Friday, 30 October 2015

Questions that demand an answer

[What follows is the text of an item posted on this blog on this date in 2008:]

Lockerbie questions demand an answer

This is the headline over an article in today's issue of The Times by Magnus Linklater, the newspaper's Scotland Editor (and the editor of The Scotsman in the bygone days when that title was still a serious and responsible journal).

The article reads in part:

'You do not have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognise that nagging questions have gnawed away at the Lockerbie case since the first investigations began. The veteran campaigner, Tam Dalyell, who describes himself as a “professor of Lockerbie studies”, is convinced that neither al-Megrahi nor the Libyan Government had any involvement. He, along with the Rev John Mosey and Dr Jim Swire, who both lost daughters in the atrocity, believe that there has been a spectacular miscarriage of justice.

'They have raised questions about basic evidence in the original case. They have challenged eyewitness accounts offered by the chief prosecution witness, the Maltese shopowner who originally identified Megrahi as a suspect. They have raised doubts about the forensic evidence, and have pointed out that al-Megrahi, a civilised and intelligent man, is a most unlikely terrorist.

'Last weekend, their campaign was given fresh impetus when Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent, reported that Abu Nidal, the Palestinian terrorist responsible for some of the worst attacks of the 1970s and 1980s, may have been working for the Americans before the invasion of Iraq. Secret documents - the very phrase is a conspiracy idiom - written by Saddam Hussein's security services state that he had been colluding with the Americans trying to find evidence linking Saddam and al-Qaeda. Abu Nidal's alleged suicide in 2002 may have been an execution by the Iraqis for his betrayal.

'From this tenuous connection stems the idea that the US security services may have had previous contacts within Abu Nidal's terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which many experts have long believed was the real perpetrator of Lockerbie.

'Mr Dalyell, who thinks there may be some weight to this theory, points to incidents such as notices that went up in the US Embassy in Moscow in the days before the bombing, warning diplomats not to travel on PanAm flights, and how senior South African figures were hauled off the plane before the flight, almost as if there had been advance warning.

'For me, this kind of evidence strays into the territory of “the second gunman theory” that bedevilled the Kennedy assassination. But there is one aspect of the case that I have never understood: why was it that, for the first 18 months of the investigation, Scottish police, US investigators and European security agents were convinced that the perpetrators were Abu Nidal's PFLP? And why was it that, in the run-up to the Gulf War, when good relations with Syria and Iran were important to Western interests, attention switched abruptly from Abu Nidal's terrorists, and on to Libya?

'These matters have never satisfactorily been explained, and in the interests of common justice they should be addressed. For the sake of the Flight 103 victims, for the wider interests of Western security, and for the man now dying in a Scottish prison, there is a need for a proper inquiry. It does not have to be as wideranging as the Warren Commission that examined the Kennedy case, but it does need to be international, and to have US backing. The appeal in Edinburgh next year will examine legal aspects of the case, but it cannot extend to the wider issues that demand resolution.

'Just possibly a new president taking office next January will find in his in-tray persuasive evidence pointing to a reopening of the case. There are powerful moral reasons for dusting it off and asking a basic question: who was responsible for Britain's worst terrorist outrage?'

[RB: Although this article is mentioned on Mr Linklater’s page on journalisted, it no longer appears on the website of The Times. The most recent article by Magnus Linklater in The Times can be read here. A very different stance is adopted. What has changed over the past seven years? Certainly no new evidence has emerged supporting Megrahi’s guilt. And much evidence has surfaced that further undermines the conviction. What is it, then, that has changed Mr Linklater’s mind? It’s a mystery.]


  1. Well, he's certainly changed his tune.

    Or, does he actually have a tune, personally? Most of what I've seen him write about Lockerbie seems to be channelling someone else. At one point it was Bill Taylor, not being especially helpful to his former client. Magnus was at pains to tell us that Bill was writing a book about the case. That was two years ago. I wonder how that's going, and in particular how he's going to explain how he failed to spot the bleedin' obvious in the Heathrow evidence.

    More recently Magnus seems to be channelling Frank Mulholland. Frank doesn't really need to say anything himself, Magnus makes sure the Times or the Scotsman carries his thoughts.

    Difficult to know who he was channelling above. Probably not Tam Dalyell. Someone without Magnus's own boasted "deep famiiarity" with the evidence, as he seems to be mixing up Abu Nidal and the PFLP with Ahmed Jibril and the PFLP-GC. Abu Nidal was suspected of involvement in Lockerbie, but he and his group weren't the main suspects of the investigation for many months. Jibril's group was.

    1. Remember, the appeal allowed by the SCCRC was in the offing. Magnus Linklater has good contacts within the higher echelons of the legal profession and the judiciary. I suspect he was hearing from them that the appeal was highly likely to succeed. Once that appeal was abandoned on Megrahi's compassionate release, Magnus was able to revert to the (for him) more comfortable position of everything being for the best in the best of all possible criminal justice systems.

    2. Good point. That certainly does appear to explain the observed facts.

    3. Mind you, how he thinks that a terminally ill prisoner being pressurised to drop his ongoing appeal during the negotiations for compassionate release squares with the best of all possible criminal justice systems, I don't know.