Monday, 2 November 2020

Robert Fisk and Lockerbie

[I am saddened to learn of the death of author and journalist Robert Fisk. His views on Lockerbie and the Megrahi conviction have featured regularly on this blog. What follows is from a column written by him in The Independent on 22 August 2009:]

For the truth, look to Tehran and Damascus – not Tripoli

Forget all the nonsense spouted by our beloved Foreign Secretary. He's all too happy to express his outrage. The welcome given to Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi in Tripoli was a perfect deviation from what the British Government is trying to avoid. It's called the truth, not that Mr Miliband would know much about it.

It was Megrahi's decision – not that of his lawyers – to abandon the appeal that might have told us the truth about Lockerbie. The British would far rather he return to the land of the man who wrote The Green Book on the future of the world (the author, a certain Col Muammar Gaddafi, also wrote Escape to Hell and Other Stories) than withstand the typhoon of information that an appeal would have revealed.

Brown and Gaddafi. Maybe they should set up as a legal company once their time is up. Brown and Gaddafi, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths. Not that the oaths would be truthful.

Megrahi's lawyers had delved deeply into his case – which rested on the word of a Maltese tailor who had already seen a picture of Megrahi (unrevealed to us at the time) so he could identify him in court – and uncovered some remarkable evidence from the German police.

Given the viciousness of their Third Reich predecessors, I've never had a lot of time for German cops, but on this occasion they went a long way towards establishing that a Lebanese who had been killed in the Lockerbie bombing was steered to Frankfurt airport by known Lebanese militants and the bag that contained the bomb was actually put on to the baggage carousel for checking in by this passenger's Lebanese handler, who had taken him to the airport, and had looked after him in Germany before the flight.

I have read all the interviews which the German police conducted with their suspects. They are devastating. There clearly was a Lebanese connection. And there probably was a Palestinian connection. How can I forget a press conference in Beirut held by the head of the pro-Syrian "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine" (they were known, then, as the "Lockerbie boys") in which their leader, Ahmed Jibril, suddenly blurted out: "I'm not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. They are trying to get me with a kangaroo court."

Yet there was no court at the time. Only journalists – with MI6 and the CIA contacts – had pointed the finger at Jibril's rogues. It was Iran's revenge, they said, for the shooting down of a perfectly innocent Iranian passenger jet by the captain of the American warship Vincennes a few months earlier. I still happen to believe this is close to the truth.

But the moment Syria sent its tanks to defend Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, all the MI6 truth-telling turned into a claptrap of nonsense about Col Gaddafi. (...)

Of course, we must now forget the repulsive 2004 meeting that Blair arranged with Gaddafi after the latter had supposedly abandoned plans for nuclear weapons (not that his Tripoli engineers could repair a blocked lavatory in the Kebir Hotel), an act which the former foreign secretary Jack Straw called "statesmanlike". (...)

Thank God for Jack Straw. He cleaned up Gaddafi's face and left it to Miliband to froth on about his outrage at Megrahi's reception back in Tripoli.

Meanwhile the relatives of those who died at Lockerbie – and here I am thinking of a deeply sad but immensely eloquent letter that one of those relatives sent to me – will not know the truth.

I suspect that the truth (speak it not, Mr Miliband, for you do not wish to know) lies in Lebanon, in Damascus and in Tehran. Given your cosy new relationship with the last two cities, of course, there's not a whimper of a chance that you'll want to investigate this, Mr Foreign Secretary. And not much encouragement will "Mad Dog" Gaddafi give to such an undertaking, not after the gifts – oil deals, primarily, but let's not forget the new Marks & Spencer in Tripoli – which he has given us. (...)

Ironically, Megrahi flew home to Tripoli on an Airbus A300 aircraft, exactly the same series as the Iranian plane the Americans shot down in 1988 – and about which Gaddafi never said anything.

It was Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (once Khomeini's chosen successor but now a recluse under semi-house arrest who stands up for President Ahmadinejad's political opponents) who said in Iran in 1988 that he was "sure that if the Imam [Khomeini] orders, all the revolutionary forces and resistance cells, both inside and outside the country, will unleash their wrath on US financial, economic and military interests".

Remember that, Mr Miliband? No, of course you don't. Not even a whimper of outrage.

1 comment:

  1. In reply to the Guardian’s obituary of Robert Fisk, I wrote the following letter to the paper on November 8 (it wasn’t published):

    Harvey Morris’s obituary of Robert Fisk (November 6) cites the journalist-historian’s opposition to “embedded journalism” but portrays him as a virtual hypocrite for “his own embedded reports” – ostensibly placing him on the Syrian government side. Morris’s interpretation of Fisk’s genuinely neutral stance as “absolving the Assad regime” is both small-minded and disingenuous. In another conflict, Fisk’s moral heroism in the face of being almost beaten to death by a crowd of desperate Afghan refugees appears entirely lost on Morris who remarks dryly, that Fisk “chose to blame western imperialism” rather than his attackers.
    Unlike most journalists following the relentless western interventions in the Middle East, Robert Fisk took nothing at face-value. This was his greatest strength.

    In retrospect I should have left-out the phrase ‘small-minded’ as the Guardian letters page –for better or worse - avoids cutting criticism. My own experience has taught me that it is better not to write such letters in anger. But I was angry and I meant what I wrote!

    For an obituary of such a towering figure from the world of foreign correspondents one would have expected a tribute rather than a critique, but things have changed at the Guardian in recent years. The obituarist, Harvey Morris claims on his own linkedin page to have “revealed exclusively in 1990 that Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime was responsible for the Pan-Am Lockerbie bombing.” Well fancy that!