Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Explain guilty verdict at Lockerbie trial

[This is the headline over a letter by Rev Dr John Cameron published today on the website of The Courier and Advertiser. It reads as follows:]

The guilty verdict issued on January 31 2001 by the three Scottish judges – Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and Maclean – at the conclusion of the Pan Am 103 trial was unsound by all normal legal criteria. After 84 days of controversy, questionable evidence as well as weeks of adjournments, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was found guilty of the atrocity while his sole alleged accomplice, Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted on all charges.

In their 82-page verdict, the three law lords – who had acted not only as judge and jury but all too often as prosecutor – exposed the weakness of the prosecution case and how they ignored a mass of contradictory forensic and circumstantial evidence when it suited them to bring a guilty verdict against Megrahi. Significantly they rejected out of hand the defence argument that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) was responsible.

Initial police investigations suspected it was a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian plane with 290 civilians on board by the US warship Vincennes six months before Lockerbie. There was a money trail between Iran and the Syrian-backed PFLP-GC however, in 1990, then-US president George H Bush placed huge pressure on Margaret Thatcher to drop this line of inquiry.

Mrs Thatcher later refused a public inquiry on the grounds that it was against the “national interest”.

The question remains as to why there was such a discrepancy between the standards applied to defence arguments implicating Iran, Syria et al and those employed by the prosecution against the two Libyans. The latter’s case was just as circumstantial and unconvincing, a fact acknowledged in part by the acquittal of Fhimah.

I suspect an explanation as to why a guilty verdict was delivered lies far in the future and should be sought in the political rather than the judicial arena.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Divergent views on Colin Boyd as Lord Advocate

[The following are excerpts from a report published today in The Herald:]

Jack McConnell tactlessly told his elected colleagues in the Scottish cabinet that he valued the advice of an unelected minister more than theirs.

The then Labour First Minister somewhat ungraciously rated the input from the Lord Advocate, Lord Boyd, above that of his fellow politicians.

The admission came at the Scottish cabinet of October 4, 2006, when Lord Boyd announced he was standing down after six years in post as “the longest serving Lord Advocate for more than a century”.

He said that the trial of the Lockerbie bombing suspects in 2000 and 2001 at the special court in the Netherlands had been a major achievement for the Scottish justice system.

Lord Boyd led the prosecution of the two Libyans accused of the 1988 atrocity. (...)

Mr McConnelll said it was “impossible to overstate the importance” of Lord Boyd’s role in the Lockerbie trial and conviction, and also saluted his court reforms.

“There was no one whose judgment as a Cabinet colleague he had valued more.”

[RB: Lockerbie campaigners did not share Jack McConnell's views about Colin Boyd. Here are some comments published on the occasion of his resignation:]

"Colin Boyd tried to balance what was known to his prosecution team of the famous ‘CIA telegrams’ in the court at Zeist, in the knowledge that the ‘star’ prosecution witness (Giaca) was also a worthless CIA quisling. His struggles to meet his clear duty to truth and justice and fair dealing with the court and the defence, made a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look cool and sagacious. Meantime his predecessor in office had made the wise choice of lolloping off to the safety of a secure burrow in the nick of time." Dr Jim Swire

"I believe that history will view Colin Boyd’s reign as Lord Advocate as a shameful period where the independence of the Lord Advocate was sacrificed to the will of his political masters. 

"Two cases dominated his tenure – the Lockerbie Bombing and the Shirley McKie case. In both cases he stands accused of weakness and vacillation in the face of political pressure and a complete failure to act as, ‘the watchdog for justice’ – the role assigned to him by Lord McCluskey. 

"His dramatic overnight resignation in October 2006 has been seen by some as the captain jumping ship to save his skin. I hope that this accusation will be thoroughly tested during the planned judicial enquiry into my daughter’s case and in any future enquiry into the Lockerbie disaster." Iain A J McKie

[RB: Further, largely critical, accounts of Colin Boyd's performance in the Lockerbie case can be found herehere, and here.]

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Areas of criminality in the Lockerbie disaster

[I am indebted to the Rev'd John Mosey for allowing me to post these reflections prompted by the thirty-third anniversary of the death of his daughter in the Lockerbie tragedy:]

Having just passed the thirty third anniversary of the murder of our nineteen year old daughter, Helga, when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb, I cannot but help consider the complex and muddy pond of events which have dominated such a large portion of our lives.

Along with Dr Jim Swire, I was the only victim’s relative who attended the whole of the trial and both of the appeals. I also attended numerous debates at the Scottish parliament and was partly responsible for presenting the case to the SCCRC. Looking back, it seems clear to me that three serious crimes were committed and possibly several subsidiary criminal acts. The only one that has been dealt with is the making and planting of the bomb which destroyed PA 103 with 270 people on board for which the Libyan, Megrahi, was charged and found, wrongly in the opinion of many, guilty.

As I sat in that court in Holland it became quite clear that two other equally, if not morally worse, serious crimes had been committed for which the perpetrators had not been arraigned. Subsequent revelations and discoveries have massively strengthened that opinion.

The first of the two became clear very early on. Our UK government and the agencies which are set up for the protection of the people had a huge amount of information telling them clearly that this attack was going to happen in the very near future. This included phone calls, intelligence, information from the German government and police (including a photograph). However, they did neither of the two things which they were obliged to do. They made no serious attempt to prevent it or to warn the people (except, perhaps, Pik Botha’s South African delegation?). This amounted to either gross negligence or evil complicity and, certainly, a dereliction of duty. In my opinion they are just as guilty of my daughter’s murder as the bombers; and they were supposed to be on my side!

The second involves the same body, our UK government. By their and the US government’s interference in the availability of evidence in the trial and the appeals they became, in my untutored opinion, guilty of perverting the course of justice. Again, this crime showed itself during the trial but has been more clearly defined by subsequent events. Important documents which could have thrown enormous light on the case were withheld; important information was redacted and the appeals were so set up that they were banned from considering vital new evidence because it had not been led in the trial: the break-in at Heathrow on the night before, the make-up of the timer fragment, the possible bribery of witnesses for example. For this huge crime no-one has been charged.

All of this furtiveness and secrecy clearly indicates that these people have something very dodgy that they wish to hide. This world’s courts may yield to their influences but there is coming a higher court and the truth will be out.

Summary  There are a number of aspects of the “Lockerbie Disaster” which could be regarded as containing, at the very least, morally criminal elements which ought to be looked into.

1. - The “who, how and why’s” of the placing of the bomb on the aircraft.

2. - The total lack of serious security provided by Pan Am.

3. - The failure of the political and intelligence people to heed the many warnings and protect the public. Either gross negligence or complicity.

4. - The decisions to warn some but not others. (South African delegation?)

5. - The switching of blame from Iran/PFLP-GC to Libya.

6. - The constant refusal by the political and legal people to allow any transparency and to manipulate the Scottish legal system to attain this end sometimes by banning certain documents and other evidence.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

RIP Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[I am saddened to learn of the death today at the age of 90 of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who was a convinced and long-time supporter of the Justice for Megrahi campaign. What follows is an article posted today on Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph's Lockerbie Truth website:]

Today's sad news about the death of former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu holds a feature common to much of the media in the UK and USA. 

The selective amnesia of certain media editors is clear: Effusively praise those issues in which Tutu agrees with your agenda, and ignore those in which he opposes.

And so it is, once again, with the campaign for an inquiry into the factors surrounding the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and subsequent trial.

On the 15th March 2015 we reported that a petition had been submitted to the Scottish Parliament by the Justice for Megrahi group of bereaved relatives. That petition was rapidly and publicly supported by prominent personalities around the world. The petition, even after six years, still runs current on the Scottish Parliament's agenda.


Among those signing in support of the petition was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He proved to be a strong supporter of the imprisoned Baset al-Megrahi and a South African colleague Nelson Mandela.  Mandela's support for al-Megrahi, too, remains ignored by the main British and US media. 

On 15th March 2015 we published the following post: [Names in alphabetical order].

Campaign for the acquittal of Baset Al-Megrahi and an official inquiry into Lockerbie


A petition requesting that the Scottish authorities undertake a comprehensive inquiry into Lockerbie is supported and signed by the following world renowned personalities. All support the campaign for acquittal of Baset Al-Megrahi, who was in 2000 convicted for the murder of 270 people on Pan Am 103.


Kate Adie was chief news correspondent for the BBC, covering several war zones 
on risky assignments. Currently hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme 
From Our Own Correspondent.


Professor Noam Chomsky has spent most of his career at the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently Professor Emeritus, 
and has authored over 100 books. In a 2005 poll was voted 
the "world's top public intellectual".





Tam Dalyell, former Member of British Parliament and Father of the House. 
An eminent speaker who throughout his career refused to be prevented 
from speaking the truth to powerful administrations.

 


Christine Grahame MSP, determined advocate of the Lockerbie campaign.


Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine.

Father Pat Keegans, Lockerbie Catholic parish priest at the time of the tragedy. 

 Mr Andrew Killgore, former US Ambassador to Qatar. Founder of Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs.




John Pilger, former war correspondent, now a campaigning journalist and film maker. 



Dr Jim Swire.












Sir Teddy Taylor, British Conservative Party politician, MP from 1964 to 1979. 



Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop of South Africa. 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.



Mr Terry Waite. Former envoy for the church of England, held captive from 1987 to 1991




THE FULL LIST OF SIGNATORIES
Ms Kate Adie (Former Chief News Correspondent for BBC News).
Mr John Ashton (Author of ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ and co-author of ‘Cover Up of Convenience’).
Mr David Benson (Actor/author of the play ‘Lockerbie: Unfinished Business’).
Mrs Jean Berkley (Mother of Alistair Berkley: victim of Pan Am 103).
Mr Peter Biddulph (Lockerbie tragedy researcher).
Mr Benedict Birnberg (Retired senior partner of Birnberg Peirce & Partners).
Professor Robert Black QC (‘Architect’ of the Kamp van Zeist Trial).
Mr Paul Bull (Close friend of Bill Cadman: killed on Pan Am 103).
Professor Noam Chomsky (Human rights, social and political commentator).
Mr Tam Dalyell (UK MP: 1962-2005. Father of the House: 2001-2005).
Mr Ian Ferguson (Co-author of ‘Cover Up of Convenience’).
Dr David Fieldhouse (Police surgeon present at the Pan Am 103 crash site).
Mr Robert Forrester (Secretary of Justice for Megrahi).
Ms Christine Grahame MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament).
Mr Ian Hamilton QC (Advocate, author and former university rector).
Mr Ian Hislop (Editor of ‘Private Eye’).
Fr Pat Keegans (Lockerbie parish priest on 21st December 1988).
Ms A L Kennedy (Author).
Dr Morag Kerr (Secretary Depute of Justice for Megrahi).
Mr Andrew Killgore (Former US Ambassador to Qatar).
Mr Moses Kungu (Lockerbie councillor on the 21st of December 1988).
Mr Adam Larson (Editor and proprietor of ‘The Lockerbie Divide’).
Mr Aonghas MacNeacail (Poet and journalist).
Mr Eddie McDaid (Lockerbie commentator).
Mr Rik McHarg (Communications hub coordinator: Lockerbie crash sites).
Mr Iain McKie (Retired Superintendent of Police).
Mr Marcello Mega (Journalist covering the Lockerbie incident).
Ms Heather Mills (Reporter for ‘Private Eye’).
Rev’d John F Mosey (Father of Helga Mosey: victim of Pan Am 103).
Mr Len Murray (Retired solicitor).
Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church).
Mr Denis Phipps (Aviation security expert).
Mr John Pilger (Campaigning human rights journalist).
Mr Steven Raeburn (Editor of ‘The Firm’).
Dr Tessa Ransford OBE  (Poetry Practitioner and Adviser).
Mr James Robertson (Author).
Mr Kenneth Roy (Editor of ‘The Scottish Review’).
Dr David Stevenson (Retired medical specialist and Lockerbie commentator).
Dr Jim Swire (Father of Flora Swire: victim of Pan Am 103).
Sir Teddy Taylor (UK MP: 1964-2005. Former Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland).
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize Winner).
Mr Terry Waite CBE (Former envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury and hostage negotiator).


Friday, 24 December 2021

Peculiar reluctance to examine the whole of the available evidence

[Here are two pieces written by Dr Jim Swire to mark the thirty-third anniversary of the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie:]

Those of us who lost family members in the Pan Am 103 disaster of 21st December 1988 just want to know the truth about why the disaster happened, why our innocent families had to die, why it was not prevented and who was responsible.

33 years later we still need those answers and believe that grievous mistakes were made both before and after the blow fell. We are therefore intensely grateful to those who, like some of us, are incredulous about the conviction of a man on such evidence and prepared still to seek the truth

The extraordinary tale of a bomb allegedly transferred from the hand of the Libyan, the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in Malta depended, at his trial in Zeist, upon the evidence of a shopkeeper Toni Gauci, who thought Megrahi “looked a lot like” the man who had bought some key clothing from his shop.

Not only is it now known that Gauci was paid about $2,000,000 for giving evidence that supported the conviction of Megrahi, but from police evidence it is now known that Gauci knew before the trial had even started that serious money would be on offer.

The inducement to give evidence by offering a witness wealth beyond his dreams, if that evidence would support a conviction, sounds to me like bribery or at least an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

Of course to openly accuse the US Department of Justice of such criminal behaviour was never going to add muscle to the US/UK ‘special relationship’. But it was the UN’s special observer at the Zeist trial, professor Hans Köchler of the IPO in Vienna who said and wrote that the proceedings there did not in his view represent a fair judicial process.

We believe that Scottish justice failed even to enforce its own rules at Zeist and that the massaging of the subsequent appeals has been a deep scandal which has allowed crucial defects, particularly in some of the forensic evidence, to remain inadequately examined in any court of law.

This dreadful business requires a full enquiry chaired and defined now by those unafraid of the power wielded by those states still awed by the historic rhetoric of the iron lady and her successors in the Anglo Saxon world.

        .....

[RB: An edited version of this second item has been published today on the website of The Herald.]

Recent evidence quoted in the press reveals that both the UK and US legal authorities were deeply nervous about the quality of the evidence of identification concerning the late Mr Abdelbaset al-Megrahi provided by Mr Tony Gauci the Maltese shopkeeper.

The Scottish police work in Malta leading to this evidence was obtained under the leadership of Harry Bell.

Harry Bell had been keeping a contemporaneous diary, which was irregular.

Giving evidence under oath in the Zeist court Mr Bell perfectly honestly revealed the existence of his diary which was at home in Glasgow.

To the astonishment of some relatives, present in that Zeist court, Mr Bell was not told to go home and get it.

Later that diary was made public.

It appears that Mr Bell knew that an offer of $10,000 ‘for his immediate needs’ was available for Mr Gauci from US Rewards for Justice [sic] funds with essentially unlimited rewards to follow. Mr Gauci is now known to have received $2,000,000.

The diary also reveals that Mr Tony Gauci and his brother were aware of and deeply interested in, the immense financial incentives. 

Wouldn’t you, dear reader, also have been?

Yet Mr Tony Gauci’s was the only supposedly genuine identification of Mr Megrahi as being involved, through the latter’s alleged buying of clothes from Gauci's shop on a certain date. 

Having failed to explore the contents of Mr Bell’s diary there in court, there seemed to some of us to be a peculiar reluctance on the part of the court to examine the whole of the available evidence. To us laymen it was almost as though Mr Megrahi’s guilt rather than innocence was a given. 

I can only agree with Professor Robert Black QC’s comment: “It is now more obvious than ever that the Megrahi conviction is built on sand. An independent inquiry should be instituted into the case by the Scottish government, the UK government or both.” 

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Doubts over witness led to fears Lockerbie trial would collapse

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

Prosecutors in Edinburgh and Washington feared the case against the Lockerbie bomber would collapse if their concerns over the integrity of the star witness were made public, declassified documents have revealed.

The papers show that senior Scottish and US officials privately raised doubts over his reliability and are set to trigger fresh claims of a miscarriage of justice.

Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was sentenced to 27 years by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands after being found guilty of masterminding the 1988 atrocity in which 270 people were killed.

The testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed he sold clothing — believed to have been wrapped around the bomb — to a man resembling al-Megrahi, proved pivotal to securing his conviction in 2001. However, concerns were raised about the “soundness of Gauci’s identification” and the UK and US feared the case would founder if this became known.

The new information, disclosed last night, on the 33rd anniversary of the terrorist attack, has renewed calls for an appeal against al-Megrahi’s conviction.

Hans Koechler, who served as the UN’s independent observer at his trial, said: “I am even more convinced that a miscarriage of justice occurred.”

A report of a meeting between Alan Rodger, then Scotland’s lord advocate, and Robert Mueller, US assistant attorney-general, in Washington in 1992, states: “If it became known we or the US were sending people to check on the soundness of Gauci’s identification that would signal that we did not have a case on which we could confidently go to trial. The US Department of Justice maintained that they could not go to trial on the present identification.”

Gauci was the sole witness to link al-Megrahi directly to the bombing of Pan Am 103, over the town of Lockerbie.

In 2000 he told a panel of judges that al-Megrahi “resembled a lot” a man who bought clothes from his shop. But in 1992 a letter from the Crown Office to Mueller raised doubt. “Further inquiries concerning the identification made by the shopkeeper Gauci could be seized upon by those in Malta, Libya and elsewhere hostile to the conclusions of the investigation.” In 2007 it emerged that the US had paid $2 million to Gauci.

Robert Black, professor emeritus of Scots Law at Edinburgh University, who masterminded the trial, said: “It is now more obvious than ever that the Megrahi conviction is built on sand. An independent inquiry should be instituted into the case by the Scottish government, the UK government or both.”

The Crown Office said it would be inappropriate to comment further while leave to appeal (by al-Megrahi’s son Ali) is being considered by the UK Supreme Court. Police Scotland have confirmed that their investigation remains live. (...)

The confidential documents also show that British officials threatened to veto Malta’s application to join the EU if they did not back their demands over the Lockerbie bombing.

The UK and US insisted that the bomb which exploded over Scotland 33 years ago was loaded on to Air Malta flight KM-180, which left the island for Frankfurt on December 21. They contended it was then taken to London and transferred to Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives. The Maltese authorities strongly disputed this version of events, insisting it was technically impossible.

Their stance provoked considerable anxiety. A March 1992 memo to the Foreign Office from diplomatic staff in New York states: “We understand that the Maltese government is considering stating publicly that the allegation that the bomb was planted in Malta was not proven and instructed their ambassador to the UN to explain this to non-aligned members of the Security Council. We hope the Maltese government will think carefully on this and reconsider its position. The US embassy here have told us that their embassy in Valletta has been instructed to take action at the highest level.”

The Maltese were then told the UK would not support their attempt to join the European Community (EC), the precursor to the EU. (...)

The following month British officials noted with satisfaction: “Malta will now comply with mandatory sanctions, while not agreeing with them.”

Guido de Marco, Malta’s justice minister at the time of the bombing, wrote in 2010 shortly before his death that there had been “so much room for error” in the British version of events.

Officials ordered to monitor ‘troublesome’ relatives of victims

An independent investigation into the Lockerbie atrocity launched by bereaved family members posed “great potential for trouble” and should be carefully monitored, government officials were told. (...)

In 2018 relatives of the Lockerbie bomb victims told The Times they had been repeatedly bugged by the security services after official documents suggested that they needed “careful watching”.

The Rev John Mosey, a church minister who lost his teenage daughter, Helga, in the bombing, said that after speaking publicly his phone calls were often disrupted and documents relating to the bombing had gone missing from his computer.

Jim Swire, a GP who became the public face of the campaign to secure an independent inquiry into the atrocity, reported similar intrusions and deliberately included false information in private correspondence, only for it to appear in the press days later.

Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said: “I cannot believe that a supposedly decent country could behave in such a way towards grieving people whose only crime was to seek the truth.”

[RB: It is no surprise that those at the top of the Lockerbie prosecution team in both Scotland and the United States were gravely concerned about the quality of the evidence that Tony Gauci would give at Camp Zeist. What is surprising is that the prosecution was prepared to proceed to trial in reliance on that evidence, and that the judges at the trial found that Gauci's evidence amounted to an identification of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and that it was credible and reliable. Had they not done so, there was insufficient evidence in law for Megrahi to be convicted. 

The most rigorous analysis of Gauci's statements before and during the trial has been provided by Dr Kevin Bannon: https://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-centrepiece-of-case-against-megrahi.html. Here is part of what he found:

"The development of Tony Gauci’s statements from his first police interviews in September 1989 through to his testimony in court, reveal his recollections systematically developing in favour of the Crown narrative, in increasing contradiction of all his freshest recollections.

"... it is not merely the case (as has often been stated) that Gauci’s evidence was contradictory, but that in every aspect, it changed in favour of the Crown narrative, in some instances quite drastically. Gauci’s original, freshest recollections about the appearance of the Libyan purchaser and the time of his visit, would have, and should have, categorically eliminated al-Megrahi from suspicion.

"Gauci’s testimony, the centrepiece of the case against al-Megrahi and, by implication, the principal Libyan connection to the crime, simply has no integrity whatsoever - nevertheless he was given a substantial financial reward for his latter evidence. These discrepancies render the entire case against al-Megrahi invalid."

Had the newly released documents been available before the most recent appeal, it is possible that the Megrahi family's lawyers could have made use of them in their case. But I see no realistic prospect of a further posthumous appeal. It is now more than ever obvious that the Megrahi conviction is built on sand. What should now happen is that an independent inquiry should be instituted into the Lockerbie case by the Scottish Government, the UK Government or both in tandem. There is much evidence now available that has not been considered in any of the Scottish Lockerbie appeals, in part because of the highly restrictive rules governing what material can be made use of in Scottish criminal appeals. Only with an independent inquiry is there a possibility that the false narrative supported by the shameful conviction of Megrahi can be rectified.]

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Appallingly wrong

[Today marks the thirty-third anniversary of the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.

The following are excerpts from an article by Tommy Sheridan that was published on this date in 2018 on the website of Sputnik News:]

Now 82 years of age Jim Swire continues to fight for truth and justice in relation to Lockerbie. Like anyone with a morsel of brain matter in between their ears he knows that the trial of Abdelbaset al Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah [Fhima] in a makeshift Scottish Court convened in the Netherlands in late 2000 that led to the conviction of Megrahi in January 2001 was not just a farce but a concerted and contrived cover-up involving the British and American governments at the highest levels.

The pre-trial preparations, live trial obfuscations and subsequent conviction of Megrahi represent the darkest day in Scottish legal history and process. The collusion of some of the most senior judges in Scotland in what was no more than a pantomime of justice is shocking and although criminal conduct has been surprisingly ruled out by a lengthy police investigation, Operation Sandwood, professional negligence charges should still be brought against the three senior judges who jointly prosecuted the case against the two accused and determined their guilt or innocence. The role normally reserved for a jury of peers in murder trials was subsumed by three judges whose decision to find Megrahi guilty on the basis of the evidence presented was both bizarre and troubling.

The Justice For Megrahi (JFM) Campaign was formed after he was convicted of 270 counts of murder on 31st January 2001 and involves victims’ families, former and current legal practitioners and others concerned with opposing miscarriages of justice. One of its members, Len Murray a retired Scottish criminal court solicitor, said of the conviction of Megrahi: “any notion that the case against Megrahi was "overwhelming", "could not be further from the truth"… and "It is worth bearing in mind that while the three [Scottish] judges [who tried the case] were experienced judges, judges in our High Court have never ever had to determine guilt or innocence — that's always left to the jury," he added. "But, when for the first time in modern legal history, it's left to three judges, they get it appallingly wrong."  

“Appallingly wrong”. That is the verdict of just about anyone who followed the case in 2000/01. Megrahi was subsequently released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 as he had contracted terminal cancer and eventually died of his cancer in 2012 in Libya. He was appealing his conviction prior to compassionate release but was advised to drop the appeal to help facilitate his return to Libya. Fortunately, a posthumous appeal is still being pursued via the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, a body specifically established to examine potential miscarriages of justice and make recommendations for conviction appeals to be heard based on examination of the trial evidence, new evidence and/or legal process failings. They are currently considering the case and will hopefully recommend Megrahi’s conviction is appealed against in Scotland’s’ Criminal Court of Appeal next year. [RB: The SCCRC did recommend a further appeal, but the appeal was dismissed by the High Court of Justiciary.]

It is a fact of life that atrocities lend themselves to miscarriages of justice. The more grotesque the crime the greater the clamour for some sort of justice and corners in investigations will be cut, proper legal processes warped and even evidence concocted or withheld to secure convictions. Think of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven all prime examples of unsafe convictions delivered on the back of false testimonies, fabricated evidence, withheld evidence and warped police investigations and judicial failures. In the pursuit of those guilty of heinous crimes often innocent citizens can find themselves framed and ruined. 

Do yourself favour over the next couple of weeks. Take a rest from festive films and watch Jim Sheridan’s In The Name of the Father. It is based on the autobiography of Gerry Conlon, Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and is a devastating condemnation of the British justice system. If you watch it and are not enraged and driven to tears of anger at the injustice it portrays you are bereft of humanity.

The arrest, trial and conviction of Abdelbaset al Megrahi for the murder of 270 people above and in Lockerbie 30 years ago today is also a travesty of justice. Don’t take my word for it. Consult the evidence painstakingly sought, found, uncovered and presented by the likes of the outstanding investigative journalist, the late Paul Foot, the bastion of legal integrity in Scotland, Professor Robert Black QC, the incredible and inspiring Jim Swire, the courageous and consistent English solicitor Gareth Peirce, who was also integrally involved in the Guildford Four case, and the various campaigns which have done so much to expose this miscarriage of justice and many more like the Scottish Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (SACC).

I dedicate this column to the victims of Lockerbie 21st December 1988 and the truth and justice campaigners like Jim Swire who have managed to deal with the unbearable pain and suffering associated with the loss of a child in such tragic circumstances but still pursue the truth on behalf of the whole of society. He will not rest until the truth about Lockerbie is uncovered and he and all affected by the horror that visited Scotland 30 years ago deserve those answers and that truth to be revealed. As for the rest of us let us reflect today and tonight just how lucky we are to still be able to hug our children and loved ones and tell them how much we love them.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

Hard to have confidence in the integrity of our law

[What follows is a review of Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph's The Lockerbie Bombing which Press Reader attributes to The Scotsman of 11 December 2021. A version of this review (by Allan Massiefirst appeared in The Scotsman on 13 May 2021.] 

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 [Peter] 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.

The investigation was a tortuous business, hampered, and indeed obstructed, by the tangled web and conflicting interests of the secret services. It was almost by chance that the criminal investigation became the responsibility of the Scottish Police and the Crown Office. If the bomb had exploded ten or 20 minutes later there would have been no dead in Lockerbie and no crime scene in Scotland.

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 in 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 Swire’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. 

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Outrage over her Lockerbie comment puts Libya's foreign minister on the spot

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri published today on the website of Middle East Monitor (MEMO). It reads in part:]

Libya's much-hailed first female Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush, has been suspended by the country's Presidential Council. The decision on 6 November concluded that the minister had been "acting unilaterally and without consultation" with the council as required by the political agreement of 9 November 2020 that divided authority between the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Council. The suspension decree also said that Mangoush is to be investigated by two experts who will submit their findings to the council within the next two weeks.

However, the real reason for the suspension and investigation is a comment in her interview with the BBC. The minister said that her government is "open" to the possibility of extraditing a Libyan citizen wanted by the United States in connection with the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. On the 32nd anniversary of the bombing on 21 December last year, the then US Attorney General William Barr accused a former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammed Masud, of involvement in the atrocity. Despite what Mangoush told the BBC, though, it is unlikely that Masud will be extradited.

Two hundred and seventy people, mostly US citizens, were killed on that fateful night, including 11 people on the ground, when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. A Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi, was convicted of the atrocity and sentenced to life imprisonment in a 2001 trial. He was released in 2009 for health reasons — he was suffering from prostate cancer — and died in his Tripoli home in 2012.

Al-Megrahi protested his innocence to the end and his family launched a posthumous appeal to clear his name. The third appeal is now being considered by the UK Supreme Court in London after it was rejected by Scotland's Court of Appeal in January.

His Glasgow-based lawyer, Aamer Anwar, was outraged by Mangoush's comments. In a statement shared with MEMO he wrote, "Shame on you [Najla Mangoush] for broadcasting to the world, the words 'positive outcomes' are coming." When asked about the possibility of extraditing Masud to the US the minster had used that phrase, implying that the issue is being discussed among ministers and a decision to collaborate with the US has already been made.

Anwar went on to question her motives by asking, "What reward are you expecting from the United States, a country that has bombed, humiliated and sanctioned your people?" He accused the minister of breaking Libyan law, which bans the extradition of Libyan citizens to be tried abroad.

Faced with a wave of public outrage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation denied on 7 November what was attributed to the minister in the BBC interview. It insisted that Mangoush "never mentioned" Masud. It's true that she did not refer to him by name, but the context of the interview clearly refers to him. The BBC released a clip of the interview in which Mangoush answered a question about extraditing Masud to the US and she said: "I don't know but I think we, as a government, are very open in terms of collaboration in this matter."

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh came out quickly in her support, and said that the Presidential Council does not have the authority to suspend the foreign minister. Citing the political agreement that paved the way for the current government and council to share power, Dbeibeh said that the latter "has limited power" which does not include appointing or suspending ministers.

A top Libyan Supreme Court judge, Ali Al-Zuraiqi, confirmed in a televised interview said it is "illegal to extradite a Libyan citizen" to be tried in another country. He added that such a matter is in any case "for the judiciary in Libya to decide."

Libyan commentators overwhelmingly rejected Mangoush's statement, accusing her of reopening the Lockerbie case which, many say, has long since been closed. Indeed, in 2008 the US and Libya signed what is known as a Claims Settlement Agreement that ended all claims in connection, not only with the Lockerbie bombing, but also many others that involve violence and acts of terror committed before 2006.

Former Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala was asked about his successor's comments. "The Lockerbie case was completely closed," he pointed out, "[and] its revival opens hell's door" to Libya, particularly, in terms of financial compensation for the victims' families. In the 2008 agreement with the US, Libya agreed to pay a total of $2.7 billion to victims' family in order to "buy the peace", as its then Prime Minister, Shukri Ghanem, described it.

Libya has never accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie tragedy and "mounting evidence" since the 2001 trial has pointed to Al-Megrahi's innocence. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed on board the doomed flight, is certain that Al-Megrahi is a "victim of a miscarriage of justice." Swire is one of the campaigners pushing for his conviction to be overturned.

Ferial El-Ayeb, a consultant to Al-Megrahi's defence team in Scotland, told MEMO that such comments by Foreign Minister Mangoush are "outrageous and insulting to us in the defence team." She added that Libya is in "a weak situation now" and the kind of comments heard from the minister "will increase US pressure on the country to hand over Masud."

A source in the foreign ministry, speaking anonymously, told MEMO yesterday that Mangoush was in her office despite the Presidential Council's decision. The source added that she is expected to take part in tomorrow's conference on Libya hosted by the French in Paris.

The only certainty, the source concluded, is that the "negative public backlash against [Mangoush] will act as a 'deterrent' to her and other officials to be careful when discussing sensitive issues."

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Lockerbie, Bushnaq, Iran

[This is the headline over a blog by Dov Ivry that was published yesterday evening on the website of The Times of Israel. It reads as follows:]

The takedown of Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie, Scotland was a catastrophe that the US intelligence community could see coming for half a year and no one took the necessary steps to prevent it.

There were 270 people who died in that crash Dec 21, 1988.

On July 3 1988, during a war between Iran and Iraq, a US warship, the Vincennes, sailing in the war zone, shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 aboard. It should not have happened. It was an unfortunate mistake.

Khomeini, the Iranian leader, immediately issued Iran’s response, which had the force of a binding religious edict, “an eye for an eye.”

Ali Mohtashemipur, the Iranian interior minister, offered $10 million to arch terrorist Ahmed Jibril, head of the PFLP-GC, to blow up an American passenger plane.

Israel knew Mohtashemipur well. He founded Hezbollah in 1982. One of their first major acts was to level the Israeli military headquarters at Tyre killing 91. Yitzhak Shamir, when he came into office, ordered the Mossad to kill him. They send him a holy book, it exploded and stripped away an arm, but he survived. And here he was again.

From the time the Iranians invited Jibril to a meeting July 8 in Teheran until the end, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a monitoring agency for the US intelligence community, was reporting what the Iranians and Jibril were discussing, the names of the people at their meetings, the complete package, as it happened.

These reports were not released to the public for years, but they demonstrate that anyone who read them was never in the dark. It was like watching a gang preparing a major bank robbery step-by-step.

One example. Rashid Mehmet, a Turkish engineer and Hezbollah member, who worked at the Frankfurt airport in conjunction with two other Turks, attended planning meetings. Those three put the bomb on the plane. The day the plane went down Mehmet flew to Cyprus to make his getaway and was congratulated by the Iranian chargé d’affaires there for having “performed his mission.”

Those Turks were never arrested. James Shaughnessy, lawyer for Pam Am, asked why none of the numerous Turks who worked at Frankfurt airport were investigated. It appears that no one ever read the FBIS reports even after the fact.

The conspirators also announced with the sound of trumpets the day that they decided to act, Dec 15. There was a big pow-wow in Beirut under the cover of a celebration of the Palestinian cause, where they concluded the meeting by saying the “ordained revenge for America” is nigh.

Here were the consequences. Khaled Jaafar, an affluent 20-year-old from Beirut whose father lived in Dearborn, Mich, and he had American citizenship, was tasked with transporting the bomb to the plane. He had been living with a PLPF-GC cell in Dortmund since Nov 8 awaiting the call, but on Dec 14 he booked a flight to Detroit to go home for the holidays.

The next day a Hezbollah operative living in that house with him, Naim Ghannam, got a call from Beirut and he would change Jaafar’s booking to another plane going to Detroit, Pam Am 103. They did it through a travel agent in Dearborn, who also seems to have been a member of Hezbollah.

The FBIS report says that they chose Pan Am 103 after the Iranian embassy in Beirut confirmed that five CIA agents were on that plane. Other sources say they were tipped off by what is described as a “double agent.” He apparently lived in Beirut, his identity was known, and he was never apprehended either.

Jaafar was an experienced world traveller, with never any issues in flying, but in Frankfurt he knew he was about to die. Yasmin Siddique, the woman behind him in line, who would get off the plane at London, could not take her eyes off him. He was having a nervous breakdown right before her eyes.

None of the several people at the Dortmund cell were arrested although the owner of the house was brought to the show trial of the Libyan al-Megrahi, served up as a scapegoat, to testify for what that was worth. The travel agent’s connection to terrorists was exposed by Debbie Schlussel, a nationally known journalist who lives in Michigan. He was never questioned about his role in enabling the Pan Am attack.

The PFLP-GC at that point in time was a large and far-flung organization with bomb makers and activists throughout Europe including Germany, Sweden, and Yugoslavia, as well as the Middle East and Asia, and they were killing Americans in Europe as well as Israelis here. This was the Cold War and those in Yugoslavia especially were given free rein to do whatever they wanted

The PFLP-GC boss in Germany was Dalkamoni. Israel knew him well. Years before he came into the Galilee carrying a bomb to blow up a power plant, it exploded prematurely and took off a leg. He spent 10 years in prison in Israel before released in a prisoner exchange. In October the Mossad notified German intelligence that the PLFP-GC was up to something and they arrested Dalkamoni and 15 others in a roundup called the Autumn Leaves. Dalkamoni was the main planner at that point, but the PLFP-GC did not miss a beat.

The US investigation got off to a rousing start. Within six months Dan Rather was reporting coast-to-coast that the planner for the Pan-Am attack was named Dalkamoni and the plane was brought down by the PLFP-GC.

What happened? Tom Thurman happened. He was a fraudster posing as an explosives expert in the FBI. He would be banned by an inspector-general in 1997 from giving expert testimony having being found to have no scientific background, just made stuff up. But in 1990 he went into attorney-general Bill Barr’s office and fingered Libyans. For the next 30 years the investigation turned into a reprise of the Keystone Kops running hither and yon nabbing Libyans, who had nothing to do with anything.

Here’s what actually happened. Jibril turned over the implementation to his nephew Basel Bushnaq, 25, head of his military. That position Jibril liked to keep in the family. In 2002 his son Jihad was head of his military and Israel assassinated him.

The Syrian-born Bushnaq was also an American citizen, expert in both airport security and bomb making. Both the CIA and the PLO, which also did an investigation — anything to embarrass their bitter rival — named Bushnaq as the bomb maker. He purchased the detonator on the Beirut black market for $60,000.

He went by the name of Abu Elias. The CIA went looking for him under than name and could not find him. Bushnaq is an ethnic Bosnian. The word “Bushnaq” means Bosnian.

The FBI and Scotland Yard interrogated him under his American name Basel Bushnaq. They asked for him for his Syrian passport. He said he had misplaced it. You would too if the name there was Abu Elias or perhaps Khaisar Haddad, another moniker he sometimes used.

We know that Abu Elias is Basel Bushnaq because five former associates of Jibril told that to the defence team of the Libyan scapegoat al-Megrahi in 2000.

Here is the situation today. Bushnaq murdered 190 Americans. That’s the record for an American killing Americans exceeding Timothy McVeigh’s 168. He is still walking free.

It will take a call to arms to get this guy under lock and key. But it’s not too late.

I’ve got a book out on this called Lockerbie, Bushnaq, Iran. The digital is at Kindle. The paperback is at Sweek.