Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Hollywood’s Pan Am 103 Truthers

[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the website of The Daily Beast.  It reads as follows:]

Acclaimed movie director Jim Sheridan has stirred up a hornet’s nest with his claim that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan spy held responsible for blowing Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over the Scottish town of Lockerbie and killing 270 people in December 1988, was innocent.

The FBI officials in charge of the US investigation as well as families and friends of the victims, 190 of whom were Americans, are especially troubled that the 65-year-old Sheridan is planning a feature film that will portray Megrahi—who died of cancer in May 2012 after being sprung from a Scottish prison on a controversial “compassionate release”—as blameless and wrongfully convicted of the crime.

“It kills me to think that they would go off and just tell some completely wrong story just because they like the way it sounds or there’s got to be another twist to it,” said Pan Am 103 widow Kathy Tedeschi, whose husband, Bill Daniels, was a passenger on the doomed flight. “There are too many people, like the FBI and Scotland Yard, who investigated this case, and I firmly believe they knew what they were doing and they got the right man.”

The Irish-born Sheridan, whose Oscar-nominated movies include In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot (for which Daniel Day-Lewis received the Best Actor award), told The Hollywood Reporter that he’s writing a screenplay with fellow Irish writer Audrey O’Reilly that will dramatize the experience of English physician Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died on Pan Am 103. Swire treated the ailing Megrahi in jail, became convinced of his innocence and launched a still-ongoing campaign to clear the Libyan’s name. [RB: Dr Swire visited Megrahi in jail, but he did not treat him.]

“It was this weird thing where you think you’ve found the person who killed your daughter, and then Jim ended up in the cell looking after him—because he’s a doctor and the guy wasn’t well—and it’s obvious as the nose on your face that Megrahi didn’t do it,” Sheridan told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that Swire will be among his guests at the inaugural Dublin Arabic Film Festival, which Sheridan is staging in Ireland on May 8. The director’s Hollywood publicist said Monday he was traveling and unavailable for comment.

“Somebody should reach out to Mr. Sheridan and tell him he’s betting on the wrong horse,” said Frank Duggan, president of the nonprofit group, Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc, which represents relatives of the Americans killed in the Boeing 747’s explosion. “It would do a lot of damage,” added Duggan, who served as the family liaison for  the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, which was established in response to the Lockerbie tragedy. “It keeps stirring the pot for all the crazies and deniers to say, ‘Aha! See, we were right!’”

Retired FBI agent Richard Marquise, who led the US task force during the Lockerbie investigation and has written extensively about the case, said Sheridan seems to be aligning himself with “10,000 conspiracy theories, none of which has ever been tested in court. It’s a bunch of speculation and hypotheses and I feel bad that somebody is going to stake his reputation on it…Maybe that would sell a movie, but it wouldn’t be the truth.”

Retired FBI official Oliver “Buck” Revell, the bureau’s associate deputy director who rode herd on the American end of the Lockerbie investigation, told The Daily Beast: “As with our Hollywood filmmakers, truth has little or nothing to do with filmmaking and most documentaries. I am well satisfied to let the verdict and evidence that supported it stand. I do favor the investigation continuing, for I am certain that many of Megrahi’s superiors were complicit in this terrible crime.”

Megrahi, who when Flight 103 exploded was head of security for Libya’s national airline and allegedly a Libyan intelligence agent, was convicted of 270 counts of murder, and sentenced to life in prison, by a three-judge Scottish panel in January 2001. The evidence against him was circumstantial; a shopkeeper in Malta, where the bomb was allegedly put aboard the 747, identified Megrahi as the man who purchased the clothes that were found in the suitcase where the device had been concealed. Megrahi also had a business relationship with a Swiss company that manufactured the device’s timer, and he had traveled to Malta from Tripoli on a false passport—all damning pieces of evidence.

Megrahi consistently asserted his innocence. He appealed the verdict and lost, and a second appeal was abandoned after his defense team decided it might hamper legal efforts for an early release. Over bitter protests from the Obama administration, Scottish officials ultimately released him in August 2009, on the grounds that he was suffering from advanced prostate cancer and had only an estimated three months to live.

He was flown back to Libya on Muammar Qaddafi’s personal jet, accompanied by Qaddafi’s son Saif, and greeted by a triumphal celebration at the airport—a spectacle that enraged US government officials and American relatives of the Lockerbie dead. He survived another three years, living out his last days in a posh villa in Tripoli. Ironically, he outlasted Qaddafi, who was killed in a popular uprising in October 2011, after being toppled from power and dragged bruised and bleeding through the streets.

Dr Swire is among the more conspicuous supporters of Megrahi’s innocence and alternative theories of the Flight 103 disaster, which include claims that the explosion was the result of a drug deal gone bad, the work of Palestinian terrorists, or even retaliation by the Iranians, whose civilian airliner, Iran Air Flight 655, was shot down without justification by a US Navy missile cruiser, killing all 290 people aboard, just 5 1/2 months before the Lockerbie disaster.

“Dr Swire is not a credible figure,” Duggan said, adding that US investigators initially liked the Iranian theory but were unable to find any evidence to corroborate it. “I’d like to say to Sheridan that you need to learn the facts before you assume that Megrahi was innocent. You need to look at other family members besides Dr Swire. I don’t know any American family members who agree with him.”

[Frank Duggan, a man whose knowledge of the facts of Lockerbie is so sketchy that he was able to be shown up on air by George Galloway, says that Dr Jim Swire is not a credible figure.  That really is rich!]


  1. They're getting a tad agitated, methinks. And so they should.

  2. Referring to a group of people as “Truthers” is intended as derogatory.
    Like “Conspiracy Theorists”, it’s a put-down of anybody that rejects the official version of events. (A quick look at “truther” in the Urban Dictionary gives a range of definitions of the term and its origins).
    Basically, a truther is the opposite of a liar.

    No wonder that the “FBI officials in charge of the U.S. investigation as well as (some) families and friends of the victims” are troubled. So they should indeed.
    The UK and US governments should be too. As should the Crown Office.
    They all have powerful motives to avoid the truth at all costs.
    The truth is their enemy. The truth will unravel one of the most outrageous political and judicial cover-ups of recent years.

    Jim Sheridan is the perfect director for Jim Swire’s story. He successfully brought another story about a successful fight against injustice and judicial corruption to the screen with “In The Name Of The Father”. It’s worth revisiting this film to experience the powerful emotions it elicits, in particular the feelings of indignation and ultimately furious triumph following the uncovering of withheld evidence in Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Gareth Pierce.

    There will always be those who dismiss out of hand any dramatic interpretations of stories based on true events because they are not 100% factual (- before the film has even been made, let alone seen?) Undoubtedly, the basic thrust of Sheridan’s treatment of Swire’s story will be fundamentally honest and truthful and that is what matters.

    Somebody should reach out to Mr. Duggan and tell him he’s been knowingly leading the US families that he represents down the wrong path for far too long. In fact his role seems to have been to lead them in the opposite direction from the truth. For Duggan to describe Jim Swire as “not a credible figure” removes any last remaining vestiges of credibility that Duggan may have had himself.

  3. "Reach out to Mr. Duggan"? You're 'avin' a larf, right?

  4. Perhaps Dr Swire will in the film become Mr Megrahi's physician. In "In the Name of the Father" Gerry Conlon shared a cell with his father Giuseppe which never happened. Artistic licence.

  5. Without dramatizing scenes which might not have taken place exactly as they happened, without telescoping time and without combining characters, films based on real-life events would have to last two or three weeks rather than hours and would be interminably boring. Placing Gerry and Giusseppe Conlon in the same cell allowed the characters to develop and interact and thereby progress the plot. In no way did it undermine the integrity of the storytelling – a shocking miscarriage of justice perpetrated by the British Police and judiciary against an innocent man.

    The Lockerbie scandal deserves the widest possible audience and those with an interest in uncovering the truth should be thankful that it is Jim Sheridan who is going to be at the helm. Less scrupulous directors are ten a penny.

    Artistic Licence is an essential and valid element in any artistic interpretation of true events.

    Or watch the documentaries, and often even they don’t get their facts straight.

  6. Well exactly. Al-Jazeera used a lot of artistic license in their recent documentary. Indeed "Operation Bird" seemed to be have little actual substance at all. Indeed Dr Swire himself in drawing a link between Lockerbie and the assassination of Archbishop Romero in El Salvador several years earlier made a number of claims which were contradicted by historical fact. It's just a movie - why not jazz up the narrative?

  7. “It would do a lot of damage,” added Duggan - you don't say Frank. Your credibility and career will be over when the truth is exposed.

    At least the movie isn't being made by a US director with scenes depicting two Libyans at Luqa airport sneaking a Samsonite suitcase on an Air Malta flight and the suitcase being loaded & unloaded at Frankfurt and Heathrow Airports before finding itself in the perfect position for its hidden bomb to have maximum effect.

    I followed the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombing and the former case's link to the Maguire family of which Gerry Conlon's dad was one. Anyone who looked closely at the cases could see there was something very wrong with the convictions in all three cases. And just like Lockerbie those in power sat on their hands claiming to have no doubts to the safety of the conviction, despite there being much evidence to contradict the "official" version of events.

  8. Indeed there are some quite shocking similarities between the Lockerbie case and those of the Birmingham 6, Guildford 4 and Maguires. The three “Irish” cases saw, as Scott points out, senior politicians claiming that there was no significant new evidence (Douglas Hurd and David Mellor in particular) when in reality there was shedloads of new evidence and also previous evidence which had been either exaggerated or fabricated or suppressed. There was also some extremely inadequate forensic evidence and practice from RARDE (Dr Hayes and colleagues); some appalling behaviour by some police officers involved in the investigations; apparent meddling by the spooks and some truly vile behaviour from some senior judges, including Denning's infamous “appalling vista” comments.

    If anyone wonders how on earth the Lockerbie case can remain blocked for years and years in the face of a clear miscarriage of justice and overwhelming new evidence, then a read through of some the accounts of the struggles for justice by those poor souls convicted of the bombings at Birmingham and Guildford will show exactly how.

  9. And of course Judith Ward and the M62 bombing. The Police hadn't the slightest interest in who actually committed these Crimes.