Monday, 25 August 2014

The disgraceful CIA Giaka cables saga recalled

[Fourteen years ago on this date the Scottish Court in the Netherlands was considering the implications of the CIA cables relating to Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, which had just been made available to the defence, over the Crown’s vigorous objections. Here is how the proceedings were recorded at the time on website:]

Richard Keen QC for Fhimah described the CIA cables, which were made available to the defence today, as "highly relevant" to the defence case.

Keen told the court that the idea that they were not relevant is inconceivable.

[The] Lord Advocate told the court on Tuesday that the redacted passages in the CIA cables were irrelevant to the defence case. He [Richard Keen] said some of the disclosed material goes beyond issue of reliability and credibility to the heart of this case and the defence may now have to consider their position with respect to the trial.

William Taylor QC for Megrahi said that if Giaka is to give evidence on Monday the defence would require more time to review the information contained in the cables. Mr Keen said that a preliminary glance at the cables indicate that at least one additional witness required to be precognosced and this witness is outside Holland and Scotland. He sought confirmation from the Lord Advocate that what has been produced is what the Crown have seen.

The Lord Advocate indicated that there were deletions, which he understood were names but that he would require to speak to Mr Turnbull [Advocate Depute Alan Turnbull QC] and address the court on Monday in respect of whether the deletions are the same.

The Crown appears to be on the defensive again regarding the issue of the CIA cables.

It seems clear that Giaka will not now testify on Monday and if the defence are granted a week long adjournment to examine the issue further then the earliest that Giaka will testify is Tuesday, 5 September.

The case does appear now to be totally disjointed with different chapters of evidence interweaving with the Giaka cables.

Several relatives of those who died on Pan Am 103 are also concerned at what might be contained in the CIA cables.

One made the point to me [Ian Ferguson, website co-editor] that they are concerned that Giaka was a paid informer for the CIA before the bombing. "Some family members," he said "shudder at the possibility, that if Giaka did tell the CIA about the planning of the bombing, then why was nothing done about it."

[My account of the CIA cables saga, as published in The Scotsman on 23 July 2007, reads as follows:]

The behaviour of the Crown in the Lockerbie trial was certainly not beyond criticism - and indeed it casts grave doubt on the extent to which the Lord Advocate and Crown Office staff can be relied on always to place the interest of securing a fair trial for the accused above any perceived institutional imperative to obtain a conviction.

To illustrate this in the context of the Lockerbie trial, it is enough to refer to the saga of CIA cables relating to the star Crown witness, Abdul Majid Giaka, who had been a long-standing CIA asset in Libya and, by the time of the trial, was living in the US in a witness protection programme. Giaka's evidence was ultimately found by the court to be utterly untrustworthy. This was largely due to the devastating effectiveness of the cross-examination by defence counsel. Their ability to destroy completely the credibility of the witness stemmed from the contents of cables in which his CIA handlers communicated to headquarters the information that Giaka had provided to them in the course of their secret meetings. Discrepancies between Giaka's evidence-in-chief to the Advocate Depute and the contents of these contemporaneous cables enabled the defence to mount a formidable challenge to the truthfulness and accuracy, or credibility and reliability, of Giaka's testimony. Had the information contained in these cables not been available to them, the task of attempting to demonstrate to the court that Giaka was an incredible or unreliable witness would have been more difficult, and perhaps impossible.

Yet the Crown strove valiantly to prevent the defence obtaining access to these cables. At the trial, on 22 August 2000, when he was seeking to persuade the Court to deny the defence access to those cables in their unedited or uncensored form, the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, stated that the members of the prosecution team who were given access to the uncensored CIA cables on 1 June 2000 [Advocate Depute Alan Turnbull QC and Procurator Fiscal Norman McFadyen] were fully aware of the obligation incumbent upon them as prosecutors to make available to the defence material relevant to the defence of the accused and, to that end, approached the contents of those cables with certain considerations in mind.

Boyd said: "First of all, they considered whether or not there was any information behind the redactions which would undermine the Crown case in any way. Second, they considered whether there was anything which would appear to reflect on the credibility of Majid... On all of these matters, the learned Advocate Depute reached the conclusion that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special defence... I emphasise that the redactions have been made on the basis of what is in the interests of the security of a friendly power... Crown counsel was satisfied that there was nothing within the documents which bore upon the defence case in any way."

One judge, Lord Coulsfield, then intervened: "Does that include, Lord Advocate... that Crown counsel, having considered the documents, can say to the Court that there is nothing concealed which could possibly bear on the credibility of this witness?"

The Lord Advocate replied: "Well, I'm just checking with the counsel who made that... there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Majid on these matters."

Notwithstanding the opposition of the Lord Advocate, the court ordered the unedited cables to be made available to the defence, who went on to use their contents to such devastating effect in questioning Giaka that the court held that his evidence had to be disregarded in its entirety. Yet, strangely enough, the judges did not see fit publicly to censure the Crown for its inaccurate assurances that the cables contained nothing that could assist the defence.

1 comment:

  1. So where is Giaka now? In a metabolically challenged situation?