[What follows is an article published in The Guardian on this date in 1999. It is full of the theories that were doing the rounds in the run-up to the Lockerbie trial. Not all of them are utterly baseless:]
A decade after Lockerbie, the West has at last got its men: two Libyans who London and Washington say planted the bomb that killed 270 people. But the case is not that open-and-shut, says Russell Warren Howe. Look at the facts, and you enter a murky world of espionage and double-bluff. Palestinian terrorists, the Iranian government and Israeli intelligence each had motives for blowing up Flight PA103. So who had the most to gain?
More than ten years after the fatal crash of a Pan Am airliner on the Scottish village of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, two Libyan Air officials who ran the airline's office in Valletta, Malta, are to go on trial before a Scottish court in Holland. They are accused of putting, or allowing to be put, into possibly unaccompanied luggage a barometrically-fused bomb that later exploded over Lockerbie.
After laborious personal intervention in Libya by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan - as well as his Swedish chief legal counsel, Hans Corell; Jakes Gerwel, director of President Nelson Mandela's private office; and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US - Libya's often eccentric leader, Colonel Muammar Gadafy, finally consented to the extradition of Abd-el Basset Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa F'hima. The word was passed by Libya's UN envoy to Annan, to whom Britain and the US had assigned the task of negotiating with Gadafy.
The notion of creating a Scottish court on a mothballed Dutch Nato base is Libyan - and original, as is the Scottish judiciary's decision to replace the normal Scottish jury of 15 persons with a three-judge bench. It was thought that to send 15 Scots (plus reserve jurors, in case of illness or death) to live in a Dutch hotel for a year or more would be an unreasonable imposition.
Once the Scottish court in exile gets organised, the trial will be lengthy, in part because of the need to interpret examination, testimony and bench rulings between four languages - Libyan Arabic, English, Maltese and German - and to translate documents and court proceedings. Witnesses will be brought and lodged, at some expense, from afar.
More often than not, whenever police anywhere arrest a murder suspect, most people assume he's guilty. And when prosecutors put him in court, a conviction is expected. Certainly, in this instance, public opinion in the US and, to a lesser extent, in Britain has been so conditioned by official statements that it is all but assumed that the Lord Advocate - Andrew, Lord Hardie, who is Scotland's chief prosecutor - has an open-and-shut case. Most relatives of the victims, especially those in the US, seem to expect the two Libyans to be sentenced to lengthy imprisonment in Scotland. This outcome is, however, far from sure: the three Scottish judges will certainly hear the theory that the suspects acted out of revenge, but they will also hear of sophisticated disinformation operations on the part of various intelligence agencies, and conflicting accounts of whether the bomb was set on its way in Valletta or Frankfurt.
The Lockerbie saga is generally believed to have begun on July 3, 1988, when a "missile-control specialist" aboard the US frigate Vincennes mistook an Iran Air airliner on a routine flight to Saudi Arabia for a MiG-25 and shot it down over the Persian Gulf, killing everyone on board. The Vincennes was escorting a Kuwaiti tanker carrying Iraqi oil and flying the Stars and Stripes, because of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.
President Ronald Reagan mishandled the resulting furore, hesitating to apologise for the horrific mistake and even suggesting that the airliner should have identified itself - not normal protocol. Weeks later, someone fired a shot at the wife of the Vincennes' skipper as she left a Californian supermarket - she wasn't hit, and the gunman was never found, but the incident won the attention of the Reagan administration, and compensation for the loss of life and of the aircraft was paid, albeit at the minimum rates required by international law. To add insult to injury, the Vincennes' captain received two decorations for his escort work.
By then, however, it seemed to the outside world that Tehran had already taken matters into its own hands: five-and-a-half months after the Iran Air catastrophe, Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to New York via London was blown out of the sky by a bomb, apparently fused to explode at a specific altitude - most likely, cruising altitude, usually 28,000-40,000ft for airliners flying in the jet stream. PA103's bomb may have been fused to explode at just over 28,000ft.
It may have gone off prematurely. Presumably to climb above foul weather, PA103 reached, or was approaching, its designated cruising altitude while still in the Prestwick Air Traffic Control zone - the jump-off point for many trans-Atlantic flights from Europe - and instead of conveniently disappearing without trace into the Atlantic, as an Air India plane bombed by Sikh separatists had done a few years before, came down on Lockerbie. British investigators, and specialists from the FBI and the US National Transportation and Safety Board, analysed the remains of the plane and identified a possibly unaccompanied suitcase bearing tags that, they later said, indicated that it had been marked by Libyan Air to fly on Air Malta from Valletta to Frankfurt, and then to be transferred to the Pan Am flight for London and the connecting flight to New York. Suspicion that the two Libyan Air officials in Valletta at the time, Megrahi and F'hima, were responsible was heightened by US intelligence reports that it had intercepted a radio message from Tripoli to a Libyan government office in Berlin on December 22, 1988, that said, in effect, "mission accomplished".
In 1991, armed with the details of this intercept and the results of the long investigation at Lockerbie, the UN Security Council adopted a proposal by the UK and the US that Libya allow either Scotland or the US to extradite the two officials, who had been branded "intelligence agents" by the Western press. When Libya, denying its own and the two men's involvement, declined to hand them over, the Security Council imposed sanctions in 1992, the most important of these being a ban on air links to Libya and on the sale to Libya of arms and certain oil-drilling equipment. Libya claims that the sanctions have cost it some $31 billion over the past seven years.
Libya responded with an offer to allow the two men to be extradited for trial by the country of primary jurisdiction, Malta, where the alleged crime allegedly took place. The two men publicly stated their willingness to prove their innocence in Valletta, while Malta's then chargé d'affaires in Washington said that his government was prepared to hold the trial, provided the Security Council added "Malta" to "Scotland" and "the United States" in the resolution. In anticipation of such a request, he had prepared a press kit on the Maltese judiciary: like most British ex-colonies, it doesn't have a jury system, and tries major cases before a three-judge bench. This is the system common to almost every major country - Japan, for example -without a jury-based legal system, and one that has now been copied by Scotland for this particular case; it means that the prosecutor need convince only two judges out of three, instead of 13 or 14 jurors out of 15.
President Bush said he would veto any such amendment to the Security Council resolution. John Major concurred. A State Department source told me at the time that, as Malta was so close geographically to Libya, it was feared that even a Commonwealth judiciary could be "bought".
Libya's moody leader, Muammar Gadafy, just shrugged his diplomatic shoulders and concentrated on domestic affairs. However, pressure from relatives of the dead passengers soon forced Tripoli to come up with a new initiative. In 1994, Gadafy accepted the Security Council's choice of a Scottish court, provided it sat in a neutral country, away from the lynch-mob public atmosphere in Scotland or the US. He suggested Holland, the seat of the International Court, a largely civil-law facility, but London and Washington still demurred. Then, in 1998, the UK agreed to Gadafy's plan - British diplomats assumed that the US would soon "come to heel", and it did.
Yet Libya's mistrust of the "plaintiffs", especially Washington, remained, and was returned in good measure. In 1991, soon after the original Security Council resolution, the prominent Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris (in the news more recently as Monica Lewinsky's legal advisor) took over as legal counsel to the Libyan government. He flew to Tripoli, he says, solely to explain what would happen if Libya allowed New York to extradite the two men. When I suggested to Cacheris that he surely must have told the suspects that they would inevitably be tried in advance by the media, and that it would be nearly impossible to find an unprejudiced jury and that the trial would be turned into a TV spectacular, he chuckled: "I leave it to your imagination."
But no one ever really expected Libya to choose New York, where an exuberant Israeli lobby was calling for Gadafy's head. Around two-thirds of the 259 passengers and crew killed (along with 11 Scottish townspeople) were New Yorkers or other Americans heading home for the Christmas holidays. Alastair Duff, the Edinburgh barrister [RB: solicitor, not barrister] who now leads the defence team with Libya's Kamal Hasan al-Maghur, went to Tripoli in 1991 to advise on the Scottish system. He is as reluctant as Cacheris to discuss what he said. He makes no criticism of the Scottish judiciary, but says that the Scottish prison system is to be avoided at all costs, especially by people who speak little English and who observe Islamic dietary and other religious requirements - and who might not be looked on kindly by Scottish convicts were they found guilty of killing 11 "guid" folk in Lockerbie.
One of Duff's first concerns, when Britain and the US finally agreed to a Scottish trial in Holland, was to obtain assurances that, if acquitted, the two men could fly home at once. The State Department, similarly distrustful, feared that, if convicted, the two men would flee. At America's behest, the Crown Office in Edinburgh insisted that the trial be held not in the UN premises of the International Court, but at Camp Zeist, a Nato facility.
The defence team agreed to Camp Zeist, but only on the understanding that, once the men were acquitted, a charter plane, probably Italian, would fly them straight home without refuelling en route. Since Scottish law does not allow bail in murder cases, the men were to be detained in the facilities for accused officers at Camp Zeist. Among the other issues that delayed the two men's arrival in Holland was US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's insistence that the prosecution be allowed to introduce secret US evidence in camera, "to protect intelligence sources". But this would raise the possibility that the court might find the two men guilty without being able to explain, publicly, why. In the event, all evidence will be public. The Lord Advocate has also agreed not to ask the men what they know about Libyan intelligence, and that they will not be re-interviewed by British or foreign (read: US) police or intelligence after the trial unless they consent to this.
Libya requested that, if convicted, the men should serve their term in Libya, Malta or Holland, but the defence, under pressure from the British Foreign Office, could only secure constant access to lawyers and medical care, the right to be monitored in prison by the UN, and, despite the absence of normal diplomatic relations between London and Tripoli, Libya's right to establish a consulate in Edinburgh to watch over the men's interests.
The defence clearly resents the pressure applied by the British Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine: "Lord Irvine's a Scot, but he presides over the English courts, not the Scottish courts. He has no more right to an opinion in this case than has Boris Yeltsin!" says their barrister, Alastair Duff.
To say that Gadafy and his cabinet are now entirely comfortable with seeing the two Libyans placed beyond their protection would be an exaggeration: for the trial to become possible it took assurances from the Arab League and the Organisation of African Unity (Libya is a member of both) to watch over the two men's safety and rights.
Now, as a trial looms, some basic questions remain, and various theories abound: Why was Libya thought to have gone out on a limb to avenge a non-Arab country, Iran? Was Iran "fingered" simply because it had a motive?
Why was the authenticity of US intelligence's Tripoli-Berlin intercept not challenged by Washington and London, given the fact that a similar intercept had earlier been mistakenly used by the Reagan regime to blame Libya for a bomb which exploded at a Berlin club on April 5, 1986, and to justify the US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi nine days later, which killed Gadafy's infant adopted daughter in a brash attempt to kill the Libyan leader himself? Although Britain had accepted the authenticity of the intercept concerning the bombing of the La Belle disco - in which two American soldiers and a Turkish girl were killed - and allowed the US Air Force to take off on the raid from Lakenheath, France and Germany were unconvinced and concluded that the bomb had been the work of local Iranian militants.
Victor Ostrovsky, a Canadian former intelligence colonel with Israel's Mossad secret service and author of the bestseller By Way Of Deception (the title comes from the Mossad motto), will testify that it was Mossad commandos who set up the transmitter in Tripoli that generated a false signal about the "success" of the Berlin bomb - he has already given a detailed description of this daring operation in his second book, The Other Side Of Deception. Ostrovsky, who will testify by closed-circuit television from somewhere in North America - he fears that, if he comes to Holland, he may be "Vanunu-ed" (ie kidnapped and smuggled back to Israel) for breaking his secrets oath - will state that the Lockerbie intercept so resembles the La Belle intercept as to have probably the same provenance. This is what US lawyers call the "duck" argument: "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles, the preponderance of evidence is that it is a duck."
Ostrovsky's evidence would then put the onus on the Lord Advocate to prove that the Lockerbie intercept is genuine, not disinformation. Ostrovsky believes that, in both bombings, Israel implicated Libya to shield Iran, thereby encouraging Iran not to persecute its small Jewish community. For the defence, a key element will be: did Iran play any role at all in the crime that "avenged" Iran Air? Or did Mossad delude London, Washington and the Security Council not to divert suspicion from Iran but from their own alleged "active measures" against the airliner?
Pan Am's insurers, in anticipation of lawsuits from victims' families (which were eventually to contribute to the famous old airline's bankruptcy), carried out its own investigation. This came up with revelations even more startling than Ostrovsky's. The investigative agency retained by the airline was Interfor, a New York firm founded by Yuval Aviv, a former Mossad staffer who emigrated to America in 1979. Aviv's task was to prove that any blame for poor security was not Pan Am's, but Frankfurt airport's. In his report, he cites, without identifying them, six broad intelligence sources whom he rates as "good" or "very good", and one intelligence agency, that of a "Western-oriented government", graded "excellent". The only other "excellent" source is "the experienced director of airport security for the most security-conscious airline". Clearly, the agency is Aviv's old shop, Mossad, and the airline is Israel's El Al.
In his new book on Mossad, Gideon's Spies, Gordon Thomas says that - according to a source at LAP, the psychological warfare wing of Mossad - "within hours of the crash, staff at LAP were working the phones to their media contacts urging them to publicise that here was incontrovertible proof' that Libya, through its intelligence service, Jamahirya, was culpable".
Yet Aviv proved fairly convincingly that the bomb was placed in Frankfurt, and he implicated a Palestinian resistance movement. His Interfor report concludes that the bombing was directed not at the US airliner per se, but at a small unit of US military intelligence - members of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) - that had uncovered a drugs-smuggling ring in Lebanon.
The ring was run by a "rogue" CIA unit working in collusion with Hizbullah, the resistance movement to Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. Some of the funds generated were intended to buy the freedom of six US hostages held by Hizbullah (which was bankrolled by Iran). DIA sources say that the CIA-Hizbullah drug ring was set up by Mossad agents, who had penetrated Hizbullah and were the local Arabic-speaking traffic managers for the CIA. At the same time, Israel would sell elderly US missiles, at ample profit, to Iran; a skim from both drugs and arms profits would be used, as part of Irangate, to subsidise the Contras, the right-wing terrorist movement in Nicaragua so favoured by Reagan and the iniquitous Oliver North.
Aviv carefully doesn't mention Mossad's role in all this, but implies that his detailed revelations come from his "excellent" (ie Mossad) source. It is certainly a known fact that Washington, while tilting toward Iraq in the Iraq/Iran war (and escorting its tankers), sent a delegation to Tehran to arrange the purchase of the Israeli missiles - which would, of course, be used against Iraq.
The Interfor report affirms that the Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb, adorned with luggage tags indicating that it originated from Valletta, actually began its journey in Frankfurt, where it was substituted for a suitcase of a similar kind. Aviv claims that German security has videotape of a Muslim luggage-handler taking the case into Frankfurt airport, but says that this tape was "lost" and that the CIA refuses to produce its own copy.
Without contradicting Aviv, Thomas and others believe the tagging and smuggling aboard of the lethal suitcase can most easily be ascribed to a sayan or mabuah working for Mossad, which had a motive for eliminating certain passengers. (A sayan is a Jew who puts loyalty to Israel above loyalty to his own country and does services, usually unpaid, for Mossad; according to Thomas, the most famous sayan working in the UK was Robert Maxwell. A mabuah is a Gentile who fulfils the same role.)
The report says that the CIA-Hizbullah drugs habitually travelled to New York under CIA protection, in baggage marked "inspected" by a Turkish baggage-handler at Frankfurt and substituted for a legitimate piece of baggage, so that the number of luggage items tallied with the airline's manifest. According to Aviv, a Palestinian group had learned of the CIA-Hizbullah-Mossad drugs traffic, and had got a Syrian baggage-handler to make a similar substitution to put the case with a bomb on board Flight PA103. Aviv still believes this to be the explanation for the disaster; but he has no name for the Syrian, or for the Turk involved in the drug shipments. How many Syrians could there possibly have been on the airport's payroll?
(The Valletta-Frankfurt-London-New York baggage tags, and the "inspected" label, if they bear the two Libyans' fingerprints, could have been transferred to the bomb case at Valletta or Frankfurt. Air Malta won a libel case in Britain that established that it had not put an "unaccompanied" bag on the plane.)
Many eventualities spring from Aviv's conclusions. Aviv thinks Ahmed Gibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command learned that US intelligence officers were on the flight and colluded with others to bomb it. The others were said to be Monzer al-Kassar, a "major arms and drug smuggler" and brother-in-law to the Syrian intelligence chief, and the notorious Abu Nidal. Aviv says that Gibril had meetings with al-Kassar (a double if not triple agent) in Paris, with Abu Nidal in Warsaw and, later, with Khalid Jafar, the drugs mule, and a Libyan bomb-maker in Bonn. He says that the bomb components were assembled in Sofia, and transported to Paris by al-Kassar's sister-in-law, whence al-Kassar drove them to Frankfurt. There, Aviv's Interfor report says, they were handed over to a Palestinian group that included Marwan Khrisat, an informant for the BKA (a branch of German intelligence).
Both the BKA and the CIA had previously given al-Kassar the green light for his smuggling route to the US, says Aviv, in return for his help in "arranging the release of the American hostages" (only one of whom was released).
Gordon Thomas, meanwhile, recounts how a Mossad officer from the London station turned up in Lockerbie the morning after the crash, and arranged for the removal of a suitcase belonging to a US intelligence captain in the DIA, Charles McKee, who had been in Lebanon trying to procure the release of the hostages. When it was eventually returned to Scottish investigators by British intelligence, says Thomas, the case was empty and undamaged. Why, Thomas asks, would McKee put an empty suitcase aboard?
McKee's case was found after the crash by Jim Wilson of Tundergarth Mains farm, and contained what looked to Wilson like cocaine samples. Within a day or so of the bombing, two planeloads of what appeared to be US intelligence people had arrived at the site, and a Scottish radio reporter, David Johnston, soon got wind of a rumour that the bomb's target had been a group of US intelligence officials travelling back from Beirut.
Indeed, the most interesting passengers on the feeder flight from Frankfurt and the main Pan Am flight from Heathrow were not the American students going home for the holidays, but two antagonistic groups of US intelligence officers - McKee and three of his DIA staff, and Matthew Gannon, the CIA's deputy stationmaster in Beirut, and three of his men. The Gannon quartet took the Air Malta flight from Valletta to Frankfurt, and Thomas believes it was probably Gannon's suitcase, being under CIA protection from inspection, that was substituted, together with the Air Malta tags, by the suitcase containing the bomb.
DIA sources say that when McKee boarded the flight in Frankfurt, having flown there from Limassol, his case presumably contained his files on the CIA-Hizbullah-Mossad drugs ring - he had been in Beirut negotiating for the hostages in a straightforward manner, but had discovered the undercover CIA operation. It was not known whether he also had drug samples as evidence, though these might conceivably have been "planted" at Frankfurt. Was Gannon's CIA team returning home to explain why they were collaborating with Mossad and Hizbullah in the drug scheme? If so, had they therefore become as expendable to Mossad as McKee's group?
Defence sources in Washington agree with Aviv that McKee's group had been frustrated by the cover-up of the CIA drugs scheme, and was returning home to insist that it be exposed. Aviv claims that al-Kassar had warned his drugs-ring controller of what McKee planned to do. The Interfor report states: "Two or three days before the disaster, a BKA undercover agent reported to his controller a plan to bomb a Pan Am flight in the next few days," but the CIA "did not want to risk the al-Kassar hostage-release operation." Soon after, a BKA informer reported that a "drug suitcase" being carried into the airport, as shown on his videotape, was "different in make, shape, material and colour" from the ones normally used. Interfor says that CIA control, when informed, said: "Don't worry about it. Don't stop it." It presumably assumed it was just a genuine drug shipment.
Since Gannon's CIA team, in its ignorance, joined Flight PA103, only two culprits for the bombing would seem to remain, if Aviv's information is accurate: either Aviv's devious conspiracy involving two rival Palestinian "terrorists", Ahmed Gibril and Abu Nidal, running all over Europe, or alternatively Mossad itself, which would be reluctant to tolerate McKee and Gannon exposing Israel's connection to Hizbullah drugs.
It might seem barely credible that Mossad would carry out such an attack; however, both Gordon Thomas and Richard Curtiss, the former US diplomat who now edits the Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, point out that Mossad knew of the Islamic fundamentalists' plan to bomb the US Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, but had withheld the information in the correct belief that the bombing would drive the US military out of Lebanon, which it saw as Israel's bailiwick - 241 marines were killed.
Assuming that, as the Scottish reporter David Johnston discovered within a day or so of the disaster, the targets of the bomber were the two teams of US intelligence officers, and McKee's files, and that the suitcase carrying the bomb was meant to be seen as a drugs bag, Interfor's "Syrian" - if he existed - could well have been a mabuah under Mossad control. Alternatively, he could have been a patsy: a Syrian who thought he was under orders from Ahmed Gibril or someone else to do something for the Arab cause, but who had actually been false-flagged by an Israeli agent.
McKee's files in Washington remain unavailable to the defence. Officially, Gannon's suitcase was never found, says Thomas. Aviv says he does not challenge anything in Thomas's book. He will testify at the trial if invited to, although he says that, "The defence already has all it needs to prove that Libya and the Libyans were not involved."
For exposing the drug-smuggling aspects of Irangate, Aviv became the victim of a US government campaign to discredit him: his New York office was mysteriously burgled; his US government contracts were cancelled; and he was charged with "defrauding" a company, GE Capital, over a report he had done for them on security in the Caribbean (the jury dismissed the case against him in just over an hour after the judge excoriated the FBI for bringing a harassing case even though GE Capital had made no complaint).
So why is the case against the two Libyans being brought? Does the Lord Advocate know something that Yuval Aviv and Victor Ostrovsky don't? Ostrovsky should make an impressive witness, albeit an understandably paranoid one. Not long after I interviewed him, in Ottawa, in March 1995, while an armed bodyguard watched over us, his home in the Canadian capital's suburbs was burned down. Fortunately, neither Ostrovsky nor his files were there at the time.
Aviv's suspicions began with a Palestinian living in Finland. He was arrested, and released. So was almost everyone on Aviv's list, down to Marwan Khrisat, the informer for Germany's BKA. Some CIA sources theorise that, by 1991, with the West's war with Iraq making it necessary to court Iran and even Syria, deflecting responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing towards a Palestinian group became an increasingly attractive option. Or, perhaps, in Aviv's case, it was just second nature for an Israeli.
A former DIA operative, Lester Coleman, in his 1993 book, The Trail Of The Octopus, revived the drugs-ring story. The American security apparatus jumped on Coleman with both feet, forcing him to seek asylum in Sweden, where he was accused of using a false passport, even though he'd been ordered to take on a false identity by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and ended up serving six months for perjury. Both he and Aviv are now considering bringing lawsuits against the US Government. And in Britain in 1994, a Channel 4 film, The Maltese Double Cross, was banned from the London Film Festival, while a gallery that subsequently showed it was the victim of both burglary and arson. The hounding of the British film and the calvary of Coleman, whose book is still unpublished in America, certainly seem to have the pawprints of Mossad on them. Meanwhile, a US public-television documentary that accepted the theory that the Palestinian Ahmed Gibril was responsible for the bombing remained unmolested.
Why a secular, even Marxist, Arab nationalist would want to avenge a regime of rather bigoted Persian religious zealots was never explained. If the bombing really was revenge for the US Navy's lethal recklessness, why would Iran, the biggest military power in the Gulf, need the help of a Palestinian cell in Damascus? Alternatively, if Palestinian nationalists were whacking one of Uncle Sam's 747s just to show the world that they existed, why were they sheltering behind Iran's coat-tails and not claiming the credit? Reagan made a contemptible mistake in sending an air armada to bomb Libya because of an act of violence in Berlin that German intelligence had traced to local Iranian zealots. In spite of that false intercept from the Tripoli transmitter, President Bush, who had been vice-president under Reagan, made a political decision in 1991 to believe the "mission accomplished" message about Lockerbie. Or did he? He is reliably reported to have warned Margaret Thatcher to "low-key" any statements about Libyan involvement in Lockerbie.
Since 1993, Bill Clinton has continued to pursue Bush's sanctions against Libya. As Ostrovsky says, there is clearly a reluctance to admit that, perhaps, mistakes have been made - and a consequent inclination to plunge further into the quicksands and disinclination to share the truth with the public. It remains up to three Scottish judges to wash their hands of Anglo-American politics and judge the case on its merits, or lack of them.
It is, of course, entirely possible that Megrahi and F'hima are being framed. It is also possible - if, despite the Interfor report's conclusions, the bomb began its journey in Valletta, as Lord Hardie seems confident of proving - that the two relatively junior airline officials were dupes, false-flagged by an Iranian or Libyan sayan who convinced them that it was the wish of Gadafy and Libyan intelligence that they mark as "inspected" a certain unaccompanied suitcase. If so, they would be guilty, under Scottish law, of being accessories to murder if they knew the suitcase contained a bomb; or, if they assumed it was just drugs, of a grave breach of international security.
Whether or not they were complicit, a bomber placing his device aboard an Air Malta feeder flight would run the risk that it would detonate before reaching Frankfurt if the aircraft reached jet-stream altitudes over the Alps. Duff may say that his clients don't know if their office in Valletta was used to handle the suitcase or not. The Air Malta tags could have been put on anywhere in Valletta. If the Libyan Air office was, in fact, used, this could be because an Iranian spoke Farsi and some Arabic but not much English and no Maltese, or because he felt he could bluff his way past a minor Arab airline more easily than past Air Malta, which is trained by British Airways.
The fact is, the bombed plane was Pan Am, not Air Malta. Yuval Aviv is confident that the bomb was "launched" in Frankfurt. Lord Hardie will seek to prove otherwise. The high-level mediators with Gadafy say he is confident that, unless the court is manipulated by false evidence, his two officials will be acquitted. Even if Megrahi and F'hima are found guilty of the most serious charges, there would still be a need for a new investigation: to decide what was Israel's possibly major role in mass murder and deception of its main benefactor, the US, and of the Security Council, and/or whether it was an Iranian "caper" after all.
It is easy to see why Washington, which is poised to restore relations with Tehran and which tends to catch a cold if the Israeli lobby sneezes, would sleep better at night if the Scottish judges find it was all a Libyan mission. After all, a French court, without hearing defence evidence, recently found six Libyans guilty in absentia of bombing a French airliner in equatorial Africa a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the story of who was behind the bomb on Flight PA103 reads more like Len Deighton in his Cold-War prime than the establishment media may have led us to expect.
Russell Warren Howe is the author of 17 books, including three on victims of miscarriages of justice, and a prize-winning novel, False Flags. For the past decade, he has followed the Lockerbie case for Al-Wasat, the Arab world's weekly news magazine.