Monday, 20 August 2018

Kofi Annan and Lockerbie

The obituary of Kofi Annan in today's edition of The Guardian contains the following paragraph: 

'He was by nature a conciliator, a “diplomat’s diplomat”. But he also had the courage of his convictions and stuck to his guns even when powerful UN members urged retreat. A notable example was his intervention in Baghdad in 1998 to defuse a crisis over UN arms inspections in Iraq, where he went ahead with negotiations, against strong pressure from Washington to stay away; and he spoke out against the US invasion of 2003. Similarly, he defied Britain and the US when he negotiated with Libya to end a security council stalemate over the Lockerbie bombing.'

My own perception of that period, as someone peripherally involved, is that Kofi Annan's office found the negotiating with the United Kingdom and the United States much more difficult and taxing than negotiating with Libya. Here is something that I wrote some years ago:

'Although the British proposal [for a Scottish non-jury court to sit in the Netherlands] was announced in late August 1998, it was not until 5 April 1999 that the two suspects actually arrived in the Netherlands for trial before the Scottish court.  Why the delay?  The answer is that some of the fine print in the two documents [that set out the details of the proposal] was capable of being interpreted, and was in fact interpreted, by the Libyan defence team (now chaired by Mr Kamel Hassan Maghur as successor to Dr Legwell) and the Libyan government as having been deliberately designed to create pitfalls to entrap them.  And since the governments of the United Kingdom and United States resolutely refused to have any direct contact with either the Libyan government or the Libyan defence lawyers -- their attitude being that the scheme had been advanced on a “take it or leave it basis” and that no negotiations would be entered in to -- these concerns could be dealt with only through an intermediary, namely the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan (or, in practice, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations, Hans Corell).   This meant that issues that could have been thrashed out and settled in a matter of a few hours in a face-to-face meeting took weeks and months to resolve.  The US government, particularly the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, took every available opportunity to accuse the Libyan government and lawyers of stalling and trying to wriggle out of the assurances they had given over the years to support a “neutral venue” trial.  My own clear impression, however, through my continuing contacts with the Libyans, was that if anyone was looking for pretexts to avoid a trial ever taking place, it was the US and UK governments.'

Saturday, 18 August 2018

A huge mushroom cloud appeared...

[Today's edition of The Herald features a long article about Sergeant Colin Dorrance who, as an 18-year-old rookie police officer, was one of the first members of the emergency services on the scene when Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie. The following are excerpts:]

At ten to six, as he was driving into Lockerbie his life took a different turn. [RB: His recollection of the time is faulty: the plane fell on Lockerbie at around 7.05 pm.]

“A huge mushroom cloud appeared about half a mile ahead of me," Colin said.

"There was black smoke billowing across the road obscuring the view.”

At first he thought was there may have been been a chemical explosion on the M74.

The blast seemed to be in the direction of the motorway where ironically that week, he and other greenhorns had been training in how to tackle a hazardous chemicals incident.

Or maybe the petrol station had exploded?

It was a while before the dust settled. Confusion reigned as he reached Rosebank Crescent – houses had been struck by parts of the plane’s fuselage, including one which had had its side wall sheared off, exposing the cosy living rooms.

Lockerbie’s fire crew was at Sherwood Crescent, on the other side of the railway line – where whole families had perished and the wing of the plane, had torn a crater in the road.

“We didn’t have the communications we had now," he said. "Some of us had FM-style walkie-talkies, but there weren’t even many of them - they were only issued to people when they went on duty.”

Police and emergency services tried to coordinate a response, still not sure knowing what they were dealing with. A crashed training flight, or a mid-air collision, perhaps?

“At 7.40pm an officer found luggage labels and it became clear it had been a Boeing, bound for JFK airport, from Heathrow,” he added.

Colin cancelled his leave. Colin knew to secure the area, minimising the risk of further casualties. He knew the rules on the handling of evidence. (...)

Later that evening he would be back at his old school of Lockerbie Academy – his knowledge of the building invaluable as it became the nerve centre of emergency responders.

But the horror of that night is brought into sharp focus by one memory. As he stood outside the Town Hall, which had been converted into a makeshift morgue, a farmer pulled up with wreckage from the 747 in his trailer.

It had been strewn across over his land and didn’t know what to do with it.

In the passenger seat was something else he had found. A child, less than five years old.

“I don’t even know now whether it was a boy or a girl," he said. "He or she was unmarked but plainly dead.”

As the farmer disappeared into the night, Sergeant Dorrance cradled the child and walked into the Town Hall. It was the first body to be placed in the 'mortuary'. (...)

One legacy has been better support for those on the ground at such tragedies.

“At the time there was no counselling. There was no structure for it. It was a learning ground for the police,” he said.

The Lockerbie bombing has bookended his career in a remarkable way.

His 30 year term of service up this summer, he has just retired. Meanwhile his son, Andrew, has just returned from New York State, the second of Colin’s children to do so.

On December 21,1988, 35 students from Syracuse University perished in the disaster above Lockerbie. A scholarship scheme, set up in the wake of the terrorist outrage, has led to strong and enduring links between the University and the Scottish border town. (...)

In 1994, Colin was transferred to Lockerbie, where he lived in a police house close to Sherwood Crescent and started a family. The double-glazing of his home was still pockmarked from the explosion, but it wasn’t until his daughter Claire applied for the scholarship programme that his interest in the bombing was reawakened.

“It was important to me that she understood what had been lost,” Colin said, but in fact he had insulated himself from those same questions. “It reawakened an interest in what had taken place, for me.” Claire’s involvement also alerted Syracuse University to him.

“It dawned on them that I was someone who knew an awful lot about the crash and could add to their social history. I’m like the old lady in Titanic,” he said.

The university dispatched researchers to speak to him.

“I found it really fulfilling and quite rewarding to understand what happened on the lives of people in the aftermath,” he says.

And Colin is still involved. This autumn, to commemorate its 30th anniversary of the plane crash, he and representatives of Lockerbie Academy, fire and ambulance services and the RAF search and rescue, will cycle to Syracuse, in time to take part in the University’s remembrance week in November.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The dark past of special prosecutor Robert Mueller

[This is part of the headline over an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website. What follows is the section of the article devoted to the Lockerbie case:]
Robert Mueller was assistant attorney general in the United States in 1991 when indictments were issued for the two Libyan suspects, Megrahi and Al-amin Khalifa Fimah. At the Zeist trial in 2001, Fimah was found NOT guilty but Megrahi was found guilty.
During the indictment speech, Mueller explained the importance of PT/35(b), a small fragment of a circuit timer that was allegedly found among the debris of Pan Am 103 near the town of Lockerbie.
PT/35(b) was the key piece of evidence of the Lockerbie Case. As Richard Marquise (FBI Agent who led the US side of the investigation and reported directly to Mueller) himself said:  “Without PT/35(b), there would have been no indictment.”
This fragment was eventually matched to a timer (MST-13) discovered among the weapons and material seized from rebels after an attempted coup in Togo on 23rd September 1986.
This MST-13 had been manufactured by the Swiss company MEBO and supplied “solely” to Libya.
Today, we know that PT/35(b) is a forgery. We also know that at least one witness was well aware that PT/35(b) could not have been part of the MST-13 timers delivered to Libya and that this witness deliberately withheld  this information from the court.
But back in 1992, it would appear that some folks at the Crown office had their own doubts…
Following submission of the Police Report (section 30.0 dealing with PT/35b to the Crown), it was requested that certain further tests which had earlier been carried out on the fragment also be performed on the control sample [ DP/347(a)] of MST-13 circuit board.
Five tests were carried out in the period from 28 February 1992 to 6 March 1992. The conclusion of the report states that none of the scientists would say conclusively that PT/35(b) and DP/347(a) were specifically the same material or from the same source.
In fact, all these scientists had pointed out correctly various methods to establish that PT/35(b) was NOT similar to the control sample of the timers delivered to Libya.
At that point in time, it would have been scientifically straightforward to demonstrate that PT/35(b) — the key piece of evidence linking Libya to Lockerbie — was a forgery.
But nothing was done and a few weeks later — on 31 March 1992 — the UN Security Council passed resolution 748 imposing mandatory sanctions on Libya for failing to hand over Megrahi and Fhimah.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Abdelbaset Megrahi and Oscar Slater

"Since 31 January 2001 -- the day the guilty verdict against Abdelbaset Megrahi was announced by the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist –- I have made no secret of my belief in his innocence. His conviction, on the evidence led at the trial, was nothing short of astonishing. It constitutes, in my view, the worst miscarriage of justice perpetrated by a Scottish criminal court since the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909 for the murder of Marion Gilchrist."

These words were published by me on this blog on 26 October 2008 (and republished here on 26 October 2014). Today Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer has posted on his Intel Today website a fascinating article entitled Miscarriages of Justice — The Stunning Similarities of Oscar Slater & Abdelbaset Megrahi Trials. In it he points out startling parallels between the Slater and Megrahi cases, many of which came as a surprise to me even though I have studied both cases closely!

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Lockerbie secret files

[What follows is a section headed Lockerbie Secret Files from an article published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website:]

Until this week, we knew of two secret sets of Lockerbie files. The first is the so-called Lockerbie X file. This set of docs deal with Major McKee, CIA Matt Gannon — and others US personal — who died on Pan Am 103. IT probably also deals with the large amount of cash and drugs recovered from the crash site as well as the presence of US explosives illegally carried by the civilian airliner. It is unlikely that this file was updated in 1992-93.

RELATED POST: FBI PSA : “Think Before You Post” — FLASHBACK : “The Helsinki Warning”

We also knew from the SCCRC Report that the two secret letters (under PII) were sent by the King of Jordan to John Major in September 1996.

I have already explained that the SCCRC findings clearly suggest the content of this letter. The reasoning of the SCCRC implies  that these “SECRET Letters” point to the PFLP-GC having received – one way or another – at least one MST-13 timer. (Whether this allegation is true or false is yet another story.)

The SCCRC concluded that if these documents had been made available to the defence, the judges could not have reached some of the conclusions that were necessary to convict Megrahi.


RELATED POST: The Lockerbie Secret Doc: Khreesat and the Swiss

The undisclosed 1992-93 Lockerbie file from the Prime Minister almost certainly deals with yet another aspect of this extraordinary scandal.

[RB: The introduction preceding the section reproduced above, and the remaining sections of the article, headed Dr Richard Fuisz & the TEREX Affair and Why Hiding the 1992 Lockerbie File? should also be read.]

Friday, 27 July 2018

Lockerbie talk by Dr Morag Kerr

Dr Morag Kerr will be giving a talk on the Lockerbie case on Friday, 3 August 2018 at 7pm at the Yes Hub - Edinburgh South, 31 Lasswade Road, Edinburgh EH16 6TD. This is a revised and expanded version of a talk given by Dr Kerr on 17 June 2015.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Cabinet Office refuses to disclose why Lockerbie file not released

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Richard Norton-Taylor headlined Top secret: why is the government intent on keeping us in the dark? published in The Guardian today:]

The Cabinet Office should be forced to release archive files on past events such as the Lockerbie bombing and the arms-to-Iraq inquiry

More than 700 government files, some classified top secret, were released to the public this week at the National Archives in Kew. Selecting what is opened up in this biannual event (documents are held secret under what is known as the “30-year rule”, although that is gradually being reduced to 20 years), however, seems to be entirely random. Apart, that is, from obvious efforts by the Cabinet Office to get some easy headlines. (...)

Most of the files released on Tuesday have passages or whole pages redacted by assiduous Whitehall weeders. The full list of files carefully scrutinised shows that many entire files have been retained, some temporarily, most indefinitely.

They include files from the 1980s and early 1990s on Cyprus, on biological and chemical weapons policy, and on “developments in the European Community”.

Files that have been withheld cover topics such as John Major’s visit to Oman and Saudi Arabia in 1993; plans to close Gibraltar’s dockyard; immigration rules; “arms sales and military assistance to Middle East countries”; and subversion in the UK in 1968. They include a 1963 report on “Unavowable Information Services of Her Majesty’s Government Overseas”, and a 1966 report on “Enquiries about the background of people coming into contact with ministers”.

Curiously, a report on a visit by the US president Richard Nixon to Britain in 1970 has been retained for 56 years. A file dated 1992-93 on the Lockerbie bombing, the Pan Am disaster of 1988, has also been withheld. (...)

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the release of the records at the National Archives, declined to comment on the record when I asked, specifically, why files on the Scott inquiry and Lockerbie were being withheld. Whitehall’s traditional response when asked about archives is to point to the statute that allows government departments to keep back files relating to security, defence, international relations and personal data relating to living individuals.

It is not quite like that. For there is one section of the (inappropriately named) Public Records Act 1958 that gives Whitehall carte blanche in deciding what files to release and what to retain. Under section 3(4) of the act, Whitehall departments can hold on to documents indefinitely for “administrative purposes” or “for any other special reason”. The department concerned informs the minister responsible for the archives, the culture, media and sports secretary, now Jeremy Wright. He appoints an advisory council (whose members include a former top Ministry of Defence official and former British ambassador). That body has not had the inclination, and the staff of the National Archives have not had the clout, to argue with Whitehall departments, and in particular the Cabinet Office, the powerful bastion of official secrecy at the heart of government. Until and unless they do, or the act is reformed, we will continue to be prevented from knowing about, and learning from, our recent history.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Could Megrahi have been retried in the United States?

[What follows is excerpted from an editorial in today's edition of The New York Sun headlined Julian Assange's Jeopardy:]

What comes next for Julian Assange after his years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy at London? Glenn Greenwald has a report on the Intercept suggesting that eviction from his current sanctuary is imminent and that if he leaves, Wikileaks’ founder could face a year or more in prison at Britain as he maneuvers to avoid extradition to America. It strikes us as a thorough report, save for the omission of any mention of the case known as United States v Alvarez-Machain.

That case, decided in 1992, could prove to be a precedent were America simply to seize Mr. Assange and bring him here without resort to any extradition treaty. The first of the several times we've written about Alvarez-Machain was in connection with the Libyan terrorist Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, who’d been released early from the prison sentence he was serving for murder in the bombing in 1988 of a Pan American clipper, Maid of the Seas, in which 270 persons perished over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Al-Megrahi, suffering from cancer, was let out of prison so he could go home to live out his remaining days in Libya. It struck us that President Obama could have sent agents to seize him and bring him to America for trial. That’s because of the way the courts handled Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican physician who allegedly participated in the murders of an American drug enforcement agent, Enrique Camarena Salazar, and a DEA pilot.

Dr Alvarez-Machain’s role in the crime, the DEA believed, was, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist later put it, to have “participated in the murder by prolonging Agent Camarena’s life so that others could further torture and interrogate him.” So the doctor was snatched in Mexico and brought to America in a small, fast plane and arrested when it landed. This infuriated Mexico, not to mention Dr Alvarez-Machain.

When it got to the Supreme Court, though, the justices cast aside the objections. It noted that the Supreme Court had once blocked the prosecution of a defendant brought to America from England for a crime not covered by our extradition treaty with Britain. Its reasoning, though, was simply that once the United States had begun proceedings under the extradition treaty, it was obligated to stick to its terms.

More relevant to Dr Alvarez-Machain, the justices decided, was an 1886 case in which a thief who’d fled to Peru was brought back here by what the court called the “forcible abduction” by a Pinkerton agent. The court allowed proceedings against the thief — it rejected his claims to rights under the extradition law — precisely because the extradition law had been skirted. Though Dr Alavarez-Machain was eventually acquitted, the precedent can’t bode well for Mr. Assange.

[RB: The possibility that Mr Megrahi might be kidnapped or "rendered" from Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and put on trial in the United States was raised by various commentators in 2011. My view was that the courts of the United States were barred, under American law, from accepting any such case. Here is something that I wrote at the time:]

In the light of suggestions that have been made over the past few months by American officials and commentators that the United States might wish to have Abdelbaset Megrahi handed over to the United States for retrial in America, it is perhaps worthwhile to consider some of the legal problems that would be faced in bringing this about.

As I said in a blog post on 6 March 2011:

"The United States Government, along with that of the United Kingdom, proposed the UN Security Council resolutions that set up the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist. Both governments thereby undertook internationally binding obligations to comply with the legal processes thus set in motion. The United States cannot lawfully renounce those obligations either unilaterally or in conjunction with whatever new government it chooses to recognise in Libya. To have Abdelbaset Megrahi lawfully handed over to the US would require a further UN Security Council resolution. The United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council could, of course, propose such a resolution. But would the other members support it? The US could also, naturally, simply ignore international legality (as it did, with the UK's supine support, in launching the invasion of Iraq) and seize Megrahi by force (with or without the connivance of a new Libyan regime)." 

Furthermore, the Constitution of the United States, provides (art VI, clause 2): "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land". This means that the binding international obligation entered into by the United States in respect of the Lockerbie trial precludes any US court from trying Megrahi since that would be a breach of the international agreement regarding Lockerbie jurisdiction which the US itself co-sponsored. 

Moreover, during the Camp Zeist trial, US government lawyers sat amongst the prosecutors and when their presence was questioned the Crown Office responded that the Lord Advocate could select whomsoever he chose to form part of the prosecution team. It can be strongly argued that this active participation by United States officials, as part of the prosecution team, in a trial which the US co-sponsored, personally bars (estops) the US from instituting its own national criminal proceedings.

As mentioned above, the US could sponsor a new UN Security Council resolution permitting it to retry Megrahi. But is there any realistic prospect of such a resolution being passed? The United States could also seek to pass internal US legislation permitting a retrial. But, in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution amending the existing ones, would not any such legislation be liable to be struck down under art VI clause 2 of the Constitution?

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

"Low profile" warning to Americans dates back to Lockerbie

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined The US embassy in the UK is telling Americans to “keep a low profile” during Trump’s visit published yesterday on the Vox website:]

The US Embassy in London is warning Americans to “keep a low profile” when President Donald Trump visits the UK from July 12 to 14.

Here’s why: Protesters who disagree with the US president’s policies are planning to stage multiple demonstrations during Trump’s trip. Most are set to take place on July 13, when Trump meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth.

And while this might sound extreme, it’s actually not. There are two reasons why.

“There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the alert. We send these out all the time,” Courtney Austrian, a spokesperson for the US mission in London, told me.

That practice dates back to 1998 [RB: this should, of course, be 1988], when a terrorist blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in an incident now known as the Lockerbie bombing. (The plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.) There were allegations afterward that the US government told employees it had intelligence of a terrorist attempt, which prompted officials to change their flight plans. It’s unclear if those claims were true or not. [RB: From The Helsinki warning: "On 5 December 1988 (16 days prior to the attack), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin saying that, on that day, a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the US Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, and told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks ... The anonymous warning was taken seriously by the US government, and the State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all US carriers, including Pan Am, which had charged each of the passengers a $5 security surcharge..."]

But since those allegations, US embassies around the world now give the same warnings to citizens as they do to employees, says Austrian. She added that embassy staff gets warnings like this all the time for mass demonstrations, which is why there is a warning now for all Americans.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

"The evidence was 'weighted' in a deliberate manner"

[A long article headed Lockerbie -- The Eyewitness Evidence against Megrahi is published today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website. Part of the article consists of an interview with psychologist of memory Professor Tim Valentine about Tony Gauci's evidence at the Zeist trial. This is followed by comments from Professor Hans Köchler and me which read as follows:]

In March 2009, Mark Vella, the managing director of METEO MALTA [RB: appears on the internet as] told me that their records “unambiguously indicate” that it did not rain in Sliema on December 7, 1988. Vella added that it was dripping during the evening of November 23, 1988.

“I can confirm there was light rainfall from 6 pm to 7:15 pm on Nov 23, 1988 as can be seen from our official weather log book of Balzan", Vella told me.

“There was definitely no rain on Dec 7 and although I cannot be 100 percent sure it most likely did not rain in Sliema either on that day as they are only a few kilometers apart. I have proof of this from the weather log book and also satellite images.”

I asked Professor Köchler — UN observer at the Lockerbie trial — and Professor Black — aka the ‘architect of the Lockerbie trial’ — to comment of this most disturbing news. [NB: The evidence, presented at the Zeist trial, regarding the weather conditions in Malta was based on data recorded at Luqa Airport.]

“From the date of Megrahi’s conviction, I have maintained that one of the principal reasons for regarding the verdict as contrary to the evidence was the court’s finding that the date of purchase was 7 December. The meteorological evidence led at the trial clearly established that of the two possible dates, 23 November was the only one that fitted that evidence. The court’s finding that the date of purchase was 7 December is explicable only on the basis that the case against Megrahi would otherwise have collapsed, ie that the court had, for other reasons, determined that he was guilty and then, in the face of strong contrary evidence, selected the date that supported that pre-formed conclusion,” Professor Black told me.

Professor Köchler told the author that he never believed in the “Malta theory” and has questioned the judges’ reasoning from the very beginning.

“My position is evident from what I wrote in Art 15 of my observer report of 26 March 2002 (!), which was submitted to the United Nations: One of the basic weaknesses of the decision of the Appeal Court consisted in its very refusal to properly evaluate, ie reevaluate, the plausibility of the inferences about weather conditions in Malta at the time in question.

"In the course of the renewed presentation of the respective evidence during the appeal proceedings it became entirely clear to any rational observer that the report on weather conditions in Malta had been interpreted arbitrarily by the trial judges and that the weather conditions described by Mr Gauci were much more compatible with the weather report of the meteorological service for 23 November 1988 than with that for 7 December.

"To the undersigned it is obvious that the evidence was 'weighted' in a deliberate manner so as to be compatible with the date of the appellant’s stay in Malta. The judges as well as the appeal judges arbitrarily excluded consideration of the fact that 7 December was a day before a high Roman-Catholic holiday (which has particular importance in a Catholic country such as Malta) and that the witness would have remembered the fact that a Libyan had bought clothes on the evening before such a holiday (on which the shop was closed).

"Put in the context of the evidence available and the circumstances in Malta at the respective period of time, the probability of 23 November 1988 as the date of the purchase of the clothes is much higher than that of 7 December 1988, when the appellant was in Malta.”

Friday, 29 June 2018

The American people "have a right to the truth"

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Caroline Glick published today on the website of The Jerusalem Post:]

... in 1992 and 1993, the UN Security Council passed harsh economic sanctions against Libya to force then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to extradite two Libyan nationals suspected of carrying out the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988 that killed 270 people. Due to the sanctions, in 1998, the Libyan government extradited the suspects to Britain for trial. Gaddafi later apologized for the bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims. [RB: There was no apology. What there was, was an acceptance by Libya of "responsibility for the actions of its officials".]

The Lockerbie model can be applied to the AMIA bombing as well. Security Council action against Iranian leaders can massively increase their international isolation. Depending on the structure and target of the sanctions, Iranian citizens can be subjected to significant restrictions on international travel and Iranian diplomatic missions can be shut down. The more powerful the sanctions, the more effective they will be in both deterring foreign governments from cooperating with the regime and causing Iranian nationals to be disgusted with the regime.

This brings us to the Lockerbie bombing itself. [Argentinian prosecutor Alberto] Nisman’s findings [regarding the AMIA bombing] relied in large part on information presented by Iranian defector and former intelligence officer Abolghassem Mesbahi who served in Germany until he defected in the 1990s. Mesbahi reported directly to then-Iranian president Rafsanjani. Four years ago, Mesbahi revealed in an Al Jazeera documentary that Iran, not Libya, was responsible for the bombing. The attack, he said, was carried out by terrorists from Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, headquartered in Damascus. Mesbahi’s allegations are substantiated by information collected by investigators at the crash site in Lockerbie and by evidence of similar bombs discovered in an apartment in Frankfurt rented by terrorists in the PFLP-GC weeks before the bombing.

Reports at the time claimed that in 1990, then-US president George H W Bush and then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher chose to ignore the leads and follow less compelling evidence pointing to Gaddafi because the US wanted then-Syrian President Hafez Assad to join the US-led Arab coalition in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The case against the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was always controversial. Megrahi went to his death in 2012 protesting his innocence. And on May 3, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission decided to review his conviction “in the interests of justice.” A review request was submitted by his widow hoping to clear his name.

Of the 270 of the victims of Flight 103, 179 were Americans – 35 were students from Syracuse University coming home for Christmas after completing a semester of study abroad in London and Florence. It goes without saying that if Iran was responsible for their murder, the American people, and their families, have a right to the truth. Following the information presented by Mesbahi, and the information already gathered by FBI investigators at the time of the bombing, the US should open a new investigation of alleged Iranian responsibility for the attack. The investigation should be public, and the names of Iranian officials suspected of involvement in the attack should be widely publicized.

Similar actions should be taken by other governments whose citizens have been murdered by Iran in acts of international terrorism.

The deeper the regime is implicated in acts of mass murder, the less able its leaders will be to justify their continued grip on power. The more Khamenei’s personal role in recognized worldwide, the less capable he will be to wield power and command obedience. Branded as murderers at home and abroad, Khamenei and his henchmen will find it harder and harder to suppress demonstrators demanding that they end their sponsorship of Syria’s genocidal dictator Bashar Assad and the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas and surrender their power.

Monday, 18 June 2018

The case that never goes away

[What follows is the text of a talk given by Dr Morag Kerr on Saturday, 16 June 2018 at a rally at Inch Park, Edinburgh:]

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster, the case that never goes away.

I've heard people say, drop it, it's history.  But it's not much longer ago than Hillsborough, and that was only resolved to public satisfaction very recently.  And I personally have an aversion to a false narrative going down in history.  Other people feel the same way, including people personally impacted by the atrocity, and that's why we still have active campaigns.

Why is it that there's still so much concern about Lockerbie?Fundamentally, because the verdict in 2001 never made any sense.  As the court proceedings unfolded the prosecution case appeared to be falling apart.  The evidence against the accused was far far weaker than the public had been led to believe and credible alternative culprits and lines of inquiry had never been properly investigated.  The guilty verdict against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi came as a genuine shock to many informed observers, and their concerns have never been laid to rest.

Two separate but parallel campaigns have been going on for the last few years, and both are seeing significant developments unfolding.  First, there is the application by Megrahi's family for a posthumous appeal against his conviction.

This case has already had two appeals come to court.  The first appeal, the automatic one immediately after the conviction, was brought on the wrong grounds by Megrahi's inept advocate, and was dismissed essentially on a string of technicalities.  The second appeal was the result of a prolonged investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and it came to court in 2009.  But by that time Megrahi had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and was anxious to return home to his family before he died, and he formally abandoned that appeal immediately before he was granted compassionate release.

This introduced a legal controversy.  Megrahi himself and his legal team maintained that he had withdrawn the appeal to make it more likely that compassionate release would be granted.  Kenny MacAskill denied having made that a condition of granting compassionate release.  When Megrahi's family applied to the SCCRC for a third appeal, the point that had to be decided was, how many bites at the cherry is anybody allowed to have?  The appellant abandoned his appeal voluntarily, so why should another be allowed?

The SCCRC's decision on this was reported last month.  They accepted that Megrahi withdrew the appeal because he believed it would improve his chances of being allowed to go home, and that it wasn't in any way a capitulation or an admission of guilt.  They have therefore decided to carry out a full evaluation of the new application from his family.  I anticipate that this will result in a third appeal being allowed and going to court.

The second campaign is an initiative by the pressure group Justice for Megrahi, of which I'm secretary depute.  The JFM committee includes retired senior lawyers and a retired senior police officer as well as relatives of Lockerbie victims, so we have a lot of expertise to call on.  Back in 2012 when the prospects of getting a third appeal to court were looking remote, we had a look at other options to force the authorities to look again at the case.  The thing is, you can't just go to the police or the Crown Office and say, look, here's why I think you got this wrong, you must reconsider.  It doesn't work like that.  What you can do, is force the police to look at the case again by making formal allegations of criminality against other people, which they are then duty bound to investigate.

I'm not talking about allegations against alternative suspects, but against people involved in the original investigation and the trial at Camp Zeist.  We had very good reason to believe that significant shenanigans had taken place at both stages of the proceedings, and that we had sufficient evidence to compel the police to investigate this seriously.  Eventually we submitted nine separate allegations to the authorities, backed up with credible evidence in each case.  These included police misconduct, forensic fraud and/or criminal negligence, perjury, and attempts to pervert the course of justice.

Now of course talk is cheap and anyone can allege anything, but if there had been no substance to our allegations the police could have disposed of them quickly with very little trouble.  That's what they thought they were going to do, at first.  However it was eventually realised that there was serious substance to what we were saying, and in 2014 a dedicated Police Scotland investigation was set up, codenamed Operation Sandwood.  I think the fact that it has taken these detectives four years to finalise their report says a lot about how well-founded our position is, and how thorough the investigation has been.

It seems likely that the Operation Sandwood report will be submitted to the Crown Office before the SCCRC is ready to report, but I don't really know how much longer it will be for either of them.  Both reports will be confidential and will not automatically be made public, so we're going to have to do a fair bit of reading between the lines.

Although the two investigations are separate, they are essentially investigating the same thing -- the evidence in the Lockerbie case.   There's a huge amount of that, but systematic analysis boils it down to three critical points, only two of which specifically incriminate Megrahi.

The first of these is the identification evidence.  Clothes packed in the suitcase with the bomb were traced to their manufacturer, and from there to the shop where they were sold.  Amazingly the shopkeeper remembered selling more than one of these items to a customer, and he had some recollection of what that man looked like.  The prosecution alleged that it was Megrahi who had bought these clothes.

The first SCCRC report detailed six grounds on which the commission believed it was possible that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and all of these related to the clothes purchase.  It seems to me inevitable that the new SCCRC investigation will have to allow a new appeal on these grounds if nothing else.  However, we hardly need to wait for the SCCRC on that one.  Kenny MacAskill has already, belatedly, conceded the point.  In his recent book and again in press articles, he agrees that Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes.

In fact that's all it should take to overturn the conviction entirely.  If he didn't buy the clothes the case against him falls apart in logic.  However, Kenny doesn't see it that way, and pins his continued assertion that Megrahi was involved in the bombing on the second main point which appears to incriminate him, the fact that he was present at the airport when the bomb was smuggled on board the plane.  This also seems to be the fall-back position of the Crown Office.  Well, maybe someone else bought the clothes, but Megrahi was there when the crime took place and he was a Libyan security agent so go figure.

That aspect of the case is my own personal speciality.  Was Megrahi present at the scene of the crime?  There's no doubt he was at the airport in Malta that morning, catching a short-hop flight back to Tripoli after an overnight business trip to Malta.  The question is, was that actually the scene of the crime?  There was no evidence at all that security at Malta airport was breached that morning, no evidence that an illicit, unaccompanied suitcase was smuggled on to the flight to Frankfurt, and considerable evidence that no such thing actually happened.  Exactly how the prosecution managed to persuade the judges that it had happened is one of the enduring conundrums of the Lockerbie saga.

The Crown case depends absolutely on their preferred modus operandi, the story of the suitcase that was smuggled on to an aircraft in the morning on Malta, was transferred automatically through the baggage transfer system at Frankfurt without anyone realising that there was no passenger attached to it, and was then in due course transferred to the transatlantic airliner Maid of the Seas at Heathrow.  It was the transatlantic leg that blew up over Lockerbie.

However, as I said, there's no evidence at all of that suitcase being present at Malta airport, and the evidence from Frankfurt that was used to assert that it must have been there is tenuous beyond belief.  It's only when you look at the evidence from Heathrow itself that things get a lot clearer.  To cut a long story short, there is clear and incontrovertible evidence that the bomb suitcase was already in the baggage container at Heathrow a full hour before the connecting flight from Frankfurt landed.  This evidence was available to the investigation at an early stage, but it appears the investigating officers simply didn't want to know.  The amount of effort expended in ignoring that suitcase is quite remarkable.

But once that is accepted, Megrahi really is exonerated.  This smear of "well maybe he didn't buy the clothes but he was there when the bomb was smuggled on board the plane so obviously he was involved" simply doesn't stand up.  He was 1,500 miles away at the time -- the distance from London to Tripoli.

The Crown Office case simply collapses.  It's not a situation where the crime has been more or less solved but there just isn't enough admissible evidence to get a conviction to stick, the Lockerbie investigation was up a gum tree almost from the beginning. Despite clear and compelling evidence that Heathrow was the scene of the crime, the police chased a red herring down a blind alley to Malta, and refused to think again even when prolonged investigation there turned up no sign of the bomb.

This admission would be hugely embarrassing for the legal establishment.  Millions of pounds spent on an investigation that was investigating the wrong airports.  An entire country ruined by punitive sanctions imposed on the assumption that its nationals were guilty of the atrocity.  Millions more spent on that three-ring-circus of a trial.

So I think we can anticipate some pretty strenuous resistance to this finding.  I expect the SCCRC to be pressurised to confine their investigation to the original six grounds of appeal, which were all about the clothes purchase, and not to extend their remit to the route of the bomb suitcase or indeed to the third point of contention, the identity of the fragment of printed circuit board that was alleged to have been part of the bomb's timing mechanism.

I also expect the Crown Office to try to bury the Sandwood report into our allegations of criminality.  There's an unavoidable weakness there.  The stratagem that we had to use was to accuse individuals of criminal offences in the course of these matters being wrongly investigated and wrongly presented to the court.  However, even if Operation Sandwood agrees with us on all three main headings -- that Megrahi was not the man who bought the clothes, that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow not Malta, and that the fragment of circuit board was not what the prosecution said it was -- it's quite possible that no actual prosecutions will result.

The people involved are now quite elderly, in their seventies or older.  Some of them are dead.  John Orr, the first senior investigating officer assigned to the case, who was prominent in turning a blind eye to the Heathrow evidence, died about four months ago.  Even if Operation Sandwood concludes that there is credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing as opposed to blind incompetence, it's not impossible that a decision might be taken that prosecutions are not in the public interest.

So I'm somewhat prepared for the announcement that no prosecutions are to be brought as a result of the Operation Sandwood investigation.  That, in my opinion, will not be good enough.  The public paid for that investigation, and the public is entitled to know the broad outcome of its inquiry into the facts.  Does the Sandwood report accept that the witness Tony Gauci was groomed and pressurised into identifying Megrahi as the man who bought the clothes, even though he looked absolutely nothing like him?  Does it agree that the Lockerbie bomb started its journey in the late afternoon at Heathrow airport, not in the morning on Malta?  And does it agree that the scrap of printed circuit board, whatever it was, was never part of one of the timers in the batch that was sold to Libya?

We may have to wait for the third appeal coming to court to get to the bottom of all this, but these are the questions that the public, and in particular journalists, should be asking.

Now if anyone wants to hear a lot more detail about this, I will be giving a longer, illustrated talk on the evidence at the Yes Hub in a couple of weeks time, and there will be more opportunity for questions, and you won't have to stand in the rain to do it.  But if anyone has anything they want to ask now, fire away.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Lockerbie investigators 'were led by the nose to Libyan culprits'

[What follows is excerpted from an item headed Fred Burton and The Lockerbie Case posted today on Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer's Intel Today website:]

In his best-seller book Ghost[: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent (2008)], Mr Fred BurtonStratfor Vice President of Intelligence — makes a truly extraordinary statement regarding the Lockerbie Case. If true, Burton’s allegation totally destroys the credibility of the ‘official story’ as narrated by FBI Richard Marquise, who led the US side of the Lockerbie investigation. But, and this is amazing, it also gives the boot to the ‘alternative theory’ promoted by many, including former CIA officer Robert Baer.

During the Lockerbie investigation, detectives from Britain, the United States and Germany examined computer records at Frankfurt airport.

They concluded that an unaccompanied Samsonite suitcase — thought to have contained the bomb — arrived on 21 December on Air Malta Flight KM 180 before being transferred on to Flight 103.

This evidence led Britain and the US to charge two Libyan Arab Airlines employees who had worked in Malta  — Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi — with putting the suitcase on Flight KM 180.

In his best-seller book Ghost, Mr Burton — a former deputy chief of the DSS counterterrorism division — claims that the CIA told him — a few days after the bombing of Pan Am 103 — that the bomb (located in a Samsonite suitcase) had come from Malta Airport. REPEAT: “A few days after the bombing of Pan Am 103.”

The key Frankfurt document — printed by an airport employee named Bogomira Erac — was given to the German BKA in February 1989. This document was not shared with the Lockerbie investigators until the end of the summer 1989. (Marquise – SCOTBOM page 50).

So, if Mr Burton tells the truth about his CIA contact, we have a serious problem.

How on earth could the Agency have known in December 1988 about the Malta-Frankfurt route when the ‘evidence’ about it only appeared eight months later?

Burton’s extraordinary allegation would imply that the Lockerbie investigators were led by the nose to the ‘Libyan culprits’.

But this story turns into a paradox. According to former CIA Robert Baer, the Agency never believed that Libya was behind the Lockerbie bombing!

“Regarding the CIA people in Malta who knew about Giaka [the Lockerbie trial ‘star’ witness], I asked them what the fuck was going on.

And they said: ‘We took one for the team, by making up this stuff about Libya.’

That was their exact words, ‘we took one for the team’.

Meaning they knew Giaka was a fraud, a swindler”.

As I have explained in the past, I do believe that Libya was framed for the Lockerbie bombing. But the decision to frame Libya did not occur before the summer of 1989. (...)

As a matter of fact, the CIA stopped paying Giaka because he had no useful information to pass.

The SCCRC has recently accepted to review the Lockerbie case. If Mr Burton’s extraordinary allegation can be proven, then obviously, Megrahi was framed as many experts suspect. Of course, the study of the key piece of evidence (PT35b) has already demonstrated that much.

Unless you are willing to accept the concept of ‘alternative truth’, there are simply too many ‘true stories’ about Lockerbie.

As long as the ‘truth’ will be defined by the lies upon which Western Intelligence Agencies decided to agree, I will keep on writing ‘a complete fictional account’ of the Lockerbie case.

At least, my ‘fiction’ respects the laws of nature (physics, chemistry,  metallurgy …), as well as logic and good old common sense. The ‘Lockerbie legal truth’ narrative is nonsense, utter nonsense.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Lockerbie bombing TV drama 'in development'

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

A drama series about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland is in development at Channel 4, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald is in charge of the project, which was originally conceived as a film.

"We've decided to turn it into TV, as is the way of the moment," Macdonald is quoted as telling the industry journal.

Channel 4 would not confirm the project - to be written by Scottish playwright David Harrower - had been commissioned. 

The Pan Am flight from London to New York exploded 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, 38 minutes after take-off from London on 21 December 1988. (...)

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed for 27 years in 2001 after being found guilty of Britain's worst act of terrorism.

The Libyan intelligence officer died of prostate cancer in 2012 after being released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald's series will dramatise the bombing and the various conspiracy theories surrounding it.

Last year he described the Lockerbie bombing as "one of those huge events that sort of casts a shadow over Scottish life".

"It seems like it is Britain's JFK in some ways - a looming unanswered conspiracy," he told The Scotsman newspaper.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Arguments for a Lockerbie inquiry

representatives of UK Families Flight 103 had a meeting with the
Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, with a view
to pressing the case for an inquiry into Lockerbie. The Rev’d John
Mosey, a member of the group, has recently found amongst his papers
a briefing note that I wrote for the group before that meeting
containing suggestions for points that should be made to Mr MacAskill.
It reads as follows:]

1. The SCCRC findings are there. [RB: The Scottish Criminal Cases
Review Commission found in June 2007 that there were six grounds on
which Megrahi’s conviction might have amounted to a miscarriage of
justice.] They cannot simply be ignored or swept under the carpet.

2. The SCCRC is not a body composed of conspiracy theorists. Nor are
those who have, like it, questioned the justifiability of the Zeist verdict.
Apart from a number of UK relatives, they include the UN observer
Dr Hans Koechler, Kate Adie, Ian Bell, Ian Hislop, Michael Mansfield QC,
Gareth Peirce, John Pilger, Kenneth Roy, and Desmond Tutu.

3. There is widespread public concern within Scotland regarding the
Megrahi conviction. Look at the letters that have been published, and
the readers' online comments that have followed articles, in eg The
Herald, The Scotsman and Newsnet Scotland. Public confidence in the
Scottish prosecution system and the Scottish criminal justice system
has been severely dented.

4. At the very least there must be an inquiry covering the six issues on
which the SCCRC found that there might have been a miscarriage of
justice. All of the material on the basis of which that conclusion was
reached is already in the hands of the SCCRC in Scotland. There is
therefore no justification for contending that a purely Scottish inquiry
would not be meaningful, and the UK relatives may soon be compelled
to begin saying so very publicly. In respect of some of the SCCRC
evidence the previous Foreign Secretary [David Miliband] asserted
public interest immunity. If the new Foreign Secretary [William Hague]
refused to allow that material to be laid before an independent Scottish
inquiry, he would open himself to public excoriation. And even an
inquiry limited to the mass of SCCRC material in respect of which no
PII issue arises would still be valuable.

5. If, as a spokesman for the First Minister has asserted, "the Scottish
Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Megrahi"
will the Scottish Government disband the Scottish Criminal Cases Review
Commission? This expert body has stated that on six grounds there are
reasons for believing that Megrahi may have been the victim of a
miscarriage of justice. On what grounds and on the basis of what
evidence does the Scottish Government expect the people of Scotland
and elsewhere to prefer its satisfaction with the conviction over the
SCCRC's doubts? If the Scottish Government has evidence that
establishes that the SCCRC's concerns are unjustified, laying it before
an independent inquiry would be the best way of getting it before the
public at home and abroad and allaying their concerns about the safety
of the Megrahi conviction.

6. At present the SNP, unlike the Labour and Conservative parties, has
clean hands over the Megrahi conviction. But unless it moves soon, the
opprobrium over that conviction will begin to attach to the SNP as well.

7. Moreover, establishing an inquiry, as the UK relatives wish, is
morally the right thing to do. Surely the Scottish Government wishes to
occupy the moral high ground?

8. It took 19 years for Scottish politicians and the Scottish criminal
justice system to rectify the miscarriage of justice suffered by Oscar
Slater. Does the Scottish Government really want to break that dismal
record in relation to the Megrahi case?

9. Until the Megrahi conviction is removed from the picture, it can be
used -- and is being used -- by governments and politicians as a reason
for denying relatives an independent inquiry into the whole Pan Am 103
affair. By establishing an inquiry covering the SCCRC concerns only, the
Scottish Government would deprive the UK Government of this very
convenient excuse.

10. It was Voltaire who said that the best is the enemy of the good. Of
course an inquiry convened under international auspices, or an inquiry
convened by the UK Government which has foreign relations powers,
would be better than one which would of necessity be limited to such
aspects of Lockerbie -- eg the police investigation, the prosecution, the
trial, the conviction, the SCCRC investigation and findings, the
applications for prisoner transfer and compassionate release -- as are
within the competence of the Scottish Government. But the argument
that a good and useful thing should not be done because somebody
else could, if so minded, do a better and more useful thing is always
a bad argument. It is sad to see the Scottish Government resorting to it.

11. There are skeletons in the cupboard of Scottish and UK Labour
Governments in relation to the Lockerbie case. If the Scottish
Government falls in May 2011 into the hands of the Labour Party,
there is no prospect whatsoever of a serious investigation. They have
too much to hide. Our only hope is for the SNP Government to do the
right thing.