Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Lockerbie scapegoat

This is the headline over an article by Tam Dalyell that was published in The Spectator on this date in 2002. It reads as follows:]

There is an innocent man languishing in the Barlinnie jail in Glasgow tonight, and, all too probably, he will be there every night for the next 19 years. He is alone, far removed from his culture and his religion, blamed and punished for the biggest mass murder in British history, on British soil: the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. His name is Abdelbaset al Megrahi. Recently Jack Straw rejected Nelson Mandela's calls for Megrahi to be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in a Muslim country. I am convinced that he is the victim of the most spectacular miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
Three senior judges — Lord Sutherland, Lord Coulsfield and Lord MacLean — sitting in the Scottish Court in Zeist in the Netherlands without a jury, found Megrahi guilty in January 2001. The only evidence used to convict him was a few scraps of clothing found in the wreckage that were thought to have been wrapped around the bomb. These had been traced back to a shop in Malta where the owner, Tony Gauci, identified Megrahi from a photograph as the buyer. Inconsistencies within Gauci's testimony, such as that his initial description of the purchaser did not resemble Megrahi, and confusion over the date of the purchase were never resolved.
At no point did Megrahi get the chance to tell his story. When I went to see him with his solicitor, Mr Eddie McKechnie, in Barlinnie, he expressed his dismay that his previous defence team had prevailed upon him, against his every instinct, not to go into the witness box. Had he done so, he would have made the convincing case that he was not a member of the Libyan intelligence services, but a sanctions-buster, scouring Africa and South America and the Boeing Company for spare parts to allow Libyan Arab Airlines to continue operating in the face of sanctions.
Earlier this year Megrahi took his case to the appeal court, but the judges — Lord Cullen, Lord Kirkwood, Lord Macfadyen, Lord Nimrno Smith and Lord Osborne — did not address the issue of whether the evidence had been sufficient to establish Megrahi's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead they merely pointed out that his defence had accepted that there was enough evidence and had expressly disavowed any claim of 'miscarriage of justice'. I see their difficulty. It is one thing for the appeal court to tell a jury that they have arrived at an unreasonable verdict. It is another for one senior and four relatively junior judges to tell three of their most senior judicial colleagues, who have heard the evidence at first hand, that they have arrived at an absurd conclusion in finding Megrahi guilty. Whatever qualms they harboured, the appeal judges cannot have been unmindful of the fact that this would have made the Scottish legal process the laughing-stock of the world.
There should have been an inquiry. For an adversarial system of justice to arrive at the truth requires both of the adversaries to place before the court all information that was available to them. In the Lockerbie trial, the defence team of Abdelbaset al Megrahi chose not to do so. In such circumstances, the adversarial system simply does not work, and the objective becomes not to uncover the truth, but to find someone to shoulder the blame.
The British relatives of the Lockerbie victims were, as far back as 19 September 1989, offered an inquiry by the then secretary of state for transport. Cecil Parkinson — subject, he said, as they filed out of his room, to the agreement of colleagues. Somewhat sheepishly on 5 December 1989. Parkinson told the relatives that it had been decided at the highest level that there would be no inquiry.
For many years, I deduced that, since no other minister could at that time tell Cecil what to do in his own ministry, the 'highest level' must have been the prime minister. On 16 July 2002 I had the opportunity of asking Margaret Thatcher why she had refused an inquiry. She was mystified. She told me that it had not been put to her. I believe her. I suspect it was American Intelligence that prevailed.
The distinguished Austrian jurist Dr Hans Köchler, international observer, nominated by Kofi Annan wrote:
“As far as the material aspects of due process and fairness of the trial are concerned, the presence of at least two representatives of a foreign government in the courtroom during the entire period of the trial was highly problematic. The two state prosecutors from the US Department of Justice were seated next to the prosecution team. They were not listed in any of the official information documents about the court's officers produced by the Scottish Court Service, yet they were seen talking to the prosecutors while the court was in session, checking notes and passing on documents. For an independent observer watching this from the visitors' gallery, this created the impression of 'supervisors' handling vital matters of the prosecution strategy and deciding, in certain cases, which documents (evidence) were to be released in open court or what parts of information contained in a certain document were to be withheld (deleted)... Because of the role they played during the trial, the continued presence of the two US representatives introduced into the appeal proceedings a political element that should have been avoided.”
The brief given by the Foreign Office to their incoming new minister, Mike O'Brien (who, to his credit, has gone to Libya as the first British minister to do so for two decades, in response to my [17th!] Adjournment Debate on Lockerbie), was misleading. For example, Hansard, 23 July 2002, records O'Brien as saying in his prepared reply, 'The destruction of Pan Am 103 was followed by equally savage attacks on UTA flight 772 and the La Belle Disco.'
Surely the Foreign Office ought to have known that the Lockerbie tragedy happened two-and-a-half years after the incident at La Belle Disco. Given such casual and sloppy Foreign Office replies, why should those of us who have become 'Professors of Lockerbie Studies' over the last 14 years believe anything that the British and American governments tell us?
Two days after Lockerbie, $11 million was paid from sources in Iran to a bank in Lausanne. The money then moved to the Banque National de Paris, and onwards to the Hungarian Development Bank, ending up at the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command — the original Lockerbie suspects two years before Libya came into the frame. Is this a coincidence? [RB: This aspect of the story is comprehensively debunked by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer here.]
I believe that Libya was used by the West as a scapegoat for raisons d'etat: the US and Britain did not want to enrage Iran and Syria as they launched the Gulf war against Iraq. I believe Megrahi was also a scapegoat, used by the West for the same reasons.
But while his friends — including his British relatives, the Austrian jurist Dr Hans Köchler, President Mandela, and determined new lawyers in the persons of Eddie McKechnie and Margaret Scott QC — keep on fighting, there is hope that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board or the European Commission on Human Rights could reverse injustice.

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