Saturday, 21 May 2016

Megrahi case "example of gross prosecutorial misconduct"

[The following are a few extracts from media reports on this date in 2012, the day after Abdelbaset Megrahi’s death and the day of his funeral:]

Independent Online (South Africa):
The death of the only person convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people should not prevent a public inquiry into his trial, Britain’s press said on Monday.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi died on Sunday, almost three years after the Scottish government freed him from jail on compassionate grounds after his prostate cancer diagnosis.
Megrahi was found guilty of blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground.
Britain’s newspapers believe that his initial conviction by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001 was flawed and called for an official probe.
“With so many loose ends remaining and so many questions about the original trial unresolved, the Scottish government should agree to a public inquiry into the tragedy,” said the left-leaning Independent’s editorial.
“Megrahi’s death is no reason to stop trying to get to the truth,” the newspaper added. (...)
The Guardian said Megrahi’s death removed a “running sore in relations between London and Washington” but was doubtful it would help answer questions about the initial verdict.
“One might assume that the truth about the bombing might finally emerge,” said its editorial. “But that hope could be premature.”
The liberal broadsheet said the task of rebuilding Libya after the death of president Muammar Gaddafi could hold up attempts to review any new evidence.
“Megrahi outlived his leader by seven months, but both may well have taken the truth of what happened to their grave,” it added.
“But if ever a crime of this magnitude warranted an independent review, it is this.”
Dr [Jim] Swire told The Herald: "Our lawyers are saying we have an absolute right to know who killed our loved ones and why they were not protected." (...)
Dr Swire added: "This might mean pushing for a judicial review of the UK Government's decision not to grant an independent inquiry.
"The alternative right now is for Alex Salmond to get his act together and grant an independent inquiry in Scotland.
"I am not in the mood to forgo the right to know who murdered my daughter and who knew the airport was broken into 16 hours before and decided not to do anything about it.
"I will have to take further advice on whether I could pursue this through the SCCRC. I think the next move lies with the Megrahi family."
Professor Robert Black QC – the architect of Megrahi's trial, said ministers could be persuaded to hold an independent inquiry in Scotland, or a relative of Megrahi may re-apply to the SCCRC and push for a new appeal.
Ministers' continued refusal to hold a public inquiry could be challenged as a breach of article 8, the right to a family life.
Niall McCluskey, an advocate and expert in human rights, said: "The court could declare the Government was in some way in breach of the petitioner's human rights. Judicial review is a mechanism by which they could seek to have the decision of the Government not to hold an inquiry challenged."
John Ashton, a former member of Megrahi's defence team and the author of his official biography, Megrahi: You Are My Jury, said: "He has suffered a very painful death and he has gone to his grave with the conviction hanging over him.
"I am convinced that sooner or later the conviction will be overturned."
Abdelbasset al Megrahi is being buried today. (...)
But the aftershocks from his release and death rumble on, because although Abdelbasset Al Megrahi was convicted of mass murder, no-one believes his conviction to be entirely satisfactory. Many believe Libya had nothing to do with the attack. Many fingers point to Iran and its desire to avenge the shooting down of an Iran passenger plane by an American warship a year before Pan Am 103 was bombed. (...)
Fragments of a timer and clothing, and a witness in Malta tied him to the bomb.
He was convicted after an extraordinary trial in the Netherlands but, ever since, British relatives of the dead have said they believe he was not responsible.
Megrahi always protested his innocence and began campaigning to clear his name as soon as he got to Libya.
His death does not end the controversy.
From the Now-They-Tell-Us department comes The New York Times obit of Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted by a special Scottish court for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. After Megrahi’s death from cancer was announced on Sunday, the Times finally acknowledged that his guilt was in serious doubt.
Last year, when the Times and other major US news outlets were manufacturing public consent for a new war against another Middle East “bad guy,” ie Muammar Gaddafi, Megrahi’s guilt was treated as flat fact. Indeed, citation of the Lockerbie bombing became the debate closer, effectively silencing anyone who raised questions about US involvement in another war for “regime change.” (...)
Gaddafi’s eventual defeat, capture and grisly murder brought no fresh doubts about the certainty of the guilt of Megrahi, who was simply called the “Lockerbie bomber.” Few eyebrows were raised even when British authorities released Libya’s former intelligence chief Moussa Koussa after asking him some Lockerbie questions.
Scotland Yard also apparently failed to notice the dog not barking when the new pro-Western Libyan government took power and released no confirmation that Gaddafi’s government indeed had sponsored the 1988 attack. After Gaddafi’s overthrow and death, the Lockerbie issue just disappeared from the news.
So, readers of The New York Times’ obituary page might have been surprised Monday if they read deep into Megrahi’s obit and discovered this summary of the case:
“The enigmatic Mr Megrahi had been the central figure of the case for decades, reviled as a terrorist but defended by many Libyans, and even some world leaders, as a victim of injustice whose trial, 12 years after the bombing, had been riddled with political overtones, memory gaps and flawed evidence.”
If you read even further, you would find this more detailed examination of the evidence:
“Investigators, while they had no direct proof, believed that the suitcase with the bomb had been fitted with routing tags for baggage handlers, put on a plane at Malta and flown to Frankfurt, where it was loaded onto a Boeing 727 feeder flight that connected to Flight 103 at London, then transferred to the doomed jetliner.
“After a three-year investigation, Mr Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the Libyan airline station manager in Malta, were indicted on mass murder charges in 1991. Libya refused to extradite them, and the United Nations imposed eight years of sanctions that cost Libya $30 billion.  …
“Negotiations led by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa produced a compromise in 1999: the suspects’ surrender, and a trial by Scottish judges in the Netherlands.
“The trial lasted 85 days. None of the witnesses connected the suspects directly to the bomb. But one, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold the clothing that forensic experts had linked to the bomb, identified Mr Megrahi as the buyer, although Mr Gauci seemed doubtful and had picked others in photo displays.
“The bomb’s timer was traced to a Zurich manufacturer, Mebo, whose owner, Edwin Bollier, testified that such devices had been sold to Libya. A fragment from the crash site was identified by a Mebo employee, Ulrich Lumpert.
“Neither defendant testified. But a turncoat Libyan agent testified that plastic explosives had been stored in Mr Fhimah’s desk in Malta, that Mr Megrahi had brought a brown suitcase, and that both men were at the Malta airport on the day the bomb was sent on its way.
“On Jan 31, 2001, the three-judge court found Mr Megrahi guilty but acquitted Mr Fhimah. The court called the case circumstantial, the evidence incomplete and some witnesses unreliable, but concluded that ‘there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt’ of Mr Megrahi.
“Much of the evidence was later challenged. It emerged that Mr Gauci had repeatedly failed to identify Mr Megrahi before the trial and had selected him only after seeing his photograph in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court. The date of the clothing sale was also in doubt.
“Investigators said Mr Bollier, whom even the court called ‘untruthful and unreliable,’ had changed his story repeatedly after taking money from Libya, and might have gone to Tripoli just before the attack to fit a timer and bomb into the cassette recorder. The implication that he was a conspirator was never pursued.
“In 2007, Mr Lumpert admitted that he had lied at the trial, stolen a timer and given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.
“The court’s inference that the bomb had been transferred from the Frankfurt feeder flight was also cast into doubt when a Heathrow security guard revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the bombing, a circumstance never explored.
“Hans Köchler, a United Nations observer, called the trial ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice,’ words echoed by Mr Mandela. Many legal experts and investigative journalists challenged the evidence, calling Mr Megrahi a scapegoat for a Libyan government long identified with terrorism. While denying involvement, Libya paid $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003 in a bid to end years of diplomatic isolation.”
In other words, the case against Megrahi looks to have been an example of gross prosecutorial misconduct, relying on testimony from perjurers and failing to pursue promising leads (like the possibility that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, not transferred from plane to plane to plane, an unlikely route for a terrorist attack and made even more dubious by the absence of any evidence of an unaccompanied bag being put on those flights).

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