Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Lockerbie rationale for participation in the Libya war

[An article by Robert Parry published today on the investigative journalism Consortium News website contains the following:]

What’s also clear from the US news coverage is that the [New York] Times editors and other opinion-shapers are engaged in (...) building the “political will” for this new war and future occupation [of Libya] by excluding any serious questions about the wisdom of the desired course. (...)

Meanwhile, there has been zero reexamination of a key rationale for US participation in the war, Gaddafi’s alleged guilt in the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

“The blood of Americans is on [Gaddafi’s] hands because he was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103,” declared Sen John McCain, R-Arizona, after a recent trip to rebel-held Benghazi during which McCain joined the call for a larger US military role.

The Times and other leading US news outlets also treat Libya’s guilt as a flat fact, but the case actually remains murky.

In 2001, a Scottish court did convict Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi for the bombing which killed 270 people. But the judgment appears to have been more a political compromise than an act of justice. One of the judges told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about “enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.” [RB: This was officially denied by the Public Information Officer for the Scottish Judiciary.]

Megrahi’s conviction assuaged the understandable human desire to see someone punished for such a heinous crime, albeit a possibly innocent man.

In 2007, after the testimony of a key government witness was discredited, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed to [refer the case back to the High Court since the conviction possibly constituted] a grave miscarriage of justice. However, that review was proceeding slowly in 2009 when Scottish authorities released Megrahi on humanitarian grounds, after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

Megrahi dropped his appeal in order to gain the early release, but that doesn’t mean he was guilty. He has continued to assert his innocence and an objective press corps would reflect the doubts regarding his conviction.

The Scottish court’s purported reason for finding Megrahi guilty – while acquitting his co-defendant Lamin Khalifa Fhimah – was the testimony of Toni Gauci, owner of a clothing store in Malta who allegedly sold Megrahi a shirt, the remnants of which were found with the shards of the suitcase that contained the bomb.

The rest of the case rested on a theory that Megrahi put the luggage on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to a connecting flight to London, where it was transferred onto Pan Am 103 bound for New York, a decidedly unlikely way to undertake an act of terrorism given all the random variables involved.

Megrahi would have had to assume that three separate airport security systems – at Malta, Frankfurt and London – would fail to give any serious scrutiny to an unaccompanied suitcase or to detect the bomb despite security officials being on the lookout for just such a threat.

As historian William Blum recounted in a Consortium News article after Megrahi’s 2001 conviction, “The case for the suitcase's hypothetical travels must also deal with the fact that, according to Air Malta, all the documented luggage on KM180 was collected by passengers in Frankfurt and did not continue in transit to London, and that two Pan Am on-duty officials in Frankfurt testified that no unaccompanied luggage was introduced onto Pan Am 103A, the feeder flight to London.”

There also were problems with Gauci’s belated identification of Megrahi as the shirt-buyer a decade after the fact. Gauci had made contradictory IDs and had earlier given a physical description that didn’t match Megrahi. Gauci reportedly received a $2 million reward for his testimony and then moved to Australia, where he went into retirement.

In 2007, the Scottish review panel decided to reconsider Megrahi’s conviction after concluding that Gauci’s testimony was unbelievable. And without Gauci’s testimony, the case against Megrahi was virtually the same as the case against his co-defendant who was acquitted.

However, after Megrahi’s conviction in 2001, more international pressure was put on Libya, which was then regarded as the archetypal “rogue” state. Indeed, it was to get onerous economic sanctions lifted that Libya took “responsibility” for the Pan Am attack and paid reparations to the victims' families even as Libyan officials continued to deny guilt.

Yet, despite these doubts about the Pan Am 103 case, the US news media continues to treat Libya’s guilt as a flat fact.

Earlier this month, there was some excitement over the possibility that Gaddafi would be fingered as the Pan Am 103 mastermind by a high-level defector, former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who was believed to be in charge of Libyan intelligence in 1988.

Moussa Koussa was questioned by Scottish authorities but apparently shed little new light on the case and was allowed to go free after the interview. Very quickly the press interest over Moussa Koussa faded away.

Yet, as the clamor now builds in Official Washington for an escalation of US participation in the war – and as the Pan Am 103 case is cited over and over as justification – there has been no serious reexamination of the mystery, only the repetition of Libya’s assumed guilt.

Looking across the landscape of the US news media, it is hard to find any major voice suggesting peace negotiations with Gaddafi’s government or even advocating that the sincerity of its acceptance of the African Union’s plan for a cease-fire and democratic reforms should be put to the test.

Instead, virtually all the talking heads are armchair warriors, with the neoconservative editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times again leading the way by condemning Obama’s decision to minimize US military participation.

[A similar line is taken in an article by Ramzy Baroud headlined US rethinks strategy: war as opportunity in Libya on the Middle East Online website.]


  1. Refreshing and surprising to read an American article that runs counterclockwise to their usual unshakeable beliefs on Lockerbie.
    The guy needs re-programming, obviously.

  2. No doubt the Americans will re programme him in due course.

  3. Inspiring. However, predictably not carried by the mainstream press.