Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Gauci and the benefit of doubt on Lockerbie

[This is the headline over an article by Kenny MacAskill that appears in today’s edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

Next month brings the 28th anniversary of the Lockerbie atrocity. Last weekend saw the death of a key witness in the trial that followed. Tony Gauci died at home in Malta at the age of 75, apparently from natural causes.

He had been a crucial witness for the prosecution at the trial in Camp Zeist that saw Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi become the only man convicted of the bombing. Gauci’s evidence has been criticised by many who dispute that outcome. Some accused him of lying for personal gain.

I’ve met many involved in the Lockerbie bombing, though I didn’t encounter Gauci. However, I know many who did. He ran a shop along with his brother and was,by all accounts, a relatively simple man. Like the Scottish justice system itself, Gauci didn’t choose to become involved but, in many ways, found himself on trial.

Diligent detective work by the Scottish police had traced clothing located near the seat of the bomb to sales from his shop. Officers initially came across his brother who had no knowledge of it.

Overhearing the conversation from the back of the store, Gauci was able to confirm that a large order had been made, and by a Libyan man. Malta was a haven in many ways for the North African state and being able to identify someone as from there seemed perfectly normal. The issues with Gauci’s evidence did not come in many ways from what he said or did both then and at subsequent interviews. He was always far from certain in identification of the man who bought the clothing. It was the interpretation put upon it by the court that was critical.

Yet his trying to assist in the identification of a mass murderer is perfectly understandable. Moreover, he did subsequently receive significant sums from the American authorities. However, it appears he wasn’t aware of that or of any potential personal gain until considerably later in the case. [RB: This is a somewhat sanitised account of Tony Gauci’s interest in obtaining “monetary compensation”. A more accurate version can be found here.]

That said, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission was right to home in on both of those aspects. The first was rather construed and there was doubt about the date. With the second, there had been extensive criticism by the Scottish court of another witness who had received significant sums from the CIA. His evidence was damned. Having done so for a testimony payment became a factor when it was subsequently realised Gauci had been rewarded.

Notwithstanding that, there’s no reason to believe that he lied or did so for gain. In death, as in a court of law, Gauci is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. [RB: Witnesses in a court of law are not entitled to “the benefit of the doubt”. It is the accused who enjoys the right to benefit from any doubt that arises out of a witness’s testimony. In treating Gauci’s evidence as amounting to a positive identification of Megrahi, the Lockerbie judges abjectly failed to accord that right to Megrahi.]

The issue with the continued trial of the Scottish justice system is that it lets the major security and commercial interests off the hook. The Scottish police did outstanding work both at the crash scene and in the subsequent investigation, along with law enforcement colleagues globally. Prosecution and judicial authorities acted diligently and honourably. Yet they have been traduced by some, which is a calumny upon them.

The criminal investigation into Lockerbie was overshadowed by commercial and security deals that were ongoing for decades and in which Scotland had no involvement: an agreement brokered by the UN involving the UK, the United States and Libya which saw Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah stand trial. It gave an assurance of no regime change and a get-out-of-jail card for Muammar Gaddafi and senior henchmen. The deal in the desert between Tony Blair and Gaddafi saw a multi-million pound commercial deal signed the following day and, the day after, MI6 rendering of a Libyan dissident to the CIA for transfer to Gaddafi’s clutches. As Human Rights Watch reported, it was the first of many renditions.

The West got access to Libya’s resources and a bulwark against Islamic terrorism: not just oil but minerals. Libya got dissidents back and military support, as Amnesty International detailed when, in 2009, the Police Service of Northern Ireland was training Gaddafi’s elite brigade. The same year, Hillary Clinton met the Gaddafi family to discuss boosting trade links and Barack Obama publicly shook his hand; deals that continued until the West decided Gaddafi was unstable and overthrew him.

There are doubts about some of the evidence in the Lockerbie investigations and the precise role of Megrahi, understandable given how and where it occurred. But a foot soldier he was, as Lockerbie was state-sponsored terrorism; and he was a Libyan agent in an odious regime. As Gauci was a small part of the Lockerbie trial, Scottish court proceedings were but a minor part of international dealings. Any future investigation must consider the international and security aspects, as much as the criminal investigation.

[RB: In his recent book and in interviews following its publication, Kenny MacAskill concedes that Megrahi was not the purchaser of the clothes and other items from Gauci’s shop. That concession utterly destroys the foundation upon which the Lockerbie court convicted Megrahi. Without that finding the judges would not and could not have convicted him. See John Ashton here and James Robertson here.]

1 comment:

  1. RB: "Without that finding the judges would not and could not have convicted him."

    "would" - we don't know.

    "could" - certainly they could. The red thread through the trial was:
    accept enough for getting a conviction, however thin.

    The acquittal of Fhimah and the rejection of Giaki was the perfect gambit, to show (to themselves or others) how impartial they were.

    But if Guaci hadn't been there, how about the following about Giaki:
    "There are situations where a man, who on earlier occasions have lied and received money, finally decides to come clear and tell the truth...".
    That is certainly correct, isn't it?

    That's all it takes. The only difference would be that the verdict moved from totally stupid to a bit more totally stupid.

    The follow up have been perfect, with one single slip, the first SCCRC finding. Do we have any reason to believe that it would have been any different if Guaci had never been there?
    That the retrial judges would have concluded differently?

    I still recall reading through the verdict the first time. Waiting for this proof that beyond reasonable doubt put the accused in connection with a crime.

    Instead long-winded uncertainties, guesswork on guesswork, about a far-away world, where so little else is known. Freely discarding simple important evidence as they pleased, either just ignoring it or saying "..this is a problem..".

    Infer, infer, infer.

    These deluded guys _could_ have convicted anyone they wanted, on the most convenient ground the could put together.
    Because that is what they did.