doc: Khreesat and the Swiss

The undisclosed 1992-93 Lockerbie file from the Prime Minister almost certainly deals with yet another aspect of this extraordinary scandal.

[RB: The introduction preceding the section reproduced above, and the remaining sections of the article, headed Dr Richard Fuisz & the TEREX Affair and Why Hiding the 1992 Lockerbie File? should also be read.]

Friday, 27 July 2018

Lockerbie talk by Dr Morag Kerr

Dr Morag Kerr will be giving a talk on the Lockerbie case on Friday, 3 August 2018 at 7pm at the Yes Hub - Edinburgh South, 31 Lasswade Road, Edinburgh EH16 6TD. This is a revised and expanded version of a talk given by Dr Kerr on 17 June 2015.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Cabinet Office refuses to disclose why Lockerbie file not released

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Richard Norton-Taylor headlined Top secret: why is the government intent on keeping us in the dark? published in The Guardian today:]

The Cabinet Office should be forced to release archive files on past events such as the Lockerbie bombing and the arms-to-Iraq inquiry

More than 700 government files, some classified top secret, were released to the public this week at the National Archives in Kew. Selecting what is opened up in this biannual event (documents are held secret under what is known as the “30-year rule”, although that is gradually being reduced to 20 years), however, seems to be entirely random. Apart, that is, from obvious efforts by the Cabinet Office to get some easy headlines. (...)

Most of the files released on Tuesday have passages or whole pages redacted by assiduous Whitehall weeders. The full list of files carefully scrutinised shows that many entire files have been retained, some temporarily, most indefinitely.

They include files from the 1980s and early 1990s on Cyprus, on biological and chemical weapons policy, and on “developments in the European Community”.

Files that have been withheld cover topics such as John Major’s visit to Oman and Saudi Arabia in 1993; plans to close Gibraltar’s dockyard; immigration rules; “arms sales and military assistance to Middle East countries”; and subversion in the UK in 1968. They include a 1963 report on “Unavowable Information Services of Her Majesty’s Government Overseas”, and a 1966 report on “Enquiries about the background of people coming into contact with ministers”.

Curiously, a report on a visit by the US president Richard Nixon to Britain in 1970 has been retained for 56 years. A file dated 1992-93 on the Lockerbie bombing, the Pan Am disaster of 1988, has also been withheld. (...)

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the release of the records at the National Archives, declined to comment on the record when I asked, specifically, why files on the Scott inquiry and Lockerbie were being withheld. Whitehall’s traditional response when asked about archives is to point to the statute that allows government departments to keep back files relating to security, defence, international relations and personal data relating to living individuals.

It is not quite like that. For there is one section of the (inappropriately named) Public Records Act 1958 that gives Whitehall carte blanche in deciding what files to release and what to retain. Under section 3(4) of the act, Whitehall departments can hold on to documents indefinitely for “administrative purposes” or “for any other special reason”. The department concerned informs the minister responsible for the archives, the culture, media and sports secretary, now Jeremy Wright. He appoints an advisory council (whose members include a former top Ministry of Defence official and former British ambassador). That body has not had the inclination, and the staff of the National Archives have not had the clout, to argue with Whitehall departments, and in particular the Cabinet Office, the powerful bastion of official secrecy at the heart of government. Until and unless they do, or the act is reformed, we will continue to be prevented from knowing about, and learning from, our recent history.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Could Megrahi have been retried in the United States?

[What follows is excerpted from an editorial in today's edition of The New York Sun headlined Julian Assange's Jeopardy:]

What comes next for Julian Assange after his years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy at London? Glenn Greenwald has a report on the Intercept suggesting that eviction from his current sanctuary is imminent and that if he leaves, Wikileaks’ founder could face a year or more in prison at Britain as he maneuvers to avoid extradition to America. It strikes us as a thorough report, save for the omission of any mention of the case known as United States v Alvarez-Machain.

That case, decided in 1992, could prove to be a precedent were America simply to seize Mr. Assange and bring him here without resort to any extradition treaty. The first of the several times we've written about Alvarez-Machain was in connection with the Libyan terrorist Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, who’d been released early from the prison sentence he was serving for murder in the bombing in 1988 of a Pan American clipper, Maid of the Seas, in which 270 persons perished over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Al-Megrahi, suffering from cancer, was let out of prison so he could go home to live out his remaining days in Libya. It struck us that President Obama could have sent agents to seize him and bring him to America for trial. That’s because of the way the courts handled Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican physician who allegedly participated in the murders of an American drug enforcement agent, Enrique Camarena Salazar, and a DEA pilot.

Dr Alvarez-Machain’s role in the crime, the DEA believed, was, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist later put it, to have “participated in the murder by prolonging Agent Camarena’s life so that others could further torture and interrogate him.” So the doctor was snatched in Mexico and brought to America in a small, fast plane and arrested when it landed. This infuriated Mexico, not to mention Dr Alvarez-Machain.

When it got to the Supreme Court, though, the justices cast aside the objections. It noted that the Supreme Court had once blocked the prosecution of a defendant brought to America from England for a crime not covered by our extradition treaty with Britain. Its reasoning, though, was simply that once the United States had begun proceedings under the extradition treaty, it was obligated to stick to its terms.

More relevant to Dr Alvarez-Machain, the justices decided, was an 1886 case in which a thief who’d fled to Peru was brought back here by what the court called the “forcible abduction” by a Pinkerton agent. The court allowed proceedings against the thief — it rejected his claims to rights under the extradition law — precisely because the extradition law had been skirted. Though Dr Alavarez-Machain was eventually acquitted, the precedent can’t bode well for Mr. Assange.

[RB: The possibility that Mr Megrahi might be kidnapped or "rendered" from Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and put on trial in the United States was raised by various commentators in 2011. My view was that the courts of the United States were barred, under American law, from accepting any such case. Here is something that I wrote at the time:]

In the light of suggestions that have been made over the past few months by American officials and commentators that the United States might wish to have Abdelbaset Megrahi handed over to the United States for retrial in America, it is perhaps worthwhile to consider some of the legal problems that would be faced in bringing this about.

As I said in a blog post on 6 March 2011:

"The United States Government, along with that of the United Kingdom, proposed the UN Security Council resolutions that set up the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist. Both governments thereby undertook internationally binding obligations to comply with the legal processes thus set in motion. The United States cannot lawfully renounce those obligations either unilaterally or in conjunction with whatever new government it chooses to recognise in Libya. To have Abdelbaset Megrahi lawfully handed over to the US would require a further UN Security Council resolution. The United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council could, of course, propose such a resolution. But would the other members support it? The US could also, naturally, simply ignore international legality (as it did, with the UK's supine support, in launching the invasion of Iraq) and seize Megrahi by force (with or without the connivance of a new Libyan regime)." 

Furthermore, the Constitution of the United States, provides (art VI, clause 2): "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land". This means that the binding international obligation entered into by the United States in respect of the Lockerbie trial precludes any US court from trying Megrahi since that would be a breach of the international agreement regarding Lockerbie jurisdiction which the US itself co-sponsored. 

Moreover, during the Camp Zeist trial, US government lawyers sat amongst the prosecutors and when their presence was questioned the Crown Office responded that the Lord Advocate could select whomsoever he chose to form part of the prosecution team. It can be strongly argued that this active participation by United States officials, as part of the prosecution team, in a trial which the US co-sponsored, personally bars (estops) the US from instituting its own national criminal proceedings.

As mentioned above, the US could sponsor a new UN Security Council resolution permitting it to retry Megrahi. But is there any realistic prospect of such a resolution being passed? The United States could also seek to pass internal US legislation permitting a retrial. But, in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution amending the existing ones, would not any such legislation be liable to be struck down under art VI clause 2 of the Constitution?

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

"Low profile" warning to Americans dates back to Lockerbie

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined The US embassy in the UK is telling Americans to “keep a low profile” during Trump’s visit published yesterday on the Vox website:]

The US Embassy in London is warning Americans to “keep a low profile” when President Donald Trump visits the UK from July 12 to 14.

Here’s why: Protesters who disagree with the US president’s policies are planning to stage multiple demonstrations during Trump’s trip. Most are set to take place on July 13, when Trump meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth.

And while this might sound extreme, it’s actually not. There are two reasons why.

“There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the alert. We send these out all the time,” Courtney Austrian, a spokesperson for the US mission in London, told me.

That practice dates back to 1998 [RB: this should, of course, be 1988], when a terrorist blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in an incident now known as the Lockerbie bombing. (The plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.) There were allegations afterward that the US government told employees it had intelligence of a terrorist attempt, which prompted officials to change their flight plans. It’s unclear if those claims were true or not. [RB: From The Helsinki warning: "On 5 December 1988 (16 days prior to the attack), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin saying that, on that day, a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the US Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, and told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks ... The anonymous warning was taken seriously by the US government, and the State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all US carriers, including Pan Am, which had charged each of the passengers a $5 security surcharge..."]

But since those allegations, US embassies around the world now give the same warnings to citizens as they do to employees, says Austrian. She added that embassy staff gets warnings like this all the time for mass demonstrations, which is why there is a warning now for all Americans.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

"The evidence was 'weighted' in a deliberate manner"

[A long article headed Lockerbie -- The Eyewitness Evidence against Megrahi is published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website. Part of the article consists of an interview with psychologist of memory Professor Tim Valentine about Tony Gauci's evidence at the Zeist trial. This is followed by comments from Professor Hans Köchler and me which read as follows:]

In March 2009, Mark Vella, the managing director of METEO MALTA [RB: appears on the internet as] told me that their records “unambiguously indicate” that it did not rain in Sliema on December 7, 1988. Vella added that it was dripping during the evening of November 23, 1988.

“I can confirm there was light rainfall from 6 pm to 7:15 pm on Nov 23, 1988 as can be seen from our official weather log book of Balzan", Vella told me.

“There was definitely no rain on Dec 7 and although I cannot be 100 percent sure it most likely did not rain in Sliema either on that day as they are only a few kilometers apart. I have proof of this from the weather log book and also satellite images.”

I asked Professor Köchler — UN observer at the Lockerbie trial — and Professor Black — aka the ‘architect of the Lockerbie trial’ — to comment of this most disturbing news. [NB: The evidence, presented at the Zeist trial, regarding the weather conditions in Malta was based on data recorded at Luqa Airport.]

“From the date of Megrahi’s conviction, I have maintained that one of the principal reasons for regarding the verdict as contrary to the evidence was the court’s finding that the date of purchase was 7 December. The meteorological evidence led at the trial clearly established that of the two possible dates, 23 November was the only one that fitted that evidence. The court’s finding that the date of purchase was 7 December is explicable only on the basis that the case against Megrahi would otherwise have collapsed, ie that the court had, for other reasons, determined that he was guilty and then, in the face of strong contrary evidence, selected the date that supported that pre-formed conclusion,” Professor Black told me.

Professor Köchler told the author that he never believed in the “Malta theory” and has questioned the judges’ reasoning from the very beginning.

“My position is evident from what I wrote in Art 15 of my observer report of 26 March 2002 (!), which was submitted to the United Nations: One of the basic weaknesses of the decision of the Appeal Court consisted in its very refusal to properly evaluate, ie reevaluate, the plausibility of the inferences about weather conditions in Malta at the time in question.

"In the course of the renewed presentation of the respective evidence during the appeal proceedings it became entirely clear to any rational observer that the report on weather conditions in Malta had been interpreted arbitrarily by the trial judges and that the weather conditions described by Mr Gauci were much more compatible with the weather report of the meteorological service for 23 November 1988 than with that for 7 December.

"To the undersigned it is obvious that the evidence was 'weighted' in a deliberate manner so as to be compatible with the date of the appellant’s stay in Malta. The judges as well as the appeal judges arbitrarily excluded consideration of the fact that 7 December was a day before a high Roman-Catholic holiday (which has particular importance in a Catholic country such as Malta) and that the witness would have remembered the fact that a Libyan had bought clothes on the evening before such a holiday (on which the shop was closed).

"Put in the context of the evidence available and the circumstances in Malta at the respective period of time, the probability of 23 November 1988 as the date of the purchase of the clothes is much higher than that of 7 December 1988, when the appellant was in Malta.”

Friday, 29 June 2018

The American people "have a right to the truth"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Caroline Glick published today on the website of The Jerusalem Post:]

... in 1992 and 1993, the UN Security Council passed harsh economic sanctions against Libya to force then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to extradite two Libyan nationals suspected of carrying out the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988 that killed 270 people. Due to the sanctions, in 1998, the Libyan government extradited the suspects to Britain for trial. Gaddafi later apologized for the bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims. [RB: There was no apology. What there was, was an acceptance by Libya of "responsibility for the actions of its officials".]

The Lockerbie model can be applied to the AMIA bombing as well. Security Council action against Iranian leaders can massively increase their international isolation. Depending on the structure and target of the sanctions, Iranian citizens can be subjected to significant restrictions on international travel and Iranian diplomatic missions can be shut down. The more powerful the sanctions, the more effective they will be in both deterring foreign governments from cooperating with the regime and causing Iranian nationals to be disgusted with the regime.

This brings us to the Lockerbie bombing itself. [Argentinian prosecutor Alberto] Nisman’s findings [regarding the AMIA bombing] relied in large part on information presented by Iranian defector and former intelligence officer Abolghassem Mesbahi who served in Germany until he defected in the 1990s. Mesbahi reported directly to then-Iranian president Rafsanjani. Four years ago, Mesbahi revealed in an Al Jazeera documentary that Iran, not Libya, was responsible for the bombing. The attack, he said, was carried out by terrorists from Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, headquartered in Damascus. Mesbahi’s allegations are substantiated by information collected by investigators at the crash site in Lockerbie and by evidence of similar bombs discovered in an apartment in Frankfurt rented by terrorists in the PFLP-GC weeks before the bombing.

Reports at the time claimed that in 1990, then-US president George H W Bush and then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher chose to ignore the leads and follow less compelling evidence pointing to Gaddafi because the US wanted then-Syrian President Hafez Assad to join the US-led Arab coalition in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The case against the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was always controversial. Megrahi went to his death in 2012 protesting his innocence. And on May 3, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission decided to review his conviction “in the interests of justice.” A review request was submitted by his widow hoping to clear his name.

Of the 270 of the victims of Flight 103, 179 were Americans – 35 were students from Syracuse University coming home for Christmas after completing a semester of study abroad in London and Florence. It goes without saying that if Iran was responsible for their murder, the American people, and their families, have a right to the truth. Following the information presented by Mesbahi, and the information already gathered by FBI investigators at the time of the bombing, the US should open a new investigation of alleged Iranian responsibility for the attack. The investigation should be public, and the names of Iranian officials suspected of involvement in the attack should be widely publicized.

Similar actions should be taken by other governments whose citizens have been murdered by Iran in acts of international terrorism.

The deeper the regime is implicated in acts of mass murder, the less able its leaders will be to justify their continued grip on power. The more Khamenei’s personal role in recognized worldwide, the less capable he will be to wield power and command obedience. Branded as murderers at home and abroad, Khamenei and his henchmen will find it harder and harder to suppress demonstrators demanding that they end their sponsorship of Syria’s genocidal dictator Bashar Assad and the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas and surrender their power.