[This is the headline over an article by Dr Issaka Souaré that was published on Al Arabiya News website on this date in 2008, having been published earlier that week in Al-Ahram Weekly. It reads in part:]
Libya has always maintained its innocence amid the allegation that it is responsible for the bombing of the American Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988. It however accepted, about a decade later -- after many diplomatic manoeuvres -- to hand over two of its citizens to Scottish authorities to be tried for the alleged crime. Three Scottish judges, representing the Scottish High Court of Judiciary (HCJ), sat at a special court in a third country, as Libya had demanded (the Netherlands). Whilst they acquitted and subsequently released one of the two Libyan nationals, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima, the other one, Abdul-Basit Ali Mohamed Al-Meghrahi was convicted of murdering 270 people in the bombing and was imprisoned for life.
Al-Meghrahi, as his country, has consistently maintained his innocence. He thus appealed against his conviction, but the Scottish High Court rejected this application in March 2002, just over a year after his trial concluded on 31 January 2001. However, in September 2003, he applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) to review his conviction in light of this body referring his case to the HCJ. The SCCRC is described in its mandate as an independent public body established in 1999 by Scottish authorities with responsibility for reviewing alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland. As such, it has the power to refer to the HCJ any conviction or sentence passed on a person, whether or not an appeal against the conviction or sentence has been heard and determined previously. In this instance, the HCJ must hear an appeal in the case referred.
But to refer a case to the HCJ, the SCCRC must be convinced that the evidence presented to it establishes that; a miscarriage of justice may have occurred; and it is in the interests of justice that a referral should be made.
Understanding this background is important in understanding the case at hand. Al-Meghrahi's defence team lodged an application to the SCCRC in September 2003. About six months later, in February 2004, the SCCRC allocated the case to an investigative team of three legal officers on a full time basis. In May 2007, the SCCRC accepted the request of the defendant's legal team to appeal Al-Meghrahi's imprisonment, justifying this by the fact that the defence team had enough ground for the appeal.
In an official press release of 28 June 2007, in which it announced the referral of Al-Meghrahi's case to the HCJ, the SCCRC declared that it had identified six grounds -- some of which resulted from the SCCRC's own investigation -- where it believes that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred against Al-Meghrahi and that, "it is in the interests of justice to refer the matter to the court of appeal."
One of the grounds on which the SCCRC referred Al-Meghrahi's case to appeal is that there are new facts that challenge some of the "core" evidence that the trial court relied upon to convict Al-Meghrahi. (...)
Further to all this, it seems that Al-Meghrahi's defence team is still being denied a critical and highly sensitive document for their appeal. In a report of the 23 February 2008 issue of the Scottish Sunday Herald, Al-Meghrahi's lawyer is said to have criticised the Scottish authority's silence over allegations that the British government, through Foreign Secretary David Miliband, is the one behind this, and that this constitutes an undue interference by Westminster in the Scottish judicial system. The document is thought to contain sensitive information about the electronic device used to explode the airliner that may clear Al-Meghrahi of the crime. Al-Meghrahi's defence team argue that the document was deliberately withheld from them at trial.
On the basis of the above, a number of questions are opened. If Libya was not behind the crime -- as it has always maintained -- then who was? Ex-CIA agent Robert Baer, who worked on the Lockerbie investigation, claims Iran was responsible. Why wouldn't the Americans seize on this allegation? Why the exclusive focus on Libya? Why would the British government zealously protect a document that supposedly incriminates Iran, or Syria for that matter? Iran could not be responsible for this; so who might be? (...)
Why did Libya agree to pay compensation to the families of Lockerbie victims when it claims it is innocent? Could it be that Qaddafi was that desperate to have Western sanctions against Libya lifted that he accepted to pay an amount that was little compared to what his country stood to gain from restoring relations with the West? One senior Libyan diplomat told me so. If so, was this a wise decision on the part of Tripoli? Could the ruling of an American court in mid-January ordering Libya to pay more than $6 billion in damages over the bombing of a French aircraft over Niger in September 1989 be seen as possible only because of Tripoli's decision? Will Libya refuse to pay, or will it conclude again that the amount is little compared to the benefits it gets from its relations with the West?
The release of Al-Meghrahi, should the Scottish appeals court acquit him, would surely open the door to many unanswered questions.