Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Megrahi’s death and the quest for the truth

[This is the headline over an editorial in today’s edition of the Maltese newspaper The Times.  It reads as follows:]

A day after the death, last Sunday, of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103 that killed 270 people over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, The Times of London carried a cartoon showing someone about to cover the words The Truth painted on the nose of the airliner after the explosion. The inference is that, with Mr Megrahi’s death, the truth will not be uncovered now. But this need not be the case, particularly following the revelation, some time ago, that evidence not disclosed to the defence team at the time of the trial could have led to a different outcome.

It would be morally unjust to consider the case closed, not only with regard to Mr Megrahi, who pleaded innocent of the crime until his death, but also to the relatives of all the victims and to Malta too.

However much Malta denies the claim that the luggage containing the bomb started its journey here, the fact is that, often enough, news reports about Lockerbie carry graphics showing precisely that the bomb was loaded, in Malta, on an Air Malta flight bound for Frankfurt. This impression will not be removed until the true facts of the terrorist act become known. It is, therefore, in Malta’s interest too that the investigation into the bombing of the airliner is re-opened.

A relentless campaigner for the truth, Jim Swire, whose daughter was one of the passengers who died in the air tragedy, had this to say after Mr Megrahi’s death was announced: “At least, before he died we learnt what he already knew: that the story that a Libyan bomb using a long-running timer had started its journey from Malta was a myth. The famed fragment ‘PT35b’ could never have been part of one of the timers allegedly used. There is now no valid evidence left from the court that either Malta, its flag carrier airline or Baset’s own country were involved. Baset has a valid alibi and he died knowing that, in the end, the truth will emerge.”

Will it? Many, including a cross section of the national press in Britain, think it should.

One newspaper, for example, called for the Scottish government to agree to the holding of a public inquiry, arguing that Mr Megrahi’s death was no reason to stop trying to get to the truth. Another argued that “if ever a crime of this magnitude warranted an independent review it is this”.

At one time, a former Libyan Justice Minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, had told a Swedish tabloid that he had proof that Muammar Gaddafi had personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing. But it seems that the story ended there.

What fuelled the belief that there might have been a miscarriage of justice was a report by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which, among other matters, raised the credibility of the evidence given by a Maltese shopkeeper. The commission confirmed that the shopkeeper and his brother had been compensated by the US State Department for their evidence and held that this information should have been disclosed to the defence team.

Dr Swire feels it is a tragedy “that we have failed to overturn the verdict while he (Mr Megrahi) was alive”.

There have been various theories over the release of Mr Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009. For example, many believed that his release was done out of commercial interests.

However, irrespective of the reasons that led to his early release from prison, justice will not be done before the truth is unearthed.

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