Monday, 22 December 2014

Lockerbie lies

[This is the headline over an article in today’s edition of the Morning Star.  It reads as follows:]

On the 25th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on British territory, Steven Walker looks at the evidence that the wrong person was convicted of the crime.

December 21 1988 is a date etched into the memory of the people of Lockerbie and Scotland more generally as the night all hell rained down from the skies above them.

What followed was a criminal investigation which quickly became mired in rumour, suspicion and evidence that the wrong people were blamed for the terrorist outrage that blew a Pan American airliner to pieces.

It is widely believed that the truth is yet to come out about who was responsible.

Relatives of those killed in the disaster, together with the family of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who is widely believed to have been innocent of the crime for which he served a prison sentence and died two-and-a-half years after being released, are still awaiting justice.

There is a new bid to get a Scottish court to review the original court proceedings, which were suspected of being part of a cover-up involving the CIA and the British government.

The relatives lodged an application in June with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), a body that reviews alleged miscarriages of justice in criminal cases and has the power to refer a case back to the High Court.

Megrahi was the sole person found guilty of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, in which 270 people were killed.

Previous official inquiries have raised more questions than answers about who was really responsible for the atrocity.

The Lockerbie case has been mired in controversy almost from day one of the investigation.

Critics have long wondered what the truth is.

Despite unreasonable pressure from a variety of sources, investigative journalists have established that many issues are still not resolved.

For example, a local Cumbrian GP who was brought in to recover and label bodies scattered over a wide area tagged 59 corpses but discovered that in the official records later published the total had dropped to 58.

His personal credibility and professional competence were questioned at the inquest but he remains adamant that one of the bodies had “disappeared” with no explanation.

Testimony from an eyewitness, a local farmer, was ridiculed by police when he saw a large tarpaulin covering an item in a field being guarded by an armed soldier while an unmarked helicopter hovered overhead.

The official inquiry contained no mention of the mysterious item under cover or reference to a helicopter on site.

Another farmer at Tundergarth Mains, Jim Wilson, found his fields were littered with bodies and debris from the airliner. The mess included a suitcase, neatly packed with a powdery substance that looked like drugs.

Wilson was one of the first witnesses to give evidence when the fatal accident inquiry started in October 1990. Yet no-one asked him about the drugs suitcase.

Two senior CIA agents were aboard Pan Am 103. The fact that Major McKee and his CIA associate Matthew Gannon, formerly deputy CIA station chief in Beirut, were among the dead passengers has raised suspicions that the US and British authorities interfered in the initial investigation of the crash site in order to ascertain whether national security might be compromised by a Scottish police investigation.

Up until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 the received view among Western media fed by government sources was that Iran or Libya was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing.

After Saddam Hussein had finished his war with Iran in 1988, his regime was sold weapons by US, French and British arms manufacturers eager to re-equip his massive army and make huge profits on arms sales. Suddenly, with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the West needed Iran’s support and the story changed to suggest that Libya alone was behind the bombing.

In August 1997, the German magazine Der Spiegel published a long article about Lockerbie. It cited a new credible witness named as Abolghasem Mesbahi. What he was saying contradicted “the Anglo-American thesis of the sole involvement of Libya.”

Mesbahi’s story suggested that the bomb had been loaded in single pieces at Frankfurt airport into an aeroplane to London. The head of Iran Air at Frankfurt at that time, a secret service man, had smuggled them past the airport controls. They had then been assembled in London and put on Pan Am 103 at Heathrow airport.

Some of the British relatives argue that the wrong man was put behind bars and that the truth about who murdered their loved ones remains elusive. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of mass murder following a trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2001 and jailed for life.

He lost his first appeal in 2002. The following year, he applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission for a review of his conviction. An investigation costing £1.1m by the body led to a finding in June 2007 of six grounds on which it believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

But perhaps one of the most compelling facts which receives little mention in all the confusing theories, missing evidence and attempts to thwart the legal process by the US and British governments, is that an Iran Air A-300 Airbus was shot down over the Gulf in July 1988 by the US warship Vincennes, which wrongly identified it as an attacking fighter. All 290 people on board were killed.

There are credible reports that the Iranians hired freelance operatives to deliver an act of revenge against a US civilian airliner. Pan Am 103 was downed five months later.

At the time Iran was being targeted as the new threat to Middle East security. Iraq had been supplied with arms by the US to prolong its war with Iran, despite Iran being cynically used by President Ronald Reagan to fund illegal payments to the anti-Nicaraguan right-wing contras in exchange for selling the Iranians arms.

It is not unreasonable to suppose the Iranians were not best pleased at being betrayed in the war with Iraq and then have their civilian airliner shot down, and thus subsequently decided to exact revenge.

Of course Libya paid $2.5 billion in compensation for the Lockerbie bombing, which strongly suggests Colonel Gadaffi accepted guilt for the atrocity.

But this ignores the fact that Libya was desperate to have sanctions lifted and admitting guilt for Lockerbie was the price to be accepted back into the fold to do business with the West.

But whatever the truth, Lockerbie remains a textbook case of a terrible tragedy in which the pain and suffering of relatives whose search for answers about why and how their loved ones died has taken second place to geopolitical manoeuvres and deliberate meddling in legal processes, and the murky world of secret service wheeling and dealing on behalf of governments with no respect for human decency. 

[A further report in today's Morning Star is headlined Megrahi conviction "must be reviewed".]

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