Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Paul Foot and the Lockerbie case

[On this date in 2004 the Pakistani newspaper Dawn published an obituary of the journalist Paul Foot, who had died ten days earlier. It was headlined A credit to his profession and reads in part:]

Another cause that Foot embraced was that of the Lockerbie victims' families, repeatedly expressing concern through much of the 1990s that in their supposed investigation of the case, the British and US governments were motivated by the need to score political points rather than a desire to find out the truth about the destruction of the Pan-Am flight over Scotland in 1988.

He noted that in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, the official line was that the bombing had been orchestrated by a Syrian-based Palestinian group at Iran's behest, in retaliation for the unprovoked shooting down of an Iranian passenger airliner by the US navy the previous year.

He wrote in 1995: "An interminable series in The Sunday Times in late 1989 named the gang, its leader, its bomb-maker and the Palestinian who had bought clothes in a Maltese boutique which ended up in the bomb suitcase."

Two years later, the blame suddenly shifted to Libya. By then Syria had signed up to the 1991 version of the coalition of the willing; it's co-operation was symbolically significant, so Hafez Al Assad could no longer be alienated. A different culprit therefore had to be selected.

Foot returned to the subject time and again, most recently in March this year, after the families of British Lockerbie victims complained that they had been taken for a ride by the government.

The families had backed Tony Blair's groundbreaking visit to the Libya on the grounds that it would yield some more details about how the attack was executed.The prime minister returned without any new information, nor any indication that the subject had even been broached with Libyan officials. In Foot's view, there was a simple explanation for this: Libya had nothing to reveal.

Making it clear that his opinion wasn't necessarily shared by the families, he concluded that Abdul Basit Al Megrahi, the former Libyan diplomat convicted and imprisoned for the bombing, is innocent "and his conviction is the last in the long line of British judges' miscarriages of criminal justice.

“This explanation is also a terrible indictment of the cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit of the British and US governments and their intelligence services. Which is probably why it has been so consistently and haughtily ignored."

Whether or not Foot's suspicions were well-founded, his dogged pursuit of the matter means that should the whole truth about Lockerbie ever emerge, he'll deserve a certain proportion of the credit.

[RB: Paul Foot’s Private Eye special report Lockerbie: The Flight from Justice can be read here.]

1 comment:

  1. Paul Foot's Flight from Justice pamphlet is a magnificent piece of work. Although it was published only a couple of months after the conclusion of the Zeist trial (pre-dating the first appeal) it demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of the case at a detailed level.

    There are some small inaccuracies, perhaps the worst one being the statement that 55 cases were counted off KM180 at Frankfurt (if that had been the situation, I imagine the case would have collapsed), but the general level of accuracy is extremely high.

    Foot seems to have given credence to the defence submission as regards flight LH669 fron Damascus, which was coded at the adjacent station to KM180. Detailed perusal of the Frankfurt baggage records and in particular Jurgen Fuhl's report reveals that this submission was spurious, in fact swiped from Fuhl's report where he had investigated the possibility and rejected it, but lacking access to the full dataset (which was not presented in court) Foot had no way of knowing that.

    He also pursued a point he had emphasised on previous occasions, that being the idea that casting the blame on Libya for the disaster was a concept that appeared do novo in mid-1990, and that this was driven by the belief that good relations with Iran were necessary for the upcoming Gulf War against Iraq, and Libya was a safe and useful scapegoat. The implication is that PT/35b was fabricated and introduced into the chain of evidence in order to facilitate this change of tack. In fact the timings don't work, as Foot himself explored in a later article for the London Review of Books. Saddam didn't invade Kuwait until August 1990, at least six weeks after Tom Thurman identifed the fragment as part of an MST-13 timer, and six months after the fragment was verifiably in the possession of the Scottish police. The truth seems to be a bit more complicated than that, with the US authorities preferring Libya as a scapegoat right at the start (only backing off when strong evidence of Iran's involvement emerged within days), and PT/35b being physically present at the very latest by January 1990.

    Nevertheless he spotted the importance of Bedford's evidence, and the date on which he gave his main statement. That was what got me going on that topic. I was merely surprised that Foot hadn't asked the question that jumped out at me. If the police knew about Bedford's evidence in January 1989, and they didn't get hold of the lead to Malta until August 1989, how did they rule out the suitcase he saw in the intervening seven months? Surely they were galloping madly and triumphantly after that suitcase in early 1989 - so what stopped them?

    And therein lies a tale of stupidity, and possibly malice as well.

    But Foot's work was tremendous. We lost him far too soon.