Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Lockerbie bombing: story of a fake conviction

[This is the headline over an article published today on the Top Conspiracies website. It reads in part:]

Pan Am Flight 103 was a scheduled flight from Frankfurt to Detroit. In December 1988 the plane was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers.The explosion took place over Scotland after taking off from London, and thus Europe had jurisdiction over the explosion. In 1999 Two Lybian nationals were handed over by General Gadaffi (the then leader/dictator of Lybia) for trial in a Scottish court in the Netherlands. The bomb was said to have been made out of Semtex plastic. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was jailed for life in connection with the bombing, released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds due to a diagnosis of prostate cancer. There was a significant lack of protest in the wake of his release, suggesting that many of the family of the victims do not believe him to be behind the bombing. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi died in 2012.

Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the other Libyan handed over for the case, was found not guilty. Gadaffi accepted responsibility for the bombings in 2003. The CIA and the FBI worked with intelligence officers in Europe when processing the case. Over 15,000 people were questioned in over 30 countries. The explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 is also known as the Lockerbie bombing.
It is almost certain that the Libyan convicted had little to do with the Lockerbie bombing and that the real players are unknown. Just about only thing that remains uncontested is that a bomb went off in a suitcase and killed 243 passengers and 16 crew members. In a Report on and evaluation of the Lockerbie trial conducted by the Special Scottish Court in the Netherlandat Kamp Van Zeist, Dr Hans Köchler, University Professor, International Observer of the International Progress Organization stated that:
“ It was a consistent pattern during the whole trial that – as an apparent result of political interests and considerations – efforts were undertaken to withhold substantial information from the Court. “
The Opinion of the Court is exclusively based on circumstantial evidence and on a series of highly problematic inferences. As to the undersigned knowledge, there is not one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime.
On the basis of the above observations and evaluation, the undersigned has – to his great dismay – reached the conclusion that the trial, seen in its entirety, was not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner. Indeed, there are many more questions and doubts at the end of the trial than there were at its beginning”

Conspiracy Theory #1 – Revenge
One theory contends that it was an act of revenge stemming from Iran. Over 290 passengers were killed when US forces shot down an Iran Airbus over the Strait of Hormuz, including over 66 children. This was less than 6 months before Pan Am Flight 103. Investigative reporter Paul Foot believes that this is the most likely scenario and that Libya was actually framed by the British and Americans, with political factors coming into play: Libya openly backed Saddam Hussein and Iran were needed during the first Gulf War. A number of journalists have drawn attention to the fact that Margaret Thatcher dismissed the idea in her memoirs that the Lockerbie bombing an act of Iranian revenge.
Conspiracy Theory #2 – CIA drug smuggling cover up
Not the first and most definitely not the last link between the U.S Central Intelligence Agency and illegal substances. This theory is backed up through Lester Coleman, a former member of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Allegedly there was a route of drug smuggling between the US and Europe through Syrian drug dealers, who were allowed keep the ring going in return for CIA intelligence. The agency managed to ensure that the suitcases were not checked so the regime could continue; however, the scheme backfired when a bomb was put into the suitcase instead of the narcotics. In the 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross, it was suggested that the CIA agents were to blame for turning a blind eye to the drug smuggling ring between Europe and the US in return for information.
Conspiracy Theory #3 – Abu Nidal on behalf of Gadaffi
Abu Nidal was an internationally renowned terrorist around the time of the Lockerbie bombing. US bombings in 1986 killed large numbers of Libyan civilians and Gadaffi’s response was to engage the services of Abu Nidal. Nidal moved his organization to Libya in 1987. It is also contended that Abu Nidal warned US intelligence that a flight on route to Detroit would be blown up. Abu Nidal allegedly confessed to the bombing on his deathbed. The former head of Iranian intelligence was reported to have told German intelligence that Iran asked Libya/Gaddafi and Abu Nidal for help in bombing the American airline. Part of that report states:
The mission was to blow up a Pan Am flight 103 that was to be almost entirely booked by US military personnel on Christmas leave. The flight was supposed to be a direct flight from Frankfurt, GE, to New York, not Pan Am Flight 103 which was routed through London, UK. The suitcase containing the bomb was labeled with the name of one of the US passengers on the plane and was inadvertently placed on the wrong plane possibly by airport ground crew members in Frankfurt. The terrorist who last handled the bomb was not a passenger on the flight.
Conspiracy Theory #4 – PFLP-GC & Pan Am Flight 103
In the aftermath of the bombing, the prime suspects in the Lockerbie bombing were the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command. These were a warlike revolutionary group led by a former Syrian military officer. Mohammed Abu Talb was the head of the Swedish cell of the PFLP-GC and was one of a number of suspects before the focus shifted to Al Megrahi. PFLP-GC had a bomb maker at their disposal who was meant to be investigated by Scottish police until the FBI persuaded them to call off the warrant for the purposes of intelligence information. Khreesat was a Jordanian intelligence officer unknown to the PFLP-GC and relayed intelligence back to HQ, which relayed it to Western Intelligence. Allegedly, Khreesat relayed information that there would be a bomb planted on a Pan Am flight in October 1988, around 6 months before the actual crash. German intelligence raided the PFLP-GC acting on this information but did not progress further with regard to the bombing. (...)

Conclusion to the Pan Am Flight 103 Explosion
It is certain at this stage that the official story of a lone Libyan civilian conducting the bombing is false. He did not bring down Pan Am Flight 103 alone. However, no-one is any the wiser to what actually happened. There are simply too many conflicting theories, too many intelligence agencies, too many countries involved and too many variables to construct a credible theory as to what went on. Even the theories listed above tend to blend and mix together with different variants. It is possible that the PFLP-GC, Gadaffi and Abu Nidal all had a role in some fashion, but separating what happened exactly and who is responsible is just impossible. One theory is that Iran asked Libya/Gadaffi and Abu Nidal to bomb Pan Am 103 in revenge, a mixing of two theories. It gets more complex the more that it is investigated with all the difference information from the intelligence agencies and reports from investigative journalists.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Editorial policy change

For just over three years now I have each day posted on this blog an item from the long history of the Lockerbie case, as well as noting any current developments, such as the progress of Justice for Megrahi’s petition in the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee and the state of play in Police Scotland’s Operation Sandwood investigation. Some readers have found the historical posts tiresome and, after three years, it has become increasingly difficult to find in the archives items that I have not previously resurrected. Therefore, on the occasion of my departure from Edinburgh for the wilds of the Roggeveld Karoo, I have decided that in future I shall normally post only items of current news, though I may continue to mark particularly significant anniversaries. Any reader who needs a daily Lockerbie fix can consult the blog’s entries for an equivalent day of the month between 1 August 2014 and 25 September 2017.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Criminality allegations submitted to Justice Secretary

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the website of The Scotsman on this date in 2012:]

Lockerbie campaigners have lodged “fresh allegations” with justice secretary Kenny MacAskill about the conduct of the Scottish authorities at the trial 11 years ago.

Demands for a fresh inquiry into the bombing of the Pan Am jet in 1988 will come before MSPs on Holyrood’s justice committee today. The Justice for Megrahi (JfM) campaign has compared the “cover-up” surrounding the trial to the recent Hillsborough revelations. But the claims were branded “false and deliberately misleading” by Scotland’s Crown Office yesterday.

In a submission to the committee, the JfM group states: “The outcome of the Hillsborough inquiry has undoubtedly shone a light on the inner workings of a justice system that purported to keep its citizens safe and secure.

“Now we can see that protection of the system and the wrongdoers within it took precedence over protection of the individual citizen. If Hillsborough was England’s shame, then Lockerbie is Scotland’s, and much of the indifference and arrogance identified within the former can be identified in the latter.”

The campaign submitted a letter to Mr MacAskill which lodges “serious formal allegations” relating to the conduct of the investigation and the Kamp van Zeist trial.

[RB: JfM’s letter to Kenny MacAskill, with names of individuals removed, reads as follows:]

The Committee of Justice for Megrahi hereby formally lodge with you complaints alleging criminal wrongdoing in the investigation and prosecution of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah for the murder of 270 people in the downing of Pan Am 103 on 21 December 1988.

These complaints are directed against the persons and bodies named below whom, for the reasons given, we believe may be guilty of the criminal offences specified.

1.  On 22 August 2000 the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, communicated to the judges of the Scottish Court in the Netherlands information about the contents of CIA cables relating to the Crown witness Abdul Majid Giaka that was known to members of the prosecution team [A B and C D] who had scrutinised the cables, to be false. The Lord Advocate did so after consulting these members of the prosecution team. It is submitted that this constituted an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

2.  Members of the Lockerbie prosecution team, including but not limited to [C D], devised and presented or allowed to be presented to the trial court a scenario regarding the placement of items in luggage container AVE4041 which was known to be false, in order to obfuscate and conceal compelling evidence that the bomb suitcase was introduced by a terrorist infiltration at Heathrow airport. It is submitted that this constituted an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

3.  Dumfries and Galloway Police, and those individuals employed by that force responsible for the recording, prioritising and submission to the Crown Office of evidence gathered in the investigation into the downing of Pan Am Flight 103, and the Crown Office, and those individuals in that organisation responsible for the analysis of said evidence and identifying what material required to be passed on to those acting for Megrahi and Fhimah, concealed the witness statement relating to the break-in to Heathrow airside giving access to the luggage loading shed used by Pan Am 103 in the early hours of 21st December 1988 which was provided by Heathrow Security Officer Raymond Manly to the Metropolitan Police shortly after Mr Manly’s discovery of the break-in. It is submitted that the concealment of this witness statement, which was or ought to have been known to Dumfries and Galloway Police and the Crown Office to be of the highest possible significance to the defence, constituted an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

4.  [In the course of his testimony at Camp Zeist, witness E F] told the Court that the materials and tracking analysis of fragment PT/35b, the sliver of printed circuit board said to have originated from a circuit board contained in one of the 20 MST-13 digital timer instruments supplied by MEBO AG to Libya (the boards for all these timers having been custom-made for MEBO by Thuring AG), were “similar in all respects” to the control samples of MST-13 circuit boards. [E F] consistently used this form of words to describe analyses of items which were identical or of common origin. This statement was false. While the tracking pattern was indeed identical, [E F] was aware that the coating on the circuitry of the control boards was the standard alloy of 70% tin and 30% lead, while the coating on the circuitry of fragment PT/35b (most unusually) lacked the 30% lead content. It is submitted that his statement to the Court was a deliberate falsehood designed to conceal a significant and material difference between the evidential fragment and the control items, and thus constituted both perjury and an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

5.  The Lockerbie investigation, and in particular [police officer G H], knew by 1990 that the coating on the circuitry of fragment PT/35b was composed of pure tin, and that this composition was highly unusual, being described as “by far the most interesting feature” of the fragment by all the experts who were consulted, “without exception”. By early 1992 [G H]  and those in the Crown Office to whom he reported also knew that the metallurgy testing on the control MST-13 circuit boards showed the circuitry on these boards to be coated with the standard 70% tin / 30% lead alloy. [G H] and those in the Crown Office to whom he reported
either failed to inquire with the manufacturer Thuring AG whether they had supplied any MST-13 timer boards with the unusual lead-free coating, or did make such inquiries and failed to disclose the results of these inquiries to the defence. It was discovered by the defence team in 2008 that Thuring AG did not manufacture printed circuit boards with a lead-free coating, and indeed lacked the manufacturing capacity to do so. If [G H] and/or those in the Crown Office to whom he reported failed to make the relevant inquiries with Thuring AG, it is submitted that this omission was grossly negligent. If [G H] and/or those in the Crown Office to whom he reported made such inquiries and failed to disclose the results to the defence, it is submitted that this failure constitutes an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

6.  From our assessment of the ‘SCCRC Statement of Reasons’, relating to its referral of Mr Megrahi’s case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2007, and the ‘Grounds of Appeal 1 and 2' documents prepared by his legal team in furtherance of that appeal, it is clear that a number of questions have been raised in relation to the process which led to the identification of Mr Megrahi by witness Mr Anthony Gauci. These include doubts about the legitimacy of the process by which Mr Gauci’s identification evidence was obtained, assessed and delivered, and what prompted significant failures by the Crown to disclose related material information. From these documents it appears that [police officer I J] and other police officers who were involved in this identification process might well have been aware that a number of the aspects of the process they were following were flawed and did not accord with guidelines extant at the time or with any general principles of fairness to the accused. It is submitted that the omissions and failings referred to in the relevant reports indicate that [I J] and others have important questions to answer in connection with the identification process, and we believe, taken as a whole, that their conduct constitutes an attempt to pervert the course of justice and a breach of section 44 (2) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (violation of duty by a constable).

The above numbered complaints simply constitute the basic allegations. Documents containing detailed supporting material have been prepared and will be made available to the investigating authorities as and when requested by them.

You above all will realise the seriousness of these allegations which strike at the very heart of the Lockerbie investigation past and present. Effectively, we are complaining about the actions of Crown Office officials, the prosecution and investigating authorities including the police, and certain other agencies and individuals. Given the controversy surrounding this whole affair we request that you give serious thought to the independence of any investigating authority you appoint. As a group we believe that you should appoint someone outwith Scotland who has no previous direct or indirect association with Lockerbie or its ramifications.

You will be aware of the disquiet we feel about the delay and obfuscation which have surrounded this whole affair since 1988. Nevertheless we understand you will require reasonable time to inquire into these allegations and decide how you wish to proceed. We therefore propose to keep these matters private and confidential for a period of thirty days from the date of this letter to allow you to carry out the necessary enquiries, decide how you wish the matter to be investigated, and respond to us. We thereafter reserve the right to make the above matters public as and when we feel appropriate and reasonable. Furthermore, on the grounds that PE1370 is due for consideration on 25th September, we also reserve the right to inform the Justice Committee of the fact that we have lodged this document with yourself, making reference (in general terms only) to the fact that it contains serious allegations relating to the Lockerbie/Zeist case.

In passing we would also note the recent publicity given to the perceived lack of independence in Scotland between the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Government by Mr Andrew Tickell. (http://lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-unpolitical-snps-pied-lord-advocate.html)
We also share this concern and would hope, for reasons that must be obvious from the foregoing, that your response to this letter will be free from Crown Office influence of any kind.

We thank you for your time and attention in this matter and look forward to an acknowledgment of receipt by return.

[RB: Three additional allegations were added by JfM at a later date. These nine allegations remain under investigation in Police Scotland’s Operation Sandwood.]

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Megrahi submits application to SCCRC

[What follows is the text of a report that appeared on the BBC News website on this date in 2003:]

The Lockerbie bomber has lodged a fresh appeal against his conviction for the murder of 270 people in the 1988 atrocity.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has been asked to investigate the case of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, who was jailed for the bombing in 2001.

The commission is an independent body charged with investigating possible miscarriages of justice.

It received an application from solicitors acting on behalf of Megrahi, requesting that it review his conviction.

Libyan secret agent Megrahi was sentenced to life in jail in 2001 for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988.

He has been held in a special unit in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow since March 2002 when his appeal against conviction was thrown out by a special Scottish court sitting at a former airbase in the Netherlands.

The appeal comes just weeks after the United Nations Security Council voted to lift more than a decade of sanctions against Libya.

It followed Libya's acceptance of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and its agreement to pay up to $10m to each of the families of the victims.

Al Megrahi's solicitor, Eddie MacKechnie, said there was new evidence never mentioned before included in the team's case, but he refused to give details.

"I do not consider it to be appropriate to publicise, in advance of the Commission's deliberations, any precise details of the case now presented," he said.

"All I can say is that the case contains detailed legal arguments not previously presented, including allegations of unfairness, abuse of process, insufficiency of evidence, errors in law, non-disclosure of evidence and defective representation."

Mr MacKechnie said: "In addition, there is new information and potential new evidence never revealed before supporting Mr Megrahi's consistent plea of innocence and, in certain respects, pointing the finger of blame at those most likely to bear responsibility for the most dreadful mass murder in British history."

[RB: The SCCRC did -- eventually -- find that there might have been a miscarriage of justice and referred the case back to the High Court of Justiciary. The delays that occurred throughout the whole process were utterly outrageous and would have been so even in the case of someone not suffering from terminal cancer.]

Friday, 22 September 2017

Law and Politics in the Lockerbie Case

[This is the heading over a press release issued on this date in 2008 by the International Progress Organization. It reads in part:]

The UN-appointed international observer at the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands, Dr Hans Koechler, revealed in an interview with the BBC's Reevel Alderson on 17 September  that the judges dealing with the new appeal of the only convicted suspect in the Lockerbie case, the Libyan citizen Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, have ruled that special counsel should be appointed for the Appellant in regard to the material covered by the Foreign Secretary's Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate. This was communicated in a letter to a member of the House of Commons, dated 4 September 2008 and signed on behalf of the Minister of State Kim Howells. The respective paragraph at the end of the letter reads as follows:
The UK government has made clear its commitment to work closely with the Court to ensure that Mr. Megrahi receives a fair trial and that sensitive material is handled appropriately. To this end the court ruled on 19 August that special counsel should be appointed to assist the court and safeguard Mr Megrahi's interests in relation to this issue. Once appointed, the special counsel will be provided with a confidential summary of the submissions made by the Advocate General at the last hearing. The UK government supports this ruling in the interests of ensuring the trial is fair.
It is to be noted that the above letter was in reply to a letter the member of the House of Commons had written earlier (13 August 2008) to the Foreign Secretary, stating that he was "deeply concerned if the statement by Dr Koechler in the attached letter is correct and vital 'exculpatory material' is being withheld from Mr Al-Megrahi's defence team." The member of the House of Commons refers to a letter by Dr Koechler, dated 21 July 2008, to the Foreign Secretary. It is further to be noted that Dr Koechler received an almost identical letter of reply from the Foreign Office (dated 27 August) - with the exception of the three sentences marked in bold in the above quotation.
The UN-appointed international observer has visited Scotland from 11 to 19 September on a fact-finding mission aimed at assessing the reasons for the long delay of the new Lockerbie appeal. (In June 2007, after investigations that lasted several years, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had referred the convicted Libyan national's case back to the High Court of Justiciary.)
In the course of his visit, Dr Koechler has participated in consultations held on 15/16 September at Greshornish House on the Isle of Skye. The meeting was convened at the invitation of the Lockerbie Justice Group, headed by Robbie the Pict, and included Prof Robert Black, the "architect" of the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands. Under the motto Quid nunc, Scotia? the participants were asked to consider questions in regard to the fairness and impartiality of the Lockerbie proceedings in the Netherlands and eventual new appeal proceedings in Scotland and to reflect on the lessons to be learned for the handling of any such case in the future.
Dr Koechler further held consultations with Mr Tam Dalyell, former member of the British Parliament and Father of the House of Commons; with Mr Alex Neil MSP and Mr Ian McKie, father of policewoman Shirley McKie, at the Scottish Parliament; and with members of the Lockerbie Justice Group on the Isle of Skye, in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  On 18 September he delivered a keynote speech on "The Lockerbie Trial and the Rule of Law" at the Law Awards of Scotland 2008, organized by The Firm magazine in association with Registers of Scotland at the Glasgow Hilton Hotel. In a reference to the Public Interest Immunity claimed by the UK government, Dr Koechler said:
Whether those in public office like it or not, the Lockerbie trial has become a test case for the criminal justice system of Scotland. At the same time, it has become an exemplary case on a global scale - its handling will demonstrate whether a domestic system of criminal justice can resist the dictates of international power politics or simply becomes dysfunctional as soon as "supreme state interests" interfere with the imperatives of justice. (...) The fairness of judicial proceedings is undoubtedly a supreme and permanent public interest. If the rule of law is to be upheld, the requirements of the administration of justice may have to take precedence over public interests of a secondary order - such as a state's momentary foreign policy considerations or commercial and trade interests. The internal stability and international legitimacy of a polity in the long term depend on whether it is able to ensure the supremacy of the law over considerations of power and convenience.
Dr Koechler's address was followed by enthusiastic applause from an audience of over 600 attendants representing Scotland's legal profession and was commented on by the subsequent keynote speaker, Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC, former Leader of the United Kingdom's Liberal Democrats.
In an exclusive interview for the German-French TV channel ARTE, conducted in Edinburgh, and in all public meetings and consultations in Scotland Dr Koechler reiterated his call for a full public inquiry into the causes of the mid-air explosion of PanAm flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie and the handling of the case by the Scottish judiciary and the Scottish as well as the British executive.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lockerbie & the Scotland Act

[This is the headline over an article by Alex Massie that appeared in the Coffee House section of The Spectator’s website on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

Could government ministers in London have stepped-in to prevent the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi? A report in Scotland on Sunday yesterday says yes they could:
Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy could have overruled Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and stopped the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi if the case was deemed to have breached "international obligations".
Senior diplomats have insisted there was a "clear understanding" between the UK and the US that Megrahi would serve out his sentence in Scotland. The US Justice and State departments have also insisted they had been given assurances in the 1990s that Megrahi would remain imprisoned under Scottish jurisdiction.
[…]Andrew Mackinlay, a senior Labour MP, has now argued for the Scotland Act to be tightened to allow Westminster to override Scottish Government decisions if they have foreign policy implications for the whole of the UK. "Since there appears to be a provision in the Scotland Act, it should at least have been examined," he said.
[…]The key part of the Scotland Act says: "If the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe that any action proposed to be taken by a member of the Scottish Executive would be incompatible with any international obligations, he may by order direct that the proposed action shall not be taken."
Consider me unpersuaded. In fact, consider me vexed by the confused logic of this piece. In the first place it’s not difficult to appreciate that an "understanding" is not necessariy the same thing as an "obligation".
Secondly, releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds does not break the understanding the Americans believed they had been given that Megrahi would serve his time in Scotland. That’s for the very good reason that he has served all his time in Scotland. Now, had Kenny MacAskill accepted Libya’s petition to transfer Megrahi to a Tripoli jail then that would have broken the assurances given to the United States. But releasing him on compassionate grounds – if also, therefore, on license – does not.
This may seem a technical distinction but it is, I think, still an important one.
[RB: On topics other than the Lockerbie case I rarely agree with Alex Massie. But on Lockerbie he is usually sound, as he is here.]

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Attempting to overcome mutual distrust

[The following are two snippets from this date in 1998 from the Libya News and Views website:]

A father whose daughter died in the bombing of a PanAm jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, was heading for Tripoli Saturday to discuss the trial of the two Libyan suspects. Jim Swire, spokesman for UK Families Flight 103, which represents families of the victims, was to hold talks with Libyan officials. Swire left London earlier Saturday with Robert Black, a law professor at Edinburgh University. "The trip is being made following an invitation, passed through the Libyan Interests Section of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, to travel to the North African state for discussions," said a spokesman for Swire. [AFP]

A Dutch airforce base has been chosen as the trial venue for two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing, it was announced Friday. Britain and the Netherlands have signed an agreement that the hearing, if it takes place, will be at Camp Zeist, part of the Soesterberg air base, near The Hague. [The Scotsman]

[RB: What follows is an account written by me some years ago about this visit:]

Between 20 and 22 September 1998, Dr Jim Swire and I were again in Tripoli and were able to provide to the Libyan government and the Libyan defence team a measure of reassurance regarding some of the points [in the UK Governments’s trial proposal] that concerned them.  However, it was we who had to inform the Libyan government that the chosen location in the Netherlands for trial was Kamp van Zeist, a former NATO base to which the air force of the United States still had extant treaty rights of access.  This information was faxed to me (in Dutch, which I can read  -- with difficulty -- through my knowledge of Afrikaans) at my hotel in Tripoli by a Dutch journalist who had developed an interest in Lockerbie and who had heard it from an official at The Hague.  Dr Swire and I discussed whether we should inform our Libyan government contacts of the intended venue and came to the conclusion that we should do so.  One compelling reason for doing so was to preserve the trust that the Libyan government appeared to have developed in us.  Another was our assumption – which may or may not have been justified -- that all our communications in Libya were monitored and that the Libyan authorities would have the information anyway as soon as they could arrange for a copy of the fax to be translated from Dutch into Arabic.

I anticipated that the news about the proposed location would cause the Libyans to renounce the "neutral venue" concept in high dudgeon and complain of the lack of good faith demonstrated by the British Government in selecting, or agreeing to, such a site.  But they did not do so.  When we raised the issue at our next meeting, the Libyan officials were remarkably relaxed about the matter.  This, more than anything else, convinced me that the Libyan government and the Libyan defence lawyers genuinely wished a trial to take place and that the concerns they had expressed regarding details of the scheme now on offer were genuine concerns, not merely a colourable pretext for evading their earlier commitment to such a solution.

On 22 September Dr Swire and I had a further meeting with the Leader of the Revolution.  On this occasion the meeting took place not in Tripoli but 400 kilometres to the east in a genuine (not reinforced concrete) Bedouin tent in a desert location inland from the town of Sirte.  We drove most of the way in the usual government black Mercedes, transferring into a 4 x 4 only for the last few off-road miles.  When at the tent nothing could be seen but sand and sky; but out of sight just beyond the nearest dunes was a lengthy convoy of communications vehicles, ambulances, canteen vehicles and troop carriers. 

Surrounded by the sand dunes and by noisily ruminating camels, Colonel Gaddafi, Dr Swire and I discussed the details of the British scheme.  He accepted my assurance that at least some of the concerns that Libyan government lawyers had raised were unwarranted and that it would be worthwhile to continue to seek clarifications and reassurances through the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations regarding the remaining issues. (...)

I returned to the UK after this visit to Libya reasonably confident that a trial would take place.  It was clear to me that the Libyan authorities at the highest level wanted it to happen and that the accused men wanted their families and themselves to be able to get on with their lives, something that could never happen, even within the boundaries of Libya, while the charges against them remained unresolved and UN sanctions remained in place.  One possible impediment was the hard-line attitude towards surrender for trial overseas that had been taken over the years by the Libyan People’s Congress (the highest legislative and policy-making body under Libya’s idiosyncratic constitution).  However, this potential hurdle was removed on 15 December 2008 when the People’s Congress, at a session held in Sirte, announced that it approved the trial proposal and adjured all three interested governments -- Libya, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to take all necessary steps to remove any remaining obstacles.

In fact, such was the distrust between the various concerned parties that removal of the obstacles was not easily achieved and it was another three months before Megrahi and Fhimah arrived in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Air base becomes British during Lockerbie proceedings

[This is the translated headline over a report published on this date in 1998 in the Dutch newspaper Trouw. In English (courtesy of Google Translate assisted by me) it reads as follows:]

SOESTERBERG - Kamp Zeist on the Soesterberg air base temporarily becomes British territory, to serve as a location for the Lockerbie trial.

Whether the trial of two Libyans suspected of blowing up an American passenger plane in 1988 over  Lockerbie in Scotland actually takes place in the Netherlands depends on Libyan leader Kadafi. But in anticipation, Minister of Foreign Affairs Van Aartsen and British Ambassador Spencer have already signed an agreement in which the camp is handed over to the British for the duration of the process. The former US hospital will function as a courtroom.

The Libyan suspects will be tried by a Scottish criminal court, which will judge according to Scottish law. The [Dutch] Cabinet has adopted a bill that regulates this constitutional novelty. Never before has a country ceded a piece of its sovereignty to another country. The bill states that any penalties imposed by the Scottish court may not be reviewed by a Dutch judge.

With the transfer of Kamp Zeist, the trial of the two Libyans has come a lot closer, Ambassador Spencer says. Minister Van Aartsen is not worried about security when the trial is held at Soesterberg. The air base was chosen for that reason. If Libya agrees with a trial at this location and transfers the two suspects, the risk of terrorist actions is minimised according to the minister. He thinks it is not unlikely that Kadafi will now be satisfied. Previously, the Libyan leader demanded that the suspects should serve any sentence eventually imposed in the Netherlands and not in Great Britain.

Mayor R Boekhoven of Zeist does not expect any security problems at the camp. According to him, the virtually empty site, previously used by the American military, is easy to protect. It is separated from the air base by the Utrecht-Amersfoort motorway. Only the Air Force Chapel is still in use.

Monday, 18 September 2017

An unreasonable verdict based on unreliable evidence

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2009:]

The man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has released a dossier of legal papers which he claims are proof he was wrongly convicted of the worst terrorist attack on British soil.

The documents, published online today by Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, show that serious doubts about the reliability of the key witness at his trial were raised independently by Scotland's official body, which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice.

The dossier demonstrates that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) sent Megrahi's case back to the court of appeal in 2007, after deciding that the judges who convicted him had made a series of errors about the evidence of a Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci – the only witness to link the Libyan to the alleged plot.

According to the commission, those mistakes were significant enough to raise substantial doubts about the safety of Megrahi's conviction of killing 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing on 21 December 1988.

The crucial mistake, the SCCRC said, was believing prosecution claims that Megrahi had bought clothes at Gauci's shop on 7 December 1988, allegedly used later in the suitcase bomb. This evidence was "unreasonable", the SCCRC said, and was alone grounds for belief that Megrahi was wrongly convicted.

The commission said that evidence available at the trial, including the weather and the time Christmas lights were switched on near Gauci's shop, suggested that the clothes were actually bought on 23 November 1988 – when Megrahi was not in Malta.

The 298-page dossier, published on a website specially set up for the purpose, is the convicted bomber's attempt to prove his innocence after his controversial release from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds last month. (...)

The papers were used for the first two stages of his appeal earlier this year, but Megrahi abandoned the appeal two days before he was freed and before the appeal court could give its judgement on the first grounds for appeal.

When Megrahi confirmed the case was being dropped his lawyers told the appeal court that he believed this would speed up his release, fuelling claims – later denied by Megrahi – that a deal was struck to prevent embarrassing evidence about his conviction emerging in court.

In a statement released today by his solicitors, Megrahi said: "I have returned to Tripoli with my unjust conviction still in place. As a result of the abandonment of my appeal I have been deprived of the opportunity to clear my name through the formal appeal process. I have vowed to continue my attempts to clear my name.

"I will do everything in my power to persuade the public, and in particular the Scottish public, of my innocence."

In a reference to the many US relatives and senior figures in the US government who were furious at his release, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, he said he hoped the papers would "assist in the understanding of my case, especially for those who have been most profoundly affected by it".

According to the dossier, the commission believed that the three judges who jailed Megrahi after an unprecedented trial in Holland in January 2001 had unreasonably dismissed a number of contradictions and ambiguities in Gauci's interviews with police and in court.

Megrahi's lawyers said Gauci was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police, and an undisclosed number of times by FBI and CIA investigators. He first appeared to identify Megrahi 27 months after the date of purchase of the clothes, while it took 12 years for the trial to take place. His lawyers are expected to allege next week that Gauci received a $2m reward after Megrahi's conviction.

The SCCRC said that Gauci's interviews and his evidence in court showed that he: was unable to identify the date the clothes were bought, and frequently said it may have been November or December; was confused about the date the Christmas lights went up; repeatedly told police he could not remember the exact time or day.

The commission concluded that the judges reached an unreasonable verdict based on unreliable evidence, Megrahi's appeal papers state. Megrahi's lawyers added that the verdict "consists of defective reasoning or self-misdirection in a number of respects".

His documents also reveal detailed challenges to key aspects of the bomb plot as described by prosecutors. There was no proof that the suitcase was put on board a feeder flight at Luqa airport in Malta which went to Frankfurt airport on 21 December. There was also no evidence to prove that Megrahi had been involved in the plot, and the dossier claims that the judges had unfairly rejected defence evidence at the trial that pointed towards a different culprit: the Iranian-funded Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.