[I am grateful to Dr Jim Swire for allowing me to publish here his reaction, contained in an e-mail sent to UK Lockerbie relatives, to the proposal soon to be announced by a number of US relatives of Lockerbie victims to launch a Gaddafi Terror Victims Initiative.]
I have no doubt that the 'Gaddafi terror victims initiative' from Victoria Cummock and Paul Hudson is launched with the very best of intentions and with sincerity. However I personally fear that, in terms of the Lockerbie atrocity it is unwise and may lead to unnecessary further grief for them, and perhaps all of us Lockerbie relatives. I hope it may empower those thousands of other victims of a long and brutal regime, though the healing of all that must come surely from within Libyan society,
I understand that a UK based lawyer is in Benghazi to gather and orchestrate support, and fully expect that the result will be an initiative supported by those now opposing Gaddafi there.
So far as Lockerbie is concerned, this initiative is, I believe, based on profoundly insecure foundations. Its title presupposes the guilt of the Gaddafi regime, its content presupposes the guilt of Megrahi.
The words of defectors to Benghazi, or of Moussa Koussa, come to that, should be regarded with the greatest circumspection, taking their present situations into account. War generates fog, and truth is then even harder to come by.
It has now become possible for those who were not present throughout the trial of Megrahi/Fhima to see with greater clarity, if they have the open-mindedness and patience to look, that Megrahi could not have been guilty as charged.
Without the certainty that Megrahi was guilty, which is implicit in this initiative, there can as yet be no certainty that the Libyan regime itself was involved, at least in the way that most in America believe.
In order to achieve the verdict against Megrahi, it was necessary both to conceal some evidence, some of which has now become available, but it also seems to have been necessary to inject some evidence which appears to have been deliberately fabricated.
Some of the crucial concealment of evidence appears to have been the responsibility of the investigating Scottish police, and perhaps their mentors.
Some of the apparently fabricated introduced evidence appears to have originated from intelligence sources operating in support of the US government, but also requiring collusion within the UK investigation.
Throughout the post-tragedy years there has been an undertow of a lust for revenge against the alleged perpetrators, without first establishing a sound basis for believing in their guilt. That was true even before the trial in Zeist had begun.
There are real suspicions that the UK Government of the day may also have interfered in the structure of the ensuing investigation into the tragedy, reducing the visibility of their own culpability in the process.
Press reports in the intervening years have suggested that both the UK and US leaders agreed that the investigation of the tragedy should be kept 'low key'.
Following the UTA (French) disaster, Moussa Koussa was investigated by Judge Brugiere and rejected as a suspect in that atrocity. The French investigation named Senussi, Gaddafi's brother-in-law as the main perpetrator, and he was sentenced to 'life', in absentia. For the sake of the UTA relatives, it is to be hoped that he, and those named with him, may be 'flushed out' by present events, to serve their sentences.
That does not imply that the Libyan regime was directly responsible for Lockerbie, any more than it exonerates them. The Lockerbie investigation did not assess evidence for or against members of the Libyan regime per se, merely alleging that the two accused Libyans had colluded with others. To search for truth amongst the ruins of Libya would be more likely to bear fruit when the fog of war has settled, but one can only admire the determination of those behind this initiative to seek out the truth: but how can they recognise it, if the core presumptions of the searchers turn out to be incorrect?
For some of us, one of the main reasons for seeking trial under Scottish rather than American law, was to avoid the possibility of the death penalty. Megrahi, now so widely acknowledged to be innocent of the charges against him, would no doubt be long dead had he been tried in the USA.
I believe there is a better way forward, and that is first to allow a complete review of the Megrahi verdict through whatever legal process can be engaged to achieve that, making use of all the evidence now available. Such a process will have to exclude the possibility that executives who have made serious mistakes, or even acted criminally in their work on this case, might try to damage the review process.
From 1991 onwards I had presumed that the two indicted Libyans must be among the guilty. It was the evidence I heard throughout the Zeist trial, specially the forensic evidence about the PFLP-GC IEDs, which converted me to believing that I had not heard the truth, and that they were not guilty as charged. Only after my conversion and after the verdict did we discover the evidence of the break-in.
Meanwhile we should remember a number of existing concerns about the trial itself.
1. The UN's special observer of the Megrahi/Fhima trial has roundly condemned it as not having represented justice.
2. Intelligence assets from the US and from Libya were present amongst the prosecution and defence teams in the well of the court. This even opened the possibility of covert prompting of witnesses.
3. Scotland's own Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission spent three years studying all the evidence then available and came to the conclusion that this trial may have been a miscarriage of justice. Political intervention has stifled publication of their full reasons to this day.
4. In Megrahi's first appeal his then defence team chose not even to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence heard in his main trial. Current knowledge has underlined how rash that was.
5. Scotland has had the opportunity for frank re-assessment of this case for 10 years, but has failed to do so, except through the SCCRC's findings, still partly politically suppressed. Megrahi's second appeal in Edinburgh was confounded by a combination of political interference and deliberate delaying tactics, until the issue of his illness put a stop to it. That court was briefly attended by two of the same officials from the US Department of Justice who had been active during the trial itself. They circulated emails which alleged that British relatives 'only attended while the press cameras were there'. In fact we were there to watch one DoJ official snoring during the proceedings, and we were there again after they had left. Again this does not suggest a scrupulous care for the truth.
6. An ever growing number of experienced lawyers and media commentators now believe that Megrahi should never have been convicted.
7. Nelson Mandela, himself a staunch supporter of getting the two accused Libyans to trial, said of it " No one country should be complainant prosecutor and judge." This principle was breached by the closeness of the US and the UK in assembling evidence, prosecuting and judging this case. It would be far more severely breached now, were the USA to assume sole responsibility for a renewed prosecution, as this initiative seems to hope.
8. The British Prime Minister at the time of Lockerbie, commanding huge respect in the USA, was Margaret Thatcher. In her book The Downing Street Years (ISBN 0 00 255049 0 published 1993) on pages 448/9, referring to her support for the USAF bombing of Tripoli and Bengazi under President Reagan in 1986, wrote: "It [the USAF bombing of Tripoli] turned out to be a more decisive blow against Libyan sponsored terrorism than I could ever have imagined....the much vaunted Libyan counter attack did not and could not take place......there was a marked decline in Libyan sponsored terrorism in succeeding years"
One is left wondering what connection there may be between this extraordinary claim, and the suppression of the evidence of the break-in at Heathrow, so close to the baggage assembly shed, and to the Iran Air facility, on the night before Lockerbie.
If this break-in, as seems so likely, was the real portal of entry of the device, it would mean that the total failure of the Heathrow authorities to find out who broke in or why, or to suspend outgoing flights till they had some answers, would amount to nothing less than criminal negligence. I believe they did suspend outward bound flights eventually - after 19.03 on the 21st of December 1988 that is. Till that point there was simply money to be made as usual.
The break-in evidence coupled to the 38 minute flight time of the Lockerbie aircraft, when assessed together with the German forensic evidence led at Zeist, strongly suggest the use of a specialised type of IED, unique to the PFLP-GC Palestinian terrorist group in Syria. These IEDs all guaranteed a flight time of 35 to 45 minutes before exploding, required no setting by the user, and were unaffected by having to wait around in an airport, or anywhere else at ground level, no matter for how long, until required for use, when they would still always allow approximately 38 minutes flight time before exploding if put in an aircraft.
Do read the court transcripts.
We know from evidence led at Zeist that a substantial number of these IEDs had been made, though almost all had been confiscated by the (West) German police in October 1988. These IEDs had an air pressure sensitive switch; if exposed to the lower air pressure in a flying jet, they would all have exploded about 35-40 minutes from take-off, hence the need for bringing one by a surface route to Heathrow, to be introduced via a break-in requiring and absolutely no intervention within an airport, save that of getting them into an aircraft's hull.They were unique in their deadliness and in their fitness for purpose. Thus they could be left undisturbed, hidden in a suitcase.The break-in offered the ideal portal of entry. The overturning of the verdict against Megrahi will demonstrate just how unlikely the story that the IED ever came from Malta via Frankfurt always was
Whatever happened to the need to exclude 'reasonable doubt' in a criminal trial?.
Had the break-in evidence been available to the trial court, it is doubtful whether the trial could have continued.
Who suppressed it, and for what motive? Does Stuart Henderson of the investigating Scottish police force now admit knowing of its existence before the trial? If so why did the court not know of it too?
Do you feel angry that your family boarded a plane that night at an airport, which, despite having been warned of increased terrorist threat, didn't even bother to investigate a break-in which gave immediate access, not only to where the interline bags for their aircraft were assembled the following evening, but also to the Iran Air facility at that airport?
Then there is the disturbing fact that Iran lost an airbus and 290 people to a missile fired by the USS Vincennes only 6 months before Lockerbie, (in a ghastly error I believe). Iran then had to watch as the captain of that ship, Will Rogers, was awarded a medal after his return to the USA.. None need doubt that Lockerbie was an act of revenge, but by which country? If we were to get that wrong, the scene might be set for a further cycle of revenge.
However strong our need to find the truth about why our loved ones died, I believe we have an absolute obligation to find out what that truth really is, lest from our activities further injustice and revenge should be unleashed. We must not fall into that trap: surely the victims would not be proud of us if we did.
If we can exhibit a little more patience on top of the last 22 years, we shall see more of the truth. War, as over Libya now, generates fog not clarity, now is not the time to try to add an extra level onto the existing structure created in the hope of explaining what happened, its foundations will soon collapse anyway.
The allegations of those in Benghazi or from the likes of Moussa Koussa are particularly difficult to assess at this time, laced as they will be with strong but partially hidden motivations.
It has been difficult to keep referring to the growing doubts over 'the official version' all these years, precisely because of the distress it may have caused to others wishing to find closure in their acceptance of the Zeist verdict.
Of course all relatives of the dead are free to cope the best way they can, but I hope that there will be restraint over putting reliance on the claims of those whose country and futures are being so torn apart in Libya at this time.
Failure to show restraint now may make coping even harder in the years ahead.
Meanwhile the initiative's last sentence deserves everyone's total support: it reads: "No government should be able to suppress truth, justice and accountability for the sake [of] diplomatic convenience and oil money."
[This story has now been picked up and reported -- without acknowledgment, of course -- by The Guardian.]