Monday, 29 May 2017

Denial meant for domestic political consumption

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2002:]

Libya has denied suggestions by a New York law firm that it offered $2.7bn to compensate the families of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie disaster as part of a deal to lift sanctions.

"Libya has nothing to do with this so-called agreement and is not a party to it," an official statement said.

However, it conceded that Libyan businessmen and lawyers had held talks with lawyers of the families, though it said it had not been informed officially.

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says Libya's denial could be meant for domestic political consumption.

But he adds that it underlines the difficulties the world community has in dealing with Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and the potential for any deal to fall apart.

A partner in Kreindler and Kreindler, the firm representing the victims' families, told the BBC earlier on Wednesday he expected Libya to admit responsibility for the bombing very soon - perhaps within a couple of weeks.

The British Foreign Office said the Libyan, British and American officials were due to meet in London on 6 June to discuss the question.

Under the alleged deal, each victim's family would receive $10m, but 40% of the total money would be disbursed when UN sanctions were lifted and another 40% when the US sanctions were removed.

The remaining 20% would be paid when Libya was removed from the US State Department's list of sponsors of international terrorism.

But the US rejected the offer, saying Libya had to accept responsibility for the bombing.

"The compensation is something that the families have to work out with the Libyans," a State Department official told the AFP news agency.

"The sanctions are a governmental matter," he added.

The UK Foreign Office welcomed the offer, if genuine, as "a sign that Libya wishes to respond to the requirements of the UN resolutions".

However, a Foreign Office spokesman also said Libya would need to comply with all UN resolutions for sanctions to be lifted.

The admission of responsibility is a particular sticking point with officials and relatives alike.

Charles Kreindler, from the company Kreindler and Kreindler, speaking on the BBC's The World Today programme, said the admission could come within weeks.

"We could see Libya accept responsibility in the near future - perhaps in the next couple of weeks," Mr Kreindler said. (...)

The relatives also want to see Libya confess its guilt in the affair.

"If Libya is still not willing to acknowledge they planned and committed the mass murder of 270 people and issue and comply with all of the conditions of the US Government and UN security council - then everything given to the families would be blood money," said Vicky Cummock, whose husband was killed.

Her views were echoed by Dan Cohen, whose daughter Theo was murdered in the bombing.

"Libya's got to do something else too, they have got to come clean on this," Mr Cohen said.

"I don't want Libya taken off the terrorism list in the United States, I'll be damned if I'm going to become a cheerleader to rehabilitate the person who murdered my daughter," he added.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Astonishing Foreign Office threat to preserve Lockerbie secrecy

[What follows is excerpted from a report that appeared on the website of The Herald on this date one year ago:]

Tory MP threatened to 'pull edition of Herald' over Lockerbie story
It would have been an action unheard of in the Scottish press - the UK Government pulling an entire edition of a newspaper in a bid to suppress a secret document.
But that's exactly what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) threatened to do to The Herald in 2012 when it sought to publish details of a report implicating a Palestinian terror group in the Lockerbie bombing.
The full details of what happened were published yesterday in Kenny MacAskill's new book on the atrocity - and the FCO is again taking action.
The government department has said it is "considering the contents" of the book, The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice, amid claims it may breach of Official Secrets Act.
Mr MacAskill reveals that at the time the Herald was seeking to publish the information, he took a call from Tory MP Alistair Burt, who was working with the FCO. [RB: He was a junior minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.]
"He threatened not just to pull the Herald's story, but to pull the whole edition of the newspaper," he said.
"I was incredulous. I told him that the people of Scotland would definitely notice if there was no Herald the next day.
"It really showed the extremes the UK Government was prepared to go to to stop the publication of something fundamental to Scotland's leading criminal case."
The document was subject to Public Interest Immunity, which prevented its release to the defence in the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the bombing.
After taking legal advice, the Herald ran the story detailing the main points of the document, including that it came from Jordan and implicated the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the December 1988 attack.
Certain information was not available to The Herald at that time, however it has all now been revealed in Mr MacAskill's book.
It is understood that the FCO requested a copy of the book on Sunday ahead of Thursday's publication, but were not provided with one as officials refused to rule out seeking an injunction.
The PFLP-GC were the original suspects in the investigation into Lockerbie, however by 1991 police and prosecutors were entirely focused on Libya.
This document naming the terror group was repeatedly suppressed at a high-level, despite sources claiming it presented little risk to national security.
In 2012, a source told The Herald: "The contents are very important but what makes them so much more significant is the lengths the UK Government and others have gone to in order to prevent anyone from seeing the document.
"This is the most remarkable piece of evidence. It does not rule out the Libyans but it does indicate that others were involved."
Mr MacAskill, who claimed the suppression of the document had more to with keeping the Jordanians happy so that radical cleric Abu Qatada could be deported from the UK, admits in his book that he believes the PFLP-GC were involved in the plot which killed 270 people.
The former politician, who made the controversial decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, also raises doubts over the identification of Megrahi buying clothes from a shop in Malta that were found wrapped around the bomb.
However, he is now facing claims it is "dumbfounding" and "hypocritical" for a former justice minister to make such assertions that the case against Megrahi was flawed.
Robert Black QC, one of the architects behind Megrahi's trial who now heads up the Justice for Megrahi campaign, said: "Many of the things that Kenny is saying are the things that we've been saying for years.
"He said on the radio that there should be a new inquiry into Lockerbie - we've been asking for that for years, and it was him we were asking.
"It's only now that he doesn't actually have any power to do something that he's agreeing with us." 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Sidelining Megrahi’s chosen lawyers

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in The Scotsman on this date in 2008:]

The Westminster Government set out a "remarkable" proposal yesterday for judges to go into private session during a preliminary hearing in the Lockerbie bomber's appeal.

Under the plan, claimed to be in the interests of national security, not only would the public be excluded, but Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's legal team would also be denied entry. He is seeking access to a classified document, and a vetted lawyer would be appointed to represent his interests at the hearing.

The behind-closed-doors session of the Court of Criminal Appeal would be the first of its kind in Scotland.

"This may initially seem remarkable, and I accept that," said Lord Davidson, QC, the Advocate-General for Scotland, on behalf of the foreign secretary, David Miliband. "This is an area of very considerable difficulty and one forced on the government because of extraordinarily difficult the prevention of terrorism," he added.

Megrahi's lawyers are expected to give their response to the proposal today. (...)

[Megrahi] lost an appeal in 2002, but last year the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case back to the appeal court. One of the reasons cited was that there may have been a miscarriage of justice because the Crown had not disclosed to the defence a document which an unidentified country, not the United States, had provided to the UK government in 1996. It is understood the paper relates to the timer alleged to have been fitted in the bomb.

Megrahi's defence team petitioned the appeal court, seeking access to the document and related papers. In response, Mr Miliband issued a public interest immunity (PII) certificate, stating: "It would cause real harm to the national security of the UK because of damage to counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states."

The appeal court has said there should be a hearing to consider the merits of the foreign secretary's public interest immunity plea. The current hearing is to determine the procedure to be followed at the hearing on the merits.

Lord Davidson said the Government was entitled to take steps to protect UK security.

His proposal was that the document be disclosed to a five-strong appeal Bench and a "special representative" who would look after Megrahi's interests.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Minor nutjobs

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2011.

Making curiosity uncool…

[This is the heading over an item posted today on bensix's blog Back Towards The Locus. It contains the following:]

I’ve noted how media critics of “conspiracy theories” aren’t just opposed to grandiose, unfounded claims but to suspicion of official or quasi-official narratives. Here are some notes on how the charge of “conspiracy theory” works to discredit this scepticism.

For example, with regards to the Pan Am attack, Geoffrey Robertson wasted no time in dismissing sceptics of Megrahi’s guilt…

"If Megrahi was guilty of the Lockerbie bombing (and, conspiracy theories aside, the evidence justified the verdict), then Gaddafi must have given the order…"

I will say this for Robertson: he’s remarkably efficient. What’s the point of explaining the biased procedure, dodgy witnesses and meager evidence of the prosecution when you can dismiss all scepticism as the work of minor nutjobs?

[RB: Quite. Minor nutjobs like Benedict Birnberg, Ian Hamilton QC, Hans Koechler, Anthony Lester QC, Len Murray, Gareth Peirce and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, to name but a few.] 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Very serious unanswered questions

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in The Scotsman on this date in 2004:]

Tony Blair told families of Lockerbie victims yesterday that he would use his renewed links with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to press for further information about the 1988 Pan Am tragedy.

The families emerged from a meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street to say they were "encouraged" by Col Gaddafi’s reaction to their demands for further action to uncover the truth about the bombing.

They requested the meeting after becoming concerned that, despite the renewal of Britain’s relations with Libya, little progress has been made to identify those responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

They have long called for a full public inquiry into the outrage, but a spokesman for the families, Dr Jim Swire, declined yesterday to say whether that specific demand had been made at the meeting. He said: "The Prime Minister did listen very carefully to all the things we asked for and didn’t reject any out of hand.

"We expect the issues we raised to be considered and we expect to be informed as to what decisions are made about them. I am encouraged."

Asked whether he believed an inquiry would be called, Dr Swire said: "We shall have to wait and see. Time will show.

"The Prime Minister of our country has spent considerable time listening to the concerns of people who have been bereaved now for 15 years and firmly believe that there are very serious unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances of that bereavement.

"All we can hope for, I think, is that he - as someone who was not in the know politically at the time - will now indeed consider - and I am sure he will do, as he has undertaken to do - what has to be done about the mess that currently still exists."

Dr Swire said he hoped the families would hear Mr Blair’s response within "quite a short timescale" but said he was unable to estimate how long it would be. (...)

A Former Libyan intelligence agent, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, 51, was convicted of the bombing at a special trial in the Netherlands in 2001 and is serving a life sentence at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow.

But the UK Families Flight 103 Victims Group has made it clear that his conviction did not answer their questions about the outrage.

They want Mr Blair to use the UK’s improved relations with Libya, following Col Gaddafi’s renunciation of weapons of mass destruction last year, to press for the truth about how the bombing was planned, financed and perpetrated.

In a statement issued before yesterday’s meeting, the families said: "Recent letters from [the Foreign Office minister] Baroness Symons and the Lord Advocate make it plain that the criminal investigation is effectively inactive and that no further initiatives are planned by government to take advantage of the renewed relationship with Libya.
"Libya is not being asked to abide by its written commitment to the UN Security Council to co-operate ‘in good faith’ with any further inquiries into Lockerbie.

"We will therefore be asking Mr Blair to find a means to address the outstanding and unresolved questions about the circumstances of the biggest mass murder of the 20th century in the UK.

"What was the motivation for the bombing of Pan Am 103? Who was responsible? How was it financed?

"How was the bombing allowed to happen, given the amount of information available to the intelligence and security services? What lessons have been learnt from Lockerbie?"

After the meeting, the Rev John Mosey, whose daughter Helga, 19, died at Lockerbie, said that the families had raised questions over why Flight 103 was the only transatlantic service with empty seats in the busy pre-Christmas period and whether this was as a result of intelligence that it could be a target.

Mr Mosey said: "The Prime Minister said he is going to look into certain things we raised - the fact that there has never been a forum granted to ask the important questions about how this disaster was allowed to happen.

"He has undertaken personally to look into certain matters on warnings and they are going to get back to us. We have to wait and see whether he is as good as his word."

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Serious questions raised by serious people

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2012.

Lockerbie inquiry calls rejected

[This is the headline over a report just published by The Press Association news agency.  It reads as follows:]

Fresh calls for an inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing have been rejected by the First Minister.

Only a court of law can determine guilt or innocence, Alex Salmond said during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.

He was urged by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to consider an inquiry less than a week after the man convicted for the atrocity died in Libya.

More than 40 politicians, religious leaders and journalists signed a letter on Tuesday calling for an independent inquiry into Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's conviction. The "perverse judgment" has left Scotland's criminal justice system a "mangled wreck", the letter says.

Mr Rennie said: "The First Minister has previously said he would be prepared to co-operate with a UK inquiry. If he has no objection to an inquiry in principle, and this group wants a Scottish inquiry, will he agree to hold it?"

Mr Salmond said: "The place where you determine guilt or innocence of an individual is a court of law.

"As Willie Rennie should know, the relatives of Mr Megrahi have the ability, if they so choose, to go back to the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission and seek further leave to appeal. That is the process which can be followed."

Mr Rennie said the conduct of the Crown should be looked at, rather than focusing on guilt or innocence.

He asked Mr Salmond: "Surely it can't just be left in the hands of a family somewhere in Tripoli for that to be determined? If he chooses to act on this inquiry he'd have the support of Desmond Tutu, Terry Waite, John Pilger and so many others. This is not a normal case. It's Scotland's biggest terrorist atrocity. These are serious questions raised by serious people, and the world is watching."

Mr Salmond replied: "They're looking for an inquiry for the responsibility, ultimately, for Lockerbie. That touches on matters of huge international importance which would be beyond the ability of the Scottish inquiry to summon witnesses, compel evidence, etcetera."

[Mr Salmond gravely misrepresents the nature of the inquiry that Justice for Megrahi is seeking.  The true position is, as has been pointed out on many occasions, that what is being called for is an inquiry into the investigation, prosecution and conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. Each and every one of these matters is within the jurisdiction of Scots law and the remit of the Scottish Government:

  • The event occurred over and on Scottish territory.
  • The case was investigated by a Scottish police force.
  • The trial was conducted under Scots Law.
  • Mr Megrahi was convicted under Scots Law.
  • Mr Megrahi was imprisoned in a Scottish gaol.
  • The SCCRC referred the second appeal to the Scottish Court of Appeal.
  • Mr Megrahi was given compassionate release by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

That is the nature of the inquiry that Justice for Megrahi's petition is asking the Scottish Government to convene. A more wide-ranging inquiry into what really happened to Pan Am 103 would involve non-devolved issues.  Such an inquiry would have to be instituted by the UK Government (or by the UK and Scottish governments jointly -- the Inquiries Act 2005 specifically envisages such joint inquiries in section 32 read with section 1(2)). But we are and always have been clear that our request to the Scottish Government relates exclusively to matters that are within devolved Scottish jurisdiction.  

In a statement after First Minister’s Questions, Willie Rennie said:

“A liberal society should be one that is prepared to look hard at its justice system, even if it is worried about what it might find.

“I have called for a Scottish public inquiry into the Lockerbie prosecution.

“The First Minister has the opportunity to shine a light onto the conduct of the Crown Office, which for years has been left blemished by the six separate grounds of appeal identified by the Government's own Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

“On matters which relate to the integrity, fairness and justice of the Scottish justice system, it is simply not good enough to leave this to a family in Tripoli.

"Questions relating to Scottish justice are not a matter to be left to a UK inquiry. It has the backing of 40 leading figures, is about Scotland's biggest terrorist atrocity and potential flaws have been identified by the Government's own review body. We need the First Minister to act."] 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Security-vetted advocates abomination

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined Lockerbie ruling on disclosure may see Scots stripped of their lawyers in controversial court cases that was published on Peter Cherbi’s website A Diary of Injustice in Scotland on this date in 2008:]

Yesterday in The Herald newspaper, there was a report of an alarming development in the Lockerbie case, where the Lord Advocate will go to Court to have special "security vetted' advocates represent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi in the hearing to decide if confidential documents are to be made public which may have a significant bearing on Mr Megrahi's conviction for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

From The Herald story :

"The Crown Office will ask judges to bypass the defence team of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and appoint special security-vetted advocates to represent him in a court hearing to decide whether a previously confidential document should be made public.

If the bid for a closed-door session is successful, it would be the first time in Scotland that such a step has been taken in a criminal case."

Such a move does indeed appear to be a first in Scots Law ... but all things being equal these days, such a power granted to the Crown to remove an accused's legal representation in favour of one it feels 'comfortable with' could so easily be used at will in attempts to stall or simply close down cases which involve serious injustice.

It boils down to this - If the Lord Advocate gains the power to strip a defendant's lawyers in favour of Crown "vetted" or appointed legal agents, any defendant in a case subsequently before the court in a criminal matter could face the possibility to lose their legal team simply on the basis that issues contained in their case are not in the public or Crown's interest to be examined with any regard to a person's right to a fair hearing and once that power is granted, it is there to be used any time, as the Lord Advocate feels applicable.

So ... Crown doesn't like your lawyer, but you might stand a chance of winning a case or perhaps an appeal against a wrongful conviction, showing the Crown case up or proving evidence is withheld ... Crown applies the procedure to you, you lose your own lawyer and one, perhaps less willing to push your case, is appointed.

[RB: The article in The Herald can be read here. The court eventually decided -- quite wrongly, in my view -- that a special security-vetted advocate should be appointed.]

Monday, 22 May 2017

The end game came down to damage limitation

[What follows is the text of a report published on the Socialist Worker website on this date in 2012:]  

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man who didn’t commit the Lockerbie bombing, has died.
He was convicted in 2001 of murdering 270 people when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded above the Scottish town of Lockerbie 13 years earlier.
Grubby imperialist power politics overshadow the case. The shifting sands of who the US and Britain wanted as allies in the Middle East shaped the framing of Megrahi.
As political allegiances changed, so did official investigations into the Lockerbie disaster.
In the run-up to the 1990 Gulf War, original suspects Syria and Iran were dropped and Libya was blamed.
In the years since the sands shifted again. For instance, Libya handed over Megrahi to face trial in order to get sanctions on the country lifted. The trial, held specially in the Netherlands, was a farce.
When Britain wanted Libya as an ally, mostly because of its oil reserves, Megrahi again became a bargaining chip.
No one among the establishment has real concern for the victims of the bombing. They don’t want the truth of the Lockerbie bombing revealed.
Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 after serving eight years in jail.
Both the Scottish and Westminster governments were involved in the blackmailing of Megrahi into unnecessarily dropping his appeal as a condition of his release.
Megrahi said that he did so because Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, suggested it would be easier to send him home if the appeal was stopped.
Dropping the appeal meant that important new evidence wasn’t heard in court.
Former CIA officer Robert Baer was part of the initial investigation into the case. He said, “Your [Scottish] justice secretary had two choices—sneak into Megrahi’s cell and smother him with his pillow or release him.
“The end game came down to damage limitation because the evidence amassed by his appeal team is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice.”
The case was sent back to court after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission concluded that there may have been a miscarriage of justice.
The bombing was most likely retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner.
David Ben-Ayreah, a spokesperson for the victims of Lockerbie families, said, “As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty. Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”
Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, said, “I met him face to face in Tripoli in December last year, when he was very sick and in a lot of pain.
“But he still wanted to talk to me about how information which he and his defence team have accumulated could be passed to me after his death.”
Swire added, “Right up to the end he was determined—for his family’s sake, he knew it was too late for him—how the verdict against him should be overturned”.