Monday, 28 August 2017

Trial examines 'secret' CIA papers

[This is the headline over a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2000. It reads in part:]

The Lockerbie trial has been shown the CIA documents at the centre of a dispute between prosecution and defence lawyers.

Scotland's senior law official, Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, said the papers - which contain details of cable communications - featured new information.

He said the documents included remarks made by Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, who worked as a CIA agent at Malta Airport and whom the prosecution wants to call as a witness at the trial.

Mr Boyd said: "This is the first time the CIA has produced evidence for a foreign court.

"It may also be the first time that cables themselves have been used in any court either in the US or outwith.

"It's been emphasised to me that the amount of information now in the public domain far exceeds that ever put in the public domain before by the CIA in relation to these events."

Mr Boyd said he watched last week at the US Embassy in The Hague as a CIA records custodian identified as William McNair undid deletions in the cables from Giaka, whom crown prosecutors refer to as "Mr Majid".

He said: "I can tell the court that everything Mr Majid is reported to have said in these cables is revealed except for three matters."

These refer to the identities of CIA informants and methods of operation.

Newly revealed information included references to CIA payments to Giaka and his request for "sham surgery" to secure a waiver from military service in Libya.

There is also mention of payments from the CIA he could receive in return for giving evidence.

Giaka has been living for the last 10 years under a witness protection scheme in the US and is regarded as a crucial witness against the accused men. He is expected to take the stand later this week. (...)

Arguments over the CIA papers have dominated the last few days of the trial of the two Libyans who are said to have bombed Pan AM flight 103 over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie.

The special court in the Netherlands was adjourned on Monday to give the defence time to consider the new information.

[RB: What follows is part of an account of the CIA cables saga written by me for The Scotsman  some ten years ago:]

The behaviour of the Crown in the Lockerbie trial was certainly not beyond criticism - and indeed it casts grave doubt on the extent to which the Lord Advocate and Crown Office staff can be relied on always to place the interest of securing a fair trial for the accused above any perceived institutional imperative to obtain a conviction.

To illustrate this in the context of the Lockerbie trial, it is enough to refer to the saga of CIA cables relating to the star Crown witness, Abdul Majid Giaka, who had been a long-standing CIA asset in Libya and, by the time of the trial, was living in the US in a witness protection programme. Giaka's evidence was ultimately found by the court to be utterly untrustworthy. This was largely due to the devastating effectiveness of the cross-examination by defence counsel. Their ability to destroy completely the credibility of the witness stemmed from the contents of cables in which his CIA handlers communicated to headquarters the information that Giaka had provided to them in the course of their secret meetings. Discrepancies between Giaka's evidence-in-chief to the Advocate Depute and the contents of these contemporaneous cables enabled the defence to mount a formidable challenge to the truthfulness and accuracy, or credibility and reliability, of Giaka's testimony. Had the information contained in these cables not been available to them, the task of attempting to demonstrate to the court that Giaka was an incredible or unreliable witness would have been more difficult, and perhaps impossible.

Yet the Crown strove valiantly to prevent the defence obtaining access to these cables. At the trial, on 22 August 2000, when he was seeking to persuade the Court to deny the defence access to those cables in their unedited or uncensored form, the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, stated that the members of the prosecution team who were given access to the uncensored CIA cables on 1 June 2000 were fully aware of the obligation incumbent upon them as prosecutors to make available to the defence material relevant to the defence of the accused and, to that end, approached the contents of those cables with certain considerations in mind.

Boyd said: "First of all, they considered whether or not there was any information behind the redactions which would undermine the Crown case in any way. Second, they considered whether there was anything which would appear to reflect on the credibility of Majid... On all of these matters, the learned Advocate Depute reached the conclusion that there was nothing within the cables which bore on the defence case, either by undermining the Crown case or by advancing a positive case which was being made or may be made, having regard to the special defence... I emphasise that the redactions have been made on the basis of what is in the interests of the security of a friendly power... Crown counsel was satisfied that there was nothing within the documents which bore upon the defence case in any way."

One judge, Lord Coulsfield, then intervened: "Does that include, Lord Advocate... that Crown counsel, having considered the documents, can say to the Court that there is nothing concealed which could possibly bear on the credibility of this witness?"

The Lord Advocate replied: "Well, I'm just checking with the counsel who made that... there is nothing within these documents which relates to Lockerbie or the bombing of Pan Am 103 which could in any way impinge on the credibility of Majid on these matters."

Notwithstanding the opposition of the Lord Advocate, the court ordered the unedited cables to be made available to the defence, who went on to use their contents to such devastating effect in questioning Giaka that the court held that his evidence had to be disregarded in its entirety. Yet, strangely enough, the judges did not see fit publicly to censure the Crown for its inaccurate assurances that the cables contained nothing that could assist the defence.

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