Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mustafa Fetouri. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mustafa Fetouri. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday 21 February 2018

The West’s wish to settle the Lockerbie issue

[What follows is excerpted from an interview published today on the Sputnik
International website:]

Newly declassified documents have been released, revealing the covert relationship between Britain’s MI6 and former Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, forged to track down Libyan dissidents and terrorists. Sputnik spoke to Libyan journalist Mustafa Fetouri to find out why the UK eventually turned on its one time counter-terror partner.

Sputnik: From Britain’s perspective, specifically that of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and head of MI6 Richard Dearlove, was Muammar Gaddafi a friend, an enemy or simply a temporary ally of convenience?

Mustafa Fetouri: I would say he was a temporary ally brought in by the circumstances. It is important to remember that in this regard, Libya had the best database, if you like, of all kinds of terrorism and terrorist organisations, including Al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan in its earlier days when Osama Bin Laden was actually supported by countries like the United States to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Only Libya, out of all countries in the world, issued an international arrest warrant for him, in the 1980s.

I would also think that what brought Tony Blair to Gaddafi – it wasn’t the other way around – was actually the West’s wish to settle the Lockerbie issue and try to open a new chapter with Libya. In this regard, again, they benefited a great deal in terms of information concerning terrorists and terror organisations and terror plots at the time, including what has been revealed lately in the newspapers.

Sputnik: And why, despite courting him for quite some time, did Western leaders suddenly turn on Gaddafi? Of course the UK played a leading role in the NATO-backed operation against him in 2011, despite its earlier rapprochement under Prime Minister Blair.

Mustafa Fetouri: Well that’s the more important question. Actually, we have to remember something here: the fact that the Western countries, especially the United States, United Kingdom and France did not really like Gaddafi. They did not really like his regime, despite the rapprochements in 2004, and 2005 and so on. They always had a ‘plan b’ if you like. If the opportunity made itself available for them to get rid of the guy, and destroy him completely, it was to be taken immediately. They would not have missed such an opportunity. They already missed a couple of opportunities over the past forty years and the most serious of them was the Lockerbie case where they caught the regime, legally speaking, and they could have done something. However the international circumstances at the time did not provide the cover for such a move to destroy the regime. They tried of course, in 1984, and 1986 when the Americans raided his house and compound.

We really have to remember here that those governments – especially the US, UK and France – they don’t really care too much about their obligations and their given commitments to other governments, especially the ones that have a bad history with them, such as Libya under Gaddafi. I should add that Gaddafi himself never ever trusted them, but in the last ten years of the regime’s life he was not too much into the daily running affairs in the country, so he lost touch a bit, and that’s where the Western forces had their opportunity.

Monday 18 June 2012

Lockerbie after 24 years: back to square one

[This is the headline over an article published on 14 June on the Middle East Online website.  It reads as follows:]

Now that Mr. Al-Meghrahi died and Colonel Gathafi gone before him does the world know the truth about that fatal night of December 1988? Unfortunately not, writes Mustafa Fetouri.

On May 20th Abdel Baset Al-Meghrahi the only Lockerbie convict died at his Damascus district home, south of the Libyan capital Tripoli. Nearly three years ago he was released from Scottish jail for humanitarian reasons and “allowed to return to Libya to die” as the Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill put it. The man was already diagnosed with prostate cancer in terminal stage. His doctors gave him weeks or months to live but he lived for nearly three years.

Dr Jim Swire whose daughter Flora died in the tragedy believed neither Libya nor Mr Al-Megrahi had anything to do with the Lockerbie tragedy. He has been very critical of the court that handed down the verdict against Mr Al-Meghrahi. I happen to share the same belief with Dr Swire whom I met and even shared spot on a TV talk show in 2009
In his search for the truth Dr Swire visited Libya couple of times, met the late Colonel Gathafi, and became close to Mr Al-Meghrahi regularly visiting him in jail in Scotland. Last December the two men met for the last time in Tripoli. Reporting on the meeting Dr Swire wrote that Mr Al-Megrahi “ was concerned that I as a victim’s father should get access, on his death, to all the information that had been amassed to fight his abandoned appeal.“

In my own search of the truth immediately after the 2001 trial ended I communicated briefly with Dr Hans Köchler the UN appointed observer to the court. Dr Köchler was very certain about the unreliability of the prosecutor’s star witness; a Maltese shop owner named Toni Gauci. Mr Gauci’s evidence was crucial to convict Abdelbast as it was the only “strong” evidence that directly linked the convict to the cloths in which the bomb was wrapped. Yet when cross examined Mr Gauci failed to recall the same details twice nevertheless his evidence was taken into account by the court sitting in Camp Zeist, The Netherlands. Ever since his appearance at the court Mr Gauci disappeared without trace. He could not be found in Malta not anywhere else. That is until a year ago when a private detective, working for a TV documentary, spotted him back in his little home in Valetta, Malta. Of course he could not be approached for interview.

Until the last minute of his life Mr Al-Meghrahi loudly protested his innocence expressing his determination to clear his name. He told me the same thing when I met him in 2010. Our meeting was arranged in his house with the hope that I will write a TV documentary telling his side of the story which never told. Inching towards his death I was impressed by his sharp memory and determination to clear his name. Despite the fact that he appeared weak and frail at the time he was welcoming and aware of political events particularly following the Tunisian revolt.

I later found out that a London based publisher was helping Mr Al-Meghrahi write his memories. One of Saif al-Islam Gathafi’s assistants who arranged my meeting with him later confirmed the news to me in a phone conversation. I would urge who ever behind the project to publish the book as soon as possible as it’s sure to reveal previously unknown details. [RB: The book is John Ashton's Megrahi: You are my Jury, published in Edinburgh by Birlinn.]

It is now emerged that Mr Gauci was offered USD 2 million by the CIA in order to testify against Mr. Al-Meghrahi in 2001 after which Mr Gauci disappeared from Malta altogether. This important information was never shared with the defense lawyers at the time of the trial.

Now that Mr Al-Meghrahi died and Colonel Gathafi gone before him does the world know the truth about hat fatal night of December 1988? Unfortunately not. We are back to square one despite the fall of the Gathafi regime and the availability of the entire archives of the Libyan state to anyone who wanted to read particularly after the total collapse of the government last September. I’m certain that most of the Libyan State archives are not in the hands of Western intelligence services since “revolutionary brigades” had little interest in reading. It’s horrific how the government building with important documents where looted in Tripoli and other cities!

The only persons alive today who could shed some light on the case are Saif al-Isalam Gathafi who is jailed in Libya and Abdallah Sanusi the former head of the Libyan intelligence jailed in Mauritania. Another person who should know something is Mr Abuzed Dorda the former head of the Libyan espionage organization known as Aljamahyria’s External Security Establishment Mr Dorda’s trial opened last week in Libya.

It is now appropriate to try to find out who destroyed the Pan Am Flight 103 24 years ago killing 270 innocent people. It is important not only for the victims’ families to find out the truth but also to the reconciliation process in Libya if a new stable and democratic country is to emerge. If the United Sates and the UK governments in particular seek justices it’s time to open the case again to try to find out what really happened over Lockerbie.

Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan academic and journalist. He won the EU’s Samir Kassir award for the best opinion article in 2010.

Monday 23 March 2020

Shame on those who accused their country without understanding the facts of the case

[What follows is a translation by the distinguished Libyan journalist and analyst Mustafa Fetouri of a comment posted by him on his Facebook page after the announcement of the SCCRC's reference of the Megrahi conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary. I am grateful to Mr Fetouri for allowing me to reproduce it here.]

The SCCRC has decided to allow al-Megrahi’s appeal to go ahead three years after his family requested it and eight year after he passed away.

The SCCRC admitted the appeal on two grounds one of which is very critical: that al-Megrahi was the person who bought the clothes found in bag that was said to have carried the bomb from Frankfurt to London en route to JFK in New York.

The SCCRC said that the verdict was “unreasonable” since “no reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser".

As we recall Tony Gauci, co-owner of Valetta clothes shop claimed that al-Megrahi was the one who bought the clothes but years after the conviction of al-Megrahi it turned out that Mr Gauci had received money from either the CIA or US department of justice as a witness and he then disappeared from Malta.

I have been following the Lockerbie case very closely from the beginning and I wrote about it many times. I was panelist in an episode of the BBC’s flagship show The Doha Debates in 2009 with Dr Jim Swire, on one side, and Juma Al-Gamatti and a British conservative MP on the opposing side. We defended the compassionate release of al-Megrahi against their accusations and falsified claims.

I have also discussed the case with many foreigner observers including the United Nations appointed court observer, the Austrian, Hans Köchler. He expressed his reservations about the court right after it ended. He repeated the same reservations to me over a phone call while I was studying for my masters degree in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

I have and will always be convinced that Libya and al-Megrahi are innocent of this terrible crime. After the SCCRC decision I would really like to hear from the Libyan scumbags like Juma and ask them where is your evidence that Libya was to blame for the tragedy? How could you accuse your country just because you hated Gaddafi?

I can imagine the late Moammer Gaddafi screaming at the face of those who accused him of being behind the Lockerbie tragedy. It is enough that the SCCRC raised suspicions about the verdict even if it is not overturned. The fact that SCCRC referred the case to the Scottish High Court is in itself an admission of miscarriage of justice and to me is a vindication of both Libya and its citizen al-Megrahi.

Great salute to Dr Swire and Mr Kenny MacAskill the former justice minister in Scotland,  who took the brave and legal decision to release al-Megrahi despite UK and US governments’ objections.

A bigger salute to al-Megrahi’s family who struggled to clear his name. I also salute to Al-Jazeera English team who produced that important documentary which made it easier for the wider public to understand the complicated judiciary process that should have led to different verdict. A great salute to the defense team who defended Libya despite all difficulties.

Shame on those who accused their country (particularly after 2011) without any proof and without actually understanding anything of the facts of the case.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Lockerbie bomber’s release deplored

[This is the headline over the report in today's Gulf Times on the Doha Debate on the release of Abdelbaset Megrahi. It reads in part:]

The motion ‘This House deplores the release of the Lockerbie bomber to Libya,’ was carried with 53% votes at the first episode of the sixth series of Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates last night.

The debate, which saw both sides raising solid arguments and some highly relevant questions from the audience, was the first public forum in the Arab world to discuss the bitterly-contested topic. (...)

Arguing for the motion was British MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libya, Daniel Kawczynski and Libyan writer, political commentator and frequent critic of the Libyan regime, Guma El-Gamaty, a resident of the UK for more than three decades.

On the opposing side was Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora was a passenger on the Pan Am flight. Since her death, he has led a high-profile campaign for justice on behalf of UK relatives.

He was joined by Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic and political commentator who writes for a variety of Arab and English language newspapers and currently MBA Programme Director at The Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli.

Kawczynski, the first speaker, set the tone for the evening by stating that the Pan Am bombing “was the worst atrocity imaginable” and he did not want al-Megrahi’s release.
He tied the issue to the ‘non-co-operation’ of the Libyan regime in the investigation of the killing of the young British police constable Yvonne Fletcher, shot outside the Libyan embassy 25 years ago.

“Gaddafi (Libyan president) refuses to see me,” said Kawczynski who alleged that Fletcher was shot by a Libyan diplomat. The Tory MP had accompanied the Fletcher family last month when they met British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Speaking next, Dr Fetouri remarked that al-Megrahi ought to have been released a long time ago and cited the “growing public opinion” that the convict was “actually framed.”

“Libya accepted responsibility for the Pan Am incident and paid the compensation to get out of the international sanctions, and 99.9% of Libyans believe that Libya as a country was not responsible for the bombing,” he maintained.

El-Gamaty, who alleged that al-Megrahi’s release was the result of a British-Libyan deal to give oil and gas exploration rights in Libya to British Petroleum, believed that the convict should have tried to clear his name if he were innocent as the Scottish court had offered to hear his case again.

Swire, whose main message to the debate audience was ‘we need to stop killing each other,’ declared that “the trial convinced me al-Megrahi was not involved in this” and “I am delighted by his release.”

“I have met Gaddafi thrice, whereas all the British Prime Ministers except Thatcher refused to meet me and the present Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not replied to my letter,” he said.

El-Gamaty argued that al-Megrahi, a very junior Libyan intelligence officer “has been used and is a victim whereas there are countries involved in this.”

Kawczynski, who suggested that al-Megrahi should have been released in exchange for the killer of Fletcher, also said the decision to free him had no sanction from the British Parliament.

[The report in The Peninsula can be read here.]

Monday 21 December 2020

Go on, Mr Barr, surprise us with more lies

[This is the headline over an article by Libyan journalist and author Dr Mustafa Fetouri. I am grateful to him for allowing me to publish it here.]

Whatever the United States Attorney General, William Barr, plans to throw in our faces around 15:30 GMT today he will find us patiently waiting for his Hollywood-like bang that usually precedes the release of any new action movie. Except this time we have already seen the movie and it is hardly new!

Those who have been closely following the Lockerbie tragedy, like victims’ families, lawyers and independent observers like me already know what is coming tomorrow, is another unreliable, arbitrary and groundless accusations targeting new one or two Libyans as being culprits in the tragedy—continuation of the twisted Lockerbie narrative the US has been very good at alas with little success.

Whatever William Barr will throw at the world tomorrow will be much about lying and far less about the truth which his department, government and the UK authorities has made as elusive as ever. Yet it has been very obvious for last 32 years.

Libya today is so weak and chaotic. This means it is susceptible to blackmail even by its own criminal gangs and armed militias, as is the case everyday, let alone by imperialist hegemonic superpowers like the US. Let’s remember here that Mr. Barr’s own government, and more than 30 others, made sure in 2011 that Libya will never be viable independent state ever again.

Even worse Libya’s own so called Government of National Accord (GNA), the only one recognized by the United Nations, lacks any patriotic credentials and viewed, by the majority of Libyans, as a gang imposed on them by the West in a UN package.

Most GNA politicians, and those rivalling it in the east of the country, know very little about the Lockerbie bombing. On top of that they do not want anything to do with it. We have seen GNA defunded the defence team and I have firsthand account of how that happened and why.

GNA knew, long ago, that the third appeal was coming and it has great chances of succeeding in throwing out AL-Meghahi’s 2001 guilty verdict. While the lawyers stood at the court’s door GNA betrayed them by refusing to resume funding despite its repeated promises. This is actually against Libya’s domestic laws which oblige the government to help, financially, citizens abroad, should they face legal issues.

After Al-Meghrahi’s legal team launched their his appeal, posthumously, I started writing about the case in Arabic, the only Libyan journalist so far, I have been warned off at least twice and I risk being harmed once I return to Libya.

After the defence lawyers setup crowd funding page, I tried to do the same inside Libya but could not. Privately I have received hundreds of message from ordinary Libyan willing to help but I could not do anything really! It is not only GNA’s stooges that prevented me but also the financial and administrations issues it has failed to tackle in the country. Banks, for example, do not have cash in a country where other payment systems or credit cards unheard of. I could not publically announce funding campaign inside Libya except on my social media accounts.

On top of that some GNA linked individuals and supporters have been prejudiced towards my Facebook posts when I write about Lockerbie— something I do extensively nowadays.

I consider the entire country as victim of the Lockerbie tragedy. To me the case is much bigger than Gaddafi and Al-Meghrahi, both dead now, but the scars of Lockerbie still with every Libyan just as they are still with the families of the 270 innocent people who died in the tragedy. It is about Libya, its people and the injustice done to them.

The entire 6 million-plus Libyans paid heavily, in one way or another, as a result of crippling economic sanctions and ban of air travel imposed on them, for over ten years, in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing.

Gaddafi, however villain many see him, was a patriotic proud man full of dignity and love for his country and despite being the weakest link in the international power game he always maintained his self esteem and that of his people.

Today Gaddafi is gone and whatever legacy he left behind, at least as strong dignified leader to many, is being wiped out or distorted by western stooges, criminals, double agents, traitors, and outright terrorists he once kept at bay making Libya one of the safest countries in the most troubled parts of the world. To those who do not know Libya, this sounds like cheap nostalgic outburst but in fact it sums up the feelings of most of my fellow Libyans.

No wonder the majority of Libyans, including Gaddafi’s staunchest enemies, never dispute his loyalty to Libya nor his protection of its citizens and sovereignty.

Today Libya not only lacks strong and independent leadership but lacks the fundamentals of the normally functioning state courtesy, in part, of Mr. Barr’s government.

Most of those in power in Tripoli know very little about Lockerbie bombing and those few who know prefer to see Libya continue to be synonymous to the tragedy as if that is a victory for them against a murdered man –Gaddafi!

Mr Barr, on his way out of the justice department, maybe seeking to create false feeling of heroism, to chew on in his retirement.

Instead he is about to destroy another Libyan family and anger some victims’ families by intruding on their grief on the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing.

His announcement, in couple of hours, is no more than yet another attempt to divert the search as away as possible from the truth we all seek.

[RB: A version of this article has now been published in The National.]

Thursday 24 November 2022

Libyan commentator's assessment of the Masud affair

[I am grateful to the distinguished Libyan journalist and commentator Dr Mustafa Fetouri for supplying this assessment of the Masud affair.]

Over the last two weeks I have tried to figure out what is going on in Libya concerning the situation of Libyan Abuajila Masud accused by the United States of being a culprit in the Lockerbie disaster. Since William Barr, the US Attorney General, publicly named him in December 2020 the man disappeared and little information has been obtained as to what is happening to him. Sorting out the real news from what is fake and lies in Libya today is very hard. It appears the entire political elite, government and the media they just addicted to lies. They simply lie even when there is no interest to do so. In the end I can say with a degree of certainty that: 

1.  Abu Agela Masud is indeed alive and he is living in the Abu Salim area just south of the capital Tripoli. He was released from Al-Hadba notorious prison sometime in 2017 after spending years there. That prison, until taken over after a day-long heavy fighting in 2017, was under the control of the terrorist group Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). After he was forced to flee to Turkey I caught up with Kahlid Sherif, who used to be the director and top LIFG leader. I went to Istanbul in 2020 to meet him but he failed to show up. Through written message I asked him questions but he mostly refused to answer. In 2021, if I remember correctly, he was hosted on Clubhouse for a long session. I was kicked out of the room before I could ask all my questions. Even after that he refused to sit for an interview with me. 

2.  On the early morning of 17 November 2022, a group of armed men came to Masud’s house and took him away. His family, friends, and neighbours never knew where he is. They still do not. The government in Tripoli is silent. The House of Representatives, the Higher Council of State (consultative body), and the National Security Advisor (former judge) have rejected, in statements, all attempts to open the Lockerbie case while condemning the disappearance of Mr Masud. Ironically, their separate statements never actually, with certainty, said what is going on. None of them produced any reasonable narrative nor proof that the man indeed has been kidnapped let alone his whereabouts.  

3.  Mr Masud, has indeed been taken away. Who took him and where is pretty difficult to figure out. His family, in a statement, have confirmed this. But I suspect that the statement may not be true and authentic and actually written by the family. It simply does not sound right. I have been trying to contact the family but so far failed to do so.  

4.  The narrative/rumours (nothing is certain) go like this: the Tripoli government wants to please the US to remain in power. Foreign minister Al-Mangoush in November 2021 did hint in a BBC interview about the possibility of handing over Masud to the US. This is the first time the corrupt Tripoli government ever talked about Lockerbie. At the time I led a social media campaign, including several TV appearances on prominent Libya TV channels. The public reaction supporting me was huge and the minister was forced to clarify her comments. She even denied what was attributed to her in that BBC interview, despite the fact a video clip of that conversation was aired!  And then silence until the news/rumours broke last week. 

5.  Finally: I never believed that the US is serious about extraditing Mr Masud to stand trial. However I tried, I could not confirm that the Libyan side received any official request from the Americans to extradite the man. There are no indications that the Americans are really seeking him. One simple indication of that is the fact that, as of today, Masud’s name is not on the FBI list of most wanted. I recall in 1991 the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was on the top list as soon as he was indicted. Would the corrupt Tripoli government hand Masud over if it believed that could help it stay in power? It is unlikely, but such government is capable of committing almost any sin against the country and its people. 

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Mr al Megrahi is alive and there is nobody to blame

[This is the headline over an article by Libyan political analyst Mustafa Fetouri published today on the website of The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi. It reads in part:]

It has been nearly a year since the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, declared his decision to release Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the only person convicted for the downing of Pan-Am flight 103 in 1988. He was released on compassionate grounds, as Mr al Megrahi was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

August 20 also happened to be the day of the Libyan Youth Festival, an annual occasion celebrated by large crowds of young people in the capital Tripoli, where Mr al Megrahi’s plane landed. The crowds received news of his landing and they rushed to the airport to greet the man most of them believed to be innocent.

The tarmac was already filled with his extended family and members of his tribe, some of whom had been waiting since dawn to see their beloved son and to once again prove to themselves that he was innocent. The United States was angry at the “huge” welcome Mr al Megrahi received.

Flashback to 2007, the height of the effort to normalise relations between Libya and the UK: Tony Blair, the UK’s former prime minister, and Muammar Qaddafi oversaw a deal between British Petroleum and Libya’s NOC worth $US900 million. The deal effectively conceded oil exploration rights to BP just off the Gulf of Sirte, Mr Qaddafi’s hometown.

Now flash forward to May 2010: the Obama administration is shaken to the bone by the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. It finds itself in the very difficult position of having to balance the needs of consumers who want cheap oil at the pump with the potential environmental risks that come with drilling. US senators, worried about being re-elected, ride the wave of public anger and try to discredit BP.

In doing so, they concoct a bizarre conspiracy theory, linking the dead fish in the Gulf of Mexico to Mr al Megrahi’s release, to the Scottish justice system, to the doctors who diagnosed the cancer patient, and all the way back to 2007’s BP Libya deal. They bundle the whole thing together and throw it at Mr Obama, as well as the British prime minister David Cameron on his way to Washington.

Now, Mr al Megrahi is still alive one year after he was released from prison as a terminally ill patient with three months to live. He might not be in good shape, but he is still alive (or, at least, the Libyans have been good about keeping his health under wraps, since few have managed to see him since January).

Mr al Megrahi still insists on his innocence. If only anyone would listen – not only to him, but to an increasingly growing public opinion that includes the head of the family association for Lockerbie families, Dr Jim Swire (whose daughter was also on the flight). A number of lawyers and legal experts are also not quite convinced that Mr al Megrahi blew up Pan Am flight 103 en route from Heathrow to New York 22 years ago.

I would not be surprised if Mr al Megrahi appears in public on the first anniversary of his release; the stage is ready to receive him. The same crowds of young Libyans are celebrating this year as well on the very same date he was released a year ago. If this happens, I would guess that agitated US politicians would probably call on the United Nations to intervene and stop those mad Libyans and punish Mr MacAskill.

Mr al Megrahi is still alive: who can they blame?

It’s amazing how the conspiracy theorists managed to connect all the dots and devise a perfect theory that revolves around the quest for oil rather than the quest for human dignity and respect. (...)

Why is it so important to prove that BP may have lobbied the British government to pressure Scotland for Mr al Megrahi’s release? Mr MacAskill acted on the order of compassion, after all, fulfilling an ailing man’s last wish to die next to his ageing mother.

Monday 12 October 2009

Doha Debates to discuss Megrahi’s release

The Doha Debates will begin their sixth series today, with a discussion on the bitterly-contested release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, a Libyan national with terminal cancer, was freed in August by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds, provoking an international outcry and condemnation by US President Barack Obama.

Al Megrahi was the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which came down over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

The debate, which takes place at Qatar Foundation Headquarters at 7.30pm, will argue the motion that “This House deplores the release of the Lockerbie bomber to Libya”. Debates’ Chairman Tim Sebastian said that most of the comments had so far come from Britain and America.

“It’s time to hear from Arabs themselves about the conflict between justice and compassion. There are moral and practical implications at stake. What message did the release of the bomber send to terrorists around the world, as well as their victims?”

Arguing for the motion is Daniel Kawczynski, British MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libya.

With him is Guma El-Gamaty, a Libyan writer, political commentator and frequent critic of the Libyan regime. He has been living in the UK for more than 30 years.

The panel opposing the motion includes Jim Swire, whose 23-year old daughter Flora was a passenger on the Pan Am flight. Since her death, he has led a high-profile campaign for justice on behalf of UK relatives.

He is joined by Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic and political commentator who writes for a variety of Arab and English language newspapers and is currently MBA Programme Director at The Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli.

Besides the BBC World News broadcasts, the Debates can now be followed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

[From today's edition of The Peninsula, Qatar's largest English language daily newspaper. The article can be read here.]

Thursday 22 December 2022

What might a second Lockerbie trial look like?

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

Libyan Abu Agila Muhammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi will appear for the second time before a federal court in Washington DC next Tuesday where he will be told formally of the charges against him. Mas'ud first appeared in court eight days ago after he was kidnapped from his bedroom in Tripoli on 12 December. The US law enforcement agencies colluded with a notorious local militia to snatch the old man and take him to America.

In his first appearance in court the suspect refused to talk to the judge because he claimed that he did not have a lawyer. It was reported that he rejected the lawyer appointed by the court to represent him. His family is working to provide their own lawyer.

The 71 year old will face charges relating to his alleged part in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. (...)

The US has always insisted on trying the Lockerbie case in its own courts but it failed to get access to the suspects as Libya refused to hand over its citizens to the Americans. After a decade of negotiations and political wrangling by the late Nelson Mandela and others, it was agreed to have the trial in Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.

Today, 34 years later, the US appears to have its long-awaited Lockerbie bombing trial, the second in a case that is not only very old but also very complicated.

So what might second Lockerbie trial look like in a US court? What are the chances of Mas'ud being found guilty or acquitted? Furthermore, what will be the implications of the verdict on the whole case, particularly on the conviction of the late al-Megrahi whose lawyer, Aamer Anwar, has been trying to overturn his conviction, posthumously, since 2014 without success? Will Mas'ud's defence be able to convince the American jury that his client had nothing to do with the bomb that destroyed the doomed flight?

The US prosecutors have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, many things. For a start they have to establish a link between Mas'ud and the bomb in the first place and that he did, indeed, make the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988. The US alleges that he confessed to this in 2012 while being interrogated in Libya's notorious Al-Hadba Prison, south of Tripoli. Many question if such a confession is admissible in court given the conditions in which it was extracted. Former US Attorney General William Barr insisted recently that the confession is admissible in a US federal court. He even called for the death penalty if Mas'ud is convicted after prosecutors said that they will not seek capital punishment.

Al-Hadba has a terrible reputation. In 2015, Human Rights Watch questioned the methods used to interrogate detainees, including senior former Gaddafi officials, one of whom was Gaddafi's son Saad. A Tripoli-based legal expert who requested anonymity said, "Only a kangaroo court might accept anything let alone a confession from Al-Hadba Prison."

Moreover, to get a conviction, US prosecutors must convince the jury that it was a bomb made by Mas'ud, and no other device, that destroyed the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet on that cold evening as it flew at 31,000 feet. The prosecution apparently rests on the US allegation that Mas'ud handed over a Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb to Fhima, who dropped it into the Pan Am Flight 103 luggage feeder at Luga Airport in Malta. Proving that Mas'ud was in Malta on 21 December 1988 might be easy, but proving that he actually took the explosive-laden suitcase and handed it over to Fhima is a difficult one. Any evidence presented here will be circumstantial as there are no witnesses to testify to seeing Fhima and Mas'ud at the airport or anywhere else in Malta 34 years ago.

One expert on the case, Scottish law Professor Robert Black, told me that he thinks the "crux of the case" against Mas'ud will be whether it "can be proved beyond reasonable doubt" that he manufactured the bomb that destroyed the aircraft. This would lead to issues connected with the timer alleged to have been used to detonate the bomb. Tiny fragments of that timer were, allegedly, found among the wreckage in a field almost a year after the disaster. More evidence emerged after the first trial in Camp Zeist, though, suggesting that that "evidence" was planted by US investigators to frame Libya. According to George Thompson, a private investigator who worked on the case, the type of timer said to have been used in the bomb was not in production in 1988.

The third issue is that the US prosecutors have to explain, convincingly, how and where the bomb got into the luggage hold area of the Boeing 747. The 34-year-old official US narrative is that the suitcase with the bomb inside came from Malta and was fed into Pan Am Flight 103A at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. The plane then left for London Heathrow Airport ... However, since the 2001 trial more evidence and testimonies have emerged challenging that theory.

Mas'ud's best chance of acquittal or getting a lenient sentence rests on his defence team's ability to reopen the entire Lockerbie issue. For any trial to be fair it must consider the Lockerbie bombing as a single case and the US should not cherry-pick what it likes to advance in its line of argument.

I believe that it should be an international court that tries Mas'ud, not a US federal court. The late Nelson Mandela, who mediated between the US, Britain and Libya to arrange the 2001 trial, once said, "No one country should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." However, that is exactly what the US is in Mas'ud's case. Is that fair? And does it mean that his chance of a fair trial is very, very small indeed?

So what might a second Lockerbie trial look like? A "kangaroo court" perhaps?

[RB: I am not an American lawyer, but in my view the precise mechanism whereby the bomb got onto Pan Am 103 won't loom large in the US trial. As I understand it, under the relevant Federal legislation (see US Department of Justice outlines allegations against Masudall the prosecution has to prove is (a) that Masud made the bomb (b) that he knew it would be planted on an aircraft and (c) that his bomb was so planted and led to the destruction of Pan Am 103. Proving precisely how the device got onto the aircraft would not be essential to getting a conviction. Establishing Masud's guilt does not require proof of how his bomb got onto the plane, whether via Malta, Frankfurt or Heathrow ingestion.

I think the crux of the case will be whether it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was a Libyan bomb, manufactured by Masud, that brought the plane down. So the evidence that has emerged since Zeist about the metallurgy of the fragment of circuit board alleged to have formed part of the bomb timer will be vital: Lockerbie: Bomb trigger or clever fake?]

Thursday 26 March 2020

Lockerbie’s only convict may be exonerated posthumously

[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of Middle East Monitor by Libyan journalist and analyst Dr Mustafa FetouriIt reads in part:]

The only man to be convicted of the infamous Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, died in 2012 and protested his innocence until his final breath. His fellow Libyan and co-defendant, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted and is still living in Libya. The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 killed all 259 passengers and crew on board as well as 11 people on the ground in the small Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Al-Megrahi was not alone in believing that he and his country were innocent of the crime. His family members are determined to clear his name if not prove his complete innocence. His son Ali is leading the family mission and told the BBC that his father was “innocent and had cared more about the victims than himself.”

The family has just won a huge victory with the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) decision on 11 March that an appeal can be made to the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest criminal court. The SCCRC had to decide if there are grounds for a posthumous appeal on the basis of a possible miscarriage of justice, among other possibilities. The commission found sufficient grounds to question the 2001 trial that convicted Al-Megrahi. Six grounds for review were considered before it was concluded that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred by reason of “unreasonable verdict” and “non-disclosure”.

This specifically raised serious doubts about the process by which Al-Megrahi was identified and linked to clothes found in the suitcase said to have contained the bomb. According to the SCCRC, “No reasonable trial court could have accepted that Mr Megrahi was identified as the purchaser.”

The only witness to link Al-Megrahi to the clothes was a Maltese shop keeper named Tony Gauci, who died in 2016. He was a co-owner of a clothes shop in Malta and he testified that he sold the clothes to Al-Megrahi, who denied vehemently that he had ever been to the shop let alone bought anything from the witness. During the trial, this testimony was central to Al-Megrahi’s conviction, although the crown prosecutor, Lord Advocate Peter Fraser, later completely dismissed Gauci as “an apple short of a picnic” and “not quite the full shilling”. Why he accepted his testimony at the special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in the first place is still a mystery. Could it have been a conspiracy against Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, as the late Libyan leader always claimed? He is not alone in thinking so.

Law Professor Robert Black, who came up with the idea of holding Al-Megrahi’s trial in a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands — the first such occasion in history – now talks of a wider conspiracy to frame Libya. “I think the Scottish prosecution was from the start excessively influenced by the US Department of Justice, FBI and CIA,” Black told me this week when I asked about this possibility. In the late eighties, the US hated Gaddafi for his unrelenting opposition to America’s policies in the Arab world and beyond. He was accused of so many terrorist acts around the world that adding Lockerbie to the list would have been neither difficult to do nor easy to dispute; western media and politicians already projected Gaddafi as a monster capable of any and every evil.

It later emerged that Toni Gauci received $2 million in return for his testimony against Al-Megrahi before he disappeared from Malta altogether. Many experts think that he was coached on his story to be as convincing as possible. Under Scottish law, it is illegal to reward or coach witnesses in any legal proceedings.

According to Professor Black, the High Court of Judiciary could return its verdict before the 32nd anniversaries of the atrocity on 21 December this year. Meticulous as ever, the now retired professor thinks the court is likely to quash the original verdict and thus exonerate the late Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi posthumously. (...) [RB: Given the restrictions on court hearings imposed during the current coronavirus emergency, I am now fairly sure that the appeal will not now be over by the anniversary in December.]

At this stage we might feel entitled to ask what should happen to Libya if the verdict goes the way that Al-Megrahi’s family hope. The North African country had to endure crippling economic sanctions imposed by a series of UN Security Council resolutions starting with Resolution 731 passed on 21 March 1992. If Al-Megrahi is vindicated, might Libya also be vindicated and possibly claim compensation for the damage caused by the sanctions? Can it ask for the reimbursement of $2.7 billion paid to victims’ families? Even though the country accepted responsibility for the actions of its “officials” — Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, who was station manager for Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta at the time of the bombing — the money was paid as part of the requirements of the UN Resolutions.

Whatever the Scottish High Court of Justiciary decides later this year, many think that Al-Megrahi and Libya are already exonerated by the fact that the SCCRC has raised serious doubts about the trial and its verdict. Given the obvious US links to the case, it is interesting to note that current US Attorney General William Barr was the acting Attorney General who indicted the two Libyans in 1991. What will he have to say when the Court in Scotland returns its verdict?

Friday 17 February 2023

Trial of kidnapped Libyan could unravel entire US Lockerbie bombing narrative

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri published in the current issue of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. It reads in part:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 74, a Libyan national, appeared in a federal court in Washington, DC, on Dec 12, 2022, charged in connection with the bombing that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland while flying from London to New York.

 According to US prosecutors, Mas’ud made the bomb that blew up the plane on Dec 21, 1988, killing 270, including 11 people on the ground. Two other Libyans have been tried for the same crime: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted while his co-accused Lamin Fahima was acquitted in 2001. Al-Meghrahi protested his innocence until his 2012 death from prostate cancer in his Tripoli home. In fact, his conviction was widely criticized by the legal community and by United Nations observer Hans Kochler, who cited “foreign governmental and intelligence interference in the presentation of evidence.” 

Mas’ud’s kidnapping and subsequent “extradition” to the US started in the poor suburb of Abu Salim, south of the Libyan capital Tripoli, where armed militias roam freely. 

On the night of Nov 16, 2022, Mas’ud was getting ready for bed when half a dozen unmarked cars pulled up in front of his home. Four masked and armed men forced their way into his bedroom, dragged him out in his pajamas, shoved him into one of the cars and drove away. One of the masked men told the small crowd that quickly formed in the street that Mas’ud would be back soon. Abdel Moneim Al-Maryami, the family’s spokesman and Ma’sud’s nephew, described the shock for onlookers who “watched helplessly.” 

That evening Mas’ud had just returned from his third visit to the hospital in a week. The septuagenarian suffers from a host of illnesses made worse during his decade-long incarceration in the notorious Al-Hadba prison in Tripoli, accused of preparing car bombs in Libya’s 2011 civil war. The US Justice Department alleges that Mas’ud first confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb in Al-Hadba prison, but the former director of that prison, Khalid Sharif, denies that Mas’ud ever made such a confession while he was there. Sharif, now living in exile in Turkey, was one of the top leaders of the organization known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 2004 the US listed this Afghanistan-based group as terrorists but unlisted it in 2015 after it participated in the 2011 US-NATO supported armed revolt that toppled former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s government.

The following morning the family started searching for Mas’ud, a daunting task because different militias have different detention centers. After a week and multiple visits to the headquarters of different militias, the offices of the prime minister and the prosecutor general, and different detention centers around Tripoli, Abdel Moneim was told where he was and allowed to visit him. 

In detention Mas’ud told his visitors that nobody “interrogated him,” let alone explained why he was detained or by whom. Family members continued visiting until one day his son, Essam, went for a visit but was told his father had been taken to Misrata, some 186 miles (300 km) east of Tripoli. “He was handed over” to Joint Force, a notorious and powerful militia, Essam said. 

No one mentioned the idea of handing him over to the US. In fact, Essam said, “they assured us that he was being kept there for his own safety.” Other family members had filed a kidnapping report with the police. Government officials denied knowing anything about the kidnapping. The prosecutor general denied issuing an arrest warrant and promised to investigate the matter. 

Mas’ud made headlines on Dec 21, 2020, the 32nd anniversary of the bombing, when then-US Attorney General William Barr accused him of assembling the bomb and handing it over to Al-Megrahi in Malta. 

Libyan laws do not permit the extradition of its citizens to stand trial abroad, and it has no extradition treaty with the US. In a BBC interview in 2021, Libya’s US-educated foreign minister, Najla El-Mangoush, said her government was “open” to the idea of extraditing suspect Mas’ud but “within the law.” Faced with a huge public outcry, El-Mangoush denied that she ever said she was open to Mas’ud’s extradition, forcing the BBC to release the video clip of the interview in which she made that claim.

The US and Libyan governments knew that Mas’ud could not legally be transferred to the US so they colluded with Joint Force, a militia loyal to Tripoli’s government, to grab him.

Just before midday on Dec 11, 2022, some Pan Am Flight 103 victims’ families received an “urgent update” email from the Scottish authorities updating them on their efforts to prosecute Mas’ud. The message’s closing line said the US “has obtained custody” of him. 

I was in Paris, waiting for news because a friend had already alerted me to expect some. His family first heard the news from me after I spoke to their spokesman Abdel Moneim that morning.

On Dec 12, Mas’ud limped into Judge Robin Meriweather’s DC courtroom where he told the judge that he “cannot talk” before meeting his attorney. A day later, a Libyan businessman told me that he was ready to fund a defense team. But appointing the right defense team thousands of miles away is not an easy task for his family who are still in shock and confused by the conflicting advice they are getting from friends and volunteers trying to help them. 

The fact that he was kidnapped should be reason enough to halt any further legal proceedings against him. But the US has a history of kidnapping suspects and sending them for interrogation to countries that use torture liberally. 

On two previous occasions, US commandos kidnapped suspects from Libya to try them in the US. Ahmed Abu Khatallah,  was kidnapped in 2014, and tried and convicted in the US for participating in the 2012 attack on the US compound in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In 2013 Abu Anas al-Libi was snatched and taken to US for trial accused of planning the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He died of cancer in custody days before his trial. For this third kidnapping the US outsourced the dirty work to a local militia.

The news that Mas’ud had been kidnapped was condemned by Libya’s parliament, High Council of State (a consultative body), the national security adviser and the minister of justice. They also warned that handing him over to the US would be illegal and an infringement of Libyan sovereignty. However, none of them knew exactly what happened, and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Debeibeh kept silent. The uproar was repeated when Mas’ud was reported to have been sent to the US.

The public reaction has been supportive of Mas’ud and critical of the government in Tripoli. In a clumsy televised speech, Debeibeh attempted some damage control but instead made things worse. He said that “this man [Mas’ud] killed 270 innocent souls in cold blood,” but did not provide any evidence. Most Libyans mocked him and asked whether more Libyans would be sent to the US for Lockerbie bombing trials. 

Rumors of more extraditions of Libyans intensified in the wake of a Jan. 12, 2023 unannounced visit of CIA Director William Burns. (...)

A second Lockerbie bombing trial is very unlikely. US prosecutors will try to avoid such a scenario because it could lead to re-examining the whole Lockerbie trial evidence of 2001, as well as evidence that has emerged since Al-Megrahi’s conviction. Doing so could unravel the entire case and cast serious doubts about the evidence used to convict Al-Megrahi 22 years ago and raise questions about Libya’s responsibility for the bombing.

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing and now represents UK victims’ families, argues that the United Nations, not the US, should try Mas’ud. He said “no one country can be the plaintiff, the prosecutor and the judge” in this case. His compatriot, law professor Robert Black, thinks Mas’ud can still “get a fair trial” in a US court. The professor believes that US prosecutors must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Mas’ud made the device that destroyed the jumbo jet on that cold December night in 1988, that his bomb, and no other, caused the disaster and that Mas’ud knew that his bomb would be used for that purpose.

Professor Black, the primary figure behind the previous Lockerbie bombing trial in Camp Zeist under Scots law in The Netherlands, thinks it is not “essential” for US prosecutors to show how the bomb got on the plane in order to get a conviction. In such a scenario the evidence to convict Mas’ud will rest, heavily, on the analysis of the fragment of circuit board that the US claims was part of the timer that set the bomb off in midair. That tiny fragment, US investigators claim, was found in a Scottish field where debris from the plane was scattered. However, since that first Lockerbie trial, evidence has emerged demonstrating that the fragment was actually planted to frame Libya.

George Thompson, a former Scottish police officer turned private investigator, who has worked extensively on the case, claims to have the evidence to show exactly that. Thompson told me that he is ready to be a witness in the upcoming US trial, whenever that might be.

If convicted, Mas’ud is certain to face life imprisonment. In his first court appearance on Dec 12, prosecutors told him that they will not be seeking the death penalty. US former Attorney General Barr, in a BBC interview published the next day, said Mas’ud should receive the death penalty. Barr also said that Mas’ud’s alleged confession, should be admissible in court, despite concerns by others that it may have been coerced. 

Mas’ud’s trial could take months to start and weeks to end. Regardless of the outcome, most Libyans believe it will not bring us any closer to the truth about Lockerbie.

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."

Thursday 3 December 2020

To preserve a 31-year-old lie, Britain is ready to tarnish Scottish justice

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

The third appeal hearing for the Lockerbie bombing's only conviction ended last Thursday before Scotland's highest court. The five judges have now retired to deliberate their verdict. Presiding Lord Justice General Colin Sutherland, Scotland's most senior judge, said that the panel will deliver its written opinion "as soon as it possibly can" after three days of submissions.

In 2001, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988. The blast killed all 270 people on board. However, the verdict has been challenged by Al-Megrahi, his family, some of the victims' families and the legal community in Scotland itself.

In March this year, a Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) permitted Al-Megrahi's family appeal, posthumously, before the country's highest court. The SCCRC cited a possible "miscarriage of justice" in the first trial. In particular, it pointed out that the guilty ruling was "unreasonable" and the British government withheld evidence from Al-Megrahi's defence team that might have proved his innocence from the start. Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi died of cancer at his home in Libya in 2012.

Claire Mitchell, QC, acting for Al-Megrahi's family, said that the way that he had been identified in the first trial was "highly prejudicial". A Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, was the prosecution's star witness in the 2001 trial. He identified Al-Megrahi from a photograph as the person who bought the clothes from his shop in which the bomb, it was alleged, was wrapped and put in a suitcase that Al-Megrahi passed onto the luggage feeder of the doomed flight. However, Gauci's testimony has been regarded as untrustworthy since it emerged that he received money in return for his testimony. The British government again withheld documents that the defence believes could help prove Al-Megrahi's innocence.

What is at stake here is not only the truth about Britain's deadliest terror attack, but also the reputation of the Scottish justice system. (...)

Importantly, families of British victims also believed that the Libyan was wrongly convicted for the atrocity. In fact, they went as far as campaigning for a retrial. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on the flight, had for years believed in Al-Megrahi's innocence. Swire even helped the Libyan's family to bring about the third appeal in the case. "I'm delighted that the case has been referred back to the Appeal Court," he said after the SCCRC decision in March.

The only party that still wants to maintain the 31-year-old narrative about the Lockerbie bombing seem to be the British government. It has, again, withheld documents from the defence and still refuses to hold a public inquiry into the tragedy despite repeated requests to do so. It looks as if the government in Westminster does not want the truth to come out, even if that means tarnishing the Scottish justice system. However, it now it looks as if the government has a new, unlikely, ally in this matter.

Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) has defunded the case for no obvious reason. By cutting funding to the defence team, the GNA is breaking Libyan law that obliges it to help citizens facing legal issues abroad. This suggests that it either approves of what Westminster is doing, or is under pressure from the British to drop its backing for the appeal.

Moreover, the GNA knows very well that the Lockerbie bombing is not just a case of a misdemeanour by a Libyan citizen in another country. Lockerbie is, in fact, a national issue for all Libyans, because they were all, in effect, punished for it collectively by the imposition of UN resolutions and sanctions. The latter, through Resolution 883, for example, imposed a freeze on assets held abroad, a ban on sales of certain equipment and a ban on all commercial flights into and out of the country.

Between 1992 and 1999, thousands of Libyans who had to travel abroad, including diplomats, were forced to take dangerous overland journeys to Tunisia or Egypt, or go to Malta by sea in order to catch flights to their destinations further afield. Foreigners visiting Libya had to endure the same procedure in reverse.

Furthermore, Al-Megrahi's defence team are confident that their appeal this time has all the ingredients necessary for a successful outcome. The leading defence lawyer, Aamer Anwar, told me that his team mounted a "robust appeal".

In the absence of GNA funding, Anwar was forced to launch some online fundraising to meet part of his expenses which have been mounting for the past six years since he first took up the case. He suspects that the GNA was put under pressure from the British government to steer away from the case and that Boris Johnson, when he was foreign minister, discussed Lockerbie with GNA officials when he visited Libya twice in 2017. Anwar is pursuing a Freedom of Information Act request about these visits. He also told me that his legal team in Libya has been instructed to file a case against the GNA for its refusal to fund the Megrahi appeal.

If nothing else, the appeal has once again rallied many Libyans around the case as a national cause. This is evident by the hundreds of comments on social media which generally shame the GNA and accuse it of betraying the entire country, not just Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi. 

Thursday 3 September 2020

Megrahi’s reputation, and that of Libya, will soon be restored

[An article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri headlined Why is the GNA defunding the Lockerbie case despite it being close to a verdict of innocence? is published this morning on the website of Middle East Monitor. It reads as follows:]

The only Lockerbie bombing convict is one step closer to his guilty verdict being overturned, however, posthumously. Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi died at home in Tripoli on 21 May, 2012, while protesting his innocence until his last breath. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) allowed the family to proceed with an appeal to clear his name. The case was sent to the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest criminal court, and a date for the final hearing has been scheduled to start on 24 November.

His 27-year-old son Ali, who is leading the family’s long and arduous fight to clear his father’s name, is certain that justice will prevail this time and that his late father’s verdict will be reversed. During a telephone conversation in Tripoli last Monday, he assured me: “My father’s name will certainly be cleared this time.”

The family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar, a distinguished Scottish lawyer who volunteered to take the case, in a series of emails confidently communicated to me: “We have a robust appeal.”

Winning this time seems certain. Professor Robert Black, a Scottish law authority, and the mind behind the first Lockerbie court setup in the Netherlands in May 2000, agrees with this analysis. He believes the Scottish court will “overturn the verdict” against Al-Megrahi, however, on the “narrower ground” of the crown prosecutor “withholding materials” from the defence team that could have helped establish Al-Megrahi’s innocence from the outset. Professor Black is “disappointed” that the court might not go as far as “to find that no reasonable court would have convicted Al-Megrahi.” He added, “I hope I’m wrong about this” – which would restore some of the Scottish judiciary’s reputation tarnished by the Lockerbie case and its aftermath.

The Lockerbie bombing, since 1988, became negatively synonymous with Libya, Gaddafi and its entire population. Gaddafi, firmly believing in their innocence, refused to hand over his accused citizens, Lamin Fhimah and Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, to stand trial in the UK. This led the United Nations (UN) to adopt a series of sanction resolutions, including Resolution 731, passed on 21 March, 1992, with harsh economic and political punitive measures that not only isolated Libya, but made life extremely difficult for its entire population.

The long-held belief that the late Gaddafi was behind the attack still echoes within Western mainstream media, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary emerging over the years.

Now, it can be disclosed that Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), the only UN-recognised authority in the country, wants the mud to keep sticking to Gaddafi, Libya and its people too. The GNA is not enthusiastic about this latest development. The GNA have, illegally, cut the funding for the case over the last three years.

Al-Megrahi’s son Ali and the family lawyer are puzzled as to why the GNA cut funding at this critical junction of the case – when winning seems all but certain.

Lawyer Anwar does not disqualify the assumption that the GNA came under pressure from both the UK and the US to steer away from the case. The British and American narrative of the Lockerbie tragedy has always been that Libya is responsible and “that narrative must be maintained”, Anwar informs me.

However, suspension of defanging goes much deeper within the GNA, where corruption is rampant. A Scottish consultant to the legal team, speaking on condition of anonymity, yesterday clarified: “I believe funding is still budgeted, but the money disappears before getting to its intended final destination.”

Despite writing several times to the GNA to resume funding to meet the substantial mounting legal fees, Anwar received no replies until a few months ago, when his consultant was told that the GNA did not receive any messages relating to the funding of the case.

However, the consultant strongly disputes this, asserting that she “personally” handed over the file to the “highest official in the GNA” in a December 2017 meeting in Tripoli. When asked if “the highest official” meant Fayez Al-Sarraj, the GNA’s prime minister, she replied: “You think about it.”

It is not wholly unusual for the GNA to take such a position. Part of the political legitimacy in new Libya rests on the claim that Gaddafi was a supporter of international terror, and the Lockerbie bombing must have been his evil work too.

In November of 2019, the GNA’s Minister of Justice Mohamed Lamlum, personally stood before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ask Saif Al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son, to face trial before the ICC, tarnishing the very judiciary he is supposed to protect and defend. Gaddafi Junior is wanted by the ICC for his – broadly disputed – role in quelling the 2011 troubles that ended his father’s rule over Libya.

According to different legal experts, the Libyan state is obliged to help its citizens abroad by all means necessary, including through funding in the event of legal issues. The Lockerbie case is much more than a petty case about a Libyan citizen, but it concerns the entire nation, its history and its reputation. This should elevate the case to a “national cause” for all Libyans, according to Anwar.
Indeed, Libyans across the political spectrum now consider the Lockerbie case a national issue and that Libya must continue funding the legal team, just as it did before 2011.
During the Gaddafi era, the government even established a consulate in Glasgow to closely monitor the case, and to help Al-Megrahi’s family who had to relocate to Scotland to be near their father while in jail.
It is not clear if the GNA will honour its legal obligations towards its own citizen, Al-Megrahi, albeit posthumously, but the legal team is not surrendering. They have already established a liaising team inside Libya to follow up with the chaotic authorities in Tripoli.
A group of volunteers inside and outside Libya are gearing up to explore other funding avenues if the GNA continues to reject meeting its legal obligations. In any eventuality, Al-Megrahi’s reputation, and that of Libya, will soon be restored.