Wednesday, 31 December 2014

"Accepting responsibility" contrasted with admitting guilt

[What follows is an article published on this date in 2009 on Adam Larson (Caustic Logic)’s blog The 12/7-9/11 Treadmill and Beyond (and referred to on this blog here):] 

I recently started an interesting discussion thread at the JREF forum, fishing for thoughts on why people believe the official line on the Lockerbie bombing so fervently. I hadn't yet encountered any serious questions in the course of previous brilliant and provocative discussions - just a few drive-by statements supporting Megrahi's and Col Gaddafy's absolute guilt, but never accompanied by evidence of any real knowledge. Among the questions and counter-points I suggested people could offer, if they knew anything, was "Libya admitted responsibility and paid out billions of dollars!" And if they had asked, I would answer like this: 

There is no doubt that the Libyan government did issue a statement admitting responsibility, and agreed to pay compensation, among other measures, in 2003. It was an explicit pre-condition, inssted by Washington, to having broad UN sanctions lifted. Tripoli has always defended its innocence of Lockerbie, but to function in the global economy, they had to do something. Here they managed to not explicitly break the rule, and using careful (cynical?) wordplay, managed to accept responsibility without admitting guilt. Sanctions were lifted. 

There’s been much oxymoronic harping on this in the West as both an admission of guilt and an arrogant refusal to admit their guilt. The BBC’s 2008 Conspiracy Files episode on Lockerbie is a brilliant example. “For those that believe al Megrahi was framed,” snarls the narrator, Carolyn Katz, “one fact remains hard to explain away. Libya agreed to award substantial compensation for Lockerbie. Sanctions were then lifted.” Well, ignoring that they just answered their own stumper of a question, it’s a good question, and they continue: “Tripoli accepted responsibility for what it called ‘the Lockerbie incident.’ But does it admit guilt?” Of course not, and by pretending there’s some disconnect, they’ve primed the audience to see the darkest of cynicism at work. Oops, how did that happen?

Under Prolonged Duress
Following he indictment of Libyan agents al Megrahi and Fhimah in late 1991, a process itself twisted with political machinations and riddled with a million broken questions marks, the Security Council moved to enforce the official truth with sanctions. Resolution 748 of 31 March 1992 imposed an arms and air embargo, diplomatic restrictions, and establishment of a sanctions committee. The committee’s work led to Resolution 883 of 11 November 1993, toughening sanctions. This measure “approved the freezing of Libyan funds and financial resources in other countries,” reports, “and banned the provision to Libya of equipment for oil refining and transportation.” 

By late August 1998 the framework of a trial was established, and used as the measure of Resolution 1192, agreeing to suspend sanctions once the suspects were handed over to the special Scottish court in the Nehterlands at Camp Zeist. Tripoli made it happen, with help from luminaries like Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia and Nelson Mandela of Africa. Megrahi and Fhimah were flown on a special flight to the Netherlands in early April, and on the 5th were official arrested at Camp Zeist and set to await their trial. Sanctions were immediately suspended, under threat of re-enforcement (that never did materialize). 

Many suspect this was never “supposed” to happen, as the evidence behind the indictment was too weak to stand up at Trial. The Crown's prosecutors managed to swing it somehow, but it took nearly two years from the handover, and a display of mental gymnastics worthy of the Realpolitik Olympics in the scale and skill of it. On January 31 2001, the three-judge panel made it official – Megrahi was legally guilty for the plot, and Fhimah was not guilty. 

From there, many insisted sanctions should be lifted to reflect Libya’s good faith through this process. But Bush and Blair balked, demanding an admission of responsibility and compensation to victims’ families before they went past suspension. It was a letter, dated 15 August 2003, from Libya’s Permanent Representative to the President of the Council Ahmed A Own, that paved the way. Own's letter explains “the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” as Libya calls itself, “has sought to cooperate in good faith throughout the past years” on solving the problems made theirs “resulting from the Lockerbie incident.” It was in this spirit that they “facilitated the bringing to justice of the two suspects charged with the bombing of Pan Am 103 and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials.”

The letter also pledged Libya to cooperate with any further investigations, and to settle all compensation claims with haste, and to join the international “War on Terrorism.” It was widely (and reservedly) hailed as a bold… statement. But still evasive. It doesn’t clearly state anywhere the suspects or any Libyans were in any way actually guilty of the “incident.” Nonetheless, after a month of discussion in the Security Council, sanctions were lifted on Sept 12 2003. France and the US insisted on abstaining, but it was otherwise a unanimous vote of 13. (source) The United States’ own sanctions would remain in full force due to the general evilness of Col Gaddafy, US officials made clear. (Additional normalizations did happen in 2007). 

The Blood Libel Edits
Despite his portrayals as a crazed prophet of death, Moammar Gadaffi proved a shrewd and patient pragmatist in all this. He can't have ever believed his nation actually did the crime, but against "guilty" as a legal truth, he accepted they had no choice but to do “the time.” It’s a type of bind known to breed passive-aggressive tendencies. The Colonel’s son and likely successor Saif al Islam al Gaddafi seemed to understand it, when he was interviewed at home for the Conspiracy Files programme.
Q - Does Libya accept responsibility for the attack on Lockerbie?
A - Yes. We wrote a letter to the Security Council, saying that we are responsible for the acts of our employees, or people. But it doesn’t mean that we did it, in fact.
Q - So to be very clear on this, what you’re saying is that you accept responsibility, but you’re not admitting that you did it.
A - Of course.
Q - That’s… to many people will sound like a very cynical way to conduct your relationship with the outside world.
A - What can you do? Without writing that letter, you will not be able to get out of the sanction.
Q - So this statement was just word play. It wasn’t an admission of guilt.
A - No. I admit that we play with the words. And we had to. We had to. There was no other… solution.

The BBC are masters, among others, of careful editing, and it helped bolster their whole “you don’t admit you’re guilty” thing where people have to explain there’s nothing to “admit” (or fail to explain that, as happened here). Thus he could, with a little imagination, appear to be saying “we don’t admit it, buuuuut of course we did it, you already know that.” Note the cut that removed some of his words from the middle of the exchange, unlikely to have been irrelevant. Thus is clearly established a cynical payout ($2.7 billion) and bit of semantics to buy up and slough off their non-admitted guilt so they could resume trade. They got away with Lockerbie using money and words and are laughing at us and making more money! 

Immediately after “there was no other solution,” the video cuts right to the interviewer asking “so it was like blood money if you like,” which seems to be referring to what was just shown. But really it refers to the American victims' families, whose “money, money, money, money” attitude (well-known and spearheaded by Victims of PA103 Inc) was “materialistic,” “greedy,” and amounted to “trading with the blood of their sons and daughters.” But with the magic of editing, it can seem to mean so much more!


  1. A government has responsibility for the living as well as the dead and this involves all sorts of compromises in the public and national interest.

    For example, allowing your judiciary to inflict an extraordinary miscarriage of justice on behalf of US and then pretending the conviction is safe!

    Also, if your child has been kidnapped what would you do or say to get them released? I’m sure you would say anything [with fingers crossed] to get them freed!

    Thus Saif’s comments are not surprising in the circumstances, but rather than question the morality of sanctions, the ‘interviewer’ just puts on a judgemental and incredulous voice about the dishonesty of it all.

  2. Also:

    The Foreign Office is very qualified in saying one thing and meaning another without lying to cover their backs. Hence the Libyan statement, ‘taking responsibility for actions of officials’, was drawn up by the FO rather than by the Libyans.

    The deceptive wording was intended to fool the Libyans and the world that ‘Libya had taken responsibility for Lockerbie’, without them actually doing so. The Libyans were fooled because Saif said ‘we had to take responsibility for Lockerbie to get sanctions lifted’. But if he said that, then why didn’t the official [FO/Libyan] announcement say it too?

    The FO reason was to protect the US/UK governments from legal action when the truth about Lockerbie is finally told! Because once told [clearing Libya] the Libyans could seek the return of the sky-high compensation payments made to the relatives of Lockerbie victims.

    But under the deceptive words used, the Libyans never paid the money due to their ‘responsibility for Lockerbie’ but made them due to the ‘actions of officials’ that are unstated! And if you give people money for unstated reasons you can hardly ask for it back! People may say, I thought it was a gift!

    Of course in truth the extortion money was paid to get sanctions lifted and then spun by US/UK for domestic consumption as proof of Libyan guilt for Lockerbie!