Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Justice among the nations...

[I am grateful to Dr Jim Swire for permitting me to reproduce the following.]

These endured all and gave all, that Justice among the nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.
Inscription on lintel of memorial chapel, US cemetery Omaha beach, Normandy.

It is difficult to extract a fair yet brief synopsis from more than 21 years of claim and counter claim over Lockerbie. (...)

In July 1988 the US missile cruiser USS Vincennes, while engaged in a skirmish with Iranian gunboats, within Iranian territorial waters in the Arabian Gulf, mistook an airbus climbing out of Bandar Abbas airfield nearby for an attacking military jet and destroyed it. 290 pilgrims bound for Mecca died and Iran swore revenge.

In December 1988 a US jumbo was destroyed over Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the UK Department of Transport published its findings in 1990. It found that an IED containing around 350 grams of explosive in the forward baggage hold of the plane had exploded 38 minutes after the plane had left the Heathrow tarmac, blasting a modest hole in the fuselage, and curious circumferential cracks, but causing the plane, no longer under any control, to execute a manoeuvre so extreme as to lead to its complete break-up.

All 259 on board and 11 in Lockerbie died.

In early 1991 a Fatal Accident Inquiry in Scotland found that the aircraft, though US registered, had been under the Host State protection of the UK while being loaded from empty at Heathrow airport prior to its last flight. The inquiry, seeking to avoid harming the ongoing criminal investigation, was instructed to assume that the IED had come into Heathrow on a feeder flight from Frankfurt. That was what the criminal investigation was postulating.

Rodney Wallis, former director of security to the International Air Transport Association in his book Combating Air Terrorism, published in 1993, wrote:

'Ever since the loss of the Iranian aircraft civil aviation security experts had expected some retaliatory action to be taken against a US target. The delay in a revenge attack was believed to hang on the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) report... [T]his established a time scenario that was to dovetail into the Lockerbie tragedy.'

Iran had longstanding links to a Syrian terrorist group called the PFLP-GC. The PFLP-GC had developed specialised IEDs exclusively for attacking aircraft in flight. Such technology was available to terrorists in 1988 and had certain characteristics which made it extraordinarily appropriate as having been used at Lockerbie. In October 1988 the British government had received a detailed description of this technology.

The response to this information was delayed and showed a failure to grasp its consequences. This failure was to resurface in the first appeal at Zeist, where the Lockerbie trial was held.

For the first 2 years of the criminal investigation into Lockerbie, Iran was the presumed culprit. After that, Libya became prime suspect. Douglas Hurd while foreign secretary later claimed in the House that there was no evidence of the involvement of any nation other than Libya.

British relatives of the dead and others spent great effort on encouraging Gaddafi to hand over the two intelligence agents indicted in 1991, for trial. Their hand-over for trial was strongly supported by Nelson Mandela, Professor Robert Black (Edinburgh law professor) and many others.

But also in 1993, two years after the indictments, Lady Thatcher published The Downing Street Years covering the years of her power. The Lockerbie disaster does not appear in the index, but she claims that her support for the USAF bombing of Tripoli and Bengazi in 1986 had the effect, inter alia, that 'Gaddafi had been humbled... there was a marked decline in Libyan sponsored terrorism in succeeding years... the much vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place'.

In 2000 the trial at Zeist was held. There was no jury, only a bench of senior and exclusively Scottish judges. It provided a rich tranche of material relevant to the disaster, but failed to convince a number of observers of the guilt of either of the accused.

It was the trial evidence, particularly that surrounding the PFLP-GC IEDs, which convinced me that the accused were innocent and led to partially informed speculation as to how the atrocity really had been carried out.

On the whole the media, particularly in the US, took the easy route of accepting the verdict and luxuriating in the consequences of the verdict.

A subsequent appeal failed, but revealed new facts. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) after three years' work, ruled that the trial might have resulted in a miscarriage of justice and sanctioned a second appeal. This was stopped by the terminal illness of the one imprisoned Libyan (Megrahi). Throughout this time his defence was denied access to certain documents by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office using Public Interest Immunity certificates (PIIs), even though at least some of this hidden documentation had been available to the prosecution (and the investigating police) for a number of years, yet was denied to the defence.

Immediately prior to the agreement to set up the trial court at Zeist, Nelson Mandela publicly pronounced that "No one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." Many observers felt that Anglo/US collaboration justified them as being considered 'one nation' over this matter.


  1. Is Dr swire the author of this blog? From what has Professor Black reproduced this material?

    I would like the author to clarify the use of the word "instructed" in the phrase (the Fatal accident Inquiry) "was instructed to assume that the IED had come into heathrow on a feeder flight from Frankfurt".

  2. Dr Swire is the author of this post. It is reproduced from an e-mail which he sent to me. I do not know whether it has appeared elsewhere.

  3. I noticed that line as well. It's a good piece. Liked the last part - yeah, it wasn't "one nation," was it?

  4. Well presumably he e-mailed it for publication on this website so the expression of gratitude for permission to reproduce it is confusing. However Dr Swire doesn't "blog". The purpose of this post still escapes me.

  5. Prof. Black is entitled to put anything he likes on his blog, including a private email (with the permission of the author). Dr. Swire is entitled to send Prof. Back an article for consideration for inclusion on his blog, if he likes. Baz, I have no idea what you're complaining about. If it doesn't interest you, don't comment.

  6. This doesn't read like a private e-mail. Of course Professor Black can put anything he wants on his website. However it would be handy to know who write it and why, to whom is it addressed? however if Dr Swire wrote it to be posted on this website why not say so?

    Presumably Dr Swire is not going to justify his unfounded claim that the FAI was "instructed" to assume the primary suitcase came from Frankfurt. This was a "submission" of the Lord Advocate's Deputy and successor.