[What follows is a commentary by Dr Kevin Bannon on Ken Dornstein’s documentary as broadcast on BBC Channel 4:]
I am loath to disparage an investigation by anyone who lost immediate family in such an atrocity as the bombing of Pan Am103. However, notwithstanding his otherwise pertinent observations, I think that John Ashton (in his recent blog) has been remarkably genteel in his response to Ken Dorntein’s pseudo-investigative documentary Lockerbie: My Brother’s Bomber. Dornstein’s faith in the conviction of al-Megrahi appears unshakeable as does his implicit belief that the co-accused, Fhimah was freed on a technicality.
To summarise his film, its recurring focus is the video of al-Megrahi’s return to Tripoli airport, over which Dornstein seethes, while he identifies several more potential Lockerbie suspects among the welcoming party. One of these is Abu Agela whose name also turns up in files found in Tripoli and in former East Berlin archives. Agela is also listed travelling twice on the same plane flights as al-Megrahi. These circumstances are backed by hearsay which identifies Agela as an explosives expert and then link him to the 1986 bombing of Berlin’s La Belle nightclub. To this, I can only add that Ken Dornstein is entitled to his suspicions.
I found more interesting what Musbah Eter had to say, because since his conviction 14 years ago for the La Belle bombing, there had been no apparent comment from him or his 3 accomplices about their convictions. Ken Dornstein gives him ample camera time to explain himself and Eter is shown looking around his old office - not at camera, and not exactly confessing, but thinking aloud, apparently regretting but simultaneously justifying his past:
“...here we conducted state terrorism, surveillance of enemies...and from here we launched the bombing of the Berlin nightclub, from the second floor...carrying with it the destruction and murder of the innocent... What we did was wrong and I admit it. If I could go back in time I wouldn’t have done it. But the pressure from the state...and the direct orders from the security services...were [sic] the reason why so many Libyan youths were caught up in it.”
Years previously Eter had both admitted and denied having a role in the La Belle bombing as well as implicating his co-accused in court - then denying that too. His cynical mea culpa in the film does little justice to a premeditated act of violence which killed three and maimed and injured many more. Eter offers no explanation or proof of his role and in Ken Dornstein’s film he is not questioned at all on any such details. John Ashton’s recent blog notes Eter’s former CIA associations – it certainly puts the La Belle bomber’s meanders into a kind of perspective.
The film shows the investigating prosecutor in the La Belle case, Detlev Mehlis musing how he had difficulty spelling the name ‘Abugela’ (Abu Agela) “...sorry...I have no idea how to spell Abugela...I would probably spell it like ‘jelly’ or something...” Eter had written down the name for him ‘ABUGELA’ and next to it ‘NEGER’ which Mehlis pronounces “neeger” adding “...but here in German it doesn’t have that negative meaning as in the US.” Mehlis might not find this word negative, but he should know that since the seventies this has been regarded as a derogatory word among most educated Germans.
The Le Belle club specialised in soul music and had been particularly popular with Afro-American servicemen, two of whom were killed along with a Turkish woman - improbable targets by Libya seeking revenge on Washington. A bomb had exploded a week earlier outside Berlin’s German-Arab Friendship offices, (the DAFG), injuring several Arabs. Three Middle Eastern men who had been arrested as the initial suspects in the La Belle bombing were subsequently blamed for this attack; it was said that the motive had been antipathy towards the PLO which they apparently believed the DAFG had represented. However Ahmed Hasi (or Hazi) who placed the DAFG bomb, had no history a political zealot but rather a police record for abusing his wife and drug dealing.
In September 1980, Germany’s deadliest bombing attack on civilians since World War II killed 13 people at the ‘Oktoberfest’– a popular family festival held annually. The device had exploded prematurely, killing the bomber, Gundolf Köhler - a member of a Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann - a banned neo-Nazi party. Had this bomb plant gone according to plan, one wonders who might have been blamed for the attack – targeting ordinary families and Bavarian provincial traditions – obviously not the far-right.
Ken Dornstein chooses to include a short news clip from al-Megrahi’s deathbed, an interview in which al-Megrahi, in his intermediate English, says that his name had been ‘exaggerated’ - Al-Megrahi wouldn’t have been familiar the words ‘slandered’ or ‘besmirched’ but in October 2011, his comment went viral in the West’s media, who made the interpretation that al-Megrahi’s role in the bombing plot had been exaggerated – which would have been tantamount to an admission of guilt. Al-Megrahi’s fervent denials of any involvement in the Lockerbie bombing were numerous and un-ambiguous. This ‘exaggerated’ statement was grossly misleading in its original broadcasts but more so in Dornstein’s reiteration of it - especially as in his film, it is presented as al-Megrahi’s final word.
Dornstein is also shown equipping himself with a hidden micro-video camera, having ingratiated himself with Jim Swire in hope of filming al-Megrahi himself – and he toys with the idea of demanding a confession or denial from al-Megrahi. To see Jim Swire - totally oblivious to Dornstein’s ruse - warmly welcomed by al-Megrahi’s son at the front door, before introducing Dornstein (who had to wait in the hall) is galling and acutely dishonest. Jim Swire’s openness and magnanimity is well-known and I would expect he forgave Dornstein – as a fellow-in-grief - but I’m not ashamed to say I wouldn’t have. A conversation afterwards with Jim Swire shows Ken Dornstein nodding ‘sympathetically’ as he listens to Jim Swire’s poignant lament for al-Megrahi - this makes Ken Dornstein look, frankly, two-faced.
An investigation of any kind requires elements such as definition, corroboration, credible testimonials or some kind of logical chain-of-evidence – a testable hypothesis or one that is falsifiable as the late Karl Popper would have described it.
I have no idea who planted the bomb – my emphasis is on who didn’t - a narrower focus and a simpler research problem with a more finite evidence basis.
What follows is all factual:
A - The prime witness
Al-Megrahi was originally linked to the Lockerbie bombing plot based only on the evidence eyewitness Antony Gauci a shopkeeper in Malta. There were at least 10 separate features or conditions pertaining to his evidence about items he had sold to a customer; their total cost; the date of sale; the weather on that day; the appearance and age of the customer etc. Fundamental aspects of each and every one of these evidence items or their conditions changed between the initial statements and the latter ones - changes 100% favourable to the prosecution case. The original evidence thoroughly discounted al-Megrahi as the customer in every aspect.
Within the same general period that Tony Gauci modified his testimony he had ‘expressed an interest in receiving money’ and the police discussed on more than one occasion - not in his presence - the possibility of substantial or immediate cash payments being made to him as an inducement: Example from a police memo: "if a monetary offer was made to Gauci this may well change his view and allow him to consider a witness protection programme...”
After the conviction of al-Megrahi, it became apparent that Tony Gauci received ‘in excess of $2 million’ as a reward for helping with the Lockerbie investigation.
B - The circuit board fragment
A fragment of charred cloth was found near Lockerbie about three weeks after the bombing. The item later yielded a tiny fragment of circuit board which forensic investigators linked to timing devices sold to the Libyan defence forces. To this day it remains unclear what date the crucial piece of circuit board was discovered and who discovered it.
No evidence of explosive residue examination of this item – supposedly the only piece of the explosive device found – was produced at trial or shown to have taken place.
Soon after it was first logged, the label attached to this evidence describing its contents was falsified so that its original description ‘Cloth’ then read ‘Debris’ (falsified – not merely ‘overwritten’).
An existing metallurgy test on this circuit board fragment, establishing that it was constitutionally different from the batch sold to Libya, was not introduced in court. Several years later another more advanced metallurgy test confirmed this – corroborating the elimination of the Libyan link to the explosive device.
False testimony drew al-Megrahi into the Lockerbie bombing indictment and corrupt procedures pertaining to the circuit board fragment nailed his conviction. The only rational explanation for this is that al-Megrahi was fitted-up in a conspiracy by individuals associated with the Lockerbie investigation and/or the subsequent prosecution and trial. It is perhaps no wonder why the Scottish and UK authorities are reticent to have the matter delved into any further.
Entirely un-mentioned in Ken Dornstein’s film is Moussa Koussa, former Libyan foreign minister, principal security adviser to Gaddafi himself, and subject of one of the greatest intelligence coups anywhere since 1945. Koussa, Gaddafi’s right-hand man, had been simultaneously a direct informant to the CIA and to MI6 since at least the 1990’s and almost certainly since the early 80s. In 1980 he had uttered, direct to a reporter of The Times in London, an open threat both to assist the IRA and to liquidate Libyan dissidents abroad – an incrimination of the Libyan regime from which it never recovered. This helps explain, better than anything else, the perception of Libya’s self-destructive international image during the 1980s.
On the 30 March 2011, at a decisive moment in the Libyan uprising, Koussa flew to the UK to be debriefed by MI6 and others – and was then allowed safe-passage to Saudi Arabia – into media silence and luxurious exclusion. This alone establishes that the contradictions surrounding Libya since 1980 are much more likely to lie with Western intelligence services rather than amidst Tripoli’s rubble.
When Ken Dornstein arrived in Tripoli the first time, the city had been shattered – the result of a Bay of Pigs--Contras-type CIA war led by Washington, dressed up, naturally as a popular revolt. This time the CIA had been ‘successful’ because they were backed by NATO air power and had the benefit of digital-age disinformation and news management – not to mention Moussa Koussa’s assistance at the outset. Even the overall casualty figures of this destruction-of-a-nation have been withheld – possibly not even enumerated at all. In either case this is in blatant contravention of universal law – because people, or military personnel, are supposed to know what they are doing and what they have done. The report of the UN Human Rights Council into the Libyan ‘rebellion’ was told by NATO that ‘aircraft flew a total 17,939 armed sorties with a “zero expectation” of death or injury to civilians’. The UN sampled 20 NATO airstrikes and counted 60 civilian deaths attributable to them – and left it at that; ‘Do the math’: (17,939 ÷ 20) x 60 = x
At least we know that there were ‘zero’ NATO casualties – “a new highpoint in technological warfare” as one Guardian letter-writer observed. We also know that - however shattered Tripoli was after the CIA and NATO had finished with it – conditions there subsequently worsened.
Lockerbie: My Brother’s Bomber is the second Libya-themed ‘documentary’ in the BBC’s appropriately named Storyville series. Its predecessor earlier this year Mad Dog: Gaddafi’s secret world featured a host of stomach-churning anecdotes - all uncorroborated. These included Gaddafi storing the bodies of his enemies in a fridge so he could gloat over them – in one instance 20 years later; a six year old girl having her lips cut off and bleeding to death for smiling inappropriately in Gaddafi’s presence; that Gaddafi was a rampant racist, and regarded dark-skinned Africans as an inferior people; a boy of about 14 filmed holding an ostensible human heart in his hands and promising to eat it; Gaddafi’s relentless appetite for seducing or raping school children, implicitly of both sexes. The narrative was artfully backed by a soundtrack like a horror film.
By contrast, a snuff-movie featuring the torture to death of Gaddafi himself is perfectly genuine. The Sun newspaper devoted a whole front-page to the image of his paraded corpse with the headline: “That’s for Lockerbie”.
It is profoundly disturbing that even the once ‘independent’ BBC broadcasts propagandist items such as Storyville as historical documentary. These will help authorise and sustain the successive armed interventions in the Middle East led by the United States under the false guises of ‘humanitarian assistance’ and ‘national security’.
Ken Dornstein’s film is not the core of the problem; it is the enormous international media backing the film has received. I suggest Ken Dornstein read Manufacturing Consent (Herman & Chomsky 1988) – just in case he has any delusions about why his narrative has received such extraordinary publicity.