Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yes I’m ashamed and angry...that an innocent man was jailed until months before his death

It’s an outrage, according to some, that Abdelbasset Al Megrahi, “the Lockerbie bomber”, “a convicted mass murderer” has been released to die at home with his family, showing him a compassion “he never showed his victims”.

If Megrahi had been proven guilty of these crimes in a fair trial very few people could manage to avoid agreeing. However many of those who saw all the evidence presented at his trial – and much that wasn’t – including law professors, UN Observers and some relatives of the victims of the atrocity say the trial was a sham and that neither Megrahi nor the Libyan government were involved in any way.

Some say we should be ashamed that a man who murdered so many innocent Americans or people has been freed for political reasons which may include oil deals between Gaddafi’s government and British and American oil firms. Some mention only American lives lost, despite many of the dead having been Scottish or English or other nationalities. The 290 Iranians killed by the USS Vinciennes (more details later) don’t seem to be mentioned as of equal importance much either.

The trouble is that Megrahi was only tried for political and economic reasons, was framed in a managed show trial for the same reasons and was innocent of any involvement in that mass murder.

Those who say Megrahi is innocent are accused of being “conspiracy theorists” by the same people who have been persuaded to adopt the actual conspiracy theory, the very weak one presented by the prosecution at Megrahi’s fixed trial.

As a former member of Libyan intelligence under Gaddafi’s dictatorship Megrahi may or may not be guilty of many other crimes, since Gaddafi’s dictatorship is no less brutal towards dissidents among its own people than most. However speculating on that can’t justify punishing him for a terrible crime he most definitely did not commit – and Libyan intelligence is no more brutal or ruthless, no less involved in torture and murder, than some members of British and American intelligence, acting on the orders of their governments, have been over the decades.

It could possibly be the case, as FBI Agent Richard Marquise alleges in his book ‘Scotbom’ , that Libyan intelligence co-operated with others in carrying out the bombing. Certainly Gaddafi had motives to want revenge on the US and British governments. He had been in conflict with both over the US navy entering what he claimed as Libyan territorial waters and US ships had shot down Libyan aircraft which targeted them in those waters. In 1986 President Reagan attempted to assassinate Gaddafi by airstrike as retaliation for a bombing which killed American soldiers in Germany and which Reagan accused Gaddafi of being behind. The airstrikes ended up killing civilians including children. One was Gaddafi’s 6 year old adopted daughter. Others were in a nearby school hit by mistake. However the case against Megrahi amounts to little more than conspiracy theory backed up with bribed witnesses and tampered evidence – and Marquise was one of the FBI agents who built the case against Megrahi.

The Reality of Megrahi’s “conviction for mass murder”: no jury; bribed witnesses; evidence tampered with; a prosecution case that amounted to a conspiracy theory in place of evidence

There was no jury at Megrahi’s trial – only three judges appointed by the Lord Advocate, who at the time was a political appointee of the British government (1), (2). Professor Robert Black, who was involved in negotiating the terms of Megrahi’s original trial, has written of how appalled he was by the trial itself and by it’s verdict.

“for the judges to return verdicts of guilty they would require (i) to accept every incriminating inference that the Crown invited them to draw from evidence that was on the face of it neutral and capable of supporting quite innocent inferences...

for the judges to be satisfied of all these matters on the evidence led at the trial, they would require to adopt the posture of the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, when she informed Alice: "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." In convicting Megrahi, it is submitted that this is precisely what the trial judges did.

I am absolutely convinced that if the evidence had come out in front of a Scottish jury of 15 there is absolutely no way he would have been convicted.” (3), (4).

So the conspiracy theory on Lockerbie was actually the case made by the prosecution in Megrahi’s trial – and the conspiracy theorists include the investigators, prosecutors and the three judges involved.

Dr Hans Koechler wrote that:

“In my time as the UN's observer at Megrahi's trial, I watched a case unfold that was based on circumstantial evidence. The indictment against him and al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah went to great lengths to explain how they supposedly planted a bomb on Flight 103, and yet Fhimah was acquitted of all the charges against him. It made no sense that Megrahi was guilty when Fhimah was acquitted.” (5)

So the conspiracy theory used to convict Megrahi doesn’t even make sense.

Much of the evidence presented in court came from the CIA. Tony Gauci, the key witness in the case, saw a photo of Megrahi in a magazine in a piece suggesting Megrahi was the Lockerbie bomber days before he identified him from a line-up. He was offered $2 million by the US government to identify Megrahi as the guilty man – and took it with him to Australia after the trial. (5), (6)

The other key prosecution witness, Edwin Bollier, whose company sold timers to the Libyan military, says the timer shown to him as the one used in the bomb was not of the type he sold to the Libyans – and that when he was shown it again in court it had been tampered with.

Bollier said “I was a defence witness, but the trial was so skewed to prove Libyan involvement that the details of what I had to say was ignored. A photograph of the fragments was produced in court and I asked to see the pieces again. When they were brought to me, they were practically carbonised. They had been tampered with since I had seen them in Dumfries.” (7)

Would those who argue Megrahi is convicted and so guilty be happy if their own trial of that of one of their relatives had no jury and involved bribing the key witness against them and tampering with evidence? If not perhaps they should question whether “convicted” in this case really means “guilty”. To claim that “there is no question of his guilt”, as some have, suggests their claims aren’t based on the evidence.

After attending Megrahi’s 2002 Appeal Hearing, in which his appeal was rejected, Koechler wrote that the proceedings were “a spectacular miscarriage of justice”, and more like an intelligence operation than a legal hearing (8), (9), (10).

A review of the case by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2007 reported many serious problems with the evidence presented by the prosecution and recommended the Appeal Court look at whether there should be a re-trial. The timing – a month after Gaddafi gave BP an oil contract - could certainly be seen as political. The criticisms of the trial were legitimate though. However by the time this was possible Megrahi faced the choice of dying alone in prison in the hope the appeal would clear his name or giving up the chance of clearing his name in order to return home to see his family and friends before he died. (11).

Relatives of those murdered in the Lockerbie bombing, including Dr. Jim Swire and Martin Cadman, were also present at the trial and also reviewed all the available information on Lockerbie. They also came to the conclusion that Megrahi is not guilty. Others, such as Pamela Dix, are uncertain whether Megrahi was involved or not. Many American relatives, such as Susan Cohen, Stephanie Bernstein, Kathleen Flynn and Bob Monetti, remain convinced of Megrahi’s guilt. However Swire’s and Cadman’s conclusions are the same as those of independent observers like Black and Koechler (11), (12), (13).

One day Iran-Syria-PFLP-GC were responsible; the next Libya; and why

The British and American governments initially identified the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command as those behind the bombing, contracted by the Syrian government on behalf of the Iranian government. In July 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, in which the US was backing Saddam, the USS Vinciennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane – Iranian Air Flight 655 – killing all 290 people on board. The crew had entered Iranian waters, started an avoidable fight with Iranian gunboats and made serious errors with their target identification system. After the Vinciennes’ crew were awarded combat medals Ayatollah Khomeini offered a large cash reward for anyone who could bring down an American passenger jet, following the sadly common theory that killing one lot of innocent people makes up for killing another lot (14) – (20).

However after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 the Bush (senior) administration wanted to make sure Saddam was isolated from Muslim and Arab countries before war on Iraq began. They wanted Syria as an Arab member of the Coalition and Iranian neutrality and ideally use of its airspace. Suddenly the PFLP-GC were no longer responsible for Lockerbie – now Libya and Gaddafi were behind it. Much of the media went along with this sudden change of story without batting an eye-lid, though there some honourable exceptions, like the late Paul Foot, writing for the Daily Mirror (16) – (20).

How did the bomb get through airport security?

There was also embarrassment over the details of how the bomb got on to Pan Am Flight 103. Why wasn’t it found by airport security? Possibly airport security was simply too lax.
However former US Defence Intelligence Agency operative Lester Coleman reported that certain CIA and DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agents’ bags were routinely allowed to pass through Frankfurt and London Heathrow airports unchecked in order to allow CIA drug trafficking paralleling that in Latin America discovered in congressional investigations of Iran-Contra. The PFLP-GC may well have discovered this and managed to include a bomb hidden inside one of the drugs shipments, or the bomb may have been intended to target the drug smugglers, with the other passengers and crew being “collateral damage”. (21) – (25).

John Ashton and Paul Foot’s investigation found that Jim Wilson, a farmer, of Tundergarth Mains Farm near Lockerbie, found a suit-case containing bags of white powder which he suspected were drugs among the debris on his land. He was not called to give evidence at the trial, at which the prosecution claimed cannabis had been the only drug on board. The name on the case was not on the passenger list for the flight. On the night of the bombing two bus loads of FBI agents arrived the same night at the site. Residents reported that they had a coffin on one of the buses. Scottish doctors and police had tagged 59 bodies. Only 58 were ever mentioned by the FBI and the prosecution. (26).

Political Fixes? All about Money and Power? Yes – right from the start

In light of all this the outcries about a ‘political fix’ to release Megrahi miss the point that Megrahi was only convicted and jailed for political reasons in the first place. In any case the Scottish devolved government and Home Affairs minister Kenny MacAskill are not from the same government or even the same political party that negotiated a deal to transfer Megrahi to a Libyan prison in return for Gadaffi having granted BP oil contracts in Libya. Those negotiations were carried out by the US government’s favourite British politician Tony Blair – and repudiated and rejected by the Scottish government, which is why Megrahi’s initial request for transfer to a Libyan prison was rejected.( However the British government’s deal with Libya did make it decide not to try to interfere with a devolved decision.) Those who believe Scottish legal processes can’t be politically influenced must explain not only the sham at Zeist but also why the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission recommended the appeal court should review Megrahi’s case one month after BP was given an oil contract in Libya for the first time in decades and Blair signed a prisoner transfer memorandum with Gaddafi (27) – (31)

What’s more oil and arms deals with dictatorships are a routine matter for the British and American governments, whether it’s the unelected, torturing, murdering Saudi monarchy or the election rigging, torturing, murdering President Mubarak of Egypt. When British citizens were tortured into giving false confessions to being behind bombing attacks on other Britons in Saudi Arabia the British government and most of the media did not come out with the kind of outrage about ‘political fixes’ to secure oil contracts that they have over Megrahi. While some American commentators talk of boycotting British oil companies or Scottish exports they ignore the fact that American oil companies were back in Libya in 2005 – two years before BP; and that US oil firms have been lobbying members of congress against US anti-terrorism laws targeting Libya (32) – (34)

Just as with Iraq and Saddam (who was funded and supported by the US and UK all through the 1980s) the real issue was not human rights or WMD but oil contracts. After 9-11 when the Bush administration began making threats Gaddafi rapidly agreed to scrap all ‘WMD projects’ while also dealing with the real issue by offering oil contracts to US firms while Saddam continued to give contracts only to the French, Russians and Chinese, believing the US and UK had double crossed him over Kuwait in 1990 and again in Desert Storm in 1998 (35) – (37).

President Obama’s suggestion that Megrahi should be placed under house arrest in Libya was particularly surreal, since, if the official US government line were true, he would be being held under house arrest by the same government that ordered him to carry out the Lockerbie bombing (38).

The oil companies may yet change from lobbying on behalf of Gaddafi to lobbying against him though, if he continues threats of nationalisation of Libya’s oil industry if they don’t give a greater share of oil contract profits to his government (39), (40).

The Real Outrages

The real outrages are that the Scottish justice system has been corrupted by the political and economic aims of the British and American governments; that large numbers of people have willingly subscribed to supporting a conspiracy and its supporting conspiracy theories because they preferred it the unpleasant truth the evidence suggested; that the guilty have been allowed to go unpunished; that the relatives of the dead have been denied the truth ;and most of all that a man was punished for a crime he never committed and kept from spending his time at home with his family and friends until he only had a few months to live.

There is considerably more evidence linking President George H.W. Bush to the killing of all the passengers of Iranian Air Flight 655, or Blair or Brown to deaths under torture in Iraq, or Obama and Bush to airstrikes killing thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, than there is that Abdelbasset Al Megrahi, or even Gaddafi, had anything to do with bombing Pan Am Flight 103.

If renewed oil deals with Libya threaten anyone’s rights it’s not relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, but ordinary Libyans who are now living under a dictatorship which is not only as brutal as it’s always been, but like so many others, is now backed by the US government and its allies in the EU. One Libyan who died in one of Gaddafi’s prisons shortly after Human Rights Watch questioned him was the man code-named “curveball”, who had been tortured into telling US intelligence what they wanted to hear – that Saddam had WMDs – and was used as a source by Colin Powell in his presentations to the UN. Shortly after they visited him HRW were informed that he had committed suicide (41) – (42).

(1) = New Statesman 17 Jan 2000 ‘Let's peeble the judges again’, (quotes Law Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University)

(2) = BBC 19 Nov 1999 ‘Lockerbie trial judges named’, (see 5th and 6th paragraphs)

(3) = Herald 21 Aug 2009 ‘This shameful miscarriage has gravely sullied the Scottish criminal justice system’ Professor Robert Black ,

(4) = (3) above is also reproduced on his blog ‘The Lockerbie Case’ 21 Aug 2009 ,

(5) = Independent 21 Aug 2009 ‘Hans Köchler: I saw the trial – and the verdict made no sense’,

(6) = Paul Foot (1989-2001) ‘The Great Lockerbie Whitewash’ in Pilger, John (ed.) (2005) ‘Tell Me No Lies’, Vintage/Random House, London, 2005, pages 214-254

(7) = Observer 02 Sep 2007 ‘Vital Lockerbie evidence 'was tampered with'’,

(8) = BBC News 14 Mar 2002 ‘UN monitor decries Lockerbie judgement’,

(9) = The Firm (Scottish lawyers’ magazine) 10 Jun 2008 ‘UN Observer to the Lockerbie Trial says ‘totalitarian’ appeal process bears the hallmarks of an “intelligence operation”’,

(10) = Report on the appeal proceedings at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands (Lockerbie Court) in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi v. H. M. Advocate by Professor Hans Köchler, international observer of the International Progress Organization nominated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the basis of Security Council resolution 1192 (1998)

(11) = Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission 28 Jun 2007 ‘NEWS RELEASE

(12) = PA 13 Aug 2009 ‘Lockerbie bomber 'may be released'’,
Scotsman 20 Aug 2009 ‘Lockerbie: Al Megrahi release welcomed by victims' relatives’,

(13) = Herald 13 Aug 2009 ‘Lockerbie families divided over possible release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi’,

(14) = NYT 15 Jul 1988 ‘Iran Falls Short in Drive at U.N. To Condemn U.S. in Airbus Case’,

(15) = Newsweek 13 Jul 1992 ‘Sea of Lies : Sea Of Lies : The Inside Story Of How An American Naval Vessel Blundered Into An Attack On Iran Air Flight 655 At The Height Of Tensions During The Iran-Iraq War-And How The Pentagon Tried To Cover Its Tracks After 290 Innocent Civilians Died’,

(16) = Guardian 31 March 2004 ‘Lockerbie's dirty secret’, by Paul Foot,

(17) = Paul Foot (1989-2001) ‘The Great Lockerbie Whitewash’ in Pilger, John (ed.) (2005) ‘Tell Me No Lies’, Vintage/Random House, London, 2005, pages 214-254

(18) = Sunday Times 01 Jul 2007 ‘Unpicking the Lockerbie truth’,

(19) = Guardian 07 Apr 1999 ‘Lockerbie conspiracies: from A to Z ;
Based on a 1995 Guardian investigation by Paul Foot and John Ashton’,

(20) = Guardian 29 Jul 1995, SECTION: THE GUARDIAN WEEKEND, Page T22

(21) = Coleman, Lester K & Goddard, Donald (1993) ‘Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie - Inside the DIA’

(22) = Levine , Michael (2000) Deep Cover , 2000 (Levine is a former US Drug Enforcement Agency agent)

(23) = Scott , Peter Dale & Marshall , Jonathan(1998) Cocaine Politics University of California Press , LA & London ,1998

(24) = McCoy , Alfred (1991) The Politics of Heroin - CIA complicity in the global drug trade Lawrence Hill , New York ,1991

(25) = Cockburn , Alexander & St.Clair , Jeffrey (1998) Whiteout - The CIA , Drugs & The Press Verso , London & New York , 1998

(26) = Guardian 29 Jul 1995, SECTION: THE GUARDIAN WEEKEND, Page T22

(27) = BBC News 18 May 2007 ‘BP returns to Libya in $900m deal’,

(28) = BBC 07 Jun 2007 ‘'No deal' over Lockerbie bomber’,

(29) = Herald 25 Jul 2009 ‘Megrahi requests release from jail on compassionate grounds’
(refers to May 2007 referendum between Blair and Gadaffi on transfer of ‘Libyan prisoners’ back to Libya)

(30) = Guardian 18 Jun 2007 ‘New doubt over conviction for Lockerbie bombing’,

(31) = Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission 28 Jun 2007 ‘NEWS RELEASE

(32) = Guardian 31 Jan 2002 ‘Saudi bomb victim's torture ordeal - and Britain's silence’,

(33) = BBC News 13 Jan 2005 ‘US oil companies return to Libya’,

(34) = NYT 22 Apr 2008 ‘U.S. oil firms want Libya exempted from terrorism compensation law’,

(35) = Financial Times 16 Sep 2002 ‘Libya denies US allegations over weapons’

(36) = SABC (South African Broadcasting Company) News 22 Dec 2003 ‘Libya wants US oil companies back’

(37) = Washington Post 15 Sep 2002, 'In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue : U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool',

(38) = Guardian 21 Aug 2009 ‘Barack Obama attacks decision to free Lockerbie bomber’,

(39) = AP 03 Mar 2009 ‘Libya Wants Greater Share of Its Oil Revenue’,

(40) = Forbes Magazine 22 Jan 2009 ‘Is Libya Going To Boot U.S. Oil Companies?’,

(41) = HRW 11 May 2009 ‘Libya/US: Investigate Death of Former CIA Prisoner’,

(42) =Washington Post 12 May 2009 ‘Detainee Who Gave False Iraq Data Dies In Prison in Libya’,