Friday, 17 April 2015

'The whole truth..'?

[This is the headline over a report in Al-Ahram Weekly Online from this week in 2001:]

A conference on Lockerbie organised by the Arab League this week concluded that the verdict was politically motivated, reports Gamal Nkrumah

Last Saturday, a two-day international conference on the trial at Kamp van Zeist in the Netherlands of two Libyan nationals accused of bombing a PanAm flight over the Scottish village of Lockerbie began at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo. Several luminaries, including a former Algerian president, attended the conference, which condemned the Scottish court's decision to convict former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel-Basset Al-Megrahi and acquit his co-defendant Amin Khalifa Fhima. A UN trial observer from Austria, also at the conference, denounced the trial as unfair and the verdict as irrational.

"Lockerbie was a sham trial. The whole purpose of that farcical but tragic exercise in legal acrobatics was to punish the Libyan regime. The United States and the United Kingdom wanted to make an example of Libya. They want to deter other Third World countries from daring to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden and dispossessed," Dr Said Hafyana, Libya's assistant secretary for legal affairs, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

"To this day, US sanctions have not been lifted," Hafyana said. "The trial was simply a means to penalise Libya and cripple the Libyan government by forcing it to pay hefty compensation fines to the families of the victims," Hafyana argued. "It was mainly a political trial," he added.

The conference on Lockerbie was officially opened by Dr Esmat Abdel-Meguid, the outgoing secretary-general of the Arab League. Abdel-Meguid emphasised in his keynote address that the Arab world and the international community have an obligation to lift completely the sanctions against Libya. He also reminded his audience that the United Nations security council resolution, which imposed sanctions against Libya in 1992, linked ending the sanctions to the extradition of the two suspects. The resolution did not stipulate other conditions. But after the two suspects were extradited to the Netherlands, the Security Council only suspended sanctions, leaving open the door for the US to set more conditions before total withdrawal of the sanctions. The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, the independent sanctions regime unilaterally imposed by the US outside the authority of the UN, is still in force, though due to expire in August. Washington now insists that Libya accept full responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and compensate the families of the victims before it will lifts its sanctions. Official Libyan sources say that sanctions have cost Libya over $26 billion to date.

Former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella was one of the conference guests. Ben Bella has been an outspoken critic of the Lockerbie trial and a tireless champion of the Libyan cause. He joined with former South African President Nelson Mandela to lead the international campaign to lift sanctions from Libya.

Ibrahim Legwell, Al-Megrahi's Libyan lawyer when the case first started, was also present in Cairo. "Historically, there have always been miscarriages of justice," he said. "But there have been no precedents to such a case by which proceedings can be compared and evaluated," he added. "Al-Megrahi insists that this is a case of mistaken identity and that he has been falsely accused. He says that he is innocent and cannot accept a situation where the families of the victims believe him to be the murderer," Legwell said.

Farouk Abou-Eissa, head of the Cairo-based Arab Lawyers Union was a panelist at the opening session. With the results of the appeal process still pending, Abou-Eissa appealed to the judges not to give in to the whims of world powers.

Some of the most damning criticisms of the trial came from Dr Hans Köchler, an official UN observer at Kamp van Zeist. Köchler told the Weekly that British and especially American pressure and political influence was brought to bear on the judges and that the trial was unfair. Köchler, a member of the International Progress Organisation, was nominated to his post by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the basis of Security Council Resolution 1192. He is a professor at Innsbruck University in Austria.

Köchler upbraided the court for holding the suspects for an unseemly length of time. "The extraordinary length of detention of the two suspects from their time of arrival in the Netherlands until the beginning of the trial in May 2000 is a serious problem in regard to their basic human rights under European standards, in particular those of the European Convention on Human Rights," he said. The two Libyans were indicted in 1999.

Köchler also ridiculed the prosecution's grip on legal procedure. He noted the curious role played by the Libyan double agent Abdul-Majid Giaka. "The serious problem of process at Kamp van Zeist became evident when it transpired that CIA cables concerning one of the Crown's key witnesses, Giaka, were initially dismissed by the prosecution as 'not relevant.' Only later were they partially released thanks to pressure from the defence. Such incidents seriously damaged the integrity of the entire procedure. In the end, only a select few of the cables sent by the CIA to Giaka were released. Most were never made available," Köchler said. He also claimed that politics intruded into the court. The presence of government representatives of both sides in the courtroom gave the trial a highly political aura. But the official reporting of the court failed to declare this. "The presence of foreign nationals on the side of the defence team was not mentioned in any of the Scottish Court Service's official briefing documents," Köchler said.

Köchler was also concerned by the prosecution's witnesses. According to him, virtually everyone presented by the prosecution as a key witness lacked credibility, some having openly lied to the Court. Köchler was also worried about which information was released. It was officially stated by the Lord Advocate that substantial new information was received from an unnamed foreign government relating to the defence's case. But the content of this information was never revealed. "Foreign governments or secret government agencies may have been allowed, albeit indirectly, to determine which evidence was made available to the Court," Köchler said.

Many questions are still unanswered. It is unclear, for example, why the defence team suddenly dropped its "special defence" and cancelled the appearance of nearly all defence witnesses. Köchler says that defence lawyers were unavailable for comment on this crucial matter. Summing up his views of the trial, Köchler said, "The verdict was based on circumstantial evidence and on a series of highly problematic inferences. There is not one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime." Finally, Köchler called the court's decision that Al-Megrahi was guilty, "arbitrary and irrational." In conclusion Köchler had grave misgivings about the trial. He thought that it was unfair; that it was not conducted objectively; that the legal process was opaque and that evidence may have been withheld for political reasons.

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