[What follows is excerpted from a long article published on this date in 2009 in the Malta Independent:]
The outrage expressed when the release of al-Megrahi was announced should not overshadow the memory of the trial that condemned and sentenced him.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi has never stopped reiterating his innocence and non-involvement in the blowing up of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. (...)
As Ian Ferguson, author of the book The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie, points out: “From the start, there was a determination to try to prevent the appeal being heard. It opened but never got off the ground, with stall after stall, as each month al-Megrahi weakened with the cancer that was killing him. There was rejoicing in the Crown Office in Edinburgh when he was released and the appeal abandoned.”
In this regard, it should be ensured that beyond any hindrance or censorship, all assistance and co-operation should be extended to al-Megrahi to enable him to deservedly affirm his innocence.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) had already granted him a second appeal. His legal team has been trying to see the secret papers, which they believe could help overturn his conviction. However, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has signed a public interest(?) immunity certificate, claiming that making the document public could cause “real harm” to national security and international relations. Of course, and stopping a convicted man from proving his innocence! Is this intended to thwart any redress or amends by al-Megrahi?
When only selected evidence is available and the defence does not even get to see parts of it, then the conviction becomes unsound. (...)
It was more than nauseating to note how some dazed or perhaps swayed media played upon the trumped-up assumption of “worldwide condemnation” at his release. Oh no, nothing of the sort! What we see here is just a cynical US condemnation and filthy politics. Playing politics in this matter is the politics of the gutter!
The UK and the US have their differences regarding law and justice that they may not agree on. The elaborate and shadowy politics behind the Lockerbie trial, including these same American families that are complaining about al-Megrahi’s release, also took blood money from Ghaddafi in a $2 billion dollar settlement.
Do you not remember that US military personnel, responsible for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655, which killed all 290 passengers including 66 children, received a medal? What remuneration did the families of the victims receive? (...)
So, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton reiterated her opposition and condemnation to the release of the alleged Lockerbie bomber in a strongly-worded message to the Scottish government. She stressed that it was “absolutely wrong” to release Megrahi. What is she afraid of? Could it be the absolute truth?
Here I would dare to suggest two main reasons why the US administration is highlighting its opposition to this release.
Firstly, it is more than apparent to the world at large that America cannot accept a decision not in line with its policy and made by another country and is prepared to spout its wrath against it.
Secondly, according to Al-Megrahi’s lawyer, he ran the “very real risk” of dying before his appeal was heard, after a judge’s illness caused further delay in the case. It was evident that his release would eliminate this immediate danger and raise the possibilities for a final honest outcome of this affair.
Perhaps we in Europe ought to ask if the USA is indeed our ally any more. It is not customary for allies to boycott each other when they disagree.
On the other hand, high profile supporters, including Nelson Mandela and Michael Mansfield QC among others, strongly maintain that al-Megrahi is innocent.
What did the Americans want? Perhaps that he should be left to die in prison and to have the dead body handed to the US so that it could “execute” it?
Although the political furore over the release of al-Megrahi mainly centred around three countries, namely Britain, the US and Libya, there may well have been covert dealings, until now kept secret, which had been hatched in other countries. New and compelling evidence has now been released which could now well prove his innocence.
In a memo dated 24 September 1989, and reproduced in the appeal submission, the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) states: “The bombing of the Pan Am flight was conceived, authorised and financed by Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, Iran’s former Interior Minister. The execution of the operation was contracted to Ahmad (Jibril), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) leader, for a sum of $1 million.”
The prosecution case was that al-Megrahi took the bomb, wrapped in clothes bought from a shop in Malta, to the island’s Luqa airport, where it was checked in and then transferred on to Pan Am flight 103.
A key witness against al-Megrahi was Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who owned Mary’s House from where the police say the garments were bought.
Also, central to al-Megrahi’s conviction was the evidence of this Maltese shopkeeper, who claimed that al-Megrahi had bought clothes from him allegedly found in the suitcase bomb. Lawyers were due to claim that Gauci was paid over $2 million by US investigators for his evidence, which followed more than 20 police interviews, and that many of the often wildly conflicting statements taken on each occasion were withheld from the defence
But his police statements are inconsistent, and prosecutors failed to tell the defence that shortly before he attended an identity parade, Mr Gauci had seen a magazine article with a picture of al-Megrahi, and speculated that he might have been involved. The BBC programme has discovered that the Scottish police knew Mr Gauci had looked at al-Megrahi’s photograph just days before the line-up.
But, contrary to police rules of disclosure designed to ensure a fair trial, this crucial information was not passed on to the defence.
Besides that, if it were proven that he was rewarded, his testimony would cast doubt on its value.
The SCCRC has thoroughly checked out the claims and found he received “a phenomenal sum of money” from the US. It was reported that Gauci is understood to be planning to use his newfound wealth to fund a move to Australia with his brother, Paul, who was also on the witness list but was not called to give evidence.
Professor Emeritus Robert Black of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, “architect” of the Scottish court on Dutch soil (and himself from Lockerbie) said of the original conviction: “I thought this was a very, very weak circumstantial case. I am absolutely astounded, astonished. I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence.”
He said in 2005 that al-Megrahi’s conviction was “the most disgraceful miscarriage of justice in Scotland for 100 years.” “Every lawyer who has ... read the judgment says ‘this is nonsense’. It is nonsense. It really distresses me; I won’t let it go.”
It is no wonder that some people were hoping that al-Megrahi would die before certain witnesses were called. The release on compassionate grounds is a blessing for them, as much as it was for him.
The key lesson is that the human rights of all parties need to be at the centre of the legal process and decision making if the public interest is to be served, and if justice is to be done and seen to be done.
The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them.