Friday, 20 August 2010

They're still at it!

A group of US senators says a "cloud of suspicion" still hangs over the release a year ago of the man responsible for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Senator Robert Menendez called on Britain and Scotland to answer a number of "outstanding questions" over the case of Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi. (...)

Mr Menendez said that one year on, there was "anger and frustration" in the US that Megrahi was "still very much alive and very much free".

The BBC's Matthew Price, in New York, says the senators want "more information on the medical opinions that led to the conclusion that Megrahi had just three months to live and details on communications between BP and the British government".

Their move follows an earlier decision by the Scottish government not to send officials to a hearing in Washington.

[From a report on the BBC News website. A fuller report by The Press Association news agency can be read here.

Justice for Megrahi at the end of July invited the four senators to lend their support to a full inquiry into the Lockerbie case -- the circumstances in which Abdelbaset Megrahi was convicted as well as the circumstances in which he was released. Answer came there none.

The Scottish Government has up to now responded to these grandstanding clowns with impeccable -- if somewhat strained -- courtesy. The gloves should now come off.

A press release from the Scottish National Party headed "Questions for US Senate over Libya deal" provides details of major US oil companies' lobbying of the US Senate in relation to the treatment of Libya. Christine Grahame MSP is qoted as saying:

"I do not doubt the Senators care and concern for the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and I share their desire to get to the truth over the bombing but would urge them to join me in backing a full international inquiry into the atrocity. Their hypocrisy in making allegations against the Scottish Government when they themselves have acted in favour of US oil and Libyan Government lobbying is deeply distasteful."]


  1. Watched both the regional evening news programs over the satellite, STV and BBC Scotland. Malcolm Rifkind smirking, the way he smirks, "I do think when they made the decision (talking about MacAskill releasing Megrahi), they were doing a bit of grandstanding". What can you say about him, and his pompous arrogance? Other than the news people really had to scrape about the bottom before they could get someone to say something silly, in tweed. The other side showed a lady who had lost someone (I missed the details) and she had a passionate plea of some sincerity for the truth to come out - unfortunately, it seems for the American relatives the epoch for any 'truth' starts on 20th of August 2009. It is interesting why this is so, and why they are so united in their belief over the rightful conviction of Megrahi. Are there cultural reasons for this? Were they told something by their 'people' that we don't know? In the end their support, or lack of it, may help or hinder an investigation being called - it would be helpful to understand why they have such unanimity of purpose on this matter.

  2. Hi Bloggy. We could ask the same question of the Scottish Government and it grieves me to say so but there you have it.

    Kenny MacAskill, probably more than any minister apart from the First Minister himself, knows what the SCCRC were saying and the huge implications of what they said.

    That brings us to the appeal and Mr MacAskill's role in it being dropped. It is THE big question.

    Yet, we have not only the Americans choosing to focus on events since 20 August 2009. The Scottish Government is doing the same. I can see why the Americans don't want to go backwards but I cannot for the life of me understand why the SG would want to take a similar approach. Polls show significant backing for the release: surely that backing would go through the roof if the Scottish Government found the courage to take on the whole establishment, Scottish and British, plus the Americans by taking this massive issue right out there into the open and demanding a full investigation into the original trial and conviction.

    Many, myself included, see Salmond as capable of taking on anyone politically and leaving them standing. This issue, if he took it head-on, would require little effort on his part. For the evidence is all there already, even without the parts Mr Milliband and Mr Straw hastily got out of the way "in the interests of national security". All Mr Salmond has to do is present it publicly and then dare Westminster to try and justify blocking an independent investigation.

    While Mr Salmond fails to do this he is protecting those who not deserve his protection and he betrays those of us who have seen evidence that has made us ask, time and time again, how on earth this conviction could ever have come about.

    To quote a phrase of his own back at him: its time.

  3. Megrahi had better launder his white shell suit with under-garment body armour, because I'm hearing on the news tonight that Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan has been having productive discussions with Libyan officials and would use "diplomatic channels to convey our sentiments on a broad range of issues to include Mr al-Megrahi". Presumably, they want him incarcerated again - Gitmo or HMP Greenock? - white trackie with kevlar accessories or a new orange boilersuit? La Shukran!

  4. Yes indeed Bloggy, I read that too. They want him brought back to jail.

    Think it must be Greenock, didn't that nice Mr Obama declare Gitmo must be closed because it was time to show the world the US didn't detain foreigners who'd been flown round the world and tortured at various countries on the way and then tortured again when they arrived, and detained without trial and denied access to lawyers? Well, not any more. : )

  5. On a serious note however there they go again, interfering in the business of another sovereign country.

  6. Hi Jo G,
    "there they go again, interfering in the business of another sovereign country"
    That is correct, but I believe politics was always like that - if you have the power to pull strings to your advantage, you do. USA has the power and they are pulling increasingly hard. What annoys me is always the hypocrisy - which, of course, is another established and needed part of the game.

    A "cloud of suspicion"? Sure, it is there as long as anyone wants it. Reminds me of another case where it was an "umbrella of suspicion" - that was over the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey, statement, said by police commander Mark Beckner. Later - 11 years - the police department had to publicly apologize for pain that the Ramseys had gone through as a result, admitting that Beckner's statement was groundless and in contrast with known evidence at the time when stated.

    Could we see something similar happen here?

    Nah. Politicians are not in the business of apologizing, unless it is the smartest thing to do. It rarely is, as you will lose support among those who voted for you, and still not be accepted by those who didn't.

    For the same reasons politicians are also not in the business of listening, even less answering or commenting on impertinent issues if it can be avoided. As is written "Justice for Megrahi at the end of July invited the four senators to lend their support to a full inquiry into the Lockerbie case... Answer came there none."

    Of course not.

    Look at Christine Graham, who is quoted for saying "I do not doubt the Senators care and concern for the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing..."

    She has to say something like that, I suppose. I don't, though.

    I don't think the US senators carry the very least bit about victims anywhere outside their own political backyard (if they did there'd be a couple of wars to stop, but that's another matter).

    If they did, they be damned interested in solving the rottenness in this case, something that threatens their society and is the very fuel of those of their actions that spurns what they call "terrorism".

    Instead of asking unresolvable questions about BPs involvement in Megrahi's release they'd ask questions like "Are we doing enough to punish our own? Are we asking for trouble when awarding a medal to William C. Rogers. captain of USS Vincennes, in the light of his notorious aggressiveness, witnessed by his own officers? Can the world respect us when William L. Calley, convicted as responsible in the My Lai massacre, walked free after serving 3.5 years, not in jail but in the comfort of his own house?"

    Or "What would our local judges do to a case if a police department was both responsible for supplying controversial evidence and also found to have bribed the material witness?"

    Or "how come we show up to one of the best publicized trials in history without having done fundamental forinsics on a timer fragment, which others later have tested negative for explosived residue"?

    You don't need to fool all the people all the time. Just to fool large enough groups for long enough time. Honesty is as associated with political success as a clean white shirt is associated with cleaning up your basement.

    So, yes, they are still at it, and they will be as long as there political advantage in doing it.

    I am happy for that! While it is infuriating to see the unwillingness to look at what is now the new-and-improved "Lockerbie Trial", keeping the case hot is a double-edged sword that might just hit back on those who fight the truth in these matters.

  7. Blogiston, you wondered,

    "It is interesting why...[US relatives] are so united in their belief over the rightful conviction of Megrahi. Are there cultural reasons for this? Were they told something by their 'people' that we don't know? In the end their support, or lack of it, may help or hinder an investigation being called - it would be helpful to understand why they have such unanimity of purpose on this matter."

    I agree. Here is a short comment on that subject I made yesterday.

    "As a fellow relative, I have sympathy for Mrs Cohen. She says, "No-one in America believes he is innocent." What is the reason for such a difference between the UK and US?

    It could be that US relatives especially have not entirely been told the truth. Frank Duggan is President of Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc., the US relatives' organisation. He was a lawyer appointed by the US Government two decades ago to liaise with the families, and is now retired.

    On that organisation's website, he states that Mr Megrahi was convicted because of evidence he had experience of explosives with MEBO timers. That is completely untrue. Also untrue is his claim that the conviction was based on evidence about airline tags.

    The judges' and Mr Duggan's versions can be compared:

    Mr Duggan has also falsely claimed, among other things, that there is no new evidence and no evidence has been withheld."

    The original publisher of the article reproduced on the families' website, the Federal Bar Association, used as its editor a US Government lawyer. The publication, Translaw, was overseen by a senior US Government lawyer and most of the officers of the relevant section are at the US Department of Transportation.

    It is also questionable, at least in respect of a lay readership such as most of the relatives, that Mr Duggan described as "factors before the court" what were in fact conclusions of the court.

    The article claimed that the court refused compassionate bail in late 2008 because his disease was not as bad as he claimed. I cannot find any such reference in what the court said.

  8. Hi Matt
    Yes, I agree with all your research into this subject.
    Sometimes when a group appoints a good communicator to represent them (in this case Duggan), this appointee starts to do all the group thinking, unchecked, and it is not long before they have overstepped their remit – by manipulating group opinion and only communicating their own opinion. Then their fellow countrymen outside this group cannot be anything other than impressed by the passion of this group, to hold on to the ‘truth’ (and let’s face it, the average American doesn’t have a lot of time to spend on Lockerbie) and in a short time, a lot of opinion is polarised in one direction.
    Culturally, typical Americans are different from typical British - “two countries divided by a common language”.
    Americans tend to prioritise Team America at the top, with their own individual opinion, including local politics, below this – to do otherwise is to demonstrate unpatriotic tendencies – especially when the subject is a foreign one (particularly any subject these days with Islamic content, however miniscule that content).
    It must bemuse Americans that there is so much divided opinion in Britain on the subject of Megrahi’s conviction – after all, he is foreign not British, and was working for a known sponsor of terrorism at the time. Yet, in Britain, it seems it is exactly because he is foreign, that the injustice of his conviction seems to be troubling the collective conscience even more. More so, it sometimes seems, than it would, if Megrahi had been British.
    In Britain, it is not uncommon for someone to take a side swipe at one of our leaders, “and to hell with how this looks outside”, just for personal gain. There is no “Team Britain” entity to be mindful of. This is noticeable with the local labour naysayers right now. There is no notion of displaying a common and patriotic front to outsiders to keep the bigger picture intact as Americans would – and this is perceived outside as indecision, chaos, softness etc.
    However, maybe this is straying off the track a little.


    "A Libyan official said only "quiet celebrations" would take place and that the country's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi did "not wish to cause offence in other parts of the world, especially Britain and America"."

    The fact that Libya gets away with this - celebrating the survival of a "convicted terrorist" and implying it's not offensive if it's not loud - is interesting to me.

    If the evidence is overwhelming, why don't the US, the UK Government and Scotland do something about this appalling attitude which can only encourage terrorists?

    To answer the senators' basic question of what led to the release, we might look at the expectation of commentators at the end of the trial that it would not be an overwhelming victory for the prosecution (the New York Times report said the judges nearly agreed with the defence); or further back, to what the State Department said in 1991 about direct and conclusive evidence linking the two accused to a suitcase of a particular model at the airport.

    One interpretation of history is that the sanctions based on that nonsense helped bring Libya out of a barbarous past.

    Nevertheless, we might find it difficult to avoid this conclusion:

    Important elements of this unusual mess are directly due to actions by the United States, and perhaps by the Scottish prosecutors for failing to look properly at the evidence, before demanding extradition even though there was in fact a different provision in international law.

    What on earth do you expect if you provide bogus evidence to the UN and demand that it be tested in court?

  10. Matt,
    "The article claimed that the court refused compassionate bail in late 2008 because his disease was not as bad as he claimed. I cannot find any such reference in what the court said."
    Final paragraph:' The critical question, as the court sees it, is, against the background of the atrocity of which the applicant stands convicted, whether the applicant's health, present and prospective, is such that the Court should on compassionate grounds now admit him to bail. On balance the Court is not persuaded, on the information before it, that it should. While the disease from which the appellant suffers is incurable and may cause his death, he is not at present suffering material pain or disability. The full services of the National Health Service are available to him, notwithstanding he is in custody. There is, it appears, no immediate prospect of serious deterioration in his condition. The prognosis for its development is at present uncertain. If he responds well to the course of palliative treatment which he has now started, his life expectancy may be in years. If he does not respond well, that expectancy may be less good. While recognising that the psychological burden of knowledge of an incurable fatal disease may be easier to bear in a family environment than in custody, the Court, having regard to the grave nature of the conviction and taking into account the fact that a reference has been made and the fact that the appeal process is likely to be protracted, is not persuaded that the stage has been reached when early release is appropriate. If the applicant does not respond well to the treatment he is undertaking and the prognosis becomes both more certain and poorer, a stage may then be reached when a different disposal is appropriate. The Court is prepared to entertain a renewed application in such circumstances. In the present circumstances, however, for the reasons which have been given, the application is in hoc statu refused."

  11. sfm, yes the hypocrisy is breathtaking. I believe however that pressure really is building. We need to keep it that way. There will come a time in the UK where no politician will have anywhere to hide. I believe too that while Salmond isn't behaving as I would want him to right now he has already bitten back at the US earlier in this ridiculous farce when, in diplomatic language, he told them to get lost.

    If there is anyone I would want at the forefront of the final gauntlet - an independent investigation - being thrown down it is Salmond and the way things are right now I believe all of Scotland would be behind him. (Those politicians here who until now have used the issue as a political football would not be long in realising they'd better start calling for justice too!) It could be done, I'm certain of it.

  12. Hello Matt. Mr Frank Duggan also called Dr Jim Swire and our own Professor Black, "cranks". This was during an interview with another very able gent, Mr George Galloway. Mr Galloway asked fairly simple questions and also had facts Mr Duggan did not care for. They were facts you see so he was immediately struggling. And when Mr Galloway finally mentioned Dr Swire and the Professor he declared them to be nothing more than "cranks" and hung up the phone! Game set and match to Mr Galloway I think, but dearie me, how rude a manner for the representative of a group associated with the Lockerbie dead to behave on a public broadcast.

  13. Bunntamas,

    Thank you for providing evidence on why the court refused Mr Megrahi's bail application in 2008.

    The words of the court help to show this difference between reasons for refusal as stated in versions by the court and Frank Duggan:

    Judges: Disease not bad enough yet.

    Duggan: Disease not as bad as claimed.

    I hope it is now clear why I wrote,

    "The article claimed that the court refused compassionate bail in late 2008 because his disease was not as bad as he claimed.

    I cannot find any such reference in what the court said".

  14. More on the article "Pan Am 103 Revisited", by Frank Duggan, in the Winter 2010 edition of TransLaw and reproduced on the website of Victims of Pan Am 103, Inc.

    Mr Duggan made an incorrect statement about the court's reason for refusing bail.

    It was presumptuous of me, especially given my knowledge of a large number of mistakes in the article, to assume Mr Duggan had got something else right.

    He actually confused bail with compassionate release, which is normally permanent:

    "His attorneys did, however, seek [in 2009] to have him released under a provision of Scottish law governing “compassionate release,” whenever a prisoner is within three months of death. Claiming terminal prostate cancer, Megrahi had applied for such a release the previous November, but a court determined that his prostate cancer was not as advanced as claimed."

    A third problem with this passage is that Mr Duggan is mistaken about the existence of a legal provision involving three months. There is none in relation to either bail or release on compassionate grounds.

    Fourthly, any inference that might be drawn from Mr Duggan's words that Mr Megrahi had claimed in 2008 to be within three months of death would also appear to be unsupported by the facts.

    The likelihood of such a mistaken inference could be greater in view of the fact that he mentions the non-existent requirement again in the following sentence. It perhaps could reasonably be said to misrepresent the aims of some of those who called for compassionate release:

    "Six months later, Megrahi and his attorneys mounted another effort, with much support from the tabloids, a Scottish Member of Parliament, a retired law professor who had been pleading Megrahi’s case for years, and even from some victims’ families in Scotland, to declare him to be within the required three months of death".

    All of those problems are just from a little section of Mr Duggan's article.

    On a lighter note, he says that after Tony Blair did a deal with Libya in 2007, "the Scottish Government, new to its independence under devolution, protested that it was now responsible for its own foreign policy".

    I would say all of the points about bail and release are far less important than his false statements about the evidence against Mr Megrahi. I would suggest that the issues of truth and falsity need to be considered in the context of his position and history of contact with the relatives, and the circumstances of publication I outlined above.

    Do I think the relatives should sack him? Well, if they want the truth, it would seem a good idea. If others want the truth, it would seem a good idea. He could redeem himself somehow, but there might always be a lingering suspicion about what he was saying in private to relatives.

    We might usefully wonder what other information has been provided to the US relatives over the years by government, ex-government employees and others associated with the case.

    Mr Duggan was a government employee during the trial and first appeal. Perhaps the possibilities in relation to his understanding of the evidence are:

    a) after the Opinion of the Court was published he did not ever find out, as a government lawyer, the basic facts as to the evidence used by judges to convict, despite his history of close involvement in the case and with the relatives;


    b) he did know but forgot, or

    c) something else.

    I cannot see how his actions are consistent with both basic competence and basic honesty.

    It could be that his broadcast and internet errors, and those in this article, are completely unknown to Department of Justice lawyers involved in this case or related matters.

  15. Jo,

    Thanks. I know it well - I heard George Galloway's argument with Frank Duggan at the time, having been on the show a couple of weeks before.

    My performance wasn't as good as Frank Duggan's. Perhaps trying too hard to avoid being "dumped" for legal reasons, I tried to make an oblique reference by calling attention to the events of 22 August 2000.

    Late at night afterwards, I was fed up with how I'd done, said to myself something about using bad events to create good ones, and came up with the possibility of the third appeal.

    George Galloway said he was a friend of Bill Taylor, Mr Megrahi's advocate at trial. That stumped me a bit - I think I was going to talk about why the first appeal wasn't very good.

    He was also wanting to start a campaign for an inquiry.

  16. Matt, the fact you are in this debate at all inspires the rest of us.

    George Galloway is brilliant. How could he not be? He went to the US Congress and took 'em down! : )

    He is however, as we say here, awfy conceited, and it isn't difficult to get lost when speaking to him even when he's on your side! It has happened to many believe me.

    Do not EVER be fed up with what you've done. You've done a great deal.