Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Support of an unsupportable verdict

[The following are excerpts from two items -- (1) Lockerbie father: al-Megrahi is innocent and (2) My trip to bid dying bomber goodbye -- posted on this blog three years ago on this date:]

From The Times:  The doctor who lost his daughter in the 1988 Lockerbie  bombing has reaffirmed his belief that the Libyan man convicted of the attack is innocent.

Jim Swire said he was convinced that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, despite the belief of the new Libyan governement that al-Megrahi is guilty of the mass murder of the 270 passengers.

Dr Swire was speaking last night after an ITV documentary in which he was shown visiting al-Megrahi, who is dying of cancer. He also consulted representatives of the Libyan leadership that toppled the dictatorship of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last year.

In one exchange Ashour Shamis, an adviser to Abdurrahim al-Keib, the Libyan Prime Minister, told Dr Swire: “As far as the Libyans are concerned, the Gaddafi regime, Gaddafi personally, are involved in planning and executing the atrocity. There is no doubt about it. They are involved, the regime are involved.”

Mr Shamis added that al-Megrahi was involved in the bombing, if “only a small player”. He went on: “Megrahi is an employee of Libyan security there is no doubt about it — of Libyan security. And if he was told to do something, he would have done it.”

Dr Swire said he had not accepted that argument. Mr Shamis, along with the rest of new government, had simply not had time to consider the case with any thoroughness.

“I found Tripoli percolated with the desire to pin everything imaginable under the sun on the defunct Gaddafi regime, because the people are so delighted to have got rid of him,” said Dr Swire. “Mr Shamis certainly believes al-Megrahi was guilty. I tried to make plain that if you look at the evidence that it is not at all likely.”

Dr Swire added that he hoped the documentary would re-awaken interest in al-Megrahi’s conviction, in a Scottish court at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands, in 2001. The Libyan was released from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 because he is suffering from terminal cancer.

“The verdict is vulnerable and would be repealed if there were a full inquiry into it,” said Dr Swire. “The Scottish public should understand what’s going on in their name: the support of an unsupportable verdict.”

From The Sun:  A dad who lost his daughter in the Lockerbie bombing has travelled to Libya to "say goodbye" to the man convicted of the atrocity.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora, 23, was among 270 people killed in the 1988 terror attack, said Abdelbaset al-Megrahi "does not have much time left".

Megrahi, 59, was freed on compassionate grounds from Greenock jail in August 2009, after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

Dr Swire — who said he was "entirely satisfied" that Megrahi was not guilty — revealed he had spent just over a week in Tripoli. The 75-year-old, who lives in Gloucestershire, said: "It was very much a trip for me to say goodbye to him.
"It may seem unusual but I have come to regard him as a friend."


  1. I've also experienced it. Libyan people who seem to WANT Gaddafi to be responsible, so they insist that he was. The argument seems to go, this was the act of a very evil person, Gaddafi was a very evil person, so that proves it.

    Unfortunately Gaddafi wasn't the only very evil person in the world in 1988.

    I suppose we don't have any proof of who actually did it, other than the circumstantial stuff against Iran and the PFLP-GC we all know about which does seem pretty persuasive. However the entire case against Libya seems to be that the bomb was introduced at Luqa airport, Megrahi was at the airport at the time, and he bought the clothes from Tony Gauci too. Megrahi was Libyan, and he had some connection with the Libyan security forces, so QED.

    But the bomb wasn't introduced at Luqa, it was introduced at Heathrow, when Megrahi was most certainly NOT there. And whoever bought those clothes, it wasn't him. So that one falls flat on its face. If there's any other solid reason to implicate Gaddafi (rather than rumours, dodgy CIA cables and look MST-13 oooh shiny!), I'm not aware of it.

    1. When regimes get overthrown after a long time in power, particularly when the new regime is politically radically different from the old regime, people living under the new regime feel a great need to demonstrate how much they really hated the old regime and how much they support the new regime. Their lives may depend on it. Think Iraq post-Saddam and now with Da'esh/IS, think Iran post Shah, Cuba post-Battista etc etc...The Vicar of Bray is alive and surviving all over the world. There is also a psychological need to justify the atrocity of overthrowing a Head of State, particularly one who had been in power for more than 40 years and who had dome a great deal of good for Libya – as well as a great deal of bad.

      In the case of Libya, Ghadafi was tortured and butchered, and those who cheered need to believe that he was a thoroughly bad egg. So to display their loyalty to the new regime(s) in Libya, to satisfy themselves that they were not acting like savages and, of course, to curry lots of favour with their sponsors in the EU and US, many Libyans are happy to convince themselves that Ghadafi was the author of the Lockerbie bombing.

      The evidence has always pointed to someone other than Libya being responsible and now the more recent evidence demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that Libya and Ghadafi did not do Lockerbie. I have no doubt that quite a few people know exactly who did it. Thatcher famously claimed that she didn't know; while leading politicians from England and Scotland claim to have no reason to doubt the verdict of the Scottish courts, but some people know the truth and so long as we don't hold our breath, it may slip out one day.

  2. I'm currently re-reading Ashton and Ferguson's "Cover-up of Convenience", and it's doing my head in. Juval Aviv, Lester Coleman, all sorts of intelligence/security services comings and goings and shenanigans, all sorts of shady middle-eastern characters who are clearly up to no good. And all the while the constant subtext is that the bomb suitcase was checked in by Khaled Jaafar, or just possibly switched for a case he checked in.

    This was after the conclusion of the trial. Bedford gets a mention, but barely. On page 283 there is a factual account of his evidence with some of his testimony quoted, but no comment from the authors. The narrative moves swiftly on to Abu Talb's evidence without the slightest attempt to explain whether the two suitcases seen at the front of the container had been identified or not. Even the matter of Kamboj denying that he put these cases there doesn't rate a mention. Indeed, the location of the left-hand one pretty much in the position of the explosion isn't highlighted.

    On page 343 the matter gets even shorter shrift, with the authors simply noting that Taylor had submitted that the case Bedford saw was more likely to have been the bomb than anything that came off the feeder flight. Again, not a syllable of comment. Nothing at all about the wrangling about which case had been under the bomb and whether or not Sidhu had moved the case Bedford saw. It's extraordinary.

    One can't help but feel that all the various goings-on catalogued by Ashton and Ferguson are related to the atrocity in some way. But the focus, in hindsight, is entirely misplaced. The bomb wasn't in Jaafar's luggage. The main effect of all this underground and underworld activity seems to have been to draw the attention of people who didn't believe the Malta story to Jaafar rather than to Bedford. Weird. Two competing conspiracy theories, one promoted by the official investigation and the other promoted by the awkward squad. And the actual evidence of the real modus operandi pretty much sitting in plain sight, being ignored by everyone (except Paul Foot, to be fair).

  3. You're not wrong there. Cover Up of Convenience is a brilliant source of information on the case. But the book is like a bucket full of theories, details, hints, conspiracies, allegations and what have you. It's baffling as you say, but it's also fascinating and very informative. It's a bit like an unsorted evidence file without the final report. I've recently been re-reading The Fall of Pan Am 103 by Steven Emerson and Brian Duffy. It was Emerson who so recently made a complete arse of himself over his comments on Fox news about Birmingham. Nonetheless, this too is a fascinating but error-ridden book. Like Leppard's excellent-yet-awful book, the authors obviously get much of their material from sources within FBI and spook circles and appear to regurgitate it unquestioningly so it's interesting that at the time of publication (1990) the authors were wedded to the Iran/PFLP-GC theory. By the way, I recently put together a selected (by me) bibliography on the Lockerbie case which I'd be happy to circulate if anyone wants it.

    1. I'd love a copy of your bibliography, Aku.

  4. I should say I'm not blaming either John Ashton or Ian Ferguson for backing the wrong horse at that stage. Let's face it, there were a lot of people who had a lot of evidence, more evidence indeed than they had in 2001, and none of them spotted it. The highly-paid lawyers in the defence teams. The chosen defence forensic expert Gordon McMillen. (If you want to blame anyone, he might be your best bet.) Megrahi himself, who was said to be the biggest expert on his own case, and who had all the time in the world to think about it.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But spotting something like that can often depend on something as random as someone coming along with a different perspective on the case and ferreting in a different place. Afterwards, it's "just shoot me now". But before that, it's not obvious.

    The thing I find interesting about all this is the existence of two big and complicated conspiracy theories about the case, each with a fair bit of evidence apparently supporting it. And neither of them, in the end, is what happened. Now that we know that, and that the actual modus operandi was something quite simple and mundane (at least the front end was), the interesting question starts to be, how do you explain all the rest of that stuff, once you know that the bomb was no more in Khaled Jaafar's checked-in luggage than it was in tray 8849?

  5. Emerson and Duffy is interesting. It was written at a time when the investigators still believed the PFLP-GC had done it with a Khreesat bomb, and it gives a huge amount of information about the gang and the Autumn Leaves operation. There are the usual errors and embellishments, but a lot of it is very sound. (The bit about the suitcase sitting at New York with all the luggage tags dangling from it is particularly silly, as well as wrong!) Emerson made a complete arse of himself last week, but that doesn't mean he's always wrong. And at least the book is readable.

    But not a syllable about Bedford.

    Leppard is distinctly weird. He includes a remarkably eclectic selection of evidence obviously from right inside the police inquiry, including a serious chunk of Fuhl's erroneous February 1989 analysis of the Erac printout. That boggled my mind because you can see it doesn't make sense, but Leppard just presents it without comment. He mentions Bedford, but again I get the impression that this is something his police source has told him, not that he was at the FAI. He seems at a bit of a loss to know how to explain Bedford's evidence, but seems to assume it has been satisfactorily ruled out and just makes something up to cover the lacuna.

    Towards the end there are a couple of absolute howlers that suggest he was rushing to make a deadline and had stopped checking what he was writing. He credits Feraday with identifying PT/35b to an MST-13 timer, in England, not Thurman in America. And he writes a stream of utter nonsense about the Frankfurt luggage being wheeled into the interline shed after being unloaded from the feeder flight, and x-rayed by Kamboj. Obviously that never happened (and anyone who had been at the FAI would have known that as it was one of the big complaints voiced by the relatives, that there was no security check of the online luggage at Heathrow). And if what he described had happened, the luggage was certainly all moved, and shuffled randomly. Except it wasn't.

    Once these things are written, though, you can't unwrite them. No matter how wrong they are.

  6. f.y.i. Francovich thought or suggested to me that the bomb actually exploded within the 1st Class compartment (where Jafaar was sat with his "keeper"). It had nothing to do with Jafaar's checked-in luggage (and there seems no evidence he actually had any.