Friday, 28 July 2017

Reaction to Megrahi’s appearance at pro-Gaddafi rally

What follows is excerpted from an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2011.

Lockerbie convict appears at rally in Libya


[This is the headline over an item published yesterday on The Lede blog on The New York Times website. It reads in part:]

Video broadcast on Libyan state television on Tuesday of a rally in support of Col Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government appeared to show Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

The public appearance in Libya comes nearly two years after Mr Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds and said to have just three months to live.

In a copy of the video posted online by London’s Telegraph, Mr Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, was seated in a wheelchair, wearing a surgical mask. (...)

Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said the footage would stoke further “anger and outrage” at Mr Megrahi’s release from jail in 2009 and was “a further reminder that a great mistake was made,” by Scotland’s local government, the BBC reports. (...)

His continued survival is likely to further anger from some of the families of the victims killed in the bombing. Several American families objected to the release of Mr Megrahi, who served only 8 years of a 27-year minimum sentence. Of the 259 people killed on the plane, 198 were American, and the United States strongly opposed his release. Other victims were killed as the wreckage of the plane plunged to earth in Lockerbie.

Scottish politicians from opposition parties reacted to the footage with anger, Scotland’s STV reports. Iain Gray, of the Scottish Labour Party, called Mr Megrahi’s appearance an “embarrassment” for Mr MacAskill, and the leader of the Scottish government, Alex Salmond. Mr MacAskill and Mr Salmond are leaders of the ruling Scottish National Party.

John Lamont, a Scottish Conservative, said: “The last thing relatives of the 270 people murdered by the Lockerbie bomber need to see is the sight of him alive and well and free, almost two years after he was released by the SNP government.”

Complicating the debate is the fact that the relatives of some people killed in the bombing continue to doubt that Mr Megrahi was responsible for the attack and have called for a fresh inquiry.

Christine Grahame, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee from the Scottish National Party told STV that she believes Mr Megrahi was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and is “not unhappy” to see him alive.

[This report at least recognises that serious concerns exist over the conviction of Megrahi, something very unusual, and very welcome, in coverage of Lockerbie in the United States. It also (unlike most UK newspapers apart from The Herald) refers to Megrahi as the "Lockerbie convict", which he is, and not as the "Lockerbie bomber", which, on the evidence, he is not.]

Thursday, 27 July 2017

UK Government "learned significant lessons" after deal in the desert row

[What follows is the text of a Press Association news agency report published on this date in 2010 on the website of The Independent under the headline Coalition to improve Holyrood relations after Lockerbie row:]

The UK Government said today that "significant lessons" have been learned in relations with Scotland after the row over the Lockerbie bomber's release.
The Tory-Lib Dem coalition said it wants to build more "positive relations" with Edinburgh after the fallout from the freeing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.
The comments came in a response to a recent Scottish Affairs Select Committee report into relations between the two administrations.
"We believe that there are significant lessons from this disagreement that have already been learnt," the UK Government response said.
"The Government's priority is to build more positive relations with the Scottish Government in all areas."
The SNP Government clashed with the previous Labour administration at Westminster over a controversial "deal in the desert" agreed with Libya three years ago without Edinburgh's knowledge.
The Memorandum of Understanding paved the way for a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA), which Megrahi unsuccessfully applied for to Scottish ministers.
Today's response states: "In future the Government will consider carefully the appropriate balance between interests of confidentiality and the responsibility to keep the Scottish Government informed of international agreements made on its behalf.
"This includes consultation with the devolved administrations on matters relating to international relations which touch upon devolved matters."
Megrahi is the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing in which 270 people were killed. He was released on compassionate grounds last July after medical evidence indicated he only had three months live.
Calls for the decision to release Megrahi to be re-examined grew in volume in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and revelations that BP had lobbied for the PTA, amid concern that ditching it could damage an exploration deal it had signed in Libya.
Foreign Secretary William Hague described Megrahi's release as "wrong and misguided" at the weekend.
The coalition Government also remains committed to maintaining the Scottish Secretary, despite the Lib Dems, who occupy the role through Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Michael Moore, having previously campaigned for it to be scrapped.
Today's response said: "The Secretary of State for Scotland will play a full and active role in policy formulation, ensuring that the devolution settlement in Scotland is fully respected during policy development, and also ensuring that the UK Government is represented in Scotland."

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Slim Virgin and Lockerbie

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer that was published on the OhmyNews website on this date ten years ago:]

The Salinger Investigation of the Pan Am 103 Bombing

Pierre Salinger was White House press secretary to Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Salinger also served as US Senator from California and a campaign manager for Robert Kennedy.

But Salinger is also famous for his investigative journalism. Hired by ABC News as its Paris bureau chief in 1978, he became the network's chief European correspondent in 1983.

During his distinguished career, Salinger broke important stories, such as the secret negotiations by the US government with Iran to free American hostages in 1979-80 and the last meeting between US Ambassador April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein in 1990, during which she led the Iraqi president to believe that the U.S. would not react to an invasion of Kuwait.

Salinger, who was based in London, spent a considerable amount of time and energy investigating the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. He and his collaborator, John Cooley, hired a young graduate, Linda Mack, to help in the investigation.

"I know that these two Libyans had nothing to do with it. I know who did it and I know exactly why it was done," Salinger said during his testimony at the Zeist trial, where one of the Libyans was convicted of murdering the 270 victims.

"That's all? You're not letting me tell the truth. Wait a minute; I know exactly who did it. I know how it was done," Salinger replied to the trial judge, Lord Sutherland, who simply asked him to leave the witness box.

"If you wish to make a point you may do so elsewhere, but I'm afraid you may not do so in this court," Lord Sutherland interrupted.

Searching for the True Identity of 'Slim Virgin'

Slim Virgin had been voted the most abusive administrator of Wikipedia. She upset so many editors that some of them decided to team up to research her real life identity.

Attempts to track her through Internet technology failed. This is suspicious in itself as the location of normal Internet users can easily be tracked. According to a team member, Slim Virgin "knows her way around the Internet and covered her tracks with care."

Daniel Brandt of the Wikipedia Review and founder of Wikipedia-Watch.org patiently assembled tiny clues about Slim Virgin and posted them on these Web sites. Eventually, two readers identified her. Slim Virgin was no other than Linda Mack, the young graduate Salinger hired.

John K Cooley, the collaborator of Salinger in the Lockerbie investigation, posted the following letter to Brandt on Wikipedia Review, which has been set up to discuss specific editors and editing patterns and general efforts by editors to influence or direct content in ways that might not be in keeping with Wikipedia policy:

“She claimed to have lost a friend/lover on pan103 and so was anxious to clear up the mystery. ABC News paid for her travel and expenses as well as a salary.

“Once the two Libyan suspects were indicted, she seemed to try to point the investigation in the direction of Qaddafi [Libyan President Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi], although there was plenty of evidence, both before and after the trials of Megrahi and Fhimah in the Netherlands, that others were involved, probably with Iran the commissioning power. [In 2001, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison; Lamin Khalifah Fhimah was acquitted.]

“Salinger came to believe that [first name redacted but known to be Linda] was working for [name of intelligence agency redacted but known to be Britain's MI5] and had been from the beginning; assigned genuinely to investigate Pan Am 103, but also to infiltrate and monitor us.”

Soon after Cooley wrote to Brandt, Linda Mack contacted him and asked him not to help Brandt in his efforts to expose her. All doubts about Slim Virgin's true identity had vanished. Today, Linda Mack is rumored to reside in Alberta, Canada, under the name of Sarah McEwan.

[RB: Three months later I made the following brief reference on this blog to a later article on the subject by Dr De Braeckeleer:]

This is a link [RB: the link is now (2017) broken] to an interesting commentary, based on the researches of Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer, asserting that Wikipedia articles on Pan Am 103 and Lockerbie have been systematically altered by a Wikipedia editor (pseudonym "SlimVirgin" but allegedly identified as Linda Mack -- a well-known name to Lockerbie buffs, and strongly suspected to be a MI5 asset or plant) in order more closely to reflect the "official" UK and US line on the Lockerbie disaster.

[RB: What a hornets' nest I had stirred! See the comments following the blogpost.]

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The opportunity to corrupt the evidence

[The following are the final four paragraphs of an article by Gwynne Dyer headlined Libya, Bulgarians and Lockerbie published on this date in 2007:]

On 21 December, 1988, Pan American flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Most were Americans, and it was initially suspected that Iran carried out the operation — possibly with the help of its Syrian ally — in revenge for the killing of 290 Iranians six months earlier aboard a civilian Iran Air flight that was shot down by a US warship in the Gulf. (The United States was backing Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, and the American warship mistakenly believed that it was under attack by the Iranian air force.)

US and British investigators started building a case against Iran and Syria — but a year and a half later Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, turning overnight from an ally to an enemy of the United States. In the US-led war to liberate Kuwait that was being planned, the cooperation of Iran and Syria was vital — so suddenly the Lockerbie investigation shifted focus to Libya, and in due course (about ten years) two Libyan intelligence agents were brought to trial for the crime.

In 2001 one of them, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland, where the plane came down. Libya paid $2.7 billion in “compensation” to the victims’ families, without ever admitting guilt, but the verdict always smelled fishy. Jim Swire, father of one of the victims on Pan Am 103, said: “I went into that court thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter. I came out thinking (al-Megrahi) had been framed.”

Late last month, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission declared al-Megrahi’s conviction “unsafe” and granted him the right to appeal the verdict because “the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.” That may well be true, and it may not have been an accident either. But, as former British ambassador to Libya Oliver Miles told the BBC recently, “No court is likely get to the truth, now that various intelligence agencies have had the opportunity to corrupt the evidence.” And so it goes.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Compassionate release application

What follows is an item posted on this blog just before noon on this date in 2009.

Application for compassionate release


I understand from an impeccable source that an application on behalf of Abdelbaset Megrahi for compassionate release has this morning been received by the Scottish Government Justice Department. As with the case of prisoner transfer, the decision rests with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill. Unlike prisoner transfer, compassionate release does not require the prisoner to abandon any ongoing legal proceedings.

Confirmation came in the form of an e-mail sent this afternoon by the Crown Office to relatives of those killed on Pan Am 103.

[RB: The Scottish Government’s website describes the process as follows:]
Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to release prisoners on licence on compassionate grounds. This process is akin to the system of medical parole that exists in many other jurisdictions.
The Act requires that Ministers are satisfied that there are compassionate grounds justifying the release of a person serving a sentence of imprisonment. Although the Act does not specify what the grounds for compassionate release are, generally it encompasses:
  • those suffering from a terminal illness and death is likely to occur soon. There are no fixed time limits but life expectancy of less than three months may be considered an appropriate period;
  • where the prisoner is severely incapacitated; or
  • where continued imprisonment would, in light of the conditions in which the prisoner is being held, endanger or shorten his or her life expectancy.

Application from Mr Al-Megrahi

An application from Mr Al-Megrahi requesting compassionate release was received by the Scottish Ministers on 24 July.
In accordance with normal procedure, the application was forwarded to the Scottish Prison Service, where the Prison Governor, Social Work, and medical staff provide advice on the application. Each report supported that Mr Al-Megrahi was suitable for compassionate release.
The Act requires that the Parole Board is also consulted. The Parole Board advised that Mr Al-Megrahi was suitable for compassionate release.
If compassionate release is granted, the prisoner is released on licence. The licence sets out a range of conditions, including conditions on residence.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a farce

[The following are letters published in The Guardian on this date in 2010:]

I support President Obama's call for "all the facts to be laid out" regarding the Lockerbie affair (Cameron tells Obama he will release Lockerbie files, 21 July). He should be reminded that the Montreal convention of 1971, enacted under the UN-linked International Civil Aviation Organisation, was the proper legal instrument to address the terrorist bombing of flight PA 103 over Lockerbie.

The US, resenting the convention provision that the two suspects could be tried in Libya, orchestrated UN sanctions in an attempt to force their surrender to an American or British court. The sanctions caused the deaths of most of 15,750 Libyans suffering from serious medical conditions because they could not be evacuated by air for treatment abroad. In addition, more than 780 Libyans died in ambulances en route to neighbouring countries. It was judged that there had been 1,135 stillbirths and 514 maternal deaths caused by the shortage of medicines, serums and vaccines blocked by the sanctions. A UN report in 1998 confirmed the impact of sanctions on Libya.

The conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was a farce. Even Lord Sutherland, presiding over the arbitrarily contrived Scottish court in Holland, emphasised the "uncertainties and qualifications" in the case, referred to parts of the "conflicting" evidence "which might not fit" and to a conclusion "which is not really justified". The US ignored international law, imposed sanctions on Libya which resulted in 16,000 deaths, and orchestrated a blatant miscarriage of justice.

As politicians in both Britain and the US queue up to comment on the release of Megrahi, they remain silent about the need for an inquiry into the atrocity itself. To deny the families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie an investigation into this gross act of terrorism is an international disgrace, and the failure to seek to identify those responsible encourages more acts of terrorism.

I have a personal concern about the failure to hold an inquiry as I was with Bernt Carlsson, the UN assistant secretary general, shortly before he checked in on Pan Am Flight 103. As president of the development committee of the European parliament I had invited him to Brussels, where he spoke about his hopes for an independent Namibia and the end of apartheid to a packed meeting of MEPs.

David Cameron should call for an independent inquiry led by the UN to find out the truth about Pan Am Flight 103.
Former MEP for Leeds (1984-99)

In all the hype about releasing Megrahi, one crucial fact seems to have got submerged. He was about to appeal with new evidence, and very likely win, when "persuaded" to abandon the appeal and be sent home "on compassionate grounds". Cynics might think this was to avoid the embarrassment of the court deciding that all along they had the wrong man. A case where two wrongs make a right?
Oxford

Saturday, 22 July 2017

US jury awards damages against Pan Am over Lockerbie

[This is the headline over a report published on the website of The Independent on this date in 1992. It reads as follows:]

In the first of what could be scores of damages trials stemming from the Lockerbie bombing, a US jury yesterday awarded $9.23m (£4.8m) to the family of a Pepsi-co executive.

The award, reached after a trial in Brooklyn federal court, was less than the $25m sought by the family of Robert Pagnucco. The family won the liability portion of the civil suits on 10 July with a verdict that Pan Am committed 'wilful misconduct' by failing to detect a bomb on Flight 103.

Friday, 21 July 2017

First parliamentary hints of neutral venue Lockerbie trial

[What follows is taken from House of Commons Hansard (columns 893-894) on this date in 1998:]
Mr Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) Pursuant to his answer of 6 July—Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 6 July 1998; c 6—what assessment he made of the implications of his description of the Libyan suspects in respect of the Lockerbie bombing as the perpetrators of that bombing for the conduct of any court proceedings in Scotland. [49914]
The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr Henry McLeish) On 10 July, I wrote to my hon. Friend explaining that that was merely a slip of the tongue on my part in failing to refer to the two Libyan accused as the "alleged perpetrators". The Government are committed to a fair trial for the two Libyan suspects.
Mr Dalyell I have no supplementary question as I have an Adjournment debate on the subject tonight.
Mr James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) Can the Minister comment on today's reports that the Government are about to change their policy on the locus of any trial? As a lawyer, I have reservations about such a precedent, but does he agree that it is in the interests of the victims' families that the accused should be brought to trial and that that may overcome concern about where that trial should be held?
Mr McLeish We are dealing with an act of mass murder. The Government are determined to bring those responsible to justice, and that has always been our objective. It remains our view that a Scottish or a United States court is the place for the trial. We do not accept criticism of the Scottish judicial system and its procedures, in which we have every confidence. However, we are willing to explore any option that will bring justice for the families, and discussions on such options have taken place from time to time.
Dr Liam Fox (Woodspring) May I ask for clarification of that answer? Is today's story inThe Guardian true? Have the Foreign Secretary and the American Secretary of State discussed the matter, and is a statement forthcoming shortly? If so, when will the Lord Advocate—the independent prosecutor—make a statement in the House of Lords, to which he is responsible, as he promised to do on 25 June?
Mr McLeish It is no secret that my right hon Friend the Foreign Secretary is in close contact with his American counterpart on issues of mutual interest, of which Lockerbie is a major one. Options are always being explored, and nothing has ever been ruled out. I am sure that the hon Gentleman would not wish me to speculate on this morning's press comment.
Dr Fox Given the Government's record of leaking and speculating to the press before coming to the House, we have an absolute right to know that the Government are not considering a change of policy. I asked the Minister a simple question. Is the essence of the story in The Guardian this morning true, or is it not true?
Mr McLeish The House will accept that this is a serious issue. Let me repeat that discussions have taken place—and are taking place—about important subjects, of which this is one. No prudent Government would wish to rule out any option. We are dealing with an act of mass murder, and we owe it to the families to bring those responsible to justice. That is our key objective, and I hope that the House can unite around it. It would be foolish to speculate on press comment. All options are being considered, and the House should have confidence in my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will do his best for the families and for justice.
Dr Fox As we approach the summer recess, is it reasonable to assume that there will be no change in policy while hon Members will be unable to ask appropriate questions of Ministers? Will the Minister continue to defend the principle—defended by the Government and their predecessors—that there will be no caving in to political expediency? We must not open up the possibility of years of litigation in a foreign court rather than the achievement of the swift resolution of the Lockerbie case that the relatives, Members of the House and the people of Scotland all want.
Mr McLeish The hon Gentleman is simply not listening. I said in my opening comments that our view remains that a Scottish or United States court is the place for this trial. We do not accept criticisms of the system, and we continue to have every confidence in the Scottish judicial system and procedures.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

“Libya has always viewed him as a political hostage”

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2010:]

Libya's relations with Britain have been flourishing across the board since the controversy over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, one of Muammar Gaddafi's senior ministers said today.

Libya was "delighted" at Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's return home from a Scottish prison last August and still insists he is innocent of the murder of 270 people on Pan Am 103, said Abdel-Fatah Yunis al-Obeidi, the Libyan secretary general for public security.

Obeidi, whose rank is that of a cabinet minister, hinted that David Cameron's comment that Megrahi's release had been a "mistake" — fuelling the domestic and international row about the circumstances of the decision — was made under US pressure. In an exclusive interview on a visit to London, Obeidi said he was certain the former intelligence agent was innocent.

"Libya is delighted by his return and has always viewed him as a political hostage and never acknowledged him as a prisoner," he said. "Libya had no connection with the Lockerbie affair. The international community was led to believe that Libya was behind the incident but history will prove the truth. I am convinced that Megrahi was innocent and was a victim of a huge international conspiracy."

Libya agreed to pay billions of dollars in compensation to families of the victims because of demands from the UN, not because it admitted guilt over the worst act of terrorism in British history. It portrays Megrahi's release as a purely humanitarian issue involving a man suffering from terminal prostate cancer who supposedly had just weeks left to live.

"Megrahi is in the hands of God," said Obeidi. "He was in a Scottish prison. Those who made the three-month prognosis were British doctors. The fact that he is still alive is divine will and has nothing to do with Libya. If you have a direct line to Heaven you can check up there."

Renewed US interest in the affair is linked to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and anger among families of the 189 US victims of the Pan Am bombing.

"The British government should disregard the views of others," Obeidi said. "We and you know who those others are. They are those who do not want Britain to look after its own economic interests and wants it to be subjugated to them for ever."

Obeidi's busy UK schedule underlines the warmth and intensity of bilateral relations since Tony Blair met Gaddafi in 2004. (...)

"Relations are excellent and getting better every day," he said. "The problem before was the absence of trust. Now we have restored confidence and there is much greater cooperation."

Libyan officials do not normally relish discussing Lockerbie, wishing to draw a line under it after the payment of compensation, the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US and UK and a wider sense that the country has shed its pariah status as western companies, backed by their governments, queue up to do business. But Libya lobbied hard for Megrahi's release — finding a willing partner in the Labour government — and the only man convicted of the 1988 atrocity was escorted home personally by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the leader's son and presumed heir. During a recent lecture in London the younger Gaddafi responded monosyllabically to a question about Megrahi, focusing instead on the "new" Libya and opportunities it presented.

Libya does not expect any adverse effect on its booming relations with the UK. "The Libyans won't really care," predicted Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Tripoli. "It's yesterday's problem. The worry now is Megrahi's state of health. There's no question of him being sent back to Scotland or of Libya having to pay any price. They will see it as Cameron being in the pocket of the Americans."

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Scottish Government would support UK or UN inquiry

What follows is an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2010.

Salmond: Ask Blair about Megrahi


Alex Salmond told US senators they should direct questions about a prisoner transfer agreement for the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing at former prime minister Tony Blair.

The First Minister has also accused a Tory MP of calling for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi to be used as a foreign policy bargaining chip. His comments followed a weekend of renewed questions in the US and London about the decision to return Megrahi to Libya. Salmond said a Senate hearing should call the former prime minister to give evidence about the “deal in the desert” which paved the way for BP to invest £450 million in exploring Libya’s oil reserves.

Almost a year after Megrahi, who is suffering from prostate cancer, was freed on compassionate grounds by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, a group of Democratic senators is demanding an inquiry into claims the oil giant lobbied for his release to smooth a deal. An influential Senate committee is also to examine the case.

A spokesman for Salmond said: “If the US Senate wants to get the truth about the deal in the desert by the UK and Libyan governments in 2007, they should call Tony Blair to give evidence. Blair was its architect – he would be the one who knows about an oil deal.”

Salmond’s spokesman dismissed a call for a UK Government inquiry by Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, chairman of Westminster’s all-party group on Libya. He has written to David Cameron asking how the Scottish Government can be held to account and asking for more information on UK Government involvement.

Salmond’s spokesman said: “As far as Daniel Kawczynski is concerned, he wrote to the Justice Secretary in August last year saying that al-Megrahi should be used as a foreign policy bargaining chip, which is as extraordinary as it is inappropriate in relation to determining applications for prisoner transfer or compassionate release.”

The issue threatens to overshadow David Cameron’s first visit to Washington as Prime Minister tomorrow.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish Executive’s decision to release Megrahi.”

But Hague also said that the release was “a mistake”.

MacAskill said he would “support a wider UK public inquiry or United Nations investigation capable of examining all of the issues related to the Lockerbie atrocity, which go well beyond Scotland’s jurisdiction”.

[From an article in today's edition of The Herald by Political Editor Brian Currie.]

[RB: The article no longer seems to feature on The Herald’s website.]