Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Appeal in Lockerbie bombing reaches Scotland’s highest court

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday evening on the website of The New York Times:]

Scotland’s highest court began hearing a posthumous appeal on Tuesday for a Libyan man convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner that killed 270 people over the town of Lockerbie, the deadliest terrorist attack in Britain.

The appeal, lodged by the family of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person found guilty in the midair blast, is the latest turn in a decades-long case that left many details unresolved. Mr. al-Megrahi insisted on his innocence until his death in 2012.

“We are in possession of much evidence that we have not revealed publicly,” said Aamer Anwar, a lawyer for Mr al-Megrahi’s family, adding that in his dying breath Mr al-Megrahi had wanted to clear his name. “The Megrahis regard their father as the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”

A spokesman for Crown prosecutors declined to comment, citing the continuing appeal. The prosecutors have said that they would “rigorously defend” the conviction. (...)

Mr al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer who was working undercover at Libya’s state airline, was convicted of organizing the bombing in an unusual 2001 trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law and sentenced to life in prison, with a 27-year minimum term. [RB: The only evidence that Megrahi was an intelligence officer came from the CIA informer Majid Giaka. For no explicable reason the Zeist judges accepted Giaka's evidence that Megrahi was an intelligence agent while otherwise rejecting his evidence as utterly unworthy of credit.]

He twice appealed the decision, insisting on his innocence, but abandoned the second effort after developing terminal cancer to maximize his chance of being released on compassionate grounds. He returned to Libya in 2009.

His return, escorted by Saif al-Islam, the son of the Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and greeted with cheers in Libya, angered many families of the victims, particularly Americans. The bombing came at a time of increasing tensions between the United States and Libya, and prosecutors said Mr al-Megrahi was acting as a terrorist for the government. Libya has denied involvement but paid $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003 to end the country’s diplomatic isolation.

Other families have lobbied for the case to be re-examined, saying they do not believe Mr Megrahi was guilty, and some legal experts have thrown doubts on the evidence presented at the trial.

The conviction was a “miscarriage of justice,” said Robert Black, professor emeritus of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, who helped conceive the idea of holding the nonjury trial in the Netherlands and has urged a reopening of the case. Reviews of the case by an independent government-financed body have referred it to Scotland’s High Court for another examination.

If the family lost this third appeal, “that is the end of the line,” Mr Black said. But if successful, he added, it would make the Lockerbie bombing an unsolved crime without a culprit.

The appeal will look at whether evidence at the trial justified a guilty verdict. That will focus on evidence including that of a crucial witness, Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified Mr al-Megrahi as the buyer of clothing linked to the bomb.

But it emerged later that Mr Gauci was at times inconsistent in recognizing Mr al-Megrahi and that he had already seen a photograph of him connected to the bombing before speaking with the police.

Some of Mr al-Megrahi’s supporters and his family have pointed to a Syrian-based militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, alleging that Iran ordered the attack as retaliation against the United States. Iran has denied involvement.

On Thursday, a judge also declined a request by Mr al-Megrahi’s family for access to protected government documents, saying it could harm the national security of the United Kingdom. Crown prosecutors in 2015 also said they were looking at two other Libyan suspects involved in the bombing.

The case has had an enduring international legacy, experts said. Before the investigation into the bombing, “there had never been anything comparable with so many governments involved,” Mr Black said, adding that it “set the standard for international cooperation.”

If the conviction is overturned, he said that he believed there should be an independent inquiry supported by the British and American governments. But he said that their enthusiasm for pursuing the case might be wavering, given that 32 years had passed since the bombing.

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