[On this date five years ago Consortium News published a long article by American investigative journalist Robert Parry headlined Three Deadly War Myths. The section headed The Libyan Myth reads as follows:]
Today’s third deadly myth is Washington’s certainty that Libyan dictator Gaddafi was responsible for the Pan Am 103 attack and thus must be removed from power by force and possibly by assassination.
The alternative option of taking Gaddafi up on his offers of a cease-fire and negotiations toward a political settlement has been rejected out of hand by both the Obama administration and by nearly all the influential pundits in Washington, in part, because of the Pan Am case.
Repeatedly citing Gaddafi’s killing of Americans over Lockerbie, the US debate has centered on the need to ratchet up military pressure on Gaddafi and even chuckle over NATO’s transparent efforts to murder the Libyan leader (and his family members) by bombing his homes and offices.
The Obama administration is sticking with this violent course of action even though Libyan civilians continue to die and the cutoff of Libyan oil from the international markets has exacerbated shortages in supplies, thus contributing to the higher gas prices that are damaging the US economic recovery.
But President Obama apparently sees no choice. After all, the conventional wisdom is that Gaddafi is guilty in the Pan Am 103 case. All the leading US news organizations, such as The New York Times, and prominent politicians, such as Sen John McCain, say so.
“The blood of Americans is on [Gaddafi’s] hands because he was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103,” declared Sen McCain, R-Arizona, after an early trip to rebel-held Benghazi.
However, the reality of the Pan Am case is much murkier – and some experts on the mystery believe that Libyans may have had nothing to do with it.
It is true that in 2001, a special Scottish court convicted Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi for the bombing. But the judgment appears to have been more a political compromise than an act of justice. Another Libyan was found not guilty, and one of the Scottish judges told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about “enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction." [RB: The High Court information officer, Elizabeth Cutting, has denied that this ever happened.]
Megrahi’s conviction assuaged the understandable human desire to see someone punished for such a heinous crime, albeit a possibly innocent man.
In 2007, after the testimony of a key witness against Megrahi was discredited, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed to reconsider the conviction as a grave miscarriage of justice. However, that review was proceeding slowly in 2009 when Scottish authorities released Megrahi on humanitarian grounds, after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
Megrahi dropped his appeal in order to gain the early release, but that doesn’t mean he was guilty. He has continued to assert his innocence and an objective press corps would reflect the doubts regarding his curious conviction.
The Scottish court’s purported reason for finding Megrahi guilty – while acquitting his co-defendant Lamin Khalifa Fhimah – was the testimony of Toni Gauci, owner of a clothing store in Malta who allegedly sold Megrahi a shirt, the remnants of which were found with the shards of the suitcase that contained the bomb.
The rest of the case rested on a theory that Megrahi put the luggage on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to a connecting flight to London, where it was transferred onto Pan Am 103 bound for New York, a decidedly unlikely way to undertake an act of terrorism given all the random variables involved.
Megrahi would have had to assume that three separate airport security systems – at Malta, Frankfort and London – would fail to give any serious scrutiny to an unaccompanied suitcase or to detect the bomb despite security officials being on the lookout for just such a threat.
As historian William Blum recounted in a Consortiumnews.com article after Megrahi’s 2001 conviction, “The case for the suitcase’s hypothetical travels must also deal with the fact that, according to Air Malta, all the documented luggage on KM180 was collected by passengers in Frankfurt and did not continue in transit to London, and that two Pan Am on-duty officials in Frankfurt testified that no unaccompanied luggage was introduced onto Pan Am 103A, the feeder flight to London.”
There also were problems with Gauci’s belated identification of Megrahi as the shirt-buyer a decade after the fact. Gauci had made contradictory IDs and had earlier given a physical description that didn’t match Megrahi. Gauci reportedly received a $2 million reward for his testimony and then moved to Australia, where he went into retirement.
In 2007, the Scottish review panel decided to reconsider Megrahi’s conviction after concluding that Gauci’s testimony was unbelievable. And without Gauci’s testimony, the case against Megrahi was virtually the same as the case against his co-defendant who was acquitted.
However, after Megrahi’s conviction in 2001, more international pressure was put on Libya, which was then regarded as the archetypal “rogue” state. Indeed, it was to get onerous economic sanctions lifted that Libya took “responsibility” for the Pan Am attack and paid reparations to the victims’ families even as Libyan officials continued to deny guilt.
In April, there was some excitement over the possibility that Gaddafi would be fingered personally as the Pan Am 103 mastermind when former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa defected. He was believed to be in charge of Libyan intelligence in 1988 and thus almost certainly in the know.
Moussa Koussa was questioned by Scottish authorities but apparently shed little new light on the case. He was allowed to go free after the interview. Very quickly the press interest over Moussa Koussa faded away, except for the recurring assumption in some Western press articles that he must have implicated Gaddafi.
Despite the doubts about the Pan Am 103 case — and the tragic human and economic toll from the Libyan war – the US news media and politicians continue to treat Libya’s guilt as a flat fact. It appears that no big-time journalist or important official has even bothered to read the Scottish court’s bizarre judgment regarding Megrahi’s 2001 conviction.
Instead, NATO’s bombing campaign against Libyan targets continues, including the recent leveling of tents where Gaddafi greets foreign dignitaries and the destruction of Libyan TV.
Rather than making war policies based on serious factual analysis, the United States and NATO continue to be guided by politically pleasing myths. It is a recipe for an even-greater disaster and unnecessary deaths.