Friday, 17 July 2020

CIA resort to psychics during Lockerbie investigation

[What follows is excerpted from a report in today's edition of The Sun:]

Incredible evidence has emerged of the extent that American CIA agents have kept tabs on Scotland.

Declassified documents range from paranormal research to political intrigue (...)

An offshoot of the Stargate programme was project Sun Streak - which tried to tackle the Lockerbie bombing in unorthodox fashion.

Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down over the Scottish village by the device on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew on board and a further 11 people on the ground.

By 1990, the investigation was still ongoing and it would be another year until Libyans Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah were indicted.

On June 7 of that year at an unknown location, a psychic was tasked with describing a photo of the reconstructed baggage carrier which held the plane’s bomb.

Filed under “special access required”, the notes are headed: “Warning notice: Intelligence sources and methods involved.”

Sun Streak’s mission was to collect intelligence information through ‘psychoenergetics’ - including telepathy.

The Lockerbie test produced 22 pages of scrawled notes and sketches and a typed up account of the session.

Notes state: “There is a bomb in the box and it explodes.

“It makes me think of a bomb blowing up a person. I can see red, fire and jagged flames. Something about the target makes my eyes burn.”

[RB: Exactly the same article also appears today on the Daily Record website. The story has featured several times over the years on this blog.]

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Thirteen years of Crown obstruction and obfuscation

This blog is thirteen years old today.

I started the blog in 2007 just after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had referred Abdelbaset Megrahi’s conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary for a further appeal. It seemed to me that a commentary on the appeal process would be of some value. My expectation was that, even allowing for the law’s notorious delays, the blog would not be needed for longer than two years -- or two-and-a-half at the outside. Foolishly, of course, I gravely underestimated the Crown Office’s ingenuity in delaying proceedings (with the connivance or condonation of the appeal judges) and the obstructiveness of the then UK Government in the persons of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC. The result was that the appeal hearing had only barely got into its stride when Megrahi’s illness led to his abandoning the appeal and being released on compassionate grounds in August 2009. So the Megrahi case lingers on, as does this blog. Perhaps the appeal resulting from the current SCCRC reference back to the High Court will enable the case and this blog to be decently buried. But don’t expect it to be anytime soon.

The first item to appear on this blog was the text of an article published by me in a legal journal: Lockerbie: A satisfactory process but a flawed result. What follows is the second item published in the blog on the same day.

The SCCRC Decision

On 28 June 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi’s conviction of the Lockerbie bombing back to the High Court of Justiciary for a further appeal. The case had been under consideration by the SCCRC since September 2003 and its statement of reasons (available only to Megrahi, to the Crown and to the High Court) extends to over 800 pages, accompanied by thirteen volumes of appendices. The Commission, in the published summary of its findings, rejected submissions on behalf of Megrahi to the effect that evidence led at the trial had been fabricated and that he had been inadequately represented by his then legal team, but went on to indicate that there were six grounds upon which it had concluded that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred. Strangely enough, however, only four of these grounds are enumerated in the summary. They are as follows:

“A number of the submissions made on behalf of the applicant challenged the reasonableness of the trial court's verdict, based on the legal test contained in section 106(3)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. The Commission rejected the vast majority of those submissions. However, in examining one of the grounds, the Commission formed the view that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary's House, took place on 7 December 1988. Although it was proved that the applicant was in Malta on several occasions in December 1988, in terms of the evidence 7 December was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to purchase the items. The finding as to the date of purchase was therefore important to the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser. Likewise, the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser was important to the verdict against him. Because of these factors the Commission has reached the view that the requirements of the legal test may be satisfied in the applicant's case.

“New evidence not heard at the trial concerned the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in thearea of Sliema in which Mary's House is situated. In the Commission's view,taken together with Mr Gauci's evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, this additional evidence indicates that the purchase of the items took place prior to 6 December 1988. In other words, it indicates that the purchase took place at a time when there was no evidence at trial that the applicant was in Malta.

“Additional evidence, not made available to the defence, which indicates that four days prior to the identification parade at which Mr Gauci picked out the applicant, he saw a photograph of the applicant in a magazine article linking him to the bombing. In the Commission's view evidence of Mr Gauci's exposure to this photograph in such close proximity to the parade undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself.

“Other evidence, not made available to the defence, which the Commission believes may further undermine Mr Gauci's identification of the applicant as the purchaser and the trial court's finding as to the date of purchase.”

The implications for the verdict of guilty

The reasons given by the Commission for finding that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in this case are not limited to the effect of new evidence which has become available since the date of the original trial and the non-disclosure by the police and prosecution of evidence helpful to the defence.    The prima facie miscarriage of justice identified by the Commission includes the trial court’s finding in fact on the evidence heard at the trial that the clothes which surrounded the bomb were purchased in Malta on 7 December 1988 and that Megrahi was the purchaser.  This was the very cornerstone of the Crown’s case against him.  If, as suggested by the Commission, that finding in fact had no reasonable basis in the evidence, then there is no legal justification whatsoever for his conviction by the trial court.

The implications for the Scottish criminal justice system

The present writer has always contended that no reasonable tribunal could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led at the trial.  Here is just one example of the trial court’s idiosyncratic approach to the evidence.  Many more could be provided.

A vitally important issue was the date on which the goods that surrounded the bomb were purchased in a shop in Malta.  There were only two live possibilities:  7 December 1988, a date when Megrahi was proved to be on Malta and 23 November 1988 when he was not. In an attempt to establish just which of these dates was the correct one, the weather conditions in Sliema on these two days were explored. The shopkeeper’s evidence was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining so heavily that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi.  The unchallenged meteorological evidence led by the defence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December; and if there had been any rain, it would have been at most a few drops, insufficient to wet the ground.  On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.

On evidence as weak as this how was it possible for the trial court to find him guilty?  And how was it possible for the Criminal Appeal Court to fail to overturn that conviction?  The Criminal Appeal Court dismissed Megrahi’s appeal on the most technical of technical legal grounds: it did not consider the justifiability of the trial court’s factual findings at all (though it is clear from their interventions during the Crown submissions in the appeal that at least some of the judges were only too well aware of how shaky certain crucial findings were and how contrary to the weight of the evidence).

It is submitted that at least part of the answer lies in the history of the Scottish legal and judicial system.  For centuries judges have accorded a specially privileged status to the Lord Advocate.  It has been unquestioningly accepted that, though a political appointee and the government’s (now the Scottish Executive’s) chief legal adviser, he (now, of course, she) would at all times, in his capacity as head of the prosecution system, act independently and without concern for political considerations and would always place the public interest in a fair trial above the narrow interest of the prosecution in gaining a conviction.  This judicial vision of the role of the Lord Advocate was reinforced by the fact that, until the Scottish Judicial Appointments Board commenced operations in 2002, all Scottish High Court Judges (and sheriffs) were nominated for appointment to the Bench by the Lord Advocate of the day.  This meant that, in all criminal proceedings, the presiding judge owed his position to the person (or one of his predecessors in office) who was ultimately responsible for bringing the case before him, and for its conduct while in his court.

The behaviour of the Crown in the Lockerbie trial was certainly not beyond criticism -- indeed casts grave doubt on the extent to which the Lord Advocate and Crown Office staff can be relied on always to place the interest of securing a fair trial for the accused above any perceived institutional imperative to obtain a conviction. To illustrate this in the context of the Lockerbie trial it is enough to refer to the saga of CIA cables relating to the star Crown witness, Abdul Majid Giaka, who had been a long-standing CIA asset in Libya and, by the time of the trial, was living in the United States under a witness protection programme.

Giaka’s evidence was ultimately found by the court to be utterly unworthy of belief. This was largely due to the devastating effectiveness of the cross-examination by defence counsel. Their ability to destroy completely the credibility of the witness stemmed from the contents of cables in which his CIA handlers communicated to headquarters the information that Giaka had provided to them in the course of their secret meetings. Discrepancies between Giaka's evidence-in-chief to the Advocate Depute and the contents of these contemporaneous cables enabled the defence to mount a formidable challenge to the truthfulness and accuracy, or credibility and reliability, of Giaka's testimony. Had the information contained in these cables not been available to them, the task of attempting to demonstrate to the court that Giaka was an incredible or unreliable witness would have been immensely more difficult and perhaps impossible.

Yet the Crown strove valiantly to prevent the defence obtaining access to these cables.

At the trial, on 22 August 2000, when he was seeking to persuade the Court to deny the defence access to those cables in their unedited or uncensored form, the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC,  stated that the members of the prosecution team who were given access to the uncensored CIA cables on 1 June 2000 were fully aware of the obligation incumbent upon them as prosecutors to make available to the defence material relevant to the defence of the accused and, to that end, approached the contents of those cables with certain considerations in mind.

Mr Boyd said: "First of all, they considered whether or not there was any information behind the redactions which would undermine the Crown case in any way.  Secondly, they considered whether there was anything which would appear to reflect on the credibility of Mr Majid… On all of these matters, the learned Advocate Depute reached the conclusion that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special defence... I emphasise that the redactions have been made on the basis of what is in the interests of the security of a friendly power... Crown counsel was satisfied that there was nothing within the documents which bore upon the defence case in any way."

One of the judges, Lord Coulsfield, then intervened: "Does that include, Lord Advocate ... that Crown counsel, having considered the documents, can say to the Court that there is nothing concealed which could possibly bear on the credibility of this witness?"

The Lord Advocate replied:  “Well, I'm just checking with the counsel who made that...  there is nothing within the -- -- there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Mr Majid on these matters."

Notwithstanding the opposition of the Lord Advocate, the court ordered the unedited cables to be made available to the defence, who went on to use their contents to such devastating effect in questioning Giaka that the court held that his evidence had to be disregarded in its entirety.  Yet, strangely enough, the judges did not see fit publicly to censure the Crown for its inaccurate assurances that the cables contained nothing that could assist the defence.

Beyond the Lockerbie trial, the failure of the Crown to place the public interest in a fair trial above the interest of the prosecution in obtaining convictions is illustrated by the extent to which the Lord Advocate has recently had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, through the Privy Council in London before making available to the defence material in the prosecution’s possession that no-one could conceivably deny was of relevance and assistance in the accused person’s defence: see Holland v HMA 2005 SCCR 417;  Sinclair v HMA 2005 SCCR 446. So much for the fairness of the trial being the Crown’s primary and predominant motivation!

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I Corinthians xiii.11. It is high time for all involved in the Scottish criminal justice system to put away childish things. All of us, judges included, are surely too old to believe any longer in fairy tales. Fairy tales can be convenient and comforting and can bolster our self esteem. But, as in the case of the belief that the Crown can uniformly be relied upon always to act selflessly in the public interest, they can be dangerous and, if acted upon, work terrible injustice.

It is submitted that the Lockerbie case demonstrates just how necessary it is, if public confidence is to be maintained, for the Scottish Executive to institute a high-powered, independent, investigation into all three aspects – investigation, prosecution and adjudication -- of the Scottish criminal justice system.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Missing witnesses

[On this date in 2000 the Lockerbie trial was adjourned for two weeks. This adjournment had proved necessary largely because of difficulties encountered by the Crown in inducing witnesses (particularly from Malta) to attend at Camp Zeist to give evidence.  During the break in court proceedings I wrote a number of articles for The Lockerbie Trial website, curated by Ian Ferguson and me. Here are two of them:]

When the trial resumes at Camp Zeist on Tuesday 11 July 2000, it will be the thirty-first day of evidence.  Many witnesses have been called into the box to testify, a substantial number of them regarding matters not disputed by the defence and in respect of which it might have been thought that agreement could have been reached between prosecution and defence to obviate the necessity of their attendance.  But if some of the witnesses have seemed to the outside observer to be superfluous, it is equally the case that persons whose presence as witnesses might have been expected, have been conspicuous by their absence.

Prominent amongst these is John Orr who, as a Detective Chief Superintendent and Joint Head of Strathclyde CID and latterly as Deputy Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway, headed the Scottish police investigation into the Lockerbie disaster.  In a normal Scottish murder trial the officer in charge of the police investigation team is usually one of the earliest witnesses to be summoned to give evidence.  The absence of Mr Orr, who is now Chief Constable of Strathclyde, from the ranks of police witnesses at the proceedings at Zeist has caused a number of raised eyebrows. 

Other absentees are Oliver "Buck" Revell and Vincent Cannistraro.

Revell was the chief FBI agent assigned to the Lockerbie investigation.  In The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror by David Hoffman (1998, Feral House, Venice CA) he is described as Associate Deputy Director of the FBI and as the FBI counter-terrorism chief.  His son had been booked as a passenger on Pan Am 103, but switched to another flight some time before the plane departed. Cannistraro was the chief CIA operative assigned to the Lockerbie investigation.  In Libya: The Struggle For Survival by Geoff Simons (2nd edition, 1996, Macmillan, London) he is described as "the head of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre who led the American investigation into the bombing" and in The Oklahoma City Bombing he is described as a "CIA intelligence advisor to the National Security Council."  Both of these men are now retired, and in the years since November 1991 when the two Libyans were first accused of the atrocity, have been far from reticent in making known their views on the subject of Lockerbie in the media.  It is a pity that the Crown has not seen fit to call upon them to share with the Court, from the witness box, their very great knowledge of the Lockerbie affair.

Members of the defence team asked Mr Cannistraro to meet them for the purpose of precognition (the Scottish equivalent of taking a pre-trial deposition), but he refused to do so. 

In Scotland, there is a legal duty upon citizens to make themselves available for precognition by both the prosecution and the defence.  As one of Scotland's most distinguished criminal judges, Lord Justice Clerk MacDonald, said: "I consider it to be the duty of every true citizen to give such information to the Crown as he may be asked to give in reference to the case in which he is to be called; and also that every witness who is to be called for the Crown should give similar information to the prisoner's legal advisers, if he is called upon and asked what he is going to say....  I have been asked to express my view, and it is that every good citizen should give his aid, either to the Crown or to the defence, in every case where the interests of the public in the punishment of crime, or the interests of a prisoner charged with crime, call for ascertainment of facts."

But none of this seems to cut any ice with Mr Cannistraro.

Courts of law in general have powers of compulsion only in respect of persons who are physically present within their territorial jurisdiction.  Amongst other things, this means that only such persons can be compelled to attend and give evidence before them.  This limitation on its coercive powers is not something which is unique to the Scottish Court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands or to Scottish courts in general.  It would have applied equally if the Lockerbie trial had been held in a court in, for example, the United States of America.

A number of Maltese witnesses, mainly persons employed or formerly employed at Luqa Airport, have refused to attend to give evidence at Camp Zeist, and because of this the prosecution have been compelled to seek (and have been granted) yet another adjournment to enable them to secure the attendance of other witnesses.

The refusal of the Maltese witnesses to attend does not mean that their evidence is necessarily lost to the Court.  It is open to the Scottish Court by Letter of Request to seek the assistance of the appropriate Maltese judicial authorities in obtaining, if necessary compulsorily, the testimony of the witnesses in question.  This might involve either the witnesses giving evidence from Malta by means of a live television link to the courtroom at Zeist or the witnesses being examined before a magistrate or judge sitting in Malta and a transcript of their evidence then being supplied to the Scottish Court.  These procedures are competent in a Scottish criminal court by virtue of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, section 3, and the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, sections 272 and 273.

As a last resort, the Crown, if able to satisfy the Court that it was not reasonably practicable to secure the attendance of the witnesses at the trial or to obtain their evidence in any of the ways mentioned above, and notwithstanding the general prohibition on the use of hearsay evidence in criminal proceedings, would be able to use as evidence any statement made by the witnesses in question, e.g. to police or other investigators, in the course of the Lockerbie investigation.  This is provided for under section 259 of the 1995 Act.  It does, of course, affect the weight likely to be accorded to the evidence that it is not given by the witness personally in court and is not subject to cross-examination.

If the Crown are having difficulty in securing witnesses to appear before the Court, and their need to request an adjournment when these Maltese witnesses (whose reluctance to attend has been known for months) balked at appearing seems to suggest that they are, perhaps they should reconsider their apparent decision not to call Chief Constable John Orr, Oliver "Buck" Revell and Vincent Cannistraro.

Just a suggestion.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Procedural hearing in Megrahi appeal rescheduled

A procedural hearing in the Megrahi appeal was due to take place on 17 April 2020, but was postponed when court business was suspended because of the Covid-19 emergency. A rescheduled procedural hearing has now been fixed to take place before five judges of the High Court of Justiciary on Friday, 21 August 2020 at 10am. The hearing will be held using Webex. This means that parties will be in remote locations and will take part via video link. The technology used by the court allows members of the public to view and listen to the hearing. It is anticipated that this will be the first of a series of hearings to discuss the scope of the appeal and a provisional timetable for the appeal to be heard.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

President Clinton in March 1998 unaware of Libyan acceptance of neutral venue trial

[What follows is a snippet from a fascinating article headlined One Year Ago — NYT Apologizes For Misreporting On Skripal Incident updated today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website:]

Does the CIA collect Intelligence and advise the President, or does the CIA actually write foreign policies?

As I am currently writing a short book on the Lockerbie tragedy, I will tell you a story about Bill Clinton that clearly answers this fundamental question. (...)

[I]n March of 1998, US President Clinton visited President Mandela in Johannesburg.

South African government sources say that after discussing a variety of issues, Mandela asked for Clinton’s aides to leave so that he could speak with the American president privately.

After the doors closed behind the American aides, Prince Bandar [bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia] unexpectedly dropped in for five minutes to participate in a talk about the Libyan sanctions.

“We were surprised to find how little Clinton knew about this matter,” [Jakes] Gerwel Mandela’s chief of staff] noted.

“[US National Security Advisor] Sandy Berger almost had a heart attack over having the president talk on something he hadn’t been briefed on before. It was clear he actually knew very little about the matter.” [Strategic Moral Diplomacy]

Obviously, the facts about the Lockerbie negotiations had not been relayed to the US President.

For example, President Clinton was not even aware that Libya had committed in writing to a trial under Scottish law as first suggested by Professor Black in 1994, and to the two accused being imprisoned in Scotland if convicted.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Lockerbie bombing: appeal against conviction lodged

[This is the headline over a report published today on the STV News website. It reads in part:]

An appeal against the conviction of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing has been formally lodged at the High Court.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court in March, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

Now, lawyer Aamer Anwar, who made the SCCRC application on behalf of Megrahi’s family, supported by some families of those who died in the 1988 disaster, has confirmed “substantial” grounds of appeal have been lodged with the court.

In a statement, he said he expects five senior Appeal Court judges will hear the case later this year. (...)

“We have now formally lodged with the High Court of Justiciary the appeal grounds in the posthumous appeal on behalf of the late Al-Megrahi,” Mr Anwar said.

“The reputation of the Scottish law has suffered both at home and internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi.

“It is in the interests of justice and restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that these doubts can be addressed, however, the only place to determine whether a miscarriage of justice did occur is in the appeal court, where the evidence can be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.”

Megrahi’s son, Ali Al-Megrahi, said: “The family of my late father, Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi and I wish to extend gratitude to our lawyer Aamer Anwar for the great efforts he has made in bringing this case to the appeal court and for the dedication of his legal team.”

The SCCRC published a decision on March 11 ruling a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in his case on two of the six grounds it considered in the review – unreasonable verdict and non-disclosure.

On the issue of unreasonable verdict, the commission said a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On the issue of non-disclosure, it said the Crown ought to have disclosed certain information to the defence and also its failure to disclose information about reward money bolsters the conclusion he was denied a fair trial. 

Father of Lockerbie victim supports coronavirus memorial cairn campaign

[What follows is excerpted from an article published in today's edition of The Herald:]

As the father of Lockerbie victim Flora Swire, he sadly knows only to well how important having a place to mourn a loved one can be.

Dr Jim Swire and his wife Jane lost their daughter on the night flight Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky over the small Dumfriesshire town.

And a memorial was later created in Dryfesdale Cemetery following the tragic events of December 21, 1988 which saw 259 passengers and cabin crew lost their lives and 11 people from the town also died.

When he read of our plans, Dr Swire contacted The Herald to offer his backing to our campaign to create a memorial cairn with the name of every Scot who has died from coronavirus. (...)

Dr Swire said: “Many a time, on our way north to Skye my wife Jane and I have visited Dryfesdale cemetery and seen again the name of our dear daughter Flora on the Pan Am 103 memorial there.

“I would like to thank all those involved in the maintenance of that memorial and for the sympathetic and caring response we have always found in the town whenever anniversaries and other occasions have reminded us all of that awful night in December 1988.

“I cannot speak for others but I would personally warmly support the creation of a memorial cairn for the relatives of the virus victims in Scotland now.” (...)

The Swires' holiday home in Skye is somewhere they still like to travel to, outwith current restrictions, and is a place where Flora visited as a child. (...)

Flora was born on December 22, 1964, near their Gloucestershire family home. She was named after her paternal ancestor Flora MacDonald, who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Skye following the battle of Culloden.

She was training to be a neurosurgeon when she met young American doctor Hart Lidov. She began commuting regularly across the Atlantic to see him and, just before Christmas, decided on a whim to fly to New York so they could spend the holiday together. [RB: The CIA's Oliver "Buck" Revell sued Dr Lidov over an article that he wrote about the Lockerbie case. Revell lost.]

As her sister Cathy dropped her at the airport, she was on top of the world, having just won a place to complete her training at Cambridge, her father's old university.

But just 38 minutes after her plane took off, a suitcase exploded in the hold. All on board died. Now her ashes are buried in the pretty churchyard of the ruined St John's Chapel in Caroy.

When the news first broke on television, the Swires tried to quell rising panic with a conviction that it couldn't be her plane - the timing didn't match the details she had given. But as they realised it had been delayed, the terrible truth hit.

Earlier this year the family of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person to be convicted and jailed for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, were told they can launch a posthumous appeal against his conviction, by Scotland's criminal appeals body has ruled.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has referred his case to the High Court, after ruling a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in the conviction.

The ruling paves the way for a posthumous appeal and is something which Dr Swire supported. Dr Swire has long believed that Megrahi was wrongfully convicted of the bombing and that Libya was not behind the plot.

The court ruled the review of Megrahi’s conviction met two statutory tests for referral – it may have been a miscarriage of justice and it is in the interests of justice to refer it back to the court.

Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi was the only person convicted of the bombing, having been found guilty in 2001 of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years.

Megrahi died aged 60 in 2012, still protesting his innocence.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Slowly, slowly the mists obscuring the truth are clearing.

[The following are brief extracts from a long letter by Dr Jim Swire to Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer published today on the latter's Intel Today website. The full text of the letter should be read.]

We were thrown from a life as a British NHS GP and family into the hell of bereavement, deceits and official deceptions upon the brutal murder of our elder daughter Flora along with 269 other innocent souls on 21st December 1988. After the first days of numbed grief and disbelief  there was the support of others similarly afflicted.

Prominent among those has been Reverend John Mosey and his wife Lisa who had also lost their daughter on the flight and John and I between us witnessed the entire trial and first appeal. He and I have often discussed how we could force some good to come out of so great an evil as this barbaric act.

We might forgive those who got protection so wrong back in 1988 and those who today continue to support the nonsense of the whole story about the Lockerbie bomb having started from Malta, The truth is now clear: that story is nonsense from beginning to end.

Yet  alas it is obvious that a great deal is known by our Governments here and in America about the real origins of this deeply preventable atrocity. Not only that, but direct action has been repeatedly taken to block our clamour for truth.

On top of that, Justice itself at Zeist was, we can now see, deliberately perverted in order to establish a fable which is without proof and is void.

In  decent societies we all need the truth, and the restoration of impartial justice. Without those we are even denied the chance to extend forgiveness towards those who failed our families and even towards those who in reality cold-bloodily murdered them.

Further, to leave the manner of their slaughter concealed in a fog of nonsense seems to degrade the significance of their lives. (...)

So plain is the gap now for those who have studied the evidence between reality and Government positions and so stark the evidence now available to show that the wrong country and its citizens were blamed, that for the seekers after truth, apparent blindness of Governments and their apparent intrusions in justice at Zeist can only be described as willful. (...)

There is nothing that can replace those we lost that night. But slowly, slowly the mists obscuring the truth about their slaughter will and are clearing.

The trial at Zeist which we worked so hard to support inadvertently revealed so much of the truth, not just to us but to anyone willing to listen, that gradually realisation is emerging even round our virus ridden planet now that we have all been led astray.

The work of younger people and groups such as INTEL TODAY with its tapping of objective professional expertise carries the responsibility of revealing the truth, search their brilliant coverage of PT35b: even now we await the Megrahi family appeal process under Scottish solicitor Aamer Anwar that surely will reveal that the verdict against the one individual Libyan, Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi was false.

Then can we please know what the Governments know as to who really did do it and why our families were not protected?

Friday, 1 May 2020

"The evidence is pointing to crimes more egregious than just a cover-up"

Purely by chance I today discovered an article by Ali Adair headlined William Barr: How many crimes did he commit as the ‘Cover-up General’ for Presidents since the 1980s? that was published on the Keep It Simple News website on 14 February 2020. The article contains a long and detailed section on the Lockerbie bombing and the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi. It is a welcome addition to the (short but distinguished) list of commentaries by American writers that recognise the weakness of the official US and UK account of the Pan Am 103 tragedy, and is well worth a read. 

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Coronavirus may be ‘excuse’ in Megrahi appeal papers row, lawyer claims

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the ITV News website. It reads in part:]

The lawyer acting for the family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has suggested the prosecution service may be tempted to use coronavirus as an “excuse” regarding handing over documents in the appeal against the Lockerbie bombing conviction.

The way was paved for the appeal when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) last month referred the case to the High Court, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred. (...)

[Aamer Anwar] has since asked the Crown Office to disclose material he believes is related to the case to assist appeal preparation.

The Crown Office said it is reviewing the material it holds but the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the resources available, adding it is going as far as possible “within current public health guidance”. (...)

The SCCRC published a decision on March 11 ruling a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in his case on two of the six grounds it considered in the review – unreasonable verdict and non-disclosure.

On the issue of unreasonable verdict, the commission said a miscarriage of justice may have occurred because no reasonable trial court, relying on the evidence led at trial, could have held the case against Megrahi was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On the issue of non-disclosure, it said the Crown ought to have disclosed certain information to the defence and also its failure to disclose information about reward money bolsters the conclusion he was denied a fair trial.

Now, Mr Anwar has criticised the Crown Office’s response to his request for document disclosure.

He told the PA news agency: “Following the decision of the SCCRC on our application, we wrote on March 13 to the Lord Advocate for full disclosure of materials.

“Despite the appeal timelines imposed upon my team we have received absolutely no disclosure to date.

“That is simply unacceptable and a failure by Crown Office. The Megrahi family, the British families of victims as well as the Libyan people have waited far too long for this appeal once and for all to be settled in the Court of Appeal.”

He added: “The Lord Advocate’s team may be tempted to use coronavirus as an excuse however we will not hesitate to seek orders from the Court to recover these documents.

“The Crown were totally aware that the SCCRC would have been making its decision over the last several months…yet now say the materials are not easily accessible.”

Mr Anwar said draft grounds of appeal have been prepared for lodging with the court by April 30.

In a reply to Mr Anwar’s letter, dated March 20, Lothian and Border Procurator Fiscal Laura Buchan said: “In respect of the request for disclosure we are carrying out a review of the material we hold and will reply substantively in due course.

“You will be aware that the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is having a significant impact on the Scottish criminal justice system.

“Whilst the Appeal Court will continue to sit where possible the outbreak will have an impact on the resource we can currently dedicate to that review and disclosure bearing in mind that much of the review is of hard copy materials stored within office premises, and cannot be conducted online.”

She said Ronnie Clancy QC, senior counsel for the appeal, has offered to meet Mr Anwar’s team to discuss disclosure requests but Mr Anwar said his team would not meet the Crown until fuller information had been provided by the SCCRC. [RB: Ronnie Clancy also acted for the Crown in the appeal allowed to Mr Megrahi by the SCCRC in 2007.]

A Crown Office spokesman said: “Much of the material that requires review prior to disclosure is not held digitally, as would be expected given the age of this case and the sensitivity of some documents.

“The Crown is conducting a full review insofar as possible within current public health guidance.

“Legal representatives of Mr Megrahi’s family have been advised of this and counsel for the Crown have offered to discuss the case with counsel for the appellant.”

Friday, 17 April 2020

Procedural hearing in Megrahi appeal postponed

[The procedural hearing in the Megrahi appeal that was scheduled to take place today in the High Court of Justiciary has been postponed on account of the suspension of most court business during the current COVID-19 lockdown. What follows is taken from a recent communication from the Crown Office:]

We are in discussion with the court about when we might have a hearing, and we anticipate that things will be clearer in May on the basis that lockdown provisions in Scotland will continue for at least the next 3 weeks, and we have a very restricted court programme in the meantime.

Legal representatives for the appellant’s family have been given an extension of time by the court to 30 April 2020 to lodge grounds of appeal and both the prosecution and the appellant’s representatives are expecting further supporting documentation from the SCCRC, which we expect towards the end of this month.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

The Americans "dumped the blame on Gaddafi’s Libya"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Robert Fisk headlined How do rogue states get off the ‘terror list’? With cold, hard cash – just like the US and UK published today on the website of The Independent:]

How do you get off a “terrorist” list? It seems that hard cash helps.

Take Sudan. Its ministry of justice has just announced that it’s finalised a February deal with the families of the 17 US sailors killed in the suicide attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour in October 2000. The dead Americans left 11 children behind them and so the reported $70m (£59m) settlement will care for them too. The relatives claimed that Sudan, under its then war criminal president Omar al-Bashir, had provided support to al-Qaeda, which claimed the attack. (...)

The most interesting aspect of the money to be paid out by Sudan – blood money, in Arab eyes – is that Sudan still does not regard itself as responsible for the Cole attack, or any other “terrorist” act.

The ministry of justice in Khartoum made this quite explicit in its formal statement this week. The agreement was made, it said, “because of the strategic interests of Sudan … so it can remove its name from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.” (...)

The problem in this case is that the precedent is not at all new. Most of us have now forgotten just how Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya got off the “terrorism” hook when – after Tony Blair had slobbered over the crackpot dictator and whose surrender of non-existent nuclear weapons was described as “statesmanship” by then-MP Jack Straw – it paid $1.5bn (£1.2bn) in compensation to victims of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing (total dead: 270) and an attack on a Berlin disco that killed two US servicemen and a Turkish woman. Interestingly, this arrangement also called for $300m (£240m) in compensation for the Libyan victims of Ronald Reagan’s later airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi.

The man later imprisoned in Scotland for the bombing, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi (handed over with another agent by Gaddafi), was later released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return home with prostate cancer. A number of UK relatives of the Lockerbie dead doubted that Megrahi was in any way responsible, especially after they discovered that evidence at the trial did not, on later examination, appear credible. And despite the fact that Libya agreed to the compensation, Gaddafi’s son Saif specifically stated that Libya was not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. Gaddafi also claimed he had not ordered the atrocity, although one former member of his cabinet – speaking after Gaddafi’s overthrow – said that the dictator was personally involved.

But the money had spoken. Even while still running Libya, Gaddafi’s regime shrugged off any responsibility once cash had been paid. He was only later blasted from power with the help of Nato, and then reaccused of crimes against humanity, including the mass hanging of opponents in Benghazi in the 1970s.

But Gaddafi was killed. Al-Bashir is still alive. (...)

I doubt if al-Bashir will ever come to trial for the bombing of the USS Cole – even if he was guilty by association – and, as we know, Gaddafi could not be made available for any personal prosecution even before his overthrow. The real question is whether nations can be held accountable. And how much “justice” can be seen to be done by financial transfers rather than real trials.

The US has a wad of “terror” accusations against Iran. Lockerbie might well have been one of them if the Americans had not dumped the blame on Gaddafi’s Libya.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Lockerbie’s only convict may be exonerated posthumously

[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of Middle East Monitor by Libyan journalist and analyst Dr Mustafa FetouriIt reads in part:]

The only man to be convicted of the infamous Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, died in 2012 and protested his innocence until his final breath. His fellow Libyan and co-defendant, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and is still living in Libya. The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 killed all 259 passengers and crew on board as well as 11 people on the ground in the small Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Al-Megrahi was not alone in believing that he and his country were innocent of the crime. His family members are determined to clear his name if not prove his complete innocence. His son Ali is leading the family mission and told the BBC that his father was “innocent and had cared more about the victims than himself.”

The family has just won a huge victory with the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) decision on 11 March that an appeal can be made to the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest criminal court. The SCCRC had to decide if there are grounds for a posthumous appeal on the basis of a possible miscarriage of justice, among other possibilities. The commission found sufficient grounds to question the 2001 trial that convicted Al-Megrahi. Six grounds for review were considered before it was concluded that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred by reason of “unreasonable verdict” and “non-disclosure”.

This specifically raised serious doubts about the process by which Al-Megrahi was identified and linked to clothes found in the suitcase said to have contained the bomb. According to the SCCRC, “No reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser.”

The only witness to link Al-Megrahi to the clothes was a Maltese shop keeper named Tony Gauci, who died in 2016. He was a co-owner of a clothes shop in Malta and he testified that he sold the clothes to Al-Megrahi, who denied vehemently that he had ever been to the shop let alone bought anything from the witness. During the trial, this testimony was central to Al-Megrahi’s conviction, although the crown prosecutor, Lord Advocate Peter Fraser, later completely dismissed Gauci as “an apple short of a picnic” and “not quite the full shilling”. Why he accepted his testimony at the special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in the first place is still a mystery. Could it have been a conspiracy against Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, as the late Libyan leader always claimed? He is not alone in thinking so.

Law Professor Robert Black, who came up with the idea of holding Al-Megrahi’s trial in a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands — the first such occasion in history – now talks of a wider conspiracy to frame Libya. “I think the Scottish prosecution was from the start excessively influenced by the US Department of Justice, FBI and CIA,” Black told me this week when I asked about this possibility. In the late eighties, the US hated Gaddafi for his unrelenting opposition to America’s policies in the Arab world and beyond. He was accused of so many terrorist acts around the world that adding Lockerbie to the list would have been neither difficult to do nor easy to dispute; western media and politicians already projected Gaddafi as a monster capable of any and every evil.

It later emerged that Toni Gauci received $2 million in return for his testimony against Al-Megrahi before he disappeared from Malta altogether. Many experts think that he was coached on his story to be as convincing as possible. Under Scottish law, it is illegal to reward or coach witnesses in any legal proceedings.

According to Professor Black, the High Court of Judiciary could return its verdict before the 32nd anniversaries of the atrocity on 21 December this year. Meticulous as ever, the now retired professor thinks the court is likely to quash the original verdict and thus exonerate the late Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi posthumously. (...) [RB: Given the restrictions on court hearings imposed during the current coronavirus emergency, I am now fairly sure that the appeal will not now be over by the anniversary in December.]

At this stage we might feel entitled to ask what should happen to Libya if the verdict goes the way that Al-Megrahi’s family hope. The North African country had to endure crippling economic sanctions imposed by a series of UN Security Council resolutions starting with Resolution 731 passed on 21 March 1992. If Al-Megrahi is vindicated, might Libya also be vindicated and possibly claim compensation for the damage caused by the sanctions? Can it ask for the reimbursement of $2.7 billion paid to victims’ families? Even though the country accepted responsibility for the actions of its “officials” — Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, who was station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta at the time of the bombing — the money was paid as part of the requirements of the UN Resolutions.

Whatever the Scottish High Court of Justiciary decides later this year, many think that Al-Megrahi and Libya are already exonerated by the fact that the SCCRC has raised serious doubts about the trial and its verdict. Given the obvious US links to the case, it is interesting to note that current US Attorney General William Barr was the acting Attorney General who indicted the two Libyans in 1991. What will he have to say when the Court in Scotland returns its verdict?

Monday, 23 March 2020

Shame on those who accused their country without understanding the facts of the case

[What follows is a translation by the distinguished Libyan journalist and analyst Mustafa Fetouri of a comment posted by him on his Facebook page after the announcement of the SCCRC's reference of the Megrahi conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary. I am grateful to Mr Fetouri for allowing me to reproduce it here.]

The SCCRC has decided to allow al-Megrahi’s appeal to go ahead three years after his family requested it and eight year after he passed away.

The SCCRC admitted the appeal on two grounds one of which is very critical: that al-Megrahi was the person who bought the clothes found in bag that was said to have carried the bomb from Frankfurt to London en route to JFK in New York.

The SCCRC said that the verdict was “unreasonable” since “no reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser".

As we recall Tony Gauci, co-owner of Valetta clothes shop claimed that al-Megrahi was the one who bought the clothes but years after the conviction of al-Megrahi it turned out that Mr Gauci had received money from either the CIA or US department of justice as a witness and he then disappeared from Malta.

I have been following the Lockerbie case very closely from the beginning and I wrote about it many times. I was panelist in an episode of the BBC’s flagship show The Doha Debates in 2009 with Dr Jim Swire, on one side, and Juma Al-Gamatti and a British conservative MP on the opposing side. We defended the compassionate release of al-Megrahi against their accusations and falsified claims.

I have also discussed the case with many foreigner observers including the United Nations appointed court observer, the Austrian, Hans Köchler. He expressed his reservations about the court right after it ended. He repeated the same reservations to me over a phone call while I was studying for my masters degree in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

I have and will always be convinced that Libya and al-Megrahi are innocent of this terrible crime. After the SCCRC decision I would really like to hear from the Libyan scumbags like Juma and ask them where is your evidence that Libya was to blame for the tragedy? How could you accuse your country just because you hated Gaddafi?

I can imagine the late Moammer Gaddafi screaming at the face of those who accused him of being behind the Lockerbie tragedy. It is enough that the SCCRC raised suspicions about the verdict even if it is not overturned. The fact that SCCRC referred the case to the Scottish High Court is in itself an admission of miscarriage of justice and to me is a vindication of both Libya and its citizen al-Megrahi.

Great salute to Dr Swire and Mr Kenny MacAskill the former justice minister in Scotland,  who took the brave and legal decision to release al-Megrahi despite UK and US governments’ objections.

A bigger salute to al-Megrahi’s family who struggled to clear his name. I also salute to Al-Jazeera English team who produced that important documentary which made it easier for the wider public to understand the complicated judiciary process that should have led to different verdict. A great salute to the defense team who defended Libya despite all difficulties.

Shame on those who accused their country (particularly after 2011) without any proof and without actually understanding anything of the facts of the case.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Preliminary procedural hearing fixed in Megrahi appeal

I have been informed by a reliable source that a preliminary procedural hearing in the appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi will take place in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh before five judges on Friday, 17 April. 

It may be, of course, that before then measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 will lead to court hearings being cancelled or restricted.