Saturday, 27 August 2016

UN Security Council welcomes Lockerbie trial plan

[On this date in 1998 the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution welcoming the proposal made by the United Kingdom and the United States for a trial before a Scottish court in the Netherlands of the Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing, and directing all UN member states to cooperate with it. A press release issued by the Security Council reads as follows:]

The Security Council tonight welcomed a joint United Kingdom-United States initiative for the trial of the two suspects before a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands, as well as the willingness of the Netherlands Government to cooperate in implementing this initiative. It called on the Governments of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to take the necessary steps to implement the proposal, including the conclusion of arrangements to enable the court to exercise jurisdiction in the terms of the agreement between the two Governments.
The Council also demanded again that the Libyan Government comply without delay with its resolutions relating to the terrorist bombings of a United States airliner, Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, and a French airliner, Union de transports aeriens (UTA) flight 772, the following year.
By the terms of its resolution (1192 [1998]), adopted unanimously, the Council decided that the Libyan Government should ensure the appearance of the two accused in the Netherlands for trial, and also ensure that any evidence or witnesses in Libya were promptly made available to the court upon request. It decided further that the suspects should be detained by the Dutch Government on arrival in the Netherlands and asked the Secretary-General to assist the Libyan Government with the physical arrangements for their transfer from Libya directly to the Netherlands.
The Council reaffirmed that the wide range of aerial, arms and diplomatic sanctions it imposed against Libya by its resolutions 748 (1992) and 883 (1993) remained in effect and binding on all Member States. It decided, however, that they would be suspended immediately once the Secretary- General reported that the two accused had arrived at the Netherlands for trial, or had appeared before an appropriate court in the United Kingdom or the United States, and that the Libyan Government had satisfied French judicial authorities investigating the 1989 bombing of UTA flight 772 over Niger, in which 171 people died. A total of 270 people were killed in the air and on the ground when a bomb aboard Pan Am flight 103 exploded over the Scottish village of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988.
The Council expressed its intention to consider additional measures if the two accused did not arrive or appear for trial promptly in the Netherlands. It invited the Secretary-General to nominate international observers to attend the trial.
(By its resolution 731 [1992], the Council demanded immediate compliance by Libya to the requests made to it by France, the United Kingdom and the United States to cooperate fully in establishing responsibility for the terrorist acts against the two airliners. Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Council by resolutions 748 [1992] and 883 [1992] repeated those demands. Resolution 883 [1993] also required Libya to ensure that the two accused in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 appeared for trial in the appropriate United Kingdom or United States court.)
Statements were made by the representatives of the United States, Portugal, France, Brazil, Russian Federation, Japan, Sweden, Gambia, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Gabon, China, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. A representative of Libya also spoke.
The meeting, which was convened at 9:44 pm, adjourned at 11:10 pm.

Friday, 26 August 2016

“Calling Gaddafi’s bluff”

[What follows is the text of an article published on this date in 1998 in The New York Times:]

With prominent international allies pressing Libya to accept an offer to allow two Libyans to go on trial in the Netherlands for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet, the Libyan Government said today that it would announce on Wednesday whether it would agree to the American and British proposal.
Both the Arab League and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, a leading international defender of the Libyan leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, suggested that Libya would accept the plan. Under the proposal, the two Libyans, identified by American officials as intelligence agents, would be extradicted to The Hague and tried by three Scottish judges under Scottish law.
''The American-British proposal is compatible with the previous Arab suggestions, which Libya has accepted,'' Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid of the Arab League said after a meeting in Cairo with the British Ambassador to Egypt, Sir David Blatherwick. ''We have been seeking this solution.''
Mr. Mandela said he was confident that the plan ''should lead to the resolution of this matter.''
But Mr Qaddafi gave no indication of what his decision would be, and senior Clinton Administration officials would not hazard a guess about the thinking of the notoriously unpredictable Libyan leader. Still, the American officials said they were pleased with the statements from the Arab League and Mr Mandela.
The Libyan Government news agency, Jana, reported today that Libya's Foreign and Justice Ministries were closely studying the proposal and that a decision whether to accept it was expected on Wednesday.
A Libyan lawyer for the two suspects was quoted today as saying that his clients would voluntarily surrender to a special court in the Netherlands ''if the conditions for a fair trial are provided to protect their rights pending, during and after the trial.''
An agreement by Libya to allow the suspects to be tried in The Hague would be a milestone in the decade-old search for justice by the families of the 270 people killed in the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.
The United States and Britain, which had once demanded that the Libyans be tried in the American or British court systems, announced on Monday that they would agree to holding the suspects' trial in the Netherlands instead.
The proposal effectively called Mr Qaddafi's bluff, since his Government had suggested just such a plan. Libya had insisted that the suspects, identified by the Justice Department as Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, could not receive a fair trial in the United States or Britain.
The United States and Britain have vowed to seek to extend sanctions on Libya to include an oil embargo, if Libya turns down the deal. If Mr Qaddafi accepts, however, the existing sanctions on Libya would be eased. The United States and Britain introduced a resolution in the United Nations today that would provide for the suspension of the sanctions if the two suspects are handed over.
Although the end of the sanctions would be welcomed by Libya, a trial of the two men risks exposure of evidence that could tie senior officials in the Libyan Government -- possibly including Mr Qaddafi himself -- to the decision to bomb the Pan Am jumbo jet.
''If he accepts, we'll be delighted, and we'll hold this trial just as soon as we can,'' said a senior Clinton Administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ''But I still find it hard to believe that he'll allow this trial ever to take place. You may see Qaddafi accept this offer initially and then try to quibble over the details. I hope I'm wrong.''
American investigators have suggested that the Pan Am jet was destroyed in retaliation for the American bombing of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in 1986.
President Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli in response to evidence linking Libyan intelligence to a terrorist attack on a Berlin disco in April 1986 in which an American soldier was killed.
In announcing an indictment of the two Libyans in 1991 for the Pan Am bombing, Justice Department officials said that they had tracked a part of the bomb's timing device to a Swiss company that had sold it to a senior Libyan intelligence officer.
The indictment said that Mr Fhimah held a cover job as a station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta.
He is alleged to have placed the bomb in a suitcase there that was routed to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to the Pan Am jet. Mr Megrahi, the indictment said, purchased clothing and an umbrella in a store in Malta that were put into the luggage to hide the bomb.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Official disquiet was kept suppressed

[What follows is excerpted from a comment by Professor George JoffĂ© of the University of Cambridge and King’s College, London, that was published on the Jurist website hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Law School on this date in 2009:]

Lockerbie bomber's release an effort to ease political tensions and avoid damaging appeal

Despite all the fulmination, protest and anger, the return of Abdelbasset al-Maghrahi to Libya draws a definite line under what has proved to be a very worrisome case — at least for the Scottish justice system. Mr al-Maghrahi was convicted in a special Scottish court, organised at Camp Zeist — an abandoned NATO base — in Holland, of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. The case had been problematic from the start. The Libyan authorities had first refused to hand over the two accused — Mr al-Maghrahi and Mr al-Khalifah al-Fahima — despite United Nations sanctions and then only agreed because the court that was to try them was constituted outside direct British or American control. Then there had been problems over the evidence (...). And the verdict itself had raised almost as many questions as it had answered, with the bench admitting that some of the evidence barely passed tests of credibility.

In short, Mr al-Maghrahi had been convicted only on the balance of probabilities, not because of overwhelming evidence of his guilt. Doubts about the rightness of his conviction surfaced almost immediately afterwards. They were raised covertly in Scottish legal circles, despite the rejection by the Scottish law-lords of Mr al-Maghrahi's appeal. They were raised overtly by the Libyan leader, Colonel Qadhafi, who promised to arrange Mr al-Maghrahi's release as an innocent victim. They were common knowledge within the corridors of power in Whitehall and in Edinburgh, even if official disquiet was kept suppressed. Then, as time went on, particularly after Mr al-Maghrahi became terminally ill, they became part of the day-to-day diplomatic exchanges between Britain and Libya. The Libyan authorities made it clear that they would not forgive Mr al-Maghahi's death in Scottish custody and that British-Libyan relations would suffer severely if it occurred.

In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that, when pushed, the Scottish authorities, no doubt with considerable resentment at the position in which they had been put by Whitehall, decided to take the one legally impeccable exit available to them, compassionate release. Since Scotland acquired its own autonomous government a decade ago, there have been thirty applications for compassionate release, twenty-three of which have been granted. In Mr al-Maghrahi's case, no doubt, the issue was eased by his willingness to abandon his appeal, instigated by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's finding that there were at least six grounds for legitimate concern about the original judgment.

In other words, the release on compassionate grounds tied up a whole series of loose ends. A potentially unsatisfactory conviction was ended without the embarrassment of a successful appeal and potential diplomatic and commercial tensions were dissipated without the British government being directly involved, the Scottish authorities, in effect, being forced to take over Whitehall's responsibilities. It would have been a solution worthy of Machiavelli himself, were it not for three further considerations. First was the undoubted anger of the families of the American victims which the Obama administration has adroitly diverted onto Scotland. Second was Libya's maladroit handling of Mr al-Maghrahi's return which will, no doubt, be amplified by the celebrations for the fortieth anniversary of the Libyan revolution. And third is the unfortunate fact that we shall never know what really happened at Lockerbie nor, indeed, who was really responsible.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Arrangements for neutral venue Lockerbie trial

[On this date in 1998 a letter was delivered to the Secretary General of the United Nations by the Acting UN Permanent Representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States setting forth arrangements for a neutral venue trial of the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing. It reads as follows:]

1. The Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America are gravely concerned that, almost 10 years after the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, those accused have not yet stood trial. Several years have passed since the Security Council, in resolutions 731 (1992), 748 (1992) and 883 (1993) required the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to ensure the appearance of the two accused for trial in the appropriate United Kingdom or United States court.

2. Our two Governments consider that it is essential for the promotion of international peace and security that justice is done and is seen to be done before the eyes of the international community in the appropriate Scottish or United States court. Despite the comprehensive assurances given as to the fairness of a trial in these jurisdictions, the report of the independent legal experts appointed by you to look at the Scottish judicial system (S/1997/1991) and the offer made by the Government of the United Kingdom to accommodate international observers at a Scottish trial, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has failed to ensure the appearance of the two accused. Our two Governments reiterate their profound concern at this disregard of the Security Council’s demands.

3. Nevertheless, in the interest of resolving this situation in a way which will allow justice to be done, our Governments are prepared, as an exceptional measure, to arrange for the two accused to be tried before a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. After close consultation with the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we are pleased to confirm that the Government of the Netherlands has agreed to facilitate arrangements for such a court. It would be a Scottish court and would follow normal Scots law and procedure in every respect, except for the replacement of the jury by a panel of three Scottish High Court judges. The Scottish rules of evidence and procedure, and all the guarantees of fair trial provided by the law of Scotland, would apply. Arrangements would be made for international observers to attend the trial. Attached is the text of the intended agreement between the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of the United Kingdom (annex I).

4. The two accused will have safe passage from the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the Netherlands for the purpose of the trial. While they are in the Netherlands for the purpose of the trial, we shall not seek their transfer to any jurisdiction other than the Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. If found guilty, the two accused will serve their sentence in the United Kingdom. If acquitted, or in the event of the prosecution being discontinued by any process of law preventing any further trial under Scots law, the two accused will have safe passage back to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Should other offences committed prior to arrival in the Netherlands come to light during the course of the trial, neither of the two accused nor any other person attending the court, including witnesses, will be liable for arrest for such offences while in the Netherlands for the purpose of the trial.

5. The two accused will enjoy the protection afforded by Scottish law. They will be able to choose Scottish solicitors and advocates to represent them at all stages of the proceedings. The proceedings will be interpreted into Arabic in the same way as a trial held in Scotland. The accused will be given proper medical attention. If they wish, they can be visited in custody by the international observers. The trial would of course be held in public, adequate provision being made for the media.

6. Our two Governments are prepared to support a further Security Council resolution for the purposes of the initiative (which would also suspend sanctions upon the appearance of the two accused in the Netherlands for the purpose of trial before the Scottish court) and which would require all States to cooperate to that end. Once that resolution is adopted, the Government of the United Kingdom will legislate to enable a Scottish court to hold a trial in the Netherlands. The necessary United Kingdom legislation has already been prepared and is attached (annex II).

7. This initiative represents a sincere attempt by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States to resolve this issue, and is an approach which has recently been endorsed by others, including the Organization of African Unity, the League of Arab States, the Movement of Non-Aligned States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (S/1994/373, S/1995/834, S/1997/35, S/1997/273, S/1997/406, S/1997/497, S/1997/529). We are only willing to proceed in this exceptional way on the basis of the terms set out in the present letter (and its annexes), and provided that the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya cooperates fully by:

(a) Ensuring the timely appearance of the two accused in the Netherlands for trial before the Scottish court;
(b) Ensuring the production of evidence, including the presence of witnesses before the court;
(c) Complying fully with all the requirements of the Security Council resolutions.

8. We trust that the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya will respond promptly, positively and unequivocally by ensuring the timely appearance of the two accused in the Netherlands for trial before the Scottish court. If it does not do so, our two Governments reserve the right to propose further sanctions at the time of the next Security Council review. They also reserve the right to withdraw this initiative.

9. We have the honour to request that you convey the text of the present letter and its annexes to the Government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. We would be grateful if you would agree to give the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya any assistance it might require with the physical arrangements for the transfer of the two accused directly to the Netherlands.

10. We request that the present letter be circulated as a document of the Security Council.

[RB: The two annexes referred to can be read here.]

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Not a very satisfactory or a convincing showing

[What follows is a review by Brigadier Allan Alstead on the Edinburgh Guide website of the Kenny MacAskill event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival:]

For some people their careers are defined by a single issue, so said Ruth Wishart who was chairing the session with Kenny MacAskill, the former Scottish Justice Secretary, who was discussing his book, The Lockerbie Bombing - The Search for Justice. For MacAskill it was possibly the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi who was the only man ever convicted of the bombing of the PanAm flight 103. He was released by MacAskill on compassionate grounds as al-Megrahi was suffering from terminal postate cancer. The flight exploded above the town of Lockerbie killing all two hundred and seventy passengers and crew together with eleven people on the ground.
But this was no ordinary event as one questioner said, MacAskill by his rapid fire speech and by his body language seemed to imply that he was not confident about the book. The questioner asked if the whole aim of the book was to show that 'poor little Scotland was helpless to all that was going on' and it was only the big commercial interests and the international powers that called the tune on Lockerbie and the release of al-Megrahi.
MacAskill replied that it was quite clearly an international affair. He said that Colonel Gaddafi was the man to blame and he maintained that this had been mentioned several times by members of the Libyan Government and had never been refuted. MacAskill claimed that it was a big international stitch-up with Scotland being left to "carry the can" for everyone.
He talked about President Obama controlling all this with a lot of American involvement, particularly with the decisions about Libyan oil and their other resources. He also said that Clinton and Jack Straw for the British Government were deeply involved with the decisions that were taken to release al-Megrahi and it all therefore came back to international politics and where Scotland got nothing from the release at all.
MacAskill also talked about the doubts that surrounded al-Megrahi and buying clothes in Malta which was one of the main points in the trial. If, as the MacAskill book says, “clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi", then he certainly was not involved. It raises a question mark over the verdict that was reached at the trial. If the clothes were not bought at Gauci's shop, as MacAskill claims - although the actual evidence seems sketchy - then al-Megrahi should not have been convicted.
If MacAskill has evidence that was not disclosed at the trial than this should be handed to the police forthwith. Both the book and MacAskill in questioning left the audience wondering what the evidence was and where it was?
The audience were left with some doubts about why the book was written - was it an opportunity for MacAskill to clear his name and simply give his own version of events? Or did MacAskill see this as an opportunity to set matters right? In which case any evidence should have been passed to the authorities.
In his book, MacAskill maintains that the lawyers and the police all acted in good faith and that they did what they could with the evidence available to them. That everyone behaved correctly is not disputed, but it does seem that MacAskill is trying to exonerate the Scottish police from any blame. One accepts that, as MacAskill said it is important to, "cut some slack" to those who are trying their best to produce evidence under difficult circumstances.
All in all this was not a very satisfactory or a convincing showing by Kenny MacAskill who I have heard speak much more convincingly on other occasions.

The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice (May 2016) by Kenny MacAskill is published by Biteback Publishing.

Aide says Nidal confessed to Lockerbie bombing

[This is the headline over a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2002. It reads as follows:]

The Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal admitted to a meeting of his most trusted colleagues that he was behind the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing and the culprits were not Libyans, it is claimed today in a leading Arabic newspaper.

In an interview with the London daily, Al-Hayat, a former colleague, Atef Abu Bakr, says Nidal made the confession to the inner circle of his revolutionary council some time before his death earlier this week.

Bakr, once a politburo member of Nidal's Fatah-Revolutionary Council, told the paper that Nidal had said: "I will tell you something very important and serious. The reports which link the Lockerbie act to others are false reports. We are behind what happened."

According to Bakr, Nidal threatened anyone who leaked what he said with death, "even if he is in the arms of his wife".

Last night a spokesman for Al Hayat confirmed that the interview with Bakr was conducted some time before Nidal's death.

The Lockerbie disaster happened when a New York-bound Pan Am plane blew up over the town in Scotland, in December 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew, and 11 local residents. A Scottish court sitting in Holland convicted a former Libyan agent, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, over the bombing and in January 2001 gave him a life sentence.

The group led by Nidal, once one of the world's most wanted men, has been blamed for a series of horrific attacks in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Iraqi authorities have claimed that Nidal, found dead in his Baghdad apartment, committed suicide. Members of the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, better known as the Abu Nidal organisation, said he committed suicide as he was suffering from cancer.

Nidal set up his headquarters in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in 1987. He was put under house arrest when Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, came under pressure to crack down on militants after the Lockerbie bombing.

Bakr and another dissident split from Nidal's group in late 1989, almost a year after the bombing. After the attack, Bakr was quoted as extending condolences to victims on behalf of Nidal's group.

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, has long maintained that Nidal was to blame, and not Libyans. Last night he said: "If true, this is a hugely important development. If he has said that no one else had anything to do with it, where does that leave Mr al-Megrahi? I believe the Libyans had nothing to do with it. This is one hell of a thing."

He said that the Foreign Office must now investigate Bakr's claims "as a matter of the utmost urgency".

He added: "If these allegations are true they blow everything relating to Lockerbie out of the water, including the trial in Holland."

[RB: Further information about Abu Nidal’s alleged involvement in Lockerbie can be found here.]

Monday, 22 August 2016

MacAskill has reason to be angry at Megrahi criticism

[This is the headline over a leader in today’s edition of The Scotsman. It reads as follows:]

Former justice secretary’s condemnation of US and UK authorities over his decision to free Lockerbie bomber is unsurprising

Few actions by the Scottish government raised more international controversy and dispute than the decision by former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Not only did the affair give rise to all manner of conspiracy theories as to who was – and was not – involved in the bombing, but it also brought widespread criticism of the Scottish government over his release. Megrahi lived another three years, giving rise to deep anger among the families of the Lockerbie victims and criticism from the US government.

Yesterday, seven years after authorising his release, the former justice secretary rounded furiously on his critics, accusing key players in the affair of hypocrisy. He said Scotland was “set up to take the rap” for the global fall-out of the Lockerbie bombing because the country lacked the “might and power” of the international elites it was up against.

The downing of PanAm flight 103 over the town killed 270 and was the UK’s worst terrorist incident. Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, was convicted in 2001 by a special Scottish Court in the Netherlands. In July 2009, his legal team asked for him to be released from prison on compassionate grounds after he developed prostate cancer.

Mr MacAskill ordered his release under a 1993 Scottish statute enabling the release of any prisoner deemed by competent medical authority to have three months or less to live.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday, Mr MacAskill said he was “contemptuous” of the US and UK authorities, condemning the “hypocrisy” of other key players in the affair, such as the UK Government which did oil deals with Libya in exchange for an agreement to return Megrahi. “Obama, Clinton, Straw all came out and said ‘don’t agree with it – absolutely appalling’. And they had been conniving and working for it. We actually delivered what they wanted, which was to let Megrahi go.”

While there is nothing new in MacAskill’s charge, the force of his condemnation speaks to the intensity of feeling over the affair within St Andrews House and the degree to which the Scottish government felt it had been treated as a convenient scapegoat for international ire. Subsequent comment has also singled out former Prime Minister Tony Blair over his dealings with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in particular the terms of a £450 million deal giving BP access to Libyan oil.

While Mr MacAskill re-iterated his belief that Megrahi was not the principal participant in the bombing, he also said that the forthcoming police investigation was likely to dismiss much of the allegations of criminality made by the Justice for Megrahi group which believes the late Libyan was not involved.

Whatever consolation it affords Scotland’s former Justice Secretary, the reputation of Tony Blair has been largely destroyed by his Middle East dealings. And Mr MacAskill has reason still to be angry, given that so few emerge with any credit over this affair.

[An article in today’s edition of The Times reads in part:]

Alex Salmond feared that the country’s first SNP government might be brought down by the hugely controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber, Kenny MacAskill has revealed.

The former justice secretary said he had been prepared to take full responsibility for the release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi in August 2009 to make sure that the whole administration did not fall with him.

Mr MacAskill released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds after it emerged that the Libyan, the only man convicted of the bombing, was dying of cancer.

This sparked howls of condemnation, particularly from many of the relatives of the American victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988, and from opposition politicians.

The principle of collective responsibility normally covers all major government decisions, meaning that ministers share the kudos when things go well and share the blame when they go wrong.

Mr MacAskill told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday that the convention had effectively been shelved to protect the first SNP administration.

He revealed how worried Mr Salmond had been that the al-Megrahi controversy had the potential to bring down the then minority SNP government, which had only been in place for two and a half years.

“My cabinet colleagues left it entirely with me. I kept the first minister appraised but we decided as soon as we knew Megrahi was ill, at an early juncture of the first Nationalist administration, that there should be one person who should take responsibility for it,” Mr MacAskill said.

“We could lose a cabinet secretary, but we weren’t going to lose our first government and that’s how it remained and I was grateful of the support of my colleagues.”

A Scottish government source said afterwards that it was true that Mr MacAskill had been kept in virtual isolation at this time, simply to protect his ministerial colleagues.

“He was effectively ringfenced, he was sealed off,” the source said.

Mr MacAskill said he believed that Scotland had been a pawn in an international game involving highly lucrative commercial deals, government relations and behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations. “We took the rap for Lockerbie but there were huge international deals going on that were commercial and were security and we were just flotsam and jetsam, the same as the bags that fell on the poor town of Lockerbie,” he said.

The former minister , who has written a book on the crisis , The Lockerbie Bombing: the Search for Justice, said he was convinced that al-Megrahi had played a part in the deaths of the 270 victims.

He believed, however, that his role had been minor, comparing it to the role of a getaway driver in a bank robbery. “He was a bit-part player . . . I do not think al-Megrahi had the technical skills to plant a bomb.”

He believed the Iranians had offered a bounty for the destruction of an American airliner, in retribution for the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by the American warship USS Vincennes in 1988.

A Palestinian terror cell had taken up the offer but after it ran into problems the Libyans stepped in to help and al-Megrahi helped get the bomb on to the fatal flight, he believed.

“It was state-sponsored terrorism,” Mr MacAskill said, adding: “It was a coalition of the willing.”

The real truth about the Lockerbie tragedy might never be known, putting it on the same level as other great historical events which had aroused conspiracy theories over the years, he suggested.

[The report of the Book Festival event in The Telegraph reads in part:]

Although the Scottish Government had the final say over whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was released, Kenny MacAskill likened its involvement to "flotsam and jetsam, the same as the bags that fell upon the poor town of Lockerbie and the people there".
The former Scottish Justice Minister claimed President Obama and Hillary Clinton, his then Secretary of State, had been secretly “conniving” to have the bomber released despite their public condemnations of his decision.
He made the outspoken comments at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as he discussed his book The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search For Justice. (...)
Mr MacAskill refused an application from the bomber to release him under a prisoner transfer agreement signed between the UK and Libya, and which has since been linked to a multi-million pound oil deal with BP.
However, he set Britain’s worst mass murderer free in August 2009 on compassionate grounds, on the basis he had prostate cancer and a maximum of three months to live. (...)
But Mr Macaskill accused British and American politicians of hypocisy for criticising his decision while working to secure deals with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to further commercial interests.
He said: "We got nothing out of it. The Scottish Government and indeed Scotland got a black spot, not simply the bomb that landed and devastated the town of Lockerbie.
"We had no control and little influence, we knew things were happening, but you have got to remember it suited people to be able to put the blame on somebody and say it was Scotland.
"Because Obama, Clinton and Straw, all of them came out with it and said we don't agree with it, and they had been conniving and working for it.” Mr MacAskill added: "We took the rap for Lockerbie but there were huge international deals going on that were commercial and were security.”

A date which will live in infamy

[What follows is excerpted from items contributed by me in 2000 to TheLockerbieTrial.com (and now accessible here and here):]

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 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."

...

In the light of the use actually, and entirely properly, made by the defence of material from those CIA cables in attacking, in the course of cross-examination [on 26, 27 and 28 September 2000], the credibility and reliability of Giaka’s evidence on matters relevant to the responsibility of the two accused men for the bombing of Pan Am 103, it may be that the Lord Advocate will (or at least should) feel that he owes an explanation of the statements made by him on 22 August 2000 which are quoted above.