[I an grateful to a reader of this blog for drawing my attention to a long article with the above title by Russ Baker published yesterday on the Business Insider website. The following are extracts:]
This February, several days after Hosni Mubarak resigned in Egypt, civil protest began in neighboring Libya. Quickly, Muammar Qaddafi’s Justice Minister turned against him and became a rebel leader. And, he made the dramatic claim that his ex-boss was the culprit behind the bombing of Pan Am 103:
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, a former Libyan cabinet minister was quoted as saying by a Swedish newspaper on Wednesday.
Former Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, reported to have resigned this week over the violence used by the government against protesters, told the tabloid Expressen he had evidence Gaddafi ordered the bombing that killed 270 people.
“I have proof that Gaddafi gave the order for (the) Lockerbie (bombing),” Expressen quoted Al Jeleil as saying in an interview at an undisclosed large town in Libya.
The newspaper did not say what the evidence of Gaddafi’s involvement in the bombing was.
A Libyan, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was tried and jailed in Scotland for the bombing, and Gaddafi, in power since 1969, was branded an international pariah for years.
In 2009, the Scottish government freed al-Megrahi on humanitarian grounds after doctors said he had terminal prostate cancer, a decision strongly criticized by the United States. He returned to Libya and is still alive.
“In order to conceal it (his role in ordering the bombing), he did everything in his power to get Megrahi back from Scotland,” al Jeleil was quoted as saying.
“He (Gaddafi) ordered Megrahi to do it.”
This story made it into major news media throughout the world, without anyone stopping to raise questions about the propaganda benefit of the statement, or of the timing. For example, the UK paper, The Telegraph, interviewed Jeleil/Jalil:
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the provisional rebel government in Benghazi and Libya’s former justice minister, said he had evidence of Gaddafi’s involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.
“The orders were given by Gaddafi himself,” he told Rob Crilly.
Mr Abel Jalil claimed he had evidence that convicted bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi worked for Gaddafi.
“This evidence is in our hands and we have documents that prove what I have said and we are ready to hand them over to the international criminal court,” he added.
Since then, I haven’t seen any sign that Jalil’s evidence has been shown to anyone. So we don’t know that it actually exists, or that he was telling the truth. But the original headlines did the trick—anyone watching television or reading stories then would have been led to believe that Qaddafi was behind this dastardly deed.
A couple of days later, for the first time, President Obama called for Qaddafi to step down. And not long thereafter, the US, UK and their allies were getting ready to pitch military action against Qaddafi, originally characterized as solely humanitarian, “to protect civilians.” (Eventually, the top British military figure would indiscreetly admit that the relentless bombing was intended to remove the Libyan leader.)
We’ll get back to the propaganda machine and its effectiveness later, but let’s now examine the relationship between the Western governments and Qaddafi. Was it, as presented in the media, merely a case of doing the right thing against a brutal tyrant? One also accused of being behind the murder of those airline passengers? (...)
But the thing that turned much of the world against Qaddafi was the alleged role of Libya in blowing Pan Am 103 apart.
Most of us probably remember, vaguely, that Libya’s role in that is an established fact. If so, we’re off base. Let’s start with this 2001 BBC report, following the conviction of Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer:
Robert Black, the Scottish law professor who devised the format of the Netherlands-based trial, was quoted on Sunday as saying he was “absolutely astounded” that Al Megrahi had been found guilty.
Mr Black said he believed the prosecution had “a very, very weak circumstantial case” and he was reluctant to believe that Scottish judges would “convict anyone, even a Libyan” on such evidence.
The view, published in British newspapers, echoes that of some of the families of UK victims of the Lockerbie bombing, who are calling for a public inquiry to find “the truth of who was responsible and what the motive was”. (...)
For more on doubts about Libya’s role in the bombing, see the excellent summary of powerful evidence that the Libyans may have been framed, evidence not presented at trial, on Wikipedia. (While Wikipedia should not be considered a definitive source, it is often a good roundup of what may be found elsewhere and thus a starting point for further inquiry.) The troubling elements, which constitute a very long list, include an alleged offer from the FBI of $4 million for certain incriminating testimony, the subsequent admission by a key witness that he had lied, details of strange goings-on in the FBI’s crime lab, and indications that the bomb may have been introduced at an airport where the defendant was not present.
Nevertheless, Megrahi’s conviction, and the media’s dutiful reporting of it as justice done, meant that Libya, and Qaddafi, would continue under sanctions that had already isolated the country for a decade from the international community.