Saturday, 15 May 2021
Thursday, 13 May 2021
[What follows is excerpted from a review by novelist and journalist Allan Massie in today's edition of The Scotsman of Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph's book The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father's Search For Justice:]
It is now more than 32 years since a bomb placed in the cargo hold of a Pan-Am flight exploded over Lockerbie 38 minutes out of Heathrow, and 270 people were killed. One of them was Dr Jim Swire’s 23-year-old daughter Flora. Ever since, he has devoted his life to trying to establish who was responsible for the crime. He has, by his account, written here with the collaboration of Paul Biddulph, been thwarted at every turn. Consequently, he has developed a deep distrust of the British and American governments and their secret services, and, sadly, a like distrust of the working of the Scottish justice system, both the courts and the police. (...)
Obviously it was an act of terror. But who were the terrorists? From the start the assumption was that it was not the act of a lone terrorist group like the Red Brigade in Italy or the Badaar-Meinhoff gang in West Germany, but had been planned or at least authorised by a hostile state – a state hostile to the USA. The two favoured candidates were Iran and Libya, both of which had recent reason to plan the atrocity.
Meanwhile, the British Government refused requests to hold a Public Inquiry. Dr Swire was, and still is, naturally indignant. Yet, though there were other murky reasons for this refusal, the stated one was good. Can you properly hold such an enquiry, with witnesses on oath, without compromising an ongoing criminal investigation and any subsequent trial?
The investigation eventually focussed on Libya, and then on identified suspects. Where could a trial be held? Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University proposed staging it a third country, but with Scottish judges and according to Scots Law. It seemed improbable that Libya would find this acceptable. With great courage, Dr Swire went to Libya himself, with a photograph of his murdered daughter, to make a personal appeal to the dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. Politics, and a desire to have economic sanctions lifted, persuaded Gaddafi to give way. Two suspects were therefore delivered to the Netherlands and the trial was underway.
As we all know, one suspect, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, the other not. Members off the bereaved American families expressed satisfaction, but, even as Dr Swire sat through the trial, his confidence in both the evidence offered and the verdict withered. This book tells us why. It tells, too, how he supported al-Megrahi’s appeals and requests for a re-trial, how he befriended him and called for his repatriation when he was diagnosed with cancer, and visited him in Libya before his death.
Though one distinguished Scots lawyer who observed the trial told me that on the evidence presented the only possible verdict had been delivered, an opinion which the Scottish courts have continued to uphold, it subsequently seemed clear that there were weaknesses it the Crown case and that the evidence of its chief witness was tainted and therefore cannot be thought reliable.
It is hard to read this book without concluding that Dr Swire is right, and that for reasons which are both understandable and shameful, successive British governments repeatedly obstructed the investigation and that they did so at the instigation of our American allies. That said, one has in any trial or account of an investigation to remember that things tend to be convincing when you are hearing only one side of the argument, one version of the story. This book recounts Dr Swine’s long and painful search for the truth about Lockerbie, and his version is persuasive. It is disturbing too because, if Dr Swire has it right, the Scottish judges who have now three times rejected appeals against the original verdict, have made it hard to have confidence in the integrity of our law. Lockerbie was a disaster; what caused it remains a mystery.
The Lockerbie Bombing, by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph, Birlinn, 256pp, £14.99
Saturday, 8 May 2021
[What follows is excerpted from a very long article published today on the website of The Herald. The full article can (and should) be read here.]
[Dr Jim] Swire says his short-term memory is not so good, but on the details of the evidence around Lockerbie, on the events that devastated his life, he is as sharp as a tack. He believes he knows the story behind the bombing of Pan-Am 103 and that the wrong man was convicted, the wrong country blamed.
Fingers, he said, should have been pointed at Iran, who organised it through the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), not Libya. There was even a strong motive: revenge for the shooting-down of the Airbus carrying 290 pilgrims by the USS Vincennes. Swire no longer believes that the full truth will come out in his lifetime. The sadness and anger he feels is not just at the loss of his daughter – it is also the rage of disillusionment. He rails against the opacity of the British establishment, institutions in which he had faith.
“I was the son of an Army officer,” he says, “who had been trained to look after parts of the empire during his professional career in the Royal Engineers. I thought that the establishment was working for the protection, at the very least, of its citizens. My belief was that the establishment of the UK was honourable and sought right over wrong.”
He recalls: “It wasn’t really till the end of the Camp Zeist trial of Megrahi [in which he was found guilty] that I was forced to give up that fabulous belief. I realised that was not a court of justice but a court of politics that was being held to enable the Americans to achieve their aim of diverting blame to Libya, away from Iran. One of the things that really annoys me now is that Britain was acting as a lapdog for America.” (...)
In the months following Flora’s death, Swire submerged himself in a sea of information – including technical details of the bomb and its mechanism.
“I’ve always been interested in electronics. I learned a lot about nasty plastic explosives.” he says.
From early on, he became convinced that the bomb had been one whose timer had a pressure-related switch which would trigger shortly after take-off.
“Soon after Lockerbie I got hold of an illustrated brochure from West Germany which told the British Department of Transport that the German police had recovered some specialised bombs in an operation called Autumn Leaves,” he recalls.
“It told how these bombs had a switch that could detect a drop in air pressure when an aeroplane took off and that around seven minutes from the time the wheels left the tarmac it would switch the timer on in the bomb and that the timers ran for approximately 30 minutes.”
He did the maths. “That makes a total of 37 minutes from leaving the ground before the thing went off. It was exactly that timing, 38 minutes into the flight, at which Pan-Am 103 blew up.”
The explanation that the bomb involved was one with a long running digital timer, supplied by MEBO and including circuit board produced by the Zurich company Thuring, which was at the heart of the Megrahi conviction, is one he believes too elaborate. “I think of William of Ockham. He said the simplest explanation consistent with the known facts is the most likely to be true.”
He argues that the bomb was made by terrorists linked to the PFLP-GC and that the clothing from Malta was deliberately put alongside the bomb in order to mislead. “I think,” he says, “that it all worked out according to the plans that were laid by Iran through the use of their surrogate terrorist group, the PFLP-GC.”
Key evidence supporting his theory, published in his book, some of which comes from the John Ashton book Megrahi: You are My Jury, includes a metallurgical examination done by experts commissioned by the Megrahi defence team, which showed that the circuit board fragment used as evidence did not come from a particular set of bombs supplied by MEBO to Libya, as previously had been argued, because it contained the wrong metal coating.
They also question the reliability of the identification of Megrahi by Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, given records that show his attempts to get, and eventually receive, substantial money from the United States. (...)
The Lockerbie Bombing by Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph is published by Birlinn.
Tuesday, 20 April 2021
[A long and detailed article headlined The Lockerbie Bombing: The Tragic True Story of Pan Am Flight 103 by Dr Michele Gama Sosa has been published today on the American Grunge.com website. It is well worth reading. The following are the first two and the last two paragraphs:]
The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988, a mere four days before Christmas, continues to vex intelligence and law enforcement agencies in Europe and the United States. Although Libya and one of its former intelligence agents have been held responsible, the identity of the perpetrators is still far from certain. Politics, corruption, and special interests have dogged the victims' attempts to find justice and closure for the horrific incident that killed 270 people during one of the most joyous times of the year.
Since the day of the bombing, different governments, individuals, and institutions have put forward a host of theories regarding the identity of the perpetrators. The list of the accused and their sponsors ranges from the United States to Iran. This is the true, convoluted, and tragic story of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, one of the worst air disasters in aviation history.
The Lockerbie case has taken numerous twists and turns. When justice appeared served, it was revealed that special interests and economic expediency had tainted the trials of the suspects. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's family has continued to fight his conviction posthumously, and on January 15, 2021, Scotland rejected an appeal to vacate al-Megrahi's conviction.
In light of the doubts surrounding al-Megrahi's conviction, it is likely that the perpetrators are still at large. Al-Marimi's indictment has provided a hope that perhaps the perpetrator can still be brought to justice. As time passes, though, many of those involved in the Lockerbie case have died. It is quickly becoming a race against time to find and sentence the perpetrators, if for no other reason than to provide closure to the families of the victims and end their three-decade wait for justice.
Wednesday, 7 April 2021
[What follows is from an email sent today by Jim Swire to a friend and supporter. It is reproduced here with Dr Swire's consent:]
There has been one quotation that I have been strengthened by throughout the last 35 years. It's from John Donne:
I fear that the message of the last two lines is now upon us. As for American contributions to the deception, I have long believed that there is no way we can puncture that bubble, fragile though it is. For us, ... and so many others, now knowing the broad picture of the truth, is part of the healing process. But that healing is so severely damaged by the strutting pomposity of most of those who trumpet that the case is solved when so many of them must know it clearly is not. Nor can we get away from the fact that a great deal of further evil has been unleashed upon the world by the obstruction to allowing the truth to get out. That obstruction has fostered some of the most malevolent characters in the terrorist world by shielding them from the threat of prosecution and has destroyed for a generation any prospect of peaceful progress for nearly seven million Libyans. By protecting the Ayatollahs of Iran from investigation the obstruction must also have reinforced the horrors that eighty three million ordinary people in Iran will have to face if they are ever to shake off the bands of religious impenetrability. Through ‘faith’ religious belief is used as a ‘reason' for abandoning the need to look with honesty at developments in the one world we actually live in, and some of whose intrinsic laws we are privileged to know. A good example of such an individual was the policeman [Stuart] Henderson, who before he died said publicly in front of the US relatives that he would like to wring the neck of anyone who disagreed with the Scottish police findings in the case. He is now dead but the consequences of his force’s mistakes continues to blight and sometimes destroy all those lives in Libya. A self-blinded ‘justice' system in Scotland together with a police force there which has also been blinded to the failure of its own hypothesis, partly through a deeply flawed verdict, partly by unjustified belief in their own infallibility, sails on. Like their justice system, that force will not listen to their voices when people originally with no axe to grind are raised in dissent. However, John Mosey and I along with other UK relatives of the innocent dead have always wanted to force something of benefit for the future to emerge from that horrible toll of avoidable deaths at Lockerbie. That is worlds away from a desire for revenge against those who got things so grotesquely wrong in the investigation, many of whom are now dead anyway. Now common sense (if I may be allowed so vague an entity at all) suggests to me that Henderson and his men fell into a deliberate trap set for the searchers by Ahmed Jibril in Damascus, in case any forensic evidence should fall into their hands after the crash, and that trap of course was the clothing readily traceable to Malta, inserted into the bomb suitcase. Common sense can also be stretched a little further to suggest that Abu Talb from the Jibril team was the probable buyer and provider of those clothes as part of Jibril's carefully organised plot. The headlong chase to Malta which had to be based on the transfer of the bomb at Luqa (false), the transfer of a bag from the Air Malta flight to PA103A at Frankfurt (false) the transfer of the bag from PA103A to PA 103 at Heathrow (false) and the allegation that a MEBO MST13 timer had been used (false: based on a carelessly and fraudulently introduced fragment of circuit board clearly copied from the pattern of an MST13 board, but manufactured after the industry had switched to using lead-free plating technology in the early 90s). Then one cannot ignore the concealment from the trial by the Crown Office prosecution team of the Metropolitan Police's findings of an airside break-in at Heathrow. We know that the Scottish police were informed of the Met’s findings by February 1989. Whether or not that break-in was the route by which the bomb came to be put aboard at Heathrow we cannot know, (and the proximity of Iran Air personnel adjacent to Pan Am provides an alternative route), but the break-in and its concealment from the trial court looks mighty like the deliberate removal of an obvious ‘reasonable doubt', which any criminal court ought to have had the opportunity to evaluate as the case unfolded in front of it. Unfortunately however, failure to identify Iran as the initiating country skews the interests of justice between the nations if indeed there is any. But perhaps we should leave to Scotland’s friends from “ the auld alliance”, her own poet Robbie Burns, to her philosopher David Hume to a recent Scottish Justice Secretary and also to a scion of the cream of British diplomacy, the last words. Here’s freedom to him that wad read, Here’s freedom to him that wad write, There’s nane ever fear’d that the truth should be heard, But they whom the truth wad indite. -- Robert Burns There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice. -- Montesquieu In our reasonings concerning matters of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. ― David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission’s decision to refer the Megrahi case back to the courts really isn’t a surprise. Issues of concern in the Lockerbie bombing trial include not least the witness payments to Tony Gauci. So back the case goes and while it may resolve some aspects relating to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, I won’t hold my breath that it’ll cast any more light on Lockerbie. Sadly, this review will clarify some questions regarding Megrahi, but I very much doubt it’ll provide closure on Lockerbie. Kenny MacAskill — Former Cabinet Secretary for Justice (2007–2014) No court is likely get to the truth, now that various intelligence agencies have had the opportunity to corrupt the evidence. Oliver Miles — Former British ambassador to Libya
Thursday, 1 April 2021
[What follows is the text of a Reuters news agency report published this afternoon:]
The family of a Libyan man found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing which killed 270 people will seek to appeal the conviction direct to Britain’s top court after being refused permission by the Scottish Appeal Court, their lawyer said.
Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, an intelligence officer who died in 2012, was jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents of the Scottish town of Lockerbie in the deadliest militant attack in British history.
In January, the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland rejected an appeal brought by his family, who had argued that there had been a possible misconduct of justice, and their lawyer Aamer Anwar said on Thursday the same court had now refused permission for them to appeal that decision.
“I have now instructed our legal team to seek leave to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court which is the final court of appeal for my father’s case,” Megrahi’s son Ali said in a statement.
“I regard my father Abdelbasset Al-Megrahi as the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”
Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988 en route from London to New York, carrying mostly Americans on their way home for Christmas.
Megrahi, who denied involvement in the attack, died in Libya in 2012 after being released three years earlier by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds due to prostate cancer.
Former leader Muammar Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and paid compensation to families, but did not admit personally ordering it.
However, Megrahi’s family and some relatives of the Scottish victims have always doubted his guilt and Libya’s responsibility, and say the truth has yet to come out.
[RB: The refusal by the Scottish High Court of Justiciary to grant leave to appeal was anticipated, and the necessity of a direct application to the Supreme Court was planned for.
A report in The Times on 2 April discloses the judges' reason for refusing leave to appeal: “Although the case is clearly one of public importance, the proposed grounds of appeal do not raise points of law of general public importance. The principles of law which the court applied were all well known, settled and largely uncontroversial.” [RB: The court's Statement of Reasons can be read here.]
A report in The National on 2 April contains the following:
[Aamer] Anwar said the appeal ... related to two challenges to the conviction. The first – that no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted Megrahi on the evidence led – as it focused on that of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who said Megrahi had bought from him clothing put in a suitcase containing the bomb that was planted on the plane.
The second was a failure to disclose information to the defence which led to an unfair trial and thus a miscarriage of justice. This related to Gauci’s identification of Megrahi.
He added: “I have no doubt that the new democratic Libyan government headed by Abdul Hamid Dabaiba will support this final appeal for justice on behalf of the al-Megrahi family and help in our efforts to prove the innocence of Libya and its people.”]
Monday, 1 March 2021
Justice for Megrahi's petition PE1370 is on the agenda for the virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee to be held tomorrow, Tuesday 02 March, at 10.30. The meeting will be broadcast on www.scottishparliament.tv. What follows is Justice for Megrahi's submission to the committee.
On 28th June 2011 the Public Petitions Committee referred the Justice for Megrahi (JfM) petition PE1370 to the Justice Committee for consideration. Its terms were as follows.
‘Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to open an independent inquiry into the 2001 Kamp van Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.’
On 6th June, 2013, as part of its consideration, the Justice Committee wrote to Kenny MacAskill MSP, then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, asking for the Government’s comments on our request for a public enquiry. In his reply of 24th June 2013, while acknowledging, that under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Scottish Ministers had the power to establish an inquiry, he concluded:
‘Any conclusions reached by an inquiry would not have any effect on either upholding or overturning the conviction as it is appropriately a court of law that has this power. In addition to the matters noted above, we would also note that Lockerbie remains a live ongoing criminal investigation. In light of the above, the Scottish Government has no plans to institute an independent inquiry into the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi.’
As you are aware the above petition was first heard by the Justice Committee on 8th November 2011 and has been kept open by the committee to allow various developments related to the Lockerbie case to be monitored.
On 6 March 2020 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC),following a submission by the Megrahi family, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.
On 15 January 2021 that court dismissed the appeal and upheld the original conviction. Aamer Anwar, the Megrahi family lawyer, has stated that the family willnow appeal to the UK Supreme Court and will continue pressing for the UK government to release a secret document thought to implicate Iran and a Palestinian terror group.
The Crown Office, Police Scotland and the American law enforcement authorities have all confirmed that the investigation into the bombing remains open and that leads are being actively pursued.
As the Cabinet Secretary for Justice stated on 24th June 2013, the decision whether an independent inquiry should be held in Scotland depends on the criminal investigation being completed and matters having been fully determined judicially. Until this happens we believe it is vital that our petition remains under consideration in the Scottish Parliament.
Deep controversy still surrounds the whole circumstances behind the investigation of the Lockerbie bombing and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and until fully resolved this tragedy will continue to cast a shadow over the Scottish justice system nationally and internationally.
We greatly value the Justice Committee’s continuing scrutiny and political oversight, which we believe is very much in the public interest, and we would respectfully urge the Committee to allow Petition PE1370 to remain on the table.
UPDATE 02 March 2021
The Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee at this morning's meeting decided unanimously to keep Justice for Megrahi's petition open. It will remain on the new committee's agenda following the Holyrood election in May. There were strong supporting speeches from a number of committee members. A video of the proceedings can be viewed here.
Tuesday, 23 February 2021
[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mohammed al-Sulami, head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah), that was published yesterday on the website of the Saudi Arabian newspaper Arab News. The following are excerpts:]
On Jan 8, 2020, Iran’s air defense system was on high alert after the military launched a barrage of missiles targeting Iraqi bases housing US troops. Iran feared US retaliation. A year later, there has been no proof of any foreign intrusion into its airspace at the time when two TOR rockets pierced the fuselage of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. After initial denials, Iran admitted that the aircraft was shot down “mistakenly.”
If the downing was a mistake, then it exposes the unprofessionalism and recklessness of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, there are other interpretations of the incident, linking it to a deliberate and calculated Iranian act intended to pin the blame on rival powers. But thanks to the almost immediate viral photographs and videos on social media, the IRGC had no room to blame hostile foreign forces.
Some 13 months later, a leaked audio of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talking about the downing of Flight PS752 has stirred controversy inside Iran and abroad. In it, he can be heard saying that the incident was accidental, but later he says it is possible that two or three “infiltrators” deliberately downed the plane. In addition, he says a full investigation was not carried out and the truth of what happened will never be revealed by Iran’s Armed Forces and top leadership. He does not implicate his own government for hiding the facts, but seems to be scapegoating others by blaming “infiltrators” without providing details. Either way, Iran violated certain provisions of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and of the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation.
Iran had accused the US of doing the same in July 1988, when Iran Air Flight IR655 was shot down over the Arabian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. Though the US agreed to pay Iran $131.8 million in compensation in February 1996, some mysteries still exist.
Five months after the tragic downing of the Iran Air flight, Pan Am flight PA103 exploded at 31,000 feet, with its debris scattering across an area of more than 2,000 sq km along the English-Scottish border. The crash over Lockerbie claimed 270 lives. Finding evidence for what caused the deadly blast that ripped the plane apart was comparable to searching for a needle in a haystack, but aviation experts termed it a terrorist act. The media then recalled Iran’s threat to retaliate for the downing of Flight IR655.
Years later, however, Libyan citizen Abdelbaset Ali Mohammed Al-Megrahi was convicted for causing PA103’s deadly end. He pleaded his innocence until his death in 2012. Owing to foreign pressure and political expediency, Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi admitted his country’s role in the bombing. [RB: Libya accepted responsibility for the acts of the official who had been convicted at the Zeist trial. It did not admit anything other than that.] Among others, the late Nelson Mandela, himself a lawyer, had cast doubt on the prosecution’s case and the resulting verdict. Three decades later, the Scottish courts admitted Al-Megrahi’s family’s plea for a third appeal, only to reject it on Jan 15.
If, as some claim, Libya did not down the Pan Am flight, then who did? The most obvious suspect since December 1988 has been Ahmed Jibril, head of a Palestinian-Syrian terrorist group — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command — whose ties to Iran were no secret. Jibril, said to be living in Damascus, was allegedly paid ... for avenging the downing of Flight IR655. At the time, the George H W Bush administration preferred not to blame Syria or Iran as it was preparing to attack Iraq in 1991 and needed their support. It was also seeking to free some hostages. Hence, Libya was blamed via al-Megrahi.
Wednesday, 17 February 2021
The Lockerbie Bombing: A Father’s Search for Justice, Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph (May)
The destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988 was the largest attack on Britain since World War Two. 259 passengers and 11 townsfolk of Lockerbie were murdered. Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of the crime. He maintained his innocence until his death in 2012. Among the passengers was Flora, beloved daughter of Dr Jim Swire. Jim accepted American claims that Libya was responsible, but during the Lockerbie trial he began to distrust key witnesses and supposed firm evidence. Since then it has been revealed that the USA paid millions of dollars to two central identification witnesses, and the only forensic evidence central to the prosecution has been discredited. The book takes us along Dr Swire’s journey as his initial grief and loss becomes a campaign to uncover the truth behind not only a personal tragedy but one of the modern world’s most shocking events.
Saturday, 13 February 2021
Tuesday, 2 February 2021
On 29 January 2021 the lawyers for the Megrahi family lodged with the High Court of Justiciary an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. They have until 8 February to lodge written submissions supporting these grounds. The Crown and the Advocate General for Scotland (representing the UK Government) then have until 22 February to lodge their responses in writing. The High Court may consider the matter based on written arguments, or it may call for a hearing. If the High Court refuses permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, the appellants can ask the Supreme Court itself to agree to consider the appeal.
In Scottish criminal appeal cases the UK Supreme Court cannot simply overturn a decision of the Scottish court; it only has jurisdiction to decide whether there might have been a breach of the appellant's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. A decision that there had been such a breach would not by itself overturn the conviction but would result in the case being sent back to the Scottish court for it to consider the issue and apply the right test under the European Convention, which might or might not result in a different decision being reached in relation to the conviction.
Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court will be granted only if the case raises an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the Supreme Court.
The grounds of appeal which the Megrahi legal team wish the Supreme Court to consider can be summarised as follows:
1. The decision of the High Court not to allow all of the original grounds of appeal to form part of the appeal for the reasons it gave was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR, the right to a fair trial. In August 2020 the High Court limited the grounds of appeal to the matters referred by the SCCRC in their 2020 referral (unreasonable verdict and non-disclosure of material relating to rewards and identification evidence) and also allowed in the issue of disclosure of the cables relating to the Crown witness Majid Giaka. The court expressly rejected the ground of appeal which argued that there was a systemic failure by the Crown to disclose material and also the particular instances of non-disclosure which the appellants argued demonstrated this systemic failure. The appellants contend that this is a matter which must be considered by the Supreme Court as it relates to the application of Article 6 and was wrongly decided.
2. The decision of the High Court not to overturn the Public Interest Immunity Certificate and order disclosure of the Protectively Marked Documents, and not to allow the non-disclosure of the documents to form a ground of appeal, also constituted a breach of Article 6. The appellants submit that these documents related to the special defence of incrimination put forward at trial and so in order for the appellant to receive a fair trial they should have been disclosed, and that this should have formed part of the grounds of appeal the court allowed to be argued.
3. As regards matters which did form part of the appeal and were argued at the full appeal hearing, the appellants' position is that the High Court erred in its decision to refuse Ground of Appeal 2, which related to non-disclosure of rewards material and non-disclosure of documents relating to Crown witness Tony Gauci’s identification evidence. They contend that the court applied the appropriate test wrongly and too narrowly and therefore breached the appellant’s right to a fair trial. In relation to Ground of Appeal 1, unreasonable verdict, they submit that the High Court’s decision to refuse this ground of appeal was also wrong, in that they took into account evidence which the trial court had ruled out, namely the evidence of the former co-accused Fhimah’s diaries. They contend that the High Court erred in substituting its own assessment of whether the diaries were admissible, as this meant they were not considering the case on the same evidence as the trial court did; and by so doing the appeal court has not returned a reasoned judgment on the verdict of the trial court and therefore again the appellant’s article 6 right has been breached.
The Megrahi legal team conclude by submitting that all three points raised are of general public importance and therefore meet the test for an application to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Sunday, 31 January 2021
[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of Scotland on Sunday. It reads as follows:]
The trial of the only man ever convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has had a “catastrophic” effect on the Scottish criminal justice system, with the damage intensified by authorities’ “continuing avoidance” of a reexamination of the entirety of the evidence, according to the father of one of the victims.
Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter, Flora, died in the atrocity, said that steps were required to ensure the better administration of justice of Scotland, but warned that such an overhaul would “have to be propelled by a force outwith Scotland.”
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the conviction of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of mass murder unanimously at a specially-convened Scottish court in the Netherlands.
Two weeks ago, judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal rejected a third appeal on behalf of the Libyan national, who died in 2012.
However, his family and numerous campaigners, Swire included, have long maintained he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Now, Swire has told Scotland on Sunday that the biggest mass murder trial in British history continues to cast a long shadow over Scotland’s judiciary.
Swire sat throughout the trial at Camp Zeist, and collapsed in court after the verdict was read out. It was held before three Scottish judges - Lord Sutherland, Lord Coulsfield and Lord MacLean - with no jury. The trial’s architect, Professor Robert Black QC, initially proposed it should have involved an international panel of judges, presided over and chaired by a Scottish judge.
Asked if he thought Megrahi would have been convicted on the evidence presented under such an arrangement, Swire said: “Answers about questions based on ‘what if’ carry little weight, but from what I know now, this would seem to have been a far safer solution than that allowed at Zeist.
“Nelson Mandela himself warned me that ‘No one country should be complainant, prosecutor, and judge’. History, to my sorrow, has proved him right, for Scotland became all three at Zeist.”
Swire, now 84, said the past two decades had been “torturous,” and accused the Crown Office and “certain leaders” in Scotland’s legal profession of following a “readily visible course” based on the premise that the Netherlands court was infallible.
“Appeals have managed to avoid or ignore many of the aspects of the Zeist evidence in which failures are self evident, and have never fully addressed some of the further pieces of evidence which have emerged since,” he added.
“From a layman’s point of view, this seems to have been skilfully achieved. If I were asked to answer, ‘Why would they do that?’, I would have to reply that the impression given to me a layman is that they wish to conceal the profound failings within their system and its dangerous opacity to criticism, in order that damage to its reputation shall be minimised.”
Asked to respond to Swire’s criticisms, a Crown Office spokesman said: “The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the murder of 270 people at Lockerbie in 1988 has been reviewed and appealed twice in accordance with the law over twenty years.
“His conviction stands and the investigation by Scottish prosecutors and police officers into the involvement of others with him in the plot to attack an American aircraft continues.”
Saturday, 30 January 2021
[What follows is excerpted from a report in today's edition of The Scotsman headlined Academic who defended Tehran against Lockerbie allegations accused of secretly working for Iranian government:]
Authorities in the US allege Kaveh Afrasiabi, a political scientist and veteran commentator on Iranian issues, of acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iranian state for more than a decade, during which time he made media appearances rejecting any suggestions that Iran was involved in the 1988 atrocity.
A complaint filed against Afrasiabi in a federal court in New York alleges that he was instructed over what to say to journalists by Iranian government officials assigned to the country’s permanent mission to the United Nations, before advocating positions and policies “favoured” by Iran.
The interviews included Afrasiabi’s views on a 2014 Al Jazeera documentary, entitled ‘Lockerbie: What Really Happened?’, which claimed the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by the Syrian-based terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The documentary, which was subsequently screened in the Scottish Parliament, included testimony from Abolghasem Mesbahi, a former high-ranking Iranian intelligence agent, who said Iran had sanctioned the attack in revenge for the destruction in July 1988 of an Iranian airbus mistakenly shot down by USS Vincennes.
Afrasiabi, a former visiting scholar at Harvard University, went on to appear on an Al Jazeera interview, refuting the documentary’s premise. However, the complaint against him alleges he was advised on what to say by a press secretary at the Iranian mission, and told to state that he was giving his views as an “independent expert.”
During a phone call with the Iranian official on 11 March 2014, the complaint goes on, Afrasiabi was instructed “in sum and substance to explain that both the US and Britain completed their investigations” into the incident.
It also alleges that the day after the interview, Afrasiabi advised the Iranian government to threaten a $500 million lawsuit against Al Jazeera,” stating that it “would act as a brake on their current plan and might put a stop.” He added: “Soft diplomacy does not answer this specific situation.”
Afrasiabi also sent Al Jazeera an article prepared by his Iranian government contacts refuting the documentary’s claims, according to the complaint.
It adds that since 2007, Afrasiabi has “surreptitiously derived a significant portion of his income from compensation for services performed at the direction and under the control of the government of the Islamic republic of Iran,” claiming he received more than $265,000 over the period, as well as health insurance benefits.
The complaint also alleges Afrasiabi contacted an official in the US State Department, asking for its “latest thinking” on the Iran nuclear issue, without revealing the nature of his relationship with Iranian authorities.
Afrasiabi has described the allegations against him as “lies,” while Iran’s foreign ministry said the accusations were “baseless,” and accused the US of “a clear hostage-taking of Iranian nationals.”
Wednesday, 20 January 2021
Five Scottish judges have upheld the 2001 verdict against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.
Last week's decision is the second time an appeal on Megrahi's behalf has been rejected by the courts amid the continued suppression of contradictory evidence.
In 2002, an initial appeal was thrown out. In 2009, Megrahi, already terminally ill, was tacitly offered release from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds if a contemporary appeal was dropped as part of rapprochement between the Libyan and British governments. The most recent appeal was launched by Megrahi's son, Ali Al-Megrahi, to clear his father's name posthumously.
The appeal hearing heard from Claire Mitchell QC that Megrahi's original conviction hinged on Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci’s uncorroborated identification of Megrahi. She pointed to contradictions in Gauci’s testimony and challenged the trial judges' decision that the clothing was purchased on 7 December 1988, rather than 23 November, which was supported by the evidence. Megrahi was not in Malta in November.
Mitchell noted that while the trial verdict "cherry picked" items from a mass of conflicting evidence, no evidence existed that the bomb started its journey from Malta.
The appeal was allowed to go forward following a decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), that a miscarriage of justice may only have occurred because of the manner in which Megrahi was identified by Gauci. Gauci first identified someone else, appeared confused, and was found to have been coached by police in expectation of a huge reward. $2 million was duly paid, a matter about which the trial defence was not informed.
The SCCRC did not consider (...) analysis of the metallurgical characteristics of the alleged bomb timer--proving it was not part of a batch sold to Libya--or devastating evidence of the bomb suitcase entering the luggage system at Heathrow Airport, London, as grounds for appeal.
The reason for the appeal being restricted to Megrahi's identification by Gauci is increasingly clear. Any broader querying of the original verdict threatens to bring down the house of cards that is the legal frame-up of Megrahi.
It is worth recalling some of the contradictions and unconfirmed assertions in the official version of events leading to PA103's destruction, upheld at the 2001 trial and again on two subsequent appeals.
Megrahi was found guilty of loading a suitcase, containing a bomb armed with a complex electronic timer, in Luqa airport, Malta, onto a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. No viable evidence has been presented confirming that such a suitcase existed. No explanation has been given of how Megrahi overcame Luqa's tight security. (...) No explanation has been offered of how Frankfurt airport's X-ray scanning missed a bomb in a cassette recorder when staff had been advised to look out for one.
From Frankfurt, the feeder flight travelled to London’s Heathrow airport, where the bomb was allegedly transferred to Pan Am 103. No such suitcase has been identified.
Not accounted for is the fact that a suitcase closely resembling the one containing the bomb appeared unexpectedly at Heathrow airport before the feeder flight from Frankfurt arrived and was reportedly inserted onto PA103 at Heathrow.
This suitcase was seen by witnesses on the floor of the luggage container in which the explosion later occurred. No explanation or significance has been attached to a break in at Heathrow airport, where security was poor, the night before, adjacent to the luggage loading area for PA103.
The explosion that destroyed the Boeing 747 took place 38 minutes after take-off from Heathrow. This is exactly the time at which a well-known design of barometric bomb, triggered by a fall in air pressure, would explode had one been loaded at Heathrow.
Barometric bombs of this design were, at the time, being manufactured in Germany by a Syrian backed Palestinian group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a group with a history of aircraft bombing. Four of these bombs were seized by German police, a fifth went missing for unexplained reasons.
No explanation has been offered of why the stated design of electronic timer, an MST-13 manufactured by Swiss company MeBo-AG, would not be set to explode at a time much later, over the Atlantic, where any evidence would sink to the ocean floor.
Nor has an explanation been offered as to why evidence relating to the belated appearance of a fragment of MST-13 timer in the Lockerbie wreckage showed evidence of having been doctored, as had the records relating to its discovery. Or why this timer fragment has subsequently been proved NOT to be part of a consignment of timers admittedly sold to Libya by Mebo-AG.
Days before the appeal hearing, the judges ruled that documentation in the possession of the British government since shortly after PA103 was brought down should remain hidden, upholding a public interest immunity certificate signed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in August this year. One of Raab's predecessors, Labour's David Miliband, signed a similar order in 2008 before Megrahi's previous appeal was dropped.
Carloway upheld Raab's view that the documentation was relevant but revealing it would "damage counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states".
The documentation is reportedly a letter from then Jordanian ruler, King Hussein, an ally of the Western powers and a CIA asset, implicating Jordanian intelligence agent and PFLP-GC supporter Marween Khreesat in making the bomb. King Hussein claimed the attack was revenge commissioned by the Iranian government for the US Vincennes' shoot-down of an Iran Airbus at the cost of 255 lives in July 1988. Khreesat was arrested as part of the group that was making bombs in Germany in 1988, but was quickly released. He died in Syria in 2016.
Another remarkable intervention on the eve of the appeal, which coincided with the December 21 anniversary of the disaster, came from outgoing US Justice Secretary William Barr.
Barr announced charges against the hitherto little-known Libyan, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Masud), whom Barr accused of helping Megrahi make the bomb used in the attack and whose extradition to the US is now being sought. Barr claimed the then-Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi personally thanked Masud for his efforts. Masud has been held in a Libyan jail since 2012. Gaddafi's government was violently overthrown by the US and European war machine, and Libya pitched into a catastrophic and ongoing civil war in 2011, but this claim of involvement only surfaced years later.
Barr has a history with the Lockerbie case. Prior to his installation by Donald Trump in 2019, he was known for a series of cover-ups arising from his first period as US Attorney General, between 1991 and 1993, during George H W Bush's term as US President, arising from the successive debacles of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
It was on Barr's watch that Bush handed out pardons to senior state officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, including former defence secretary Caspar Weinburger, who had been charged with crimes of perjury, lying to Congress and obstruction of justice.
Barr oversaw a fundamental shift in the focus of investigation into the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 from the PFLP-GC and Iran to Libya, and announced the November 14, 1991 indictments against Megrahi, and his then co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah.
The transition took place during US preparations for the assault on Iraq in the first Gulf War, launched earlier in 1991. Prior to the war, US officials shuttled around the various Arab regimes in the Middle East seeking support and acquiescence in the planned bloodbath. Then Secretary of State James Baker visited Syria repeatedly and extracted regime support for the assault on neighbouring Iraq. Iran remained neutral.
Speaking of Lockerbie when the war was over and days after the unexpected indictment of the two Libyans, Bush said, "A lot of people thought it was the Syrians. The Syrians took a bum rap on this."
None of this mattered to the Scottish judges. Instead, the 64-page verdict sought to strengthen the case against Megrahi by attributing sinister significance to entries in co-accused Fhimah's diary referring to "luggage tags". Fhimah, however, was acquitted in the original 2001 trial. Both men worked at the airport.
Speaking outside the court, lawyer Aamer Anwar said Megrahi's family were heartbroken by the verdict and intend to take the case to the UK Supreme Court. Jim Swire, 84, whose daughter Flora died in the disaster said, "For a long time I have been persuaded that it isn’t likely the truth will come out during my time left on the planet."
[RB: Another recent article can be read here: Lockerbie 32 years on: imperialism, framings and cover-ups.]
Saturday, 16 January 2021
[Yesterday's decision by the High Court of Justiciary dismissing the posthumous appeal on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi receives extensive coverage in UK and overseas media. A selection, courtesy of Google News, can be found here.
An attempt by the family of the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing posthumously to clear his name has been rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland.
The family of Abdul Ali Baset al-Megrahi had appealed his conviction after a ruling by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) that “it was in the interests of justice” that his case was reconsidered.
Mr Anwar said that Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted man’s son, said that his family had been “left heartbroken by the decision of the Scottish courts, (but) maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya”.
The family has instructed its legal team to appeal to the UK Supreme Court and an application will be lodged within two weeks. (...)
Megrahi previously lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002. Five years later the SCCRC recommended that he should be granted the second appeal, which he later dropped.
Al-Megrahi insisted in his authorised biography, published in the year of his death, that a Scottish government decision to agree his early release from prison was conditional on his decision to drop his second appeal.
He said that Kenny MacAskill, who was then the Scottish justice secretary, had suggested the deal to a Libyan government official.
In the latest appeal the court was not asked by the SCCRC to consider a tiny fragment of circuit board, believed to have been from the bomb’s timer. This, campaigners insist, was a key piece of evidence that could have cleared al-Megrahi’s name.
After this morning’s decision the al-Megrahi family demanded the release of secret evidence held by the UK government that they believe incriminates others such as Iran and a Syrian-Palestinian group. (...)
In December, on the 32nd anniversary of the bombing, William Barr, the US attorney-general, announced new criminal charges against an alleged bombmaker involved in the atrocity.
Abu Agila Masud, another former Libyan intelligence officer, allegedly admitted to assembling the bomb that blew up the plane as it passed over Lockerbie en route from London to New York. Masud was the third person to face charges in the attack after al-Megrahi and another Libyan, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, were charged nearly 30 years ago. Fhimah was found not guilty in 2001.
It was Mr Barr who announced the charges against al-Megrahi and Fhimah in 1991, saying at the time: “This investigation is by no means over.” Al-Megrahi’s supporters claim that Mr Barr’s recent intervention weighed heavily on the appeal court judges.
A source said: “For the judges to overturn the conviction would be absolutely momentous and I don’t think they have the stomach for that. William Barr piled on the pressure by announcing new indictments. It was too much of a hot potato for them.”
Mr Anwar said the first ground for appeal — that “no reasonable jury properly directed could have convicted” — was built largely around the evidence of Tony Gauci, who died in 2016.
In the 2001 trial, Mr Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, identified al-Megrahi as the man who bought clothes from him that were later packed in a suitcase containing the bomb. After the trial it was disclosed that he had received $2 million from the US authorities.
In his judgment Lord Carloway said the original trial had given due consideration to Mr Gauci’s identification.
Mr Anwar said the second ground of appeal — the failure to disclose information to the defence — hinged on a “compatibility issue” arising from a question relating to a breach of human rights. This will be the basis for the application to the Supreme Court.
[A further article in The Times, headlined System cannot admit it made mistake with Lockerbie, says lawyer who designed first trial contains the following:]
The Scottish court system is unable to acknowledge that a mistake has been made, the lawyer who designed the 2001 Lockerbie trial has said.
Robert Black, emeritus professor of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, drew up plans to enable a Scottish court to sit on neutral territory in the Netherlands but when the trial ended he was convinced that he had witnessed a miscarriage of justice.
He said yesterday that the Scottish criminal justice system was unable to acknowledge “a mistake has been made” in the conviction of Abdul Baset al-Megrahi and it was “a matter of grave concern” that the most recent appeal had been so narrowly restricted to certain legal areas. The Scottish Criminal Case Review Committee allowed al-Megrahi’s posthumous appeal on only two grounds: that the verdict had been unreasonable and that some evidence had not been disclosed to the defence.
Four other grounds for appeal were rejected by the committee, including evidence about a fragment from a circuit board and a theory that the suitcase that contained the bomb had not been loaded onto an aircraft in Malta.
The Crown argued that the circuit board, part of a timing device, was one of many sold to the Libyan government by Mebo, a Swiss company. It was found in the remains of a shirt collar, which in turn led to a shop in Malta owned by Tony Gauci. Campaigners for al-Megrahi say forensic analysis has shown the circuit board was coated in pure tin and not in a tin-lead alloy, the only kind supplied by Mebo. Independent scientists, consulted by the Crown, had noticed the difference but maintained the tin fragment and the tin-lead amalgam were “similar in all respects”.
Professor Black also cited evidence the bomb suitcase was put on at Heathrow before luggage from Malta arrived.