Thursday, 24 August 2017

Neutral venue Lockerbie trial accepted by UK and USA

[On this date in 1998 the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States, succumbing to international pressure, announced that they had reversed their stance on the matter of a "neutral venue" trial, such as I had proposed (and the Libyan Government, and the Libyan lawyer for Megrahi and Fhimah, had accepted) in January 1994. What follows is the text of a report published on the website of The Independent on the evening of 24 August:]

Britain and the United States took the unprecedented step yesterday of agreeing to hold a special trial in The Hague, under Scottish law, to bring to justice the alleged terrorists behind the Lockerbie bombing.

In a U-turn by the two governments, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said the decision to hold the trial in a neutral country 10 years after the bombing of PanAm 103, killing all 259 on board and 11 on the ground, should be seen as a signal to other terrorists responsible for the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa that "however long it takes, they will be brought to justice".
The trial could take place by next May, but there was widespread scepticism at the highest levels of Government that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi would surrender the two suspects for trial - Abdul Basset al-Megrahi and al- Amin Khalifa Fhimah - despite repeated Libyan demands for a trial in a neutral country, such as the Netherlands.
"I cannot answer for Colonel Gaddafi. His government has said they would accept a trial by a Scottish court with Scottish judges. If they choose not to take up that offer, it will very severely undermine the credibility that they will have for making that undertaking earlier this year," said Mr Cook. He added that sanctions against Libya could be lifted the moment the two accused were handed over for trial. The terms were not negotiable. The Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, said the two could not be tried in their absence. There will be extradition proceedings, and, if they submit themselves for trial, a full committal procedure with a trial by three Scottish judges under full Scottish law held within 110 days.
They would be held "in a special facility" in The Hague by Scottish prison officers until the trial, and if found guilty, would serve their sentence in Scotland. Lord Hardie rejected calls for an international court, with a presiding Scottish judge, "because there is no body of international criminal law and procedure under which it could operate".
The move won support from Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Tory Lord Advocate at the time of the bombing. He said that,10 years on, "the anguish of the relatives of all those who died in the tragedy and the way that conspiracy theories have proliferated" dictated holding a trial.
Families of the victims welcomed the decision. Jim Swire whose 23-year- old daughter, Flora, died on flight 103 on 21 December 1988, was "euphoric". He said: "Anyone in their right mind would welcome this decision." Mr Swire, the spokesman for the UK Families Flight 103 group, said: "This is something that our group have been working for six years for."
Alistair Duff, Scottish lawyer for the two Libyans, said the issue of the judges was not insurmountable. But Mr Duff told BBC Radio the men would need various reassurances, such as the condition of their custody and access to lawyers before agreeing to leave Tripoli.
Until recently the British and American governments maintained that the Libyans must be handed over for trial in Britain or the United States.
The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, announcing the joint proposal in Washington, called for Libya to end its "10 years of evasion". She said: "We now challenge Libya to turn promises into deeds. The suspects should be surrendered for trial promptly."
The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, welcomed the joint initiative and offered the UN's services to arrange the transfer of the accused men to the Netherlands, if Libya agreed. Details of the proposed compromise were to be given to Tripoli by Mr Annan.
The US and Britain are expected to submit the draft of a new resolution to the UN Security Council that will envisage an end to international sanctions against Libya if it agrees to surrender the accused men for trial.
[RB: The UK/US government statement is contained in a letter to the UN Secretary-General. It can be read here.]

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

People in authority who are relying on Lockerbie fatigue

[What follows is the text of an article by Christine Grahame MSP headlined Al-Megrahi is home. And he is innocent that was published in The Independent on this date in 2009:]

I became involved with Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi quite by accident. Like many people I had been suffering from Lockerbie fatigue. For me, and for you, I suppose, life had moved on from that horrendous crime over 20 years ago and the imprisonment of the Libyan murderer. That was that.
At least it was, until I agreed, by chance, to sponsor the showing of a Dutch documentary about the Lockerbie bombing at Parliament. I invited all MSPs and researchers, and indeed the press corps, to see this film. One MSP and one member of the press came, and I really only saw it because I felt obliged to attend. But that film changed my perspective. From that casual moment, and from much that I have learned since, I am convinced not only that Megrahi was not found guilty "beyond reasonable doubt", the test in Scots law, but that he is an innocent man.
He is not a saint, of course – he had a history with Libyan intelligence – but his hands are clean over Lockerbie. For you should recall that five months before the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on that dark, wild December night just before Christmas in 1988, an American military cruiser, the Vincennes, shot down an Iranian passenger plane carrying 290 pilgrims. No one has been charged, let alone prosecuted, over that, even though it was all captured on film.
It is reasonable to deduce that when an American plane carrying, as some believed, military personnel back home to their religious festival, is blasted out of the sky, the finger of suspicion should not point first at Libya. Iran, maybe. However, Iran had to be kept on side because of the Iraq/Kuwait conflict. The Iran/Syria connection was soon dropped, and so Libya was indeed blamed. Here was a credible culprit.
To successfully frame a nation, pick one like Libya, in which all the baddies of the Middle East are personified in a recognisable hate figure like Gadhafi. If you want to frame a man, pick one with a feasible track record. Then first sell it to the world through the press and, hey presto!
But back to that film, which has not yet been seen here. After watching this disconcerting documentary, which challenged the reliability of key evidence, I got into conversations that night with Dr Jim Swire, with a forensic police scientist who had to label those bodies scattered across hundreds of acres of dark wintry hillside, with Father Patrick Keegans, the priest who lived in Sherwood Crescent (the only person who survived in that street) and with others. None of them supported the case against al-Megrahi.
Since then I have met the man at the centre of it all on several occasions. Our first meeting took place on a blustery morning some months ago. Afterwards I was confronted by a crowd of reporters who waited until I emerged one hour later from speaking to a man so detested, so reviled by many that death in prison from cancer would be too good for him.
He was sitting in front of a laptop, across the table in a room set aside of lawyers and their clients. His English was excellent and I remember trying to impress upon him that I was there for the duration, and not just this one visit. I told him that if I thought for one minute he was guilty I would walk out of the room. But he was intent on scrolling through the pages of the trial, pausing now and then to emphasise a point. Perhaps he was listening.
On subsequent visits we could go straight to the point, and deal with "prisoner transfer": to qualify he would have to abandon the appeal which could allow him to clear his name. We also talked more of his family and the growing need, as his health worsened, as it clearly was doing, to be with them. It was then that his composure was momentarily lost; the emotion and tension were tangible. But although his priority was to be with them in his last days, he told me he did not want his name to go down in history as the Lockerbie bomber. He told me, in short, that he did not do it. I told him again that I thought he was innocent.
Let me make one thing clear: I understand the hatred some feel for him, particularly the US relatives of the dead. It is, however, misplaced and it is in order to unravel for them the true story of Lockerbie, as much as to liberate an innocent man, that I and others worked hard for his compassionate release. This would have allowed the appeal process to be exhausted and evidence-led. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission considered there was evidence vital enough for it to consider that there might have been a miscarriage of justice. That evidence, particularly relating to the identification of al-Megrahi linking him directly to the bombing has never and will now never be tested in a Scottish court.
My final meeting with him was on 23 July. He requested that it be private and I have kept my word till now. Apart from discussing his deteriorating health, increasing frailty and his family, we discussed at length his compassionate release. He wanted my advice. I told him I thought he had nothing to lose because if it was rejected he could abandon his appeal and take the prisoner transfer route. I advised him to consult his legal team.
The next day he applied for compassionate release. Stupidly, I thought there was a good chance that after his death at home his appeal could still be pursued, by his family. But, like al-Megrahi, I am a tiny cog in an elaborate mechanism. Last week he abandoned his appeal. His counsel advised the court that he believed that to do so would "assist" with his "applications".
The previous week I had received an email from a whistleblower in the Justice Department telling me that the Libyan officials were being told in no uncertain terms that he must drop his appeal or there would be no compassionate release.
Al-Megrahi was a desperate man, but I believe there are other desperate men and women – in the US Justice Department and in Whitehall, – all with their own reasons for wanting that appeal to be ditched. Now he is home, but he is still, officially, a guilty man.
Those who believe him guilty are crying foul. So are those of us who believe him innocent. And then there are those who are happily sipping their claret, their eyes on a comfortable unblemished retirement. As for any inquiry, that's out there in the long grass. They are people in authority who are relying on Lockerbie fatigue setting in again. It mustn't.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The legacy of Lockerbie

[This is part of the headline over an article published on the website of The Independent on this date in 2009. The following are excerpts:]

The saga of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was already murky enough, but now, to the doubts about the evidence against him, the alleged multi-million payouts to the prime prosecution witness, and the far-from-told story of US and British intelligence involvement, we can add suggestions of secret talks and trade deals, and the possibility that his release was not done in the name of compassionate justice, but that of oil, financial services and hotel-building.
This weekend, suspicious minds don't have to seek very far for the material to construct explanations other than the official ones. There is the meeting in 2007 between Colonel Gaddafi and Tony Blair, then still Prime Minister. Oil and gas deals mingled with the fate of Megrahi (then yet to be diagnosed with cancer), according to the Libyans. There's the meeting between Gaddafi's son and Peter Mandelson in the inevitable setting of a Rothschild villa. The Duke of York, batting for Britain as ever, is involved. There may have been, say some sources, many more meetings between British and Libyan officials – something which, one might think, a simple release on compassionate grounds would not warrant. There are British business leaders now openly rubbing their hands together at the suddenly revitalised opportunity for UK banks, oil interests, security contractors, and stores to move in on Libya's considerable available funds.
And then, underpinning all these, is another conspiracy, the one it all started with – the fact that some group of people somewhere conspired to blow up Pan Am flight 103, and succeeded. Today, 21 years, millions of words of testimony, countless investigations, and a trial on neutral territory under Scottish law later, we are really none the wiser about who murdered Flora Swire, Theodora Cohen, Richard Monetti, Alistair Berkley, Bill Cadman and 265 other victims of Britain's worst terrorist atrocity. And so, given all that is now emerging, doubters of the official line ask: do our governments even want to know who planted the bomb? Do they, perhaps, think that a can of worms is best left unopened in the cause of pacifying former pariah states?
These, then, are the over-heated speculations that have bubbled up in the absence of hard, reliable facts, of which there has always been a shortage in this case. The situation, until last autumn was this: Megrahi, head of security for Libyan Airlines based in Malta, and tied to his country's intelligence services, had been convicted in 2001 on circumstantial evidence of planting the bomb which brought down the American plane over the Scottish village of Lockerbie in December 1988. An appeal was being prepared, and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had examined the evidence against Megrahi and found six grounds for a possible miscarriage of justice. The result of this could well have been the release of Megrahi, and avid calls for a re-opening of the case – the 2003 acceptance by Libya of responsibility for the bombing not withstanding.
But Megrahi had been feeling unwell, and in September last year he was taken from HMP Greenock to Inverclyde Royal Hospital for tests. A month later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Meanwhile, the appeal process ground on, getting into court on 28 April this year in Edinburgh. A day later, a prisoner transfer agreement between the UK and Libya, negotiated by Tony Blair as part of thawing relations between the two countries, came into force. The Libyans duly made an application for Megrahi to be moved to a Libyan jail, thereby handing the hottest of legal potatoes to the Holyrood government.
But as Megrahi's cancer was declared terminal, the Libyan applied for release on compassionate grounds. It fell to the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to decide on this. After representations – including the vehemently opposed ones of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and leading figures such as Senator John Kerry – he delivered his decision in 20 minutes on Thursday (...)
The reaction from relatives of US victims was unequivocal. Stan Maslowski of New Jersey, whose daughter Diane died on the flight, said: "This shows a terrorist can get away with murder." British families, meanwhile, were mainly supportive of Mr MacAskill. Martin Cadman, whose son Bill died in the bombing, said: "The trial was a farce. I think he was innocent." Anyone puzzled by this difference need look no further than the coverage of the case against Megrahi down the years. In Britain, doubts about the case against him have been long, and widely, aired. In the US, this has not been so. Thus, the extent of the compassion that people were prepared to extend to Megrahi was largely a matter of whether they felt he was guilty or innocent.
The case against him depended on the testimony of one Tony Gauci, a Maltese shop owner who says he sold Megrahi several items of clothing that were subsequently found to have been in the same case as the bomb. Mr Gauci was interviewed no fewer than 23 times by investigators, was alleged to have been coached by them, and subsequently said to have received payments of up to $2m from the US. Some, like former Scottish Lord Advocate Lord Fraser, say he is an unreliable witness ("not the full shilling", and "an apple short of a picnic" were his exact words). (...)
In the short term, a lot depends on Megrahi's illness. There must be many in Edinburgh and Westminster who will, without voicing such thoughts, be hoping his cancer runs its vicious course sooner rather than later. For if he were to survive much beyond three months, there would be many, especially in the US, pointing out that expedience, rather than compassion, was what really tempered British justice.
There is no evidence for such dealings, and so, in all likelihood, we will be left with only one true conspiracy: the one that caused it all – the one that sent 270 people to their deaths on a terrifying December night 21 years ago.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Megrahi’s return to Tripoli

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2009:]

The US and UK have reacted angrily to the welcome given in Libya to the Lockerbie bomber, freed from prison on compassionate grounds.

In the US, President Obama said the sight of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi being greeted by a jubilant crowd in Tripoli was "highly objectionable".

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Libya would face new scrutiny.
Muammar Gaddafi has yet to comment but the Libyan leader's son is said to have called the release a "victory".

US and UK authorities say they have warned Libya about the sensitivity of the issue. (...)

Hundreds of people turned out to meet Megrahi's plane as it landed in Tripoli, many waving flags.

Megrahi was met by Col Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, who thanked both the Scottish and British governments for their "brave stance" although the British Government has insisted the decision to release Megrahi was a purely Scottish affair.

The younger Gaddafi added in his statement that there was a "considerable amount of new evidence" to show Megrahi was innocent.

In remarks carried by a Libyan TV channel on Friday, and reported by AFP news agency, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi described Megrahi's release as a "victory".

"Your liberation is a victory that we offer to all Libyans," he said in the footage apparently recorded on Thursday night as he accompanied Megrahi on the flight back from Scotland to Libya.

Megrahi's daughter Ghada told the BBC on Friday that her father was resting at home.

"He's at home with us, he's a bit tired and worn out because it was a slightly long trip for him," she told BBC World Service.

"He was overjoyed with seeing us all again."

Megrahi's elderly mother, his daughter added, was "very excited and happy to see him again".

[RB: There was considerable media outrage at what was characterised as a “hero’s welcome” accorded to Megrahi at Tripoli Airport. A corrective, penned by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi for The New York Times, can be read here.]

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Mystery of Lockerbie plane bombing may never be solved

[This is the headline over a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2012. It reads in part:]

The death of the only man to have been convicted of the Lockerbie bombing – when Pan Am flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Scotland in the week before Christmas 1988, means it is less likely than ever that the full story behind the outrage will be told.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi who died in Tripoli on Sunday, two years and nine months after his release from a Scottish jail, always protested his innocence.

The 60-year-old, whose imminent death had been predicted on several occasions since his return to Libya, had, according to US and UK authorities been a Libyan intelligence officer as well as head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines and director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli.

In November 1991, he and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah were indicted in the US and Scotland for the bombing which killed 259 passengers and crew on the Pan Am jet and 11 people on the ground. Libya refused to extradite them, though they were kept under arrest in Tripoli.

However, eight years later they were handed over after complex negotiations that led to their being prosecuted under Scottish law, at a court with three judges but no jury, in the Netherlands. In January 2001, Megrahi was convicted of 270 murders and jailed for life. Fhimah was acquitted.

The Libyan government paid $2.7bn (£1.7bn) in compensation and accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials while not admitting direct responsibility for the bombing. Megrahi was jailed first at Barlinnie, in Glasgow, and later at Greenock. His wife and children moved to Scotland too.

Years of legal wrangling followed, with an appeal rejected in 2002, and a £1.1m investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) that found there were six grounds where a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

A full appeal got under way in April 2009. But it was dropped suddenly the following August, two days before Megrahi was put aboard a plane to Tripoli. Climbing aboard the plane, he wore a white shell-suit to hide body armour. He had been transferred from prison in a bombproof vehicle accompanied by security officers, also wearing body armour and drawing enhanced danger pay.

International furore erupted over the release, with allegations it had been sanctioned by the UK government in order to secure more business and oil deals with the Gaddafi regime. Gordon Brown's administration was forced to admit it had known in advance of the release but that it had been a matter for the Scottish justice system. Nonetheless, David Miliband, then foreign secretary, made no apology for protecting business links with Libya. "With the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and extensive gas reserves, Libya is potentially a major energy source in the future", he told MPs at Westminster. David Cameron always said that Megrahi should have died in jail. (...)

While many relatives of Lockerbie victims remain convinced of Megrahi's guilt, there are some, particularly in Britain, who believe he is innocent.
John Ashton, Megrahi's biographer and author of Megrahi: You Are My Jury, said: "I think there will be moves to reopen the appeal. That has yet to be decided. I would very much hope that his appeal is resurrected and that somebody does make an application to the SCCRC. The people best placed to do this would be his family."

The SCCRC and Megrahi's legal team believe they uncovered a series of critical flaws in his conviction, which made it highly likely he would be cleared by an appeal.

Ashton's biography quotes Megrahi stating he was "framed" for the attack. While he refused to blame Dumfries and Galloway police, he accused the Crown Office of "a blatant breach" of their obligations to disclose all the evidence in the case. "If I was a terrorist, then I was an exceptionally stupid one," Megrahi said.

The grounds of appeal included compelling evidence that the chief prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, had wrongly identified Megrahi and linked him to the bomb which brought down the plane; new evidence that Gauci and his brother were paid very large rewards after the conviction; new scientific evidence disputed evidence that the type of timer in the bomb was solely used by the Libyans; and failure to disclose a break-in at Heathrow airport near Flight 103 which could easily have allowed the bomb to be planted.

Ashton, who had worked as Megrahi researcher during the Libyan's appeal, said he was upset by his death. "We have always expected this day to come; we'd been expecting it for three years, but it's still shattering. It's still pretty shocking. I had come to like him. For all he had been through, there was remarkably little rancour. He was, all things considered, very gracious and never lashed out at those closest to him."

Their claims are rejected by the Scottish and UK governments and the Crown Office, the Scottish prosecution service, which has reopened its investigation into the case after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and has sought cooperation from the new Libyan civilian government.

The UK and US authorities have repeatedly brushed off claims by campaigners that the bomb was planted by Syrian agents and Palestinian terrorists in revenge for the attack on an Iranian passenger airliner by a US warship.

The Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said: "The Lockerbie case remains a live investigation, and Scotland's criminal justice authorities have made clear that they will rigorously pursue any new lines of inquiry."

Jim Swire, whose daughter was a passenger on Pan Am 103 told Sky News: "It's a very sad event. Right up to the end he was determined – for his family's sake, he knew it was too late for him, but for his family's sake – how the verdict against him should be overturned.

"And also he wanted that for the sake of those relatives who had come to the conclusion after studying the evidence that he wasn't guilty, and I think that's going to happen."

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Prisoner transfer agreement “rushed through”

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the website on this date in 2009:]

The prime minister [Gordon Brown] was accused today of rushing through the ratification of a treaty to protect oil interests in Libya which allegedly involves a 'deal' to repatriate the Lockerbie bomber.
MPs and peers on the joint human rights committee claim they were denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise the treaty with Tripoli.
They accuse government ministers of overlooking human rights in their haste to rush through the agreement with Tripoli and protect British investment.
Justice secretary Jack Straw wrote to the committee in March saying: "Both the foreign secretary and I believe, in the interests of our judicial and wider bilateral relations with Libya, it is important to ratify... a delay beyond April is likely to lead to serious questions on the part of Libya in regards to our willingness to conclude these agreements."
The committee responded: "We... regret that we have been unable to publish a substantive report on the treaty before Easter and, therefore, before ratification."
The Earl of Onslow, a Conservative member of the committee, said: "This is not a good way to deal with matters of justice.
"One shouldn't allow whether one has a right to drill for oil in the Gulf of Sidra to have any influence on what is essentially a criminal matter."
The treaty was allegedly rushed through due to the health of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The Libyan government has long been lobbying for the 57-year-old to be returned to his home country.
Former British ambassador to Libya Sir Richard Dalton said relations with Tripoli would be damaged if Megrahi were allowed to die in prison.
However, he added: "This is first and last a judicial matter."
Last night Hillary Clinton reiterated her opposition to the possible release of the Lockerbie bomber in a strongly worded message to the Scottish government.
The US secretary of state said it would be "absolutely wrong" to release Megrahi.
"We are still encouraging the Scottish authorities not to do so and we hope that they will not," she said.
Earlier this week, a letter was sent from seven US senators including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry to Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, urging him to keep Mr Megrahi behind bars.
The Libyan is currently dying from terminal prostate cancer.
He dropped his second appeal against his conviction on Tuesday - a move which is thought to clear the way for his release from prison on compassionate grounds.
However, a crown appeal against the length of his sentence is still ongoing.
Scotland's finance secretary John Swinney said Mr MacAskill had gone to "significant lengths" to listen to everybody's opinion on the case.
The Scottish justice secretary is due to decide within the next two weeks on an application for Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds, as well as a Libyan government request for a transfer to allow him to serve out his sentence in his homeland.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Not a single shred of evidence the bomb was on the Air Malta flight

[What follows is the text of a report published on the website of The Drum on this date in 2010:]

A claim made in a recent STV documentary about the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bombing has got one Scottish MSP hot under the collar and could lead to a legal threat to STV from Air Malta.

In 1993 Air Malta won an out of court settlement against Granada TV, which claimed a bag containing a bomb had been transported, unaccompanied, on one of their flights. The STV documentary also made this claim.
In a letter shared with independent legal magazine The Firm, [Christine] Grahame said: “I was extremely disappointed when I saw the STV documentary and the one-sided and biased manner in which they recounted the events surrounding the atrocity."
"There remains very serious doubts over the safety of the conviction, but the STV film apparently chose to focus on the controversial and highly disputed claims of the senior investigators. There were a number of misleading statements made in the film, but I think the most worrying from STV's perspective will be the unfounded allegation that the case alleged to have carried the bomb, was transported, unaccompanied, on an Air Malta flight.
“When Air Malta sued Granada TV for making the same unfounded allegation the airline was able to prove that all 55 bags that were loaded onto the flight to Frankfurt were ascribed to passengers. Granada TV were forced to settle out of court and pay costs to Air Malta and to this day not a single shred of evidence has ever been produced showing the bomb was on the Air Malta flight.
“I now understand that Air Malta are considering whether to take similar legal action against STV for repeating this unfounded allegation. Once again the gaping holes in the case raise serious questions over the safety of the conviction and have exposed the superficiality of the recent STV film."
Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the air tragedy, has already written to STV pointing out the same factual point.
His letter stated: "May I suggest that you obtain a copy of the court transcripts for your lawyers to study?" he said. "Had I been aware of what you proposed to air, I would of course have warned you. Perhaps it would be best to broadcast a correction to your viewers in the circumstances, but you may wish to 'legal' that."
A spokesperson for STV, commented: "We are absolutely confident that the recent STV documentary reported the facts of the case, as legally established in court.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

'I don't want £6m, I want the truth'

[This is part of the headline over a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2003. It reads as follows:]

The brother of a victim of the Lockerbie disaster has vowed to reject a multi-million pound compensation deal from Libya because he does not believe it has been proved guilty of the attack.

Law lecturer Alistair Berkley was a 29-year-old passenger on the New York-bound Boeing 747 which was blown up over the Scottish town on 21 December 1988, killing all 259 on board plus 11 on the ground.

A £1.7 billion compensation agreement was revealed on Friday as part of a package which also included a letter from the Libyan government to the United Nations which has been widely interpreted as an admission of guilt.

The deal amounts to a possible £6.3 million for each of the 270 victims' families, to be paid in stages. About £2.5m will go to each family when the UN lifts sanctions - which could happen as early as next week.

But Matt Berkley, from Hexham, Northumberland, is refusing his share because he does not believe the whole story has been told. He said there was no 'credible evidence' Libya was to blame.

Like many other relatives of those who died, he maintains that the truth about Pan Am Flight 103 is still shrouded in mystery and called on the Government to hold a full public inquiry. There is a strong suspicion among British relatives that the deal was brokered to allow Libya back into the international community and open its markets to Western companies. Colonel Muammar Gadaffi's government has stipulated that the rest of the compensation will be paid when the US lifts its own sanctions and Libya is taken off its list of terror states.

However, Berkley fears that acceptance of the idea that Libya carried out the attack could stifle attempts to launch further investigations into the tragedy which might turn up evidence pointing to the real culprits.

'I went through a process of trying to work out what to do, and it became clear that I would feel bad if I took the money and good if I refused it,' he said. 'I haven't seen what I would consider credible evidence that Libya did it or that any admission by the Libyans would be truthful, rather than simply the result of them being put under enormous pressure by the international community.

'If I sign up, there is a long list of organisations and people that I can't subsequently sue. I don't want to give up my right to sue.'

Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is serving a life sentence in a unit - known as the Gadaffi Cafe - within Glasgow's Barlinnie prison. In January 2001 at a purpose-built Scottish court in the Netherlands he was found guilty of planting the bomb, but his co-accused, Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah, was acquitted.

Megrahi's conviction depended on an identification by a Maltese shopkeeper who said he sold the Libyan items of clothing that were found scattered near the bomb site. Megrahi's legal team is trying to have the verdict quashed and a file is expected to be submitted by Glasgow-based lawyer Eddie MacKechnie to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission within days.

The letter from the Libyan government to the UN states: 'Libya has facilitated the bringing to justice of the two suspects charged with the bombing of Pan Am 103 and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials.'

Long-term Lockerbie campaigner Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora, died, said: 'The agreement still leaves open the question of the truth behind Lockerbie.'

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A cycle of revenge

[What follows is excerpted from an article by Paul Reynolds published on the BBC News website on this date in 2003:]

A Lockerbie-type atrocity in the war-inflicted world of today, might provoke a very different reaction from the superpowers.

A country which blew up an American airliner today could not expect the patient treatment accorded to Libya over the 15 years since Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie.

It could expect invasion.

What happened to Libya after Lockerbie is an example of how a crisis was dealt with by diplomacy, threats, sanctions and law. (...)

Such a broad approach would be unlikely today. We are living under different international rules since 9/11.

Back in 1988, under President Reagan, international terrorism was considered a problem, a plague even, but not a war.

Libya was an active player. In 1984, its "People's Bureau" in London had shot at demonstrators in the square outside, killing a policewoman standing with them.

In 1986, a bomb exploded in the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, used by US servicemen there. Libya was blamed.

And the United States, under Ronald Reagan, retaliated not by invading, but by raiding.

It sent 16 F111's based in Britain to attack and only narrowly missed getting Gaddafi himself, killing instead a young girl said to be his adopted daughter.

One interesting sidebar to that raid was the doubt expressed by the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In her memoirs she makes it clear that initially she had her reservations:

"I was worried that the US action might begin a cycle of revenge.

"I was concerned that there must be the right public justification for the action which was taken, otherwise we might just strengthen Gaddafi's standing."

Mrs Thatcher was worried about "an inclination to precipitate action in the United States, which was doubtless mirrored there by a perception of lethargy in Europe".

In the end, she swung behind her friend President Reagan and gave permission for the F111's to be used from their British base. (...)

At the time, war was not really contemplated.

Even Ronald Reagan, who could whip up small civil wars in Central America into a Soviet threat to the United States, was content to send in the jets.

So when the Pan Am plane was brought down over Lockerbie, there was no clear American strategy for dealing with international terrorism.

Pinprick attacks had been met with pinprick responses.

There had been invasions of Grenada and Panama was to follow but Libya was a bigger place, an Arab country and not in America's back yard.

There was, for President Bush senior, the added complication that nobody could be immediately blamed.

The suspicion in fact fell first on Syria and Iran.

An Iranian airliner had been shot down over the Gulf a few months earlier by the US Navy which thought itself under attack.

Lockerbie was felt to be revenge for that.

At that time Syria and Iran were close and attention turned to the Syrian sponsored Palestinian group, the PFLP-GC. It had been found by German police to be in possession of radio cassettes of the type used in the Lockerbie bombing.

Then the link was made to Libya through a circuit board sold by a Swiss firm, a bit of which was also found on the ground near Lockerbie.

In due course, one Libyan was found guilty by the Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands and another acquitted. Sanctions were imposed by the UN.

But there was no war. And Colonel Gaddafi remained in power.

He has had to pay a price.

He was isolated for years and became a minor actor on a stage which he wanted to bestride.

He had to admit blame, though in a roundabout way (accepting responsibility for the actions of Libyan government officials) and he is having to pay large amounts of money.

He might well think he got off cheaply considering what has happened in Iraq.

[RB: Eight years later, of course, Lockerbie was one of the pretexts for UK and US military and political support for the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.]