Private Eye article on Kenny MacAskill’s Lockerbie book

The following article appears in the current issue of Private Eye (no. 1421):
If former Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill believed his new book about the Lockerbie bombing would end the controversy surrounding the conviction of Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, he was wrong.
The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice, provides an intriguing insight into the double dealing of the US and UK governments, whose ‘deals in the desert’ with Colonel Gaddafi were agreed against the backdrop of Megrahi’s release ‘on compassionate grounds’. But in the book MacAskill demolishes a central pillar of the prosecution case against Megrahi, the only man convicted of the atrocity. He concludes that Megrahi did not, as claimed, buy the incriminating clothes used to pack the bomb suitcase from a Maltese shop – the direct link between Megrahi and the bomb.
He then renders the conviction doubly unsafe by revealing the contents of material which has been kept secret under a controversial public interest immunity (PII) certificate signed in 2008 by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.
Then known only to originate from a foreign country, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) had identified the material as potentially important to Megrahi’s defence. The Crown’s failure to disclose it at Megrahi’s trial in 2000 was one of the commission’s grounds for granting the appeal. Under the PII, the commission could not reveal the contents, leading to accusations that the government was involved in a cover-up. (Eye 1205).
MacAskill, who signed Megrahi’s release back to Libya, now reveals that the document in question was a letter from the late King Hussein of Jordan to then prime minister John Major, blaming the atrocity on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC). Eye readers will recall that members of the group were the original suspects. Some had been caught in Germany two months before Lockerbie, apparently preparing an airliner attack.
Bomb maker Marwan Khreesat later confessed to having built five bombs designed to detonate at altitude. Two were concealed within Toshiba radio-cassette players, one of which was never recovered. The Lockerbie bomb was also contained within a Toshiba radio cassette player – although a different model. Suspicions of PFLP-GC involvement were strengthened because Khreesat’s bombs were designed to detonate between 30 and 50 minutes after takeoff. The Lockerbie bomb on Pan Am flight 103 exploded 38 minutes after the airliner left Heathrow on 21 December 1988.
Despite admitting building aircraft bombs, Khreesat was freed by a German court a fortnight after his arrest and allowed to return to his native Jordan. He was later revealed to be an informant for the German and Jordanian
intelligence services, which added weight to King Hussein’s letter to prime minister Major.
MacAskill seeks to downplay the letter’s significance, saying it was sent soon after Lockerbie and before the police investigation switched focus from the PFLP-GC to Megrahi in 1990. This is not the case. It emerged during the appeal hearings that the letter was sent in 1996 – long after the investigation had changed tack.
In his book MacAskill thus underscores two of the six grounds which the SSCRC decided rendered the conviction unsafe. In an interview on Scottish television he even conceded it may ‘unsafe’, but said he was still convinced of Megrahi’s guilt. Not only is some of his reasoning based on untested assertions, untested evidence and in places on the discredited testimony of CIA supergrass Majid Giaka, but as a lawyer he should know that is not how the criminal justice system works.
The book has led to calls for a further appeal against conviction and for a far reaching inquiry. Police in Scotland are already investigating allegations of criminal misconduct made by the Justice for Megrahi campaign against some of those involved in the Libyan’s conviction – including allegations of withholding evidence from the defence. The book now raises questions about who else shared MacAskill’s doubts over the safety of elements of the case and for how long.
MacAskill may himself yet be in hot water over the breach of the PII certificate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was still considering the contents of his book.
 
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Latest Sunday Herald article on Kenny MacAskill’s Lockerbie revelations

The following article by me appears in today’s Sunday Herald under the headline The unravelling of Kenny MacAskill … and the case against Megrahi.

 

It was supposed to be Scotland’s publishing event of the year, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s long awaited account of his controversial decision to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Serialised in the Murdoch press and endorsed by former First Minister Alex Salmond, ‘The Lockerbie Bombing’ looked set to enhance the reputations of MacAskill and the criminal justice system he served.

In the event, the book has made an even bigger splash than expected, but not in the way that he intended. By the time it was published last week, it had plunged the Megrahi case into chaos and left MacAskill looking rattled, if not a little foolish.

The book gives the inside track on the grubby international power play that surrounded his decision to allow the terminally ill Libyan to return home. But it goes much further, answering, according to its dust jacket, “how and why [the bombing] happened – and who was really responsible”. It is here, in his efforts to play sleuth, judge and jury, that MacAskill has come unstuck.

He argues that Megrahi was guilty – a significant player in a much larger plot. One of the book’s few genuine revelations, however, details a secret document which implicates the terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Lockerbie bombing carried out on December 21 1988.

MacAskill in his book identifies who sent the document and who received it – an act strictly forbidden by the law. As the Sunday Herald revealed last week, in publishing such details, MacAskill was in breach of a Whitehall gagging order and very likely, at least in the opinion of the Foreign Office, of the Official Secrets Act. The former Scottish Justice Secretary later admitted that he was ‘unsure’ whether he had broken the act.

MacAskill downplays the letter’s significance, claiming it was sent soon after Lockerbie, and before evidence had emerged to implicate Libya and Megrahi. This is one of the book’s many factual errors. At Megrahi’s second appeal it was revealed that the UK government had seen the letter in September 1996, five years after it had claimed that Lockerbie was a ‘Libyan operation from start to finish’.

Overshadowing these revelations, however, is a single sentence buried among the book’s 322 pages, which reads: “Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi.”

Its significance rests on the reasoning of the three Law Lords who convicted Megrahi. They concluded that he had sent a bomb concealed within a suitcase on Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and that it was later transferred to Pan Am flight PA103 at Heathrow. The case was largely circumstantial, with only two points that directly incriminated Megrahi in the bombing. One was his presence at Malta’s Luqa airport when KM180 was loading and the other was the testimony of Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci that he resembled the man who bought the clothes packed in the suitcase.

The judgment was clear that the failure to explain how Megrahi had got the bomb on to KM180 was ‘a major difficulty for the Crown case’, however, it accepted that when taken together with other evidence – crucially Gauci’s – the inference that the bomb came from Malta was ‘irresistible.’ 

The most important link in the Crown case, Gauci’s evidence was also the weakest.

The clothes purchaser he described was much older and bigger than Megrahi and there is persuasive evidence that the purchase took place when Megrahi was not in Malta.

As the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission noted when it referred Megrahi’s conviction to the appeal court in 2007, the assumption that Megrahi was the clothes purchaser was critical. Without it, there was insufficient evidence to convict him.

By Monday evening MacAskill, had conceded in two TV interviews that Megrahi’s conviction was probably unsafe, a startling volte face, given that the Scottish government, which he served as justice minister, repeatedly stated that it did “not doubt the safety of the conviction.”

His concession was not lost on the Justice for Megrahi (JfM) campaign group, which believes the Libyan was wrongly convicted. By then they had written to Police Scotland’s Operation Sandwood team, which is investigating allegations of criminal misconduct made by JfM against some of the Crown servants responsible for the conviction.

JfM say MacAskill is an important and compellable witness, and that the police must establish the basis for his claim that Megrahi was not the clothes purchaser.

‘The weaknesses in the identification evidence were well known to the Scottish government when MacAskill, as Justice Secretary, was claiming that the conviction was safe,’ says JfM’s Iain McKie, a former police superintendent who spent 15 years battling the police and Crown Office to clear the name of his daughter Shirley McKie.

‘So what does Kenny know that we don’t that has caused him to change his mind? If any of it was previously secret, then the Crown Office has to explain why it wasn’t disclosed to the defence. Was Mr MacAskill aware of it when as government minister he was declaring the conviction safe and turning down JfM’s petition for an independent public inquiry? Was he in any way misleading or deceiving the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people?’

There is a still more important question: is MacAskill saying publicly what the Crown is saying privately? ‘The book reads,’ says McKie, ‘as if the Megrahi-wasn’t-the-clothes-purchaser-but-was-guilty-anyway line has been fed to him.

“If it was the Crown doing that, then the consequences are immense, because they have a duty to report that to the court, in which case the conviction falls.’

Publicly the Crown Office is sticking to the line that Megrahi’s conviction is safe, but it must be dismayed by MacAskill’s statements, not least, his barely veiled criticism of the secret $2 million reward payment made to Gauci, which the Crown Office tacitly sanctioned.  

MacAskill continues to insist that Megrahi was guilty, but his case is built largely on untested evidence and assertions, and he has sidestepped important exculpatory evidence that has emerged since Megrahi’s conviction. All rather surprising for a former defence lawyer.

This flags another intriguing question: how, given his legal background, could MacAskill have landed himself in such a mess? Did he not realise that revealing details of the document subject to a Whitehall gagging order might be illegal? And did he not foresee the consequences of conceding that Megrahi was not the clothes purchaser?

His book’s subtitle is ‘The Search for Justice’. Ironically, its unintended consequence may be to help achieve justice for Megrahi. 

John Ashton is the author of ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ pub. Birlinn, 2011) and ‘Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters’ (Birlinn, 2013). From 2006 to 2009 he worked with Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s legal team.

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Sunday Herald article on Kenny MacAskill’s PII revelation

The following article, by Peter Swindon and me, was the lead in last Sunday’s Sunday Herald. It apeared under the headline Revealed: MacAskill may have breached Official Secrets Act over Lockerbie.

Former justice minister Kenny MacAskill has revealed details of a highly classified secret document which casts serious doubt on the safety of the conviction of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has said that the revelation, which will appear in MacAskill’s new book about the downing of Pan Am flight 103, ‘might’ constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

It is understood the FCO only became aware that top secret details were disclosed in MacAskill’s book when the Sunday Herald contacted the UK government about the revelations. Officials are now believed to be seeking legal advice.

The person who discloses information is guilty of an offence if they do so “without lawful authority knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that it is protected against disclosure”.

In his book, ‘The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice’, which is due to be released on Thursday, MacAskill reveals details of a secret document which implicates the terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the Lockerbie bombing carried out on December 21 1988.

The PFLP-GC were the original suspects in the investigation into the biggest terrorist atrocity ever to have been committed in mainland Britain, which claimed the lives of 270 people, including 11 Lockerbie residents.

However, by 1991 police and prosecutors were entirely focused on Libya and in 2001 Megrahi – who was a former Libyan intelligence officer – was convicted of the bombing and sentenced to life in prison.

He was released by MacAskill in August 2009 on compassionate grounds due to ill health and died of cancer two years and nine months later in Tripoli.

The significance of the document which implicates the PFLP-GC is played down by MacAskill in his book but it does suggest others may have been involved in the bombing.

The details of the document are covered by a strict Whitehall gagging order. The document in question was the subject of a legal wrangle during Megrahi’s second appeal against conviction.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court on the basis that there may have been a miscarriage of justice.

That conclusion was reached after the SCCRC team that investigated Megrahi’s conviction discovered the existence of the document during their four-year probe which concluded in 2007.

Their 800-page report explains that their investigative team were allowed to access the document in Dumfries police station but they were prevented from removing the notes they made on it and the document itself.

The SCCRC was only able to access the document after signing up to a special agreement not to divulge the contents and was told by the Crown that “a conclusion was reached that the documents did not require to be disclosed in terms of the Crown’s obligations”.

When Megrahi’s defence team pushed for the recovery of the information the Lord Advocate took the view that it would be appropriate to disclose the document.

However, the Advocate General, representing the UK government, produced a public interest immunity (PII) certificate signed by then Foreign Secretary David Miliband, which blocked the disclosure on the grounds of national security.

A spokeswoman for the FCO confirmed that “the [PII] certificate is still active” and “if the material protected by the certificate were disclosed, it might constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.”

She added: “It would be for the publisher of the book to seek their own legal advice about any legal risks they are running.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is a matter for the publisher to advise upon.”

In 2012 the UK Government went to great lengths to prevent our sister paper The Herald revealing details of the document.

It threatened legal action to stop publication and asked the paper to sign up to a court-approved gagging order.

At that time only the Crown, UK Government and SCCRC team knew the contents of the closely guarded document.

The Herald did publish some details which implicated the PFLP-GC, and revealed that the document originated in Jordan.

MacAskill, however, has gone much further, naming key individuals who were party to the contents of the document, and the potential security ramifications of its release into the public domain.

The Sunday Herald has chosen – after consultation with our lawyers – not to publish the full details of the document despite knowing its contents.

Co-founder of campaigning organisation Lockerbie Truth, Dr Jim Swire, 80, whose daughter Flora was killed in the bombing, said the revelations confirmed his suspicions about the potential involvement of the PFLP-GC.

He said: “It’s exactly what the relatives of the victims have thought for many years. I hope that the book is published without interference. It may lead us to find ways of breaking through the refusal to look again at the evidence used to convict Megrahi.

“This sort of thing – pointing to official knowledge of the real perpetrators – could be absolutely crucial.”

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Crown has had no involvement in the publication of the former Cabinet Secretary’s book and cannot therefore comment on its content ahead of publication.

“The suggestion that the PFLP-GC was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing was fully considered by the trial court following the incrimination of this terrorist group by Megrahi during his trial and does nothing to undermine the Crown’s case that Megrahi acted with others in the bombing of flight Pan Am 103.

“All material which met the Crown’s disclosure obligations in relation to the PFLP-GC was properly disclosed to the defence before the trial and this was confirmed by the SCCRC’s investigation.

“The court concluded that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the bombing was of Libyan origin. The court was, of course, only dealing with evidence, not matters of opinion or conjecture.”

When asked about the possible breach of the PII certificate, Victoria Gilder, Publicity Director at Biteback, the publisher of MacAskill’s book, said: “Sorry, I can’t comment on that because I don’t know anything about it.

“The book is embargoed until next week…you’re not supposed to run anything. It’s embargoed until Monday.”

Last night a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that the government department has not seen a copy of the book, but added: “We take the protection of material covered by Public Interest Immunity certificates extremely seriously.”

The Sunday Herald repeatedly contacted MacAskill but he did not respond to a request for comment, and his publisher indicated that he is unable to comment until the book embargo is lifted on Monday.

 

 

 

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Kenny MacAskill’s bungled Lockerbie book

Kenny MacAskill’s book The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice today begins its serialisation in The Sunday Times. The book’s blurb casts the author as sleuth, claiming he “answers how and why [the bombing] happened – and who was really responsible.” Unfortunately, however, today’s extract merely recycles others’ assertions and, worse still, contains numerous factual errors, distortions and speculative claims. Anyone who claimed Megrahi’s innocence based on so many unsupported claims would, of course, be branded a conspiracy theorist, but that is exactly what Mr MacAskill is. It is clear that his account relies heavily on Crown sources, which may account for his failure to mention key exculpatory evidence.

The book does, however, make one major concession, in the following line: “Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi.”

As anyone familiar with the case knows, the guilty verdict against Megrahi was reliant upon the claim that he bought the clothes. Without it, the conviction falls.

The extract follows in italics, interspersed with my comments.

It was accepted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi hadn’t acted alone. He didn’t do it for his own cause or personal benefit. He was a relatively senior Libyan agent but still junior in rank to Abdullah Senussi, head of Libyan intelligence and brother-in-law of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi; senior minister Moussa Koussa; and ultimately Gadaffi. If he had acted, it would have been on their authority and under their direction. This was state-sponsored terrorism. It’s not just the evidence before the court that implicated Libya. Gadaffi himself accepted culpability by the Libyan regime. That wasn’t just the signing of the UN treaty or the payment of compensation to victims. In an interview with the Washington Times in July 2003, he accepted his country’s guilt for the downing of Pan Am flight 103.

He explained it had originally been an Iranian retaliatory terrorist attack for the downing by the US Navy of a peaceful Iran Air Airbus on its daily run across the Strait of Hormuz, stating: “Nobody in our part of the world believed the US government when it said it was an accidental occurrence. So the Iranians subcontracted part of the job to a Syrian intelligence service, which in turn asked the Libyan Mukhabarat to handle part of the assignment. That is the way these things were planned in those days.”

Omission 1. The quote by Gadaffi continued: “If we had initiated the plot, we would have made sure the accusing finger was pointed in the other direction and we would have picked Cyprus, not Malta, where some of the organization was done. The others picked Malta presumably to frame us.” Whether read in full or part, the quote is far from being an unambiguous admission of responsibility.” The quoted Washington Times article, was the only occasion in the 20 years between the Lockerbie indictment in 1991 and his death 20 years later in which Gadaffi allegedly confessed to the bombing. The claim has to be taken with a pinch of salt, not least because the article’s author, Arnaud de Borchgrave, was a right-wing fanatic, who was unashamedly close to the CIA. More importantly, on numerous other occasions, the Libyan government denied involvement in the bombing. Libya formally accepted responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation in 2004, but the government made clear that it did so in order to rid the country of the UN sanctions that had crippled its economy for many years. None of these facts Kenny acknowledges.

Nor was it just the Gadaffi regime that accepted Libyan responsibility for it. Following the fall of the regime, the National Transitional Council (NTC) stated publicly that Gadaffi had personally ordered it. In February 2011, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who had been justice minister under Gadaffi, had defected and been appointed head of the NTC. He told a Swedish newspaper “Gadaffi gave the order about Lockerbie”, and said that he had proof that Gadaffi had personally ordered Megrahi to commit the crime.

Omission 2. Jalil never provided proof. When pushed by BBC Newsnight to reveal what evidence he had, the best he could offer was that the Gadaffi regime had paid Megrahi’s legal fees. He later claimed that the Swedish newspaper had misquoted him.

Discussions since, between law enforcement and the new Libyan authorities and prosecutors, have confirmed that involvement. It fitted the actions of the regime over the 40 years of Gadaffi’s rule. Murder and terror were part of his regime’s very DNA.

Omission 3. The post-revolutionary government had a vested interest in playing up the Gadaffi regime’s involvement in terrorism, however, no documentary evidence has emerged publicly from the old regime to confirm its role in Lockerbie

Lockerbie was just one of many terrorist actions that the Libyan regime under Gadaffi carried out. But Gadaffi was not alone. He had his acolytes and aides. While Gadaffi might sign it off, others would do the dirty work. One of the principal players was Abdullah Senussi. He was not only head of internal intelligence but close to Gadaffi. He was pivotal. Indeed, he was convicted in absentia of involvement in the bombing of the UTA airliner in Niger the year after Lockerbie. He was a man with few compunctions and little mercy. He had authorised the brutal slaying of 1,200 prisoners at Abu Selim prison in 1996. Others over many years were to suffer because of him, as his ruthless prosecution of dissidents showed. He was a friend of Megrahi’s and no actions by Megrahi would have been without his orders or consent.

Others, too, would have had to have been in the know and given instructions or provided assistance. Koussa was also a very close confidante of the Libyan leader. He later became head of external security in 1994 until 2009 when he became foreign minister. At the time of the Lockerbie bombing, he headed up an organisation known as the World Centre to promote the Libyan regime’s views but which was viewed in the West as the source of training and funding for revolutionary groups. However, though Libya was pivotal, it was not alone. As a former senior police officer once said to me, it was a coalition of the willing. So what happened?

The atmosphere between the West and Middle Eastern states including Iran, Libya and client organisations was poisonous by the summer of 1998 [NB: in fact 1988]. When in July of that year the USS Vincennes brought down an Iranian plane flying across the Strait of Hormuz, killing all aboard, it grew significantly more venomous. The United States neither sought to atone nor apologise for it. That caused anger and outrage not just in Iran but in the wider Muslim and Arab world. The bitterness and hostility was longstanding and the belief of an eye for an eye existed on all sides. It resulted in Iran putting up a bounty of $10m to bring down an American airliner as revenge. That was confirmed by security and Pentagon sources as well as in the Middle East. Iran put up the money, but who would do it? Enter the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC). They had the capacity and the will to do it, as past atrocities confirmed. Their leader Ahmed Jibril has been identified by several sources as pivotal to the atrocity. The PFLP-GC would be assisted by others. That too was normal. Hence, Gadaffi’s mention of the Syrian security services’ initial involvement. Carrying out such actions involved many states and organisations working together and sharing skills and expertise. The Libyans were used to co-operating with other groups either to promote or support terrorism. The PFLP-GC was to carry it out, supported in the shadows by both the Syrian and Libyan security services.

Unsupported speculation 1. Nice theory, shame about the lack of hard evidence.

They set to work on their planning to perpetrate it, acquiring flight timetables and even Pan Am luggage labels for the aircraft. Radio cassettes and timers were acquired for the bomb. The western intelligence services knew that something was brewing and were on their guard and on high alert. A plane was being targeted and terrorists intent on carrying it out were on the loose.

There was considerable fear and alarm. In October of that year, good work by the German police saw a significant PFLP-GC cell detained and broken near Frankfurt in Germany. But that success did not stop the alarm bells ringing. They’d stopped one cell, but there would be others out there, willing and eager to carry on where the others had failed. The PFLP-GC, though, was badly incapacitated and looked for help.

Omission 4. There is good reason to believe that the October German police raids did not incapacitate the PFLP-GC. The bomb maker Marwan Khreesat implicated another member, Abu Elias, who arrived in Germany shortly before the arrests and was never caught. So too did the leader of the group’s Yugoslavian cell, Mobdi Goben. Just three weeks before Lockerbie the US State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security warned that a radical Palestinian group was active in Europe and was planning to target Pan Am.

That call was answered by the Libyans, who already knew of the plans. They were already involved in the supply of timers and other support. The Libyans picked it up from there. They had experience in bombings in the past and working with the PFLP-GC. They’d already have been sighted on the plan. It was now reaching a new and deadly stage. Malta was to be the setting for it.

Unsupported speculation 2. The claim that the Libyans picked up where the PFLP-GC left off is a neat theory, but where is the hard evidence to support it?

Clothes in the suitcase that carried the bomb were acquired in Malta, though not by Megrahi. But if Megrahi didn’t buy the clothes, he was certainly involved. He had held a senior post in the Libyan security service (JSO) as head of airline security, which mirrored his job with Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) with a similar title. Even when he left the airline job he retained the accreditation and no doubt the security service post. He had close links and personal friendships with senior officers and also with Abdullah Senussi, who was head of operations at that time for the JSO. A member he undoubtedly was and, given his important job, a relatively senior one. He had after all been identified by Edwin Bollier, owner of the timer manufacturer MEBO, as being at test explosions of the timers in Libya.

Wrong 1. Bollier in fact said that Megrahi was not present at the desert tests.

He had also been involved in the purchase of radio receivers for the military from MEBO the year before and been involved in the procurement of an antenna for the head of the JSO. That had taken place after he’d left his role with the airline in January 1987 and when Megrahi himself suggested his links with the JSO had ceased.

Selective use of facts 2. Megrahi never denied denied that he was involved in procuring equipment for the Libyan authorities and that the company ABH – in which he was a partner and which rented office space from MEBO in Zurich – was a vehicle for such procurement

Yet the evidence shows that the antennas were ordered in November 1987 and it was Megrahi who conducted the transaction with MEBO for the security service. He was the conduit for much of the trade between MEBO and the JSO, showing a level of trust and involvement that would not be afforded a simple middleman. He was still an agent and he would obey orders when instructed, whatever they were.

Omission 5. There is ample documentary evidence that ABH was involved in a lot of straightforward and non-sinister trading activities on behalf of the Libyan authorities, including Libyan Arab Airlines.

And so it was to be. Megrahi flew in to Malta with the suitcase that was to transport the bomb.

Wrong 2. Records from the Air Malta flight that Megrahi took show that he checked in no luggage. The Lockerbie suitcase was too big to have been cabin baggage.

He travelled on a false passport that he only used once that year; and which he’d never use again.

Omission 6. Megrahi kept the passport and handed it over to the prosecution shortly before his trial – hardly the actions of a guilty man.

He had used it in 1987 for a trip to Nigeria where on one leg of the trip he had been on the same plane as another senior JSO official, Nassr Ashur, who had also been present at the testing of air detonation bombs. Though the use of such passports was not uncommon in Libya to avoid sanctions, their use was restricted. Moreover, he was unable to give any explanation for his journey. While a court of law does not oblige an accused to testify, the court of public opinion most certainly does. Even in his own biography professing his innocence he simply says he can’t recall why he went. It seems entirely incredible that anyone would fly to a foreign country for one night only, using a false passport and have no idea or recollection why they had done so.

Wrong 3. Megrahi in fact gave a full explanation in his biography as to why he went and also provided a possible explanation for his use of the false passport. The explanation went as follows:

“[Lamin Fhimah] told me he was thinking of travelling to Malta on 20 December to finalise the company paperwork and invited me over to see its offices and meet his business partner Vincent Vassallo. I accepted the invitation, partly because I also wanted to buy some more things for the house, in particular carpets.

On 20 December Lamin called me at my office to tell me he was definitely travelling to Malta that afternoon. We arranged to meet at Tripoli Airport and take an Air Malta flight, which departed at around 16.30, and I booked to fly home on the first LAA flight the following morning. I didn’t want to be away for more than a night, because there was work to do on the Paris to Dakar Rally, and on the evening of the 21st my sister was having a party to celebrate the birth of her daughter a week earlier.

Rather than travelling on my own passport, I used the coded one in the name Khalifa Abdusamad. I honestly can’t remember the precise reason for doing so, as it wasn’t of great importance at the time, but the most likely one is that I didn’t want my wife to know I was in Malta. Although it was only an overnight trip, I knew she wouldn’t be happy, as I’d just been away for ten days and, more importantly, Malta had a bad reputation among Libyan wives as a place of low moral standards, where men were easily led astray. I may therefore have told her that I was visiting a friend on the other side of Tripoli and intended to spend the night there. If so, then to prevent her suspecting my true destination, I would have left my regular passport at home. She had no idea about the coded passport, which I always kept at my office. I was supposed  to use it only for business purposes, but I had occasionally taken it on my personal travels, for example  when I went to Mecca for the Umrah pilgrimage, for no other reason than that it was the closest to hand.

Another possibility  is that my regular passport was with my Lib- yan  bank.  At  the  time  Libyans  were  allowed  to  take  only  500  US dollars out of the country  annually, and any remaining amount could not be carried over to the following year. It may be that, since return- ing from Prague, I had lodged the passport with my bank in order to guarantee my remaining allocation before the year end.

It was also possible that I chose my coded passport in order to secure hard currency, as it contained  a stamp, dated 22 June 1988, that entitled  me to an additional  allowance  of $1,000, providing  I could demonstrate that I had travelled abroad before the year end. Libyans often  made short trips to neighbouring countries  in order to get the necessary foreign entry stamp in their passports.”

Omission 7. Kenny omits to mention a possible explanation for Megrahi’s presence in Malta, the fact that he had an affair with a Maltese woman.

Finally, and no doubt the reason he chose not to give evidence, he had lied in previous public comments on his actions. In an interview with the TV reporter Pierre Salinger in November 1991, he had denied being involved with Libyan intelligence, which he clearly was; refuted suggestions that he knew or was involved in the acquisition of timers, which he had been; and in particular denied being in Malta on December 20 and 21 under a false passport, during which time he had been staying at the Holiday Inn Hotel, which he did.

Omission 8. Megrahi gave a reasonable explanation for lying to Pierre Salinger, namely the fact that he was concerned that if he confirmed the more suspicious elements of the prosecution case it would provide the US with an excuse to bomb Libya, as it had five years earlier.

All quite damning. But there was more. The suitcase was a Samsonite model, sold heavily in the Middle East market. Megrahi had been to Malta the month before, which was probably preparatory for the scheme and involved discussions on the logistics of clothes, the suitcase and the bomb equipment. He may even have brought the timers in with him. He would meet with others in the embassy to discuss and build on plans already developed by the PFLP-GC — hence the interlining with a flight through Frankfurt in Germany.

Unsupported speculation 3. This is pure theorising.

Though Megrahi had been involved in the acquisition of timers, and even witnessed their use in tests in Libya, he would not be the bomb maker.

Wrong 4. There is no evidence he was involved in the acquisition of timers and no witness claimed that he was. As stated above, Megrahi did not witness the tests.

Omission 9. Kenny fails to mention the forensic evidence, which emerged in 2009, that proves that the fragment of circuit board found among the Lockerbie debris could not have originated from a Libyan timer.

 That would have been prepared in the Libyan People’s Bureau as appears to have occurred in other terrorist incidents, such as the La Belle bombing in Berlin in 1986. Megrahi had arrived at Malta’s Luqa Airport on December 20 at about 5.30pm, accompanied by Lamin Fhimah, a JSO agent who had been the LAA manager for Malta based at the airport.

Wrong 5. There is no evidence that Fhimah was a JSO agent.

Fhimah had only gone back to Tripoli from Malta on December 18 to be briefed; and, as the Crown suggested at the trial, to assist Megrahi back through security at the airport. Fhimah’s familiarity with the airport as well as contacts would be crucial.

Having deposited the case that night at the bureau, Megrahi would get it back loaded with both the clothes and the bomb secreted in a Toshiba radio cassette player.

Unsupported speculation 4. Again, this is totally speculative.  

Supergrass Abdul Majid, who had been the assistant manager for LAA at Luqa airport at the time assisting Fhimah and himself a Libyan agent, stated that he’d seen both Megrahi and Fhimah arrive at the airport from a Tripoli flight, accompanied by two others, one of whom was another Libyan agent, Abu Agila Mas’ud, described as a technician.

Omission 10. Abdul Majid [Giaka] was discredited at Megrahi’s trial. He claimed, three years after the event, when desperate for asylum in the US, that Megrahi and Fhimah brought a Samsonite suitcase to Malta on 20 December, despite the fact that the flight records showed that they had no checked in luggage.

Mas’ud remains a mysterious individual who was clearly a JSO agent. He was never allowed to be interviewed by the defence. Requests were made to meet and interview him but he had been spirited back to Libya and kept out of sight. When in 1999 investigators had gone to Libya to question government ministers, the officials refused to confirm or deny that Mas’ud existed.

There was good reason for the early suspicions of the investigators that point to Mas’ud as the man who primed the bomb that was placed on board Pan Am flight 103. Research shows him as being implicated in the La Belle bombing in Berlin. He had gone to the city and stayed in a nearby hotel. He had travelled on the same passport later used by him to go to Malta with Megrahi a few years later when the Lockerbie bomb was placed. A Libyan convicted of the bombing, Musbah Eter, told US investigators that Mas’ud and Megrahi were involved in Lockerbie, and that he heard Mas’ud speak of travelling to Malta to prepare the attack.

As the Gadaffi regime fell, information on Mas’ud surfaced through diligent research by an American film-maker and investigations by Human Rights Watch. They located him languishing in a Libyan prison cell and awaiting trial for bomb making. Not, though, for a trial about the devastation wrecked on Pan Am 103 or the town of Lockerbie, but for using remote-detonated explosive devices to booby-trap the cars of Libyan opposition members in 2011, after revolution broke out. He has since been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and is incarcerated in the cells once inhabited by Gadaffi’s and his henchmen’s victims.

Omission 11. As I have written at length elsewhere, eg here and here, the story of La Belle, Mas’ud and Eter is vastly more complicated than presented by Kenny and is far from probative of Libyan involvement in Lockerbie, let alone Megrahi’s.

So the bomb was prepared and primed, but it still needed to be placed on board the Air Malta flight. Megrahi arrived at the time of the loading of the Air Malta flight to Frankfurt. His flight to Tripoli saw check-in open at 8.50am and close at 9.50am. The Air Malta fight to Frankfurt opened at 8.15am and closed at 9.15am. Megrahi was checked in early by a lady at an Air Malta desk dealing with flights to Cairo. It was an adjacent desk to the LAA ones. That check-in had opened at 8.35am and was due to close at 9.35am. Megrahi was checked on to the LAA flight sixth. According to the airline clerk, that would have been early on. That assistance at different airline counters was normal and was simply done to ease congestion. However, in particular, it was for passengers travelling without luggage. Megrahi was going back without any suitcase, which was why she checked him in. That, also, was never clarified by him. Not only was the purpose of his trip never answered but why he landed with a bag and travelled back without one remained unexplained.

Wrong 6. He didn’t land with a bag (see above).

But he had first visited the LAA offices. There he met Fhimah and the suitcase was handed over. The case Megrahi had brought with him was not going back with him, but was being placed on board the Air Malta flight bound for Frankfurt, primed with the bomb that would detonate aboard the JFK flight from Heathrow. Megrahi’s work was done; it was now for others to take over.

Unsupported speculation 5. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, this is pure theory.

How was the bomb placed aboard? The case Megrahi brought with him would be tagged and placed for loading but not on the flight he was going on. Luggage labels for Air Malta were available. Fhimah had made a note to obtain them. His diary, that had been referred to in court, had noted on the page for December 15 to “take tags from Air Malta”. It had also been subsequently marked “OK” but in a different colour. It had also narrated: “Take/collect tags from the airport (Abdulbaset/Abdussalam).” “Tags” had been written in English and the rest in Arabic.

Omission 12. Fhimah left his diary in his Maltese office for over two years, which does not suggest he had anything to hide. He also told his Maltese business partner, Vincent Vassallo, that he was happy for it to be handed to the Scottish police. There is evidence that LAA regularly had to borrow tags from Air Malta.

The court accepted that but felt unable to draw the inference that it was to allow for an interlined bag to be placed on board; and accordingly that there was sufficient evidence for a conviction of Fhimah. However, they were certainly highly suspicious actions and led to the conclusion that Megrahi took the case to the airport, but it was Fhimah who would get it airside and beyond security. After all, he had flown out to Libya to accompany Megrahi back with the case and had made notes to prepare for that, including obtaining Air Malta tags. He had security passes, but more importantly a detailed knowledge of the airport and its layout which Megrahi did not have. It was labelled for Air Malta, to be routed on to Pan Am through Frankfurt and Heathrow and to New York with the tags Fhimah’s diary had referred to. The bag was placed in the system going airside without going through the formal check-in desks. It will probably never be known just how the security measures were breached, but no doubt that was why the plot involved those with accreditation, access and knowledge of the airport. If anyone would know how to do it, then Fhimah would.

Unsupported speculation 6. Stuck record again.

The bag that Megrahi had brought in was placed on to the Air Malta flight to be transferred at Frankfurt for the fateful rendezvous in Heathrow. The records show that an unaccompanied bag was unloaded at Frankfurt from the Air Malta flight, yet the records from Luqa do not disclose that piece of unaccompanied luggage being loaded.

Omission 13. The records from Luqa and Air Malta’s unusually tight baggage procedures are very strong evidence that an unaccompanied bag was not ingested at Luqa.

 There is no suggestion, though, that the Frankfurt airport authorities are mistaken.

Wrong 7: The Frankfurt airport authorities never claimed that an unaccompanied case transited through the airport, rather this was an inference drawn by the police. Furthermore there are plenty of reasons why the Frankfurt records could have been inaccurate.

Omission 14. The German federal police, the BKA, stated explicitly that there was no evidence to support the inference.

 It was accepted by both the FAI and the court at Camp Zeist that it had been on that flight from Malta. It was thereafter routed with other unaccompanied baggage to be placed in a container; and thus on board Pan Am 103. As it was an interlined bag, it was subject only to X-ray rather than a physical check; nor would there be an administrative match to a passenger before being loaded and going straight through airport procedures. It, thereafter, went through the system all the way to Heathrow and onto the JFK-bound flight. At Heathrow the Frankfurt bags were placed on a container that was the seat of the bomb. That container, AVE 4041, had the interlined bags, including the Samsonite suitcase and others from Frankfurt. The links were clearly there. Pan Am 103 was doomed, and the bomb that would be detonated over Lockerbie had been primed and placed aboard in Malta.

Omission 15. Kenny completely omits the very powerful and so far uncontested case assembled by Dr Morag Kerr that the bomb was ingested at Heathrow.

There are aspects of the bombing that remain a mystery to this day. Given the nature of those involved and the passage of time, that’s understandable. Moreover, given the death of many and the lying low of others, it’s probable it will remain that way for ever. There are also aspects of the case that could not be sustained in a court of law with the high standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt required and specific rules on evidence needed. There are equally aspects of the case that may not have seen a criminal conviction sustained on appeal. But this account of how the bombing was carried out and by whom is based on information gathered meticulously by police and prosecutors from the US, Scotland and elsewhere. It’s also founded on intelligence and sources not available for a court or that have only come to light thereafter.

Omission 16. Intelligence sources have been peddling the case set out by Kenny, that the Libyans took over from the PFLP-GC, since at least 1990.

Finally, it’s also predicated on the words of the leader of Libya himself, Muammar Gadaffi, and those who replaced him when the regime fell.

The suggestions of conspiracies by others known or unknown are fanciful. The protestations of innocence by Megrahi are equally so, though his role was a very limited one. He was but a cog in a very much larger wheel, acting under orders from those far more senior than him. The triumvirate of Gadaffi, Senussi and Koussa were all involved, as would have been others in senior positions in the Libyan regime. This, after all, went right to the heart of the state, not simply to a JSO agent carrying a suitcase with a bomb.

Libya did it, Megrahi was part of it and other states and terrorist organisations also played their part. It was in revenge for the downing of the Iran Air flight by a US naval ship. It was, therefore, a coalition of the willing that brought down Pan Am 103.

Thanking their lucky stars

The Lockerbie bombing almost claimed the lives of several celebrities who had been among those scheduled to fly on Pan Am flight 103. Punk star Johnny Rotten had booked but missed the flight.

The Four Tops had been on a European tour and were heading back to the US for Christmas — but a delayed recording session and oversleeping meant they never even made it to the airport. For once, their hectic schedules worked in their favour.

Furthermore,the Swedish tennis star and former world No 1 Mats Wilander and the American Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall had made earlier reservations but did not proceed further.

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Response to Magnus Linklater’s latest Scottish Review Lockerbie article

The following article by Magnus Linklater appears in the latest issue of the Scottish Review under the headline We can be confident that the Scottish prosecutors got the right man. In it in he takes pot shots at Abdelbaset’s supporters and me in particular. My comments are in normal font.

In November I sat for an hour and a half in a film studio at the Barbican in London, watching, mesmerised, a film that traced the 21-year battle by the Sunday Times in the 1970s to get compensation for the victims of Thalidomide, and find out why such a terrible drug was ever sold. Pitted against the lawyers of a wealthy multi-million pound organisation determined to defen d its commercial property, it showed reporters and editors painstakingly following clues, testing evidence, turning into scientists to understand how drugs work, becoming lawyers so that they could challenge their opponents, befriending the families whose children had been born horribly damaged because of a drug that had first been tried out in the death camps of Nazi Germany. It was an exercise in investigation which few if any newspaper would contemplate taking on today.

Its hero was my old editor, Harry Evans, who was there at the showing, a bit bent at the age of 87, a bit less steady on his feet, but still eloquent on the subject of his campaign, and still angry at the monstrous injustice of a company that had used all its resources to prevent the truth coming out. Even now, 40 years after those events, he was still overcome with emotion at the cruelty of it all.

I learnt investigative journalism at Evans’s feet, but also from great Sunday Times reporters like Bruce Page, Phil Knightley, Godfrey Hogson, Murray Sayle and John Barry. They viewed it as an art, a science, and a discipline which required constant challenge. There were certain rules that had to be learnt. Never rely on evidence from a single source; never jump to conclusions; two facts, however firm, do not necessarily link up as final proof; always question the motives of a witness who is telling you things; set out with a theory, but be prepared to abandon it for a better one if the facts don’t stack up; remember, most stories come down to two simple propositions: ‘we name the guilty man’ or ‘arrow points to defective part’.

When, therefore, I first became interested in the Lockerbie story, this was my starting point. Because, another rule from those days was: if everyone seems to agree about a theory, it is probably worth challenging. Harry Evans did exactly that when he began a campaign on the Northern Echo to prove the innocence of Timothy Evans, who had been hanged for the murders at Ten Rillington Place; he succeeded by finally amassing the incontrovertible evidence that pointed to the wife-murderer, John Christie, and won Evans a posthumous pardon.

The consensus I wanted to question was, ironically, the reverse of that – to suggest a correct verdict rather than an unsafe one. Over the past 20 years or so, a long campaign has been waged by a variety of reporters, lawyers, and relatives, to demonstrate that the Scottish courts which convicted the Libyan, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, for his role in the Lockerbie bombing, were guilty of a miscarriage of justice; that Libya was never involved; that judges, counsel, police and intelligence agencies deliberately turned a blind eye to faulty or planted evidence; that the outcome of the biggest investigation ever handled in Scotland was a legal travesty that stands to this day as a stain on the reputation of the nation’s judicial system.

And most people seemed to agree. In the course of a session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival some years ago, one panel member, who argued the case, was asked whether it was his view that every judge and lawyer who had presided over the Lockerbie trial had knowingly participated in a miscarriage of justice. He said: yes it was; and the audience applauded.

I have never made this claim. My view is that the judges and everyone involved on the prosecution side believed they had got the right man.

At that stage a basic Sunday Times rule kicked in; if everyone agreed, then there was a strong possibility that they were wrong. At the very least it was worth a challenge. It was, after all, a pretty sensational accusation, and, if true, did indeed undermine one’s faith in Scottish justice. So, reluctantly, I began the task of tracking back the roots of the allegation. Reluctantly, because, although I had lived with the Lockerbie story for 25 years, there were an awful lot of false trails to follow, tedious in detail, murky in evidence, full of innuendo but lacking hard facts. 

I did think, however, that it was worth going back to basics, researching the original court documents, reading the investigation carried out by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) and talking to lawyers who had been involved in the case. It made a decent starting point. If they were all involved in a massive cover-up, it would at the very least be worth looking them in the eye and seeing if I could detect the guilt. 

All of this landed me with the unflattering description – ‘the Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader’ – given to me recently by John Ashton, who revived his case for the claimants in the Scottish Review. It reminded me of another Sunday Times rule: ‘if they go for you, you’re probably on the right lines’. 

I have called Mr Linklater the Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader because he has never raised concerns about the conduct of the Crown in the Megrahi case, in particular its withholding of important evidence, and because the Crown Office feeds him exclusives, which he has run uncritically.

What puzzled me was why, if the Libya connection was so patently false, no firm evidence had emerged in the course of the 27 years since the atrocity, to blow the Crown case out of the water – no witnesses coming out of the woodwork to nail the evidence, no deathbed confessions, above all, nothing that would convince a serious lawyer to re-open the case. There was no lack of allegation and conjecture, of course, but nothing that would stand up in court.

The evidence that knocks down the Libya connection, all of which would stand up in court, includes the fact that PT/35b could not have been from one of the timers supplied to Libya, the baggage evidence presented in Dr Morag Kerr’s book ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’, which demonstrates that the bomb was loaded at Heathrow airport, and the evidence demonstrating that the Maltese clothes that ended up in the bomb suitcase were bought on a day on which Abdelbaset was not in Malta.

A deathbed confession unsupported by hard evidence would be of little use to either side. Nevertheless, Mr Linklater forgets the deathbed confession of PFLP-GC member Mobdi Goben, who said the group was responsible. He also omits that there were no deathbed confessions among the Libyans.

Without a Sunday Times insight team to spend a decade sifting the real evidence, all we were left with was an angry set of accusations.

Then, earlier this year, a piece of serious investigation did emerge, in the shape of a three-part TV documentary by Ken Dornstein, whose brother had died in the Lockerbie disaster. He had spent some 15 years patiently following leads, travelling to Libya, tracking down shadowy witnesses, interviewing agents. He looked carefully into the various conspiracy theories, but found nothing to lure him away from Libya. What he did discover was something that even the prosecution case had overlooked – clear evidence pointing to the identity of a dark-skinned Libyan bomb-maker, Abu Agila Mas’ud, a former intelligence officer, who had been in Malta with Megrahi in the weeks leading up to the Lockerbie bombing, and who was there to greet him on his return to Libya after being released from a Scottish prison. 

Dornstein traced him through a contact in Berlin, a former convicted terrorist, who identified Mas’ud as one of those involved in an attack on the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in April 1986. Dornstein showed his contact a picture of Mas’ud in a Libyan court-room, and then as a shadowy figure, seen in news footage, welcoming Megrahi, the only man convicted of the bombing, on his return to Tripoli in 2009. Dornstein’s contact was as certain as he could be that it was Abu Agila Mas’ud. And there was one other telling piece of evidence: the number of the passport Mas’ud had used in Berlin was the same as the one he had used two years later in Malta.

So here was a known bomb-maker, taking the trouble to go to the airport to greet a man who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Circumstantial? You bet. But then, the circumstantial evidence against Megrahi is so telling that it is almost impossible to unpick. Mas’ud is now in a Libyan jail, convicted of (unrelated) bombing offences.
And here is a curious thing. In his SR article, Ashton writes: ‘We have always known that on the morning of the bombing Masud [sic] was on the same flight as Megrahi from Malta to Tripoli and that they had been on other flights together in the previous weeks’.

We have always known? I have checked back on three of Ashton’s books. In the first (‘Megrahi – You are my Jury’) there is one reference to an Abougela Masoud, who was said by a prosecution witness to have been on a Malta flight with Megrahi; but Ashton says the evidence was unreliable, because the witness ‘was lying in his teeth’. In the other two there is no reference to him at all. So, we may have always known, but we have not always been told. This is known in the lawyer’s trade as suppressio veri – omit any evidence that might undermine your story; in the Sunday Times rule-book that was a firing offence. 

This is a bad misrepresentation of the truth. Mr Linklater suggests I deliberately suppressed evidence that pointed to Abdelbaset’s guilt. I never said the evidence that Abdelbaset flew with Abouagela Masud was unreliable, I just didn’t consider it significant, because I was unaware when I wrote ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ (which was my second book, not my first) of Masud’s alleged link to the La Belle bombing. Had I known of it, I would have mentioned it, just as I mentioned (on p.21) the alleged role in La Belle of Abdelbaset’s relative and friend Said Rashid.

It is a bit rich for Mr Linklater to accuse me of suppressing evidence that is unhelpful to my case, given his failure to acknowledge that the Crown did exactly that.

For the record, my first book ‘Cover-up of Convenience’ was co-written, with my co-author Ian Ferguson covering the Lockerbie trial, which was when the evidence that Abdelbaset had travelled with Abouagela Masud emerged publicly. Had either of us been aware of the evidence and its potential significance we would have included it in the book. My third book ‘Scotland’s Shame’ was short and did not go in to the evidence in much detail.

I liked Dornstein’s approach to the investigation, and, to be fair, so did both Ashton, and the veteran campaigner Dr Jim Swire, though they disagree with his conclusions. Dornstein, in turn, respects Dr Swire, and got on well with him – Dornstein’s father too was a doctor. He is modest in his claims, describing his investigation as merely ‘a foot in the door’ in the search for truth. He never criticises those who take a different view, and indeed, sits down with Dr Swire and takes him through the evidence step by step. What, he asks Dr Swire, does he make of the fact that Megrahi was in Malta in the days leading up the bombing, in the company of a known bomb-maker? It is clear that Dr Swire is disconcerted. So would anyone be. 

But the reason that Dornstein has, in my view, come closer to the truth than any other investigator, is because he has followed the evidence, tested it fairly, and never jumped to conclusions. He has tracked down real people and spoken to them. He has been to Libya and talked to witnesses. He has never overplayed his hand. 

Ken’s film does not address the evidence I refer to above and he has not offered an explanation for it. Neither, of course, has Mr Linklater.

He says that, as the cast-list of activists was assembled and identified, he began to get a grasp that these were real people rather than just names. By the time he was in a position to make his three-part documentary (which was aired in Britain on the PBS channel) he believed he could name the organiser of the plot, the bomb-maker, and the man who first ordered the bombing. 

The evidence that those implicated by the film (Said Rashid, Nassr Ashur, Ezzadin Hinshiri, et al) were involved in the plot remains thin.

‘You start to get a more visceral sense of who did what,’ he says. ‘When you put them in the picture you start to understand where Megrahi really fits in. It starts to seem as if you are looking at them through a keyhole, then you widen the aperture and the whole story starts to make a lot more sense.’

By contrast, Ashton and his supporters are still clinging to stories that have been tested and found wanting, thus breaking that Sunday Times rule about abandoning a theory when it doesn’t stand up. The connection to Palestinian rather than Libyan terrorists, which Ashton prefers, was examined in great detail by the SCCRC, which was looking specifically at possible grounds for appeal; it found that the evidence which was said to link them broke down at crucial points;

The SCCRC’s investigation of the PFLP-GC was essentially a paper exercise, which overlooked some important leads and evidence. The Commission was clearly not equipped to investigate international terrorism and its staff did not interview any of those originally implicated in the bombing or their associates.

suggestions that Heathrow Airport was where the bomb was loaded again have no concrete evidence to back them; an entire book has been written on the Heathrow connection, but nothing has emerged to give it the kind of validity which would stand up in court. 

The latter claim is bizarre. The claims in the book (Dr Kerr’s ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’) are supported throughout by hard evidence.

And then there is the theory of the fake, or possibly planted timer fragment. This suggests that the fragment of bomb timer, found on the site, was different in critical respects from the one that pointed the forensic finger at Libya. It must therefore have been planted, tampered with, or substituted at some stage, possibly by the CIA. Ashton is convinced it is suspect evidence, but is reluctant to say who might have been responsible for introducing it.

The evidence demonstrates that the fragment did not originate from one of the timers supplied by Mebo to Libya amounts to proof. I am not convinced it is a plant, but it has some of the hallmarks of one. Neither Ken Dornstein nor Magnus Linklater has been able to explain the metallurgical difference between the fragment and the timers.

Dornstein, in his patient way, takes Edwin Bollier, the Swiss manufacturer, who supplied the timer to the Libyans, through his evidence, but finds he has told so many contradictory stories over time that nothing he says can be trusted. 

I agree that Mr Bollier cannot be trusted. The timer fragment evidence relies on hard scientific evidence and not, as Mr Linklater implies, on his claims.

The best analysis has been done by the SCCRC, which found nothing to undermine the clear link between the timer and the Libyans. Ashton and others say that the commission did an inadequate job.

The SCCRC demonstrably made a major cock-up on the timer fragment. Its supplementary report, which informed its conclusion that there was nothing to undermine the fragment’s provenance, demonstrates that it was unaware of the potential significance of the metallurgical differences between the fragment and the timers supplied to Libya.

But in my view the quality of its research was outstanding. It dissected most of the conspiracy theories and found them wanting. And it was even-handed, producing six grounds for possible appeal, including the questionable evidence provided by Tony Gauci, the man who owned the Maltese shop where the bomb clothes were bought. Whether those grounds would have been enough to reverse the original verdict is, at best, doubtful. 

For me, I like the famous Sherlock Holmes quote: ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth’. It was quite a favourite of the Sunday Times team too. Here is Megrahi, in the company of a known Libyan bomb-maker, travelling to Malta in the days leading up to the bombing. Here is Megrahi, leaving immediately after the bomb is said to have been loaded, to return to Tripoli. Here are clothes, purchased in Malta, found wrapping the bomb fragments. Here is the same bomb-maker, welcoming Megrahi back to Libya on his release. And if, indeed, someone swapped that timer fragment in order to implicate Libya, how did that person know in advance that Megrahi would be in the right place at the right time to cop the charge?

The main planks of the prosecution case have been shown to be impossible: Abdelbaset could not have been the man whom Tony Gauci described buying the clothes; the timer fragment was not from the batch supplied to Libya by Mebo; and if, as Dr Kerr has demonstrated, the bomb was loaded at Heathrow, it could not have been despatched from Malta. That being the case, if we apply the old Sunday Times principles we have to seek an alternative explanation for why Megrahi came to be in the frame.

Would the Sunday Times Insight team have agreed? I wish I knew. It would probably have dug deeper, gone further, questioned the evidence, searched for the last telling detail. But my feeling is that in the long run it would have backed Dornstein rather than Ashton, preferring hard evidence to speculation.

Again, this is a bizarre claim. Megrahi: You are my Jury is built on hard evidence – much more than features in Ken’s films, and most of it from the Crown.

Of course we need more proof, and of course there are still mysteries to uncover. Lockerbie is unfinished business, and there are grieving families, desperate to know what lay behind it. With terrorism once again staining the civilised world, the search must go on for those who planned and carried out the attack. 

But I think we can be confident that Scottish prosecutors got the right man.

I beg to differ. As did, of course, the SCCRC.

 

 

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Private Eye on the SCCRC’s Lockerbie decision

 

The following article appears in the latest issue of Private Eye:

The recent decision of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) by the Scottish body that it would not be reviewing the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, has been met with dismay and incredulity by those who want to get to the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing.

The SCCRC said its decision that it a further investigation was “not in the interests of justice” was made with “some regret”. It blamed an inability to gain access to defence appeal papers and other materials – which has outraged those who say they could have been supplied.

Eye readers will remember that back in 2007, the SCCRC identified no less than six grounds for a possible miscarriage of justice, paving the way for Megrahi’s appeal in 2009. After endless delay by the Crown, the appeal was abandoned when the ailing Libyan returned to his country to die with his family. Since then other material has come to light, including new scientific evidence which shows – contrary to assertions made at Megahi’s trial – that a bomb timer fragment found at the crash site was no match for those known to have been supplied to Libya.

It was this evidence which raised more serious questions not only about Megrahi’s guilt but also over any part played by Libya, which last year prompted a number of the relatives of the 270 who perished in the 1988 blast – supported by members of Megrahi’s family – to launch a new SCCRC application. It was, they claimed, the “worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history”.

But this month commissioners said “a great deal of public money and time” was expended on its original review of Megrahi’s case only for the apeal to be abandonned and it was not convinced of the family’s willingness to co-operate with the new review or take the matter to appeal.

A John Ashton, Megrahi’s biographer, who worked with the defence team, accused the commission of incompetence: “If it had really wanted access to the appeal papers, it only needed to ask. Mr Megrahi had allowed me to keep a set of papers, which I was happy to share with the commission.”

Tony Kelly, Megrahi’s former solicitor, had also made it clear he was anxious to assist, and had requested the SCCRC set out the legal basis for the request, so he could meet his duties of confidentiality to a former client. That was not forthcoming.

The SCCRC decision was the second blow to the victims’ relatives. In summer the appeal court ruled that they did not have a “legitimate interest” in pursuing an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf.

Nevertheless Jim Swire, father of Flora who died in the terrorist atrocity, told the Eye they were still hopeful the demands for documentation would be met. They are also awaiting the findings of a police investigation into nine allegations of criminal conduct against the Scottish Crown Office and named individuals over the conduct of the Lockerbie investigation and the 2001 trial. Now aged 79, he remains as determined as ever expose the cover-ups and deceit (Eyes passim ad nauseum) which have denied everyone justice.

 

 

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New Lockerbie article for Consortium News

I have just had the following article published by Consortium News, under the headline Fresh Twists in the Lockerbie Case

On Oct. 15, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, the Crown Office, announced that two Libyan men are being treated as suspects in the 28-year-old Pan Am 103 bombing case. They were widely reported to be Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker, and Abdullah Senussi, Muammar Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both were associates of the only person convicted of the bombing, Abelbaset al-Megrahi, who died in 2012.

The development came almost 15 years after Megrahi’s trial, but only two days after the broadcast by PBS Frontline of a three-part documentary My Brother’s Bomber. Trailed by a long article in the New Yorker, the film was made by Ken Dornstein, a former Frontline staffer whose older brother David was one of 270 who died when Pan Am 103 was destroyed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988.

The documentary reveals that Masud was named by a German judge as the technical expert responsible for the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack, which killed three, including two U.S. servicemen, and injured many more, led to the U.S. air strikes on Libya, for which Libya allegedly took revenge with the bombing of Pan Am 103.

Megrahi flew with Masud from Malta to Libya on the morning of the Lockerbie bombing having, according to the prosecution, placed a suitcase containing a bomb on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt. The unaccompanied suitcase was allegedly transferred to a feeder flight to London Heathrow and again at Heathrow on to Pan Am 103.

Megrahi denied knowing Masud, yet the two men were on other flights in the run-up to Lockerbie and, according to the film, Masud was in the car that met him on his return to Libya in 2009, following his release from prison in Scotland.

Before I comment, a declaration of interest. I worked for Megrahi for three years as a researcher and following his return to Libya, and, at his request, wrote his biography. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of Ken Dornstein’s production and, although I disagree with his conclusions, am on good terms with him.

There is no doubt that Libya supported terrorist groups and that at least one Libyan, Musbah Eter, who was an official at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin, was involved in the La Belle bombing. Eter was convicted for his role following a confession in which he implicated his co-accused, Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa (both of whom worked at the People’s Bureau) and Chaana’s wife Verana.

He implicated a number of others, including Masud, whom he described as a bomb technician. Masud was never apprehended for the bombing and when German prosecutor Dethlev Mehlis went to Libya to interview witnesses all denied his existence — as did the Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case.

Less Straightforward

There is also no doubt that the La Belle case is far less straightforward than portrayed in the film. At the time of the bombing, the Reagan administration was involved in a large, secret and dirty war against Libya. From the time Reagan took office in 1981 his government exaggerated the country’s role in terrorism, which it claimed — falsely — was central to a Soviet-directed global conspiracy against the West.

At the same time, the Reagan administration downplayed the role of equally active terrorist states Syria and Iran. There were two reasons for this: firstly, those countries held far greater strategic power in the Middle East than Libya; and secondly, their militant proxies held U.S. hostages in Lebanon. The hostages’ safe return was an obsession that led the administration into the Iran-Contra scandal.

Under the direction of CIA’s rabidly neocon director, William Casey, the Agency launched a massive covert campaign against Libya, aimed at toppling Gaddafi. It was run from the National Security Council by the same people who ran the Iran-Contra operation, including Oliver North.

Disinformation was central to the campaign. In 1981, the CIA put out a false story that Gaddafi has sent a hit squad to the U.S. to assassinate Reagan. The White House played along using an unmarked car to drive Reagan while decoy limousines were used to dupe the non-existent gunmen.

By the mid-1980s, the White House hardliners were hungry for an excuse to attack Libya and NSC staff drew up plans to provoke Libya in to a response that would provide the excuse they needed. Naval exercises were conducted off the Libyan coast in which Libyan vessels were hit and territorial water repeatedly violated.

Gaddafi appeared not to take the bait. Then, on April 5, 1986, came the La Belle bombing. The White House soon announced that it had irrefutable evidence of Libya’s involvement. Nine days later came the air strikes against Libya, which came within a whisker of killing Gaddafi.

The “irrefutable evidence” was intercepts of incriminatory messages sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Libyan intelligence traffic was normally processed and evaluated by a group known as G-6 at the National Security Agency, before being forwarded elsewhere.

An investigation by Seymour Hersh for the New York Times established that the La Belle intercepts were never sent to G-6. An NSA official told him “The G-6 section branch and division chiefs didn’t know why it was taken from them. They were bureaucratically cut out and so they screamed and yelled.”

Another explained, “There is no doubt that if you send raw data to the White House, that constitutes misuse because there’s nobody there who’s capable of interpreting it. . . . You screw it up every time when you do it –– and especially when the raw traffic is translated into English from a language such as Arabic, that’s not commonly known.”

The eventual prosecution of Eter and his three co-accused was reliant upon Eter’s confession and corroborating material from the files of the former East German security service, the Stasi. (Chaana also confessed but his evidence was not considered as important and Eter’s.) The Stasi had a number of informants within Berlin’s Arab communities, including Chaana, and kept a close watch on the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau.

Double-Dealing

During the 1980s, Berlin was a pit of Cold War double-dealing. The Stasi files indicate that among the Arab communities survival and personal advancement often trumped loyalty to any particular cause. The information relayed to the Stasi by its Arab informants might be cast iron, but against this background it’s also possible that they were recycling each other’s inventions.

The East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau, in particular, hosted numerous personal rivalries and little mutual trust. Eter was one of the more interesting vipers in the nest. According to the Stasi and a 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF, he was a CIA asset. ZDF discovered that, at the time he made his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

The year before La Belle he was named as a suspect in the assassination in West Germany of a Libyan dissident called Jibril el-Dinali. (Der Spiegel reported at the time that dissidents believed that the German federal police, the BKA, had supplied their secret addresses to Libyan officials in return for intelligence about the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction, which had received Libyan support.)

Eter is Ken Dornstein’s key witness and will be central to any prosecution of Masud and Senussi. According to the film, since Dornstein made contact, he has told the FBI that Masud and Megrahi were pivotal to the Lockerbie plot. He claims that Masud told him personally that he was responsible for both the Lockerbie and La Belle bombings.

Unfortunately for anyone tasked with prosecuting at a trial of the new suspects, the CIA connection and his murderous past leave Eter with a credibility problem. So too does the fact that he waited 19 years after confessing to talk about Lockerbie.

Other Stasi informants involved in the case had a relationship with the CIA, as did some of those originally implicated in the bombing. One was a close associate of Chraidi’s, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, who with his brother Mohamed ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians.

The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud Abu Jaber and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. They mixed regularly with the Chraidi and the other defendants and hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. They were watched by the Stasi and KGB, both of which concluded that they were working for Western intelligence.

One declassified KGB document suggested that Mahmoud Abu Jaber was a CIA agent provocateur, who was used to create a case against Libya. Group member Mahmoud Amayiri, who was both Shatta’s brother and Mahmoud Abu Jaber’s right-hand man, confirmed to ZDF through his Norwegian lawyer that he had been working for Mossad. He had fled Germany for Norway in 1990, following the issuing of an arrest warrant, which was later dropped.

The idea that some of the La Belle plotters were western agents provocateur is not far-fetched. A 1997 investigation by British Channel 4 TV’s Dispatches series revealed that the CIA-funded anti-Gaddafi terrorist group Al-Burkan was involved in the 1984 murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed when staff at the London Libya People’s Bureau opened fire on a crowd of anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.

A member of a Berlin criminal gang connected to Al-Burkan described transporting the murder weapon to London and handing it over to an Al-Burkan member. The program uncovered evidence that the fatal shot was fired from a building adjacent to the People’s Bureau used by the UK intelligence services. It also claimed that Al Burkan had moles within the People’s Bureau.

Reluctant Cooperation

The U.S. government was reluctant to share its intelligence about La Belle with the Germans and it was not until 1996 that it did. It appeared to be convincing and included transcripts of intercepted messages, allegedly between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau. Among other things, these suggested that senior Libyan intelligence official Said Rashid, a friend and relative of Megrahi’s, coordinated the attack.

The U.S. government may well have believed the intercepts to be genuine, but, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, they were an elaborate hoax. In his 1994 memoir, The Other Side of Deception, he claimed that the messages were in fact part of a Mossad disinformation operation codenamed Trojan.

Ostrovsky said that a few weeks before the bombing Israeli commandos secretly installed special communications equipment in an apartment near Colonel Gaddafi’s headquarters, which was subsequently used to broadcast phony terrorist orders. Neither German prosecutor Mehlis, nor the FBI, contacted Ostrovsky about his claims.

While none of this rules out Libyan sponsorship of La Belle, it does flash a warning that we should treat the official account with caution.

An even thicker fog surrounds Lockerbie. The CIA’s campaign against Libya did not end with the 1986 raids, indeed a few months after them President Reagan signed a secret National Security Decision Directive, which, according to a leak to Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, ordered “covert, diplomatic and economic steps designed to . . . bring about a change of leadership in Libya.”

In view of what we now know about Lockerbie, it’s not outlandish to suggest that those covert steps may have included manipulating the investigation behind the backs of the police and prosecutors.

Declassified U.S. intelligence documents state as fact that the bombing was not Gaddafi’s revenge for the 1986 raids, but was rather Iran’s for the U.S. Navy’s accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, which killed 290 people six months before Lockerbie.

According to the documents, the Iranians contracted out the job to the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command, which had a track record of blowing up aircraft. One document, from 1991, stated, without naming the PFLP-GC, that the Iranian interior minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi paid the bombers $10 million.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer has provided some of the details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC plot and another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials closely connected to the PFLP-GC that the group carried out the attack.

Two months before Lockerbie members of the group were arrested in Germany, including bomb-maker Marwan Kreesat, who had made the bombs used in previous attacks. He admitted building bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players — the same brand that housed the Lockerbie bomb —and said the group was planning to strike a western airliner. Other members of the group and at least one of his bombs evaded detection.

A Strange Warning

Less than three weeks before the bombing, the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security (ODS) warned that unnamed radical Palestinians in Europe were planning to target Pan Am. The warning came three days before the better known and entirely separate warning received by the U.S. embassy in Helsinki that an attack on Pan Am was imminent.

Whereas the Helsinki warning was written off as a hoax, the ODS warning, which was not revealed until seven years after the bombing, has never been adequately explained.

The key evidence that led the investigators away from Iran and PFLP-GC towards Libya was a small piece of circuit board known as PT/35(b), found within a blast-damaged piece of a Maltese-made shirt. The prosecution case at Megrahi’s trial was that it matched boards made to order for Swiss company Mebo by its supplier Thüring.

Crucially Mebo used the boards in timers called MST-13s, which it had designed and built 20 for the Libyan intelligence service. Megrahi was a partner in a Libyan company that rented part of Mebo’s Zurich offices.

Well before Lockerbie, the CIA had an MST-13 timer that had been seized in Togo in 1986 and photos of the one seized in Senegal in 1988. Prosecution statements by a CIA technical expert, disclosed six years after Megrahi’s conviction, revealed that the Agency was also aware before Lockerbie that the timers had been made by Mebo and supplied to Libya.

The Agency had a backchannel to Mebo boss Edwin Bollier via the Swiss police, so it’s likely that it knew of Megrahi’s connection to Mebo via his company ABH. (The Stasi, who had a relationship with Bollier from at least the early 1970s, were convinced by the late 1980s that he was a direct CIA asset.)

The story of the PT/35(b) fragment is ridden with evidential anomalies. Megrahi’s trial team highlighted a number of discrepancies concerning the fragment, including the fact that the handwritten description on the police label attached to the piece of shirt had been surreptitiously changed from “Cloth” to “Debris.”

There were numerous other discrepancies not raised at trial. These included German documents that reported that the Scottish police had told the German federal police that PT/35(b) had been found in January 1990, seven months after it was officially found.

In his memoir Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation, the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, revealed that he and his Scottish counterpart, Stuart Henderson, speculated that the fragment was a CIA plant. They dismissed the suggestion on the grounds that “Neither of us believed the CIA or any government official would do such a thing.”

However, Marquise also revealed that their Swiss police counterpart suspected it was a plant. This is especially interesting in view of a claim made in an affidavit by Mebo technician Ulrich Lumpert, who designed the boards and produced prototypes, that a year before the Lockerbie investigators had linked PT/35(b) to Mebo the Swiss police visited him and took with them a prototype board.

Shortly before Megrahi’s trial, the Scottish prosecutors received information from witnesses in the U.S. suggesting that an electronics company in Florida had made replica MST-13s for the CIA, but the lead was not properly investigated.

A Miscarriage of Justice

Documents unearthed by Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) — the statutory body that investigates alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland — highlighted more anomalies. They included a police memo stating that PT/35(b) had been tested for explosive residues and found to be negative, which contradicted the court testimony of the Crown’s forensic experts, who said that no such tests had been done.

As Frontline’s documentary, My Brother’s Bomber, points out, the SCCRC investigated Bollier’s claim that the fragment was fabricated and found it to be baseless. However, the film fails to mention that both the SCCRC and Bollier missed the most important discrepancy concerning PT/35(b), which only emerged during preparations for Megrahi’s second appeal in 2009.

Metallurgical analysis showed that the fragment’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards made by Thüring, which were used in the timers supplied to Libya, were plated with a tin-lead alloy. Crown scientists had speculated that the explosion had changed the plating, but tests commissioned for the appeal disproved the theory. The work demonstrated beyond doubt that the Lockerbie fragment was not, as the court had accepted, a match for the Libyan MST-13s.

Other important forensic items had a dubious provenance. Among them was a collection of small charred circuit board fragments that apparently originated from a Toshiba BomBeat RT-SF16 radio cassette player.

A large proportion of the global production total of the model had been bought by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Said Rashid. The fragments appeared to be compelling evidence of Libyan involvement in the bombing, but, like PT/35(b), their origin is questionable. They were discovered by an air accident investigator within a folded piece of aluminum from the luggage container that housed the bomb suitcase.

Giving evidence at Megrahi’s trial, the investigator could not suggest how the blast could have caused the fragments to become trapped within the aluminum. He was sure that the fold had not occurred at the time of the explosion, which suggested that someone had placed the fragments within the aluminum after the blast.

Also of great importance to the prosecution case was a fragment of brown checked trousers containing a sewn-in label of a Maltese manufacturer called Yorkie. The item led the police to a shop in Malta called Mary’s House, where the proprietor, Tony Gauci, recalled selling a bundle of clothes — including brown checked trousers and other items found among the Lockerbie debris — to an oddly behaved Libyan a few weeks before the bombing.

Two years later, Gauci picked out Megrahi from a photo line-up, although he was considerably younger, smaller and lighter skinned than the man described by Gauci.

When the trouser fragment was first examined, the Yorkie label was seen by neither the forensic examiner nor the police officer present despite being easily visible. When questioned about it by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, both said they could not have missed it, which suggested that the label appeared after the examination.

The CIA not only knew before Lockerbie that Mebo had supplied MST-13 timers to Libya, they also knew that Megrahi regularly travelled to Malta, that he was related to Said Rashid and others high up within Libyan intelligence and security, and that Rashid was the head of the Libyan General Electrical Company. Much of this knowledge it attempted to conceal.

No Dissident

According to the former deputy chief of the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism division, the Diplomatic Security Service, Fred Burton, a CIA official told him before New Year in 1988 that the bomb was in a Maltese-originating brown Samsonite.

Burton is no Lockerbie dissident — he believes Megrahi and Libya were guilty — but, if true, his indiscretions throw a big wrench into the prosecution narrative, which held that the evidence to support the claim was uncovered by the police well in to 1989.

A number of rescue volunteers have described to me arriving in Lockerbie within two hours of the bombing to find a group of American agents already present. According to the official narrative, this never happened and the first U.S. government staff only arrived three hours later.

Police officers reported concerns that Americans had unsupervised access to the crash site and a British helicopter crew member told me that the day after the bombing his crew ferried CIA agents around the site.

Some potentially significant forensic items found at the crash site disappeared, among them an AA battery with a piece of wire soldered to one of its terminals. German police photographs of the PFLP-GC’s Toshiba bomb showed that it incorporated AA batteries with wires soldered to their terminals.

Anyone raising these evidential anomalies gets branded a conspiracy theorist by the supporters of the official narrative, yet that narrative and the one newly minted by My Brother’s Bomber are themselves elaborate conspiracy theories.

When the theories and counter-theories are cast aside in favor of hard facts, the official narrative is no longer tenable. Not only did PT/35(b) not originate from one of the timers supplied to Libya, but Megrahi was clearly not the man who bought the clothes for the bomb suitcase and that purchase took place when he was not in Malta. New analysis of the baggage evidence demonstrates that the bomb suitcase originated from London Heathrow, rather than Malta.

Perhaps the hardest fact of all for the defenders of Megrahi’s conviction — which has barely been reported in all the coverage generated by My Brother’s Bomber — is that in 2007 the conviction was referred back to the appeal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on no fewer than six grounds.

One of these was that the trial court judgment, delivered by three of Scotland’s most senior judges, was unreasonable. Four of the other grounds concerned non-disclosure by the prosecution of important evidence.

The terminally ill Megrahi abandoned the appeal in the belief that it would aid his application for compassionate release from prison. Sadly, the commission this month rejected an application by family members and relatives of some of the British victims of Pan Am 103 for a further review of the conviction.

It may be that the only way to re-test the evidence against Megrahi will be a trial of the two newly announced suspects. If that happens, don’t hold your breath for a guilty verdict.

 

 

 

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Taylor & Kelly press release about the SCCRC announcement on the Megrahi case

Abdelbaset’s former solicitors, Taylor & Kelly, have today released the following press statement in response to the SCCRC’s announcement that it has rejected the application for it to review his case:

It is with some surprise that we learn today that the Commission have come to the view that papers have not been forthcoming from us as Mr Megrahi’s appeal representatives. As soon as a request was made from the commission we asked to be advised of the basis of the request – the power of the commission to ask for access to material. Despite making clear that we were anxious to assist, we have not as yet been told of the Commission’s authority to have access to amongst other things private communications. As solicitors we cannot deliver up papers in our possession simply upon request, even to a body such as the Commission.

No indication was given to us until today that the Commission were interested in the part of our actings relating to Mr Megrahi’s appeal being abandoned.

The Commission have very wide powers indeed. They could have made application to the Court for access to materials. In any such application, they would clearly have been required to state the basis of the request, and the basis for any court to order us as solicitors to have to part with confidential papers. We prefaced that in communications with them and asked them to provide authority for any application. We remain in the dark on this important point.

As solicitors we are bound by professional obligations which are the subject of regulation by the Law Society of Scotland. In the event that we have in some way not met our professional obligations the Law Society could have been consulted.

As it was, at the conclusion of our actings in this case we sought and obtained our own legal advice about the custody of the papers.

No further enquiry was made of our solicitors individually or any others who formed part of the legal team. The Commission in its previous consideration of Mr Megrahi’s case interviewed each member of Mr Megrahi’s team about decisions made in the course of the trial.   If focus had centred on the abandonment of the appeal then that could have been pursued by seeking to interview those involved in that aspect of the case.

 

 

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The SCCRC say they couldn’t get access to Megrahi’s appeal papers – so why didn’t they ask me for them?

 

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has today announced that it has rejected the application made by various UK Lockerbie victims’ relatives and members of the Megrahi family for a review of Abdelbaset’s conviction on the grounds that “it is not in the interests of justice”.

The accompanying statement contains the following:

The Commission also had to consider the circumstances surrounding the abandonment of Mr Megrahi’s previous appeal. To enable it to do so it was imperative that the Commission be provided with the defence appeal papers. After a period of 14 months, and despite various requests having been made of the Megrahi family and of the late Mr Megrahi’s previous solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, these have not been forthcoming… 

 [Quote by SCCRC Jean Couper:]

“It is extremely frustrating that the relevant papers, which the Commission believes are currently with the late Mr Megrahi’s solicitors, Messrs Taylor and Kelly, and with the Megrahi family, have not been forthcoming despite repeated requests from the Commission. Therefore, and with some regret, we have decided to end the current review…”

…The Commission has written to the late Mr Megrahi`s solicitors and to his family requesting access to the defence papers in order to allow it to consider the circumstances surrounding the abandonment of Mr Megrahi’s second appeal. No papers were forthcoming despite repeated requests.

Abdelbaset gave me access to all of the defence appeal papers, and I still have them, yet no one from the SCCRC approached me for them. Had they done so, I would have happily handed them over. I also reported on Abdelbaset’s reason for abandoning his appeal in Megrahi: You are my Jury.

The application to the SCCRC stated, in schedule 3, the following:

The circumstances in which Abdelbaset al-Megrahi came to abandon his second appeal are set out in Chapter 14 (pages 346 to 365) and Appendix 4 (pages 420 to 425) of John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury — The Lockerbie Evidence (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2012, ISBN-13 978 1 78027 015 9) and (much more briefly) on page 119 of John Ashton’s Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Still Matters (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2013, ISBN-13 978 1 78027 167 5) to which the Commission is respectfully referred.

Having been diagnosed as suffering from terminal prostate cancer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was desperate to achieve his repatriation to Libya so that he could die surrounded by his family. In these circumstances he applied for compassionate release on 24 July 2009. The Libyan Government had already submitted an application for prisoner transfer on 5 May 2009. Abandonment of Megrahi’s appeal was not a requirement for compassionate release, but it was a requirement for prisoner transfer; and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice intimated that, although prisoner transfer had been applied for more than two months before application was made for compassionate release, both applications would be dealt with by him simultaneously (see eg http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2009/07/megrahi-deadline-will-be-missed.html). Accordingly, if both routes to repatriation were to remain open to him, Megrahi had to abandon his appeal.

In a press release issued through his solicitor, Tony Kelly, a short time after his return to Libya, Megrahi stated: “I have returned to Tripoli with my unjust conviction still in place. As a result of the abandonment of my appeal I have been deprived of the opportunity to clear my name through the formal appeal process. I have vowed to continue my attempts to clear my name. I will do everything in my power to persuade the public, and in particular the Scottish public, of my innocence.” (see http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2009/09/press-release-regarding-publication-of.html). Until the end of his life, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi continued to protest his innocence of the crime of which he had been convicted: see eg http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2011/12/these-are-my-last-words-i-am-innocent.html.

In view of this, the SCCRC cannot have been unaware of my involvement in the case, so why did they not contact me?

 

 

 

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Scottish Review article on the latest Lockerbie claims

 

The Scottish Review has just published the following article by me about the the coverage of Ken Dornstein’s film My Brother’s Bomber.

Lockerbie is back in the news. On 15 October the Crown Office announced that the lord advocate and the US attorney general have agreed that two Libyan men should be treated as suspects. They have been named as Abu Agila Masud, an alleged bomb-maker whose identity was until now a mystery, and Abdullah Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s former security chief. Both men are currently in prison in Libya.

The announcement was prompted by the recent broadcast by the American PBS channel’s ‘Frontline’ series of a three-part documentary, ‘My Brother’s Bomber’, made by Ken Dornstein, who lost his brother David in the attack. Trailed by a long feature in the New Yorker, it suggests that the Libyan man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was guilty and that he acted with Masud.

The film has provided the much-derided Crown case against Megrahi with the only significant boost it has had since he was convicted almost 15 years ago. That case, accepted by the three Scottish law lords who tried him, went as follows. Two weeks before the bombing, on 7 December 1988, he bought a selection of clothes from a shop in Malta called Mary’s House. On 21 December 1988, while travelling on a false passport he placed an unaccompanied brown Samsonite suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt.

The suitcase contained the clothes and a bomb, and was labelled for New York on PA103. At Frankfurt it transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to London Heathrow, and at Heathrow to PA103. The bomb was allegedly built in to a Toshiba BomBeat brand RT-SF16 radio cassette player. A large percentage of the global total of this model had been imported by the Libyan General Electrical Company, which was run by Megrahi’s friend and relative Said Rashid, who was a senior figure in Libyan intelligence service, the JSO. More importantly, it was said to have been detonated by a timing device known as an MST-13, which had been designed and built to order for the JSO by a small Swiss company called Mebo, whose Zurich offices were shared by a Libyan company called ABH, in which Megrahi was a partner.

Before I go further, I should declare an interest. I worked for three years as a researcher for Megrahi, helping his lawyers prepare for his appeal against conviction, and following his return to Libya, at his request, I wrote his biography ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’. I was also a paid consultant during the early stages of the film’s production in which capacity I was interviewed on camera (although the interview doesn’t appear in the film) and provided Ken with numerous documents. Although he and I hold very different views about the case, I like and respect him.

He has a profound need for clear answers about who killed his brother. He always believed that Megrahi was guilty and that he had acted on behalf of the Libyan state. He used the opportunity opened by the Libyan revolution to pursue the other alleged state players.

He accepts that the evidence suggesting Megrahi was the clothes purchaser was flawed. Not only was he very much younger, smaller and lighter-skinned than the man described by the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, but the evidence also suggested that the purchase date was not, as the crown alleged, 7 December 1988, but two weeks earlier, when Megrahi was not in Malta. Ken considers that these weaknesses in the Crown case are relatively insignificant when set again the other evidence that he has unearthed, the most important of which concerns Abu Agila Masud.

We have always known that on the morning of the bombing Masud was on the same flight as Megrahi from Malta to Tripoli and that they had been on other flights together in the previous weeks. Megrahi denied knowing him, as did the Libyans interviewed by Lockerbie investigators prior to Megrahi’s trial. The film reveals that, according to a German court judgment, Masud was the technical mastermind behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle nightclub in Berlin. That attack prompted US air strikes on Libya, which in turn, according to the official Lockerbie narrative, prompted Libya to bomb Pan Am 103. Furthermore, the film suggests, Masud was in the car that greeted Megrahi at the airport on his return to Libya in 2009. Then, earlier this year, a Libyan court convicted him of making booby-trapped car bombs during the 2011 revolution.

The film also focuses on another alleged plotter, Said Rashid, who greeted Megrahi on the steps of the aircraft on his arrival home. Ken got access to Rashid’s abandoned house, where he found diaries in which he had described Malta as a launch pad for terrorism against the west. Malta, of course, was where the Libyans allegedly launched the Lockerbie bomb.

Megrahi was always open about his close relationship with Rashid and other notorious senior security figures, including the newly named suspect Abdallah Senussi, who, like Rashid, was a relation. ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ made clear that both Rashid and Senussi were allegedly involved in terrorism – in Rashid’s case the La Belle bombing.

The evidence that Ken has assembled is substantial and I do not dismiss it out of hand, but, for reasons set out below, I believe the conclusions he has built upon it are unsustainable.

His film has prompted an avalanche of media coverage, almost all of it uncritical. The Crown Office’s chief media cheerleader, Times columnist Magnus Linklater, has even declared that ‘[it] is time to extinguish the last embers of controversy that have heated the Lockerbie case for so long’.

Anything that places Lockerbie back in the spotlight is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, however, the coverage of the film is more notable for what it omits than what it reveals.

The first significant omission is a consideration of the evidence from Libya and of Megrahi’s behaviour. At the start of the Libyan revolution four years ago, the former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed to have proof that Colonel Gaddafi ordered the bombing. Since then nothing has emerged publicly from the country’s security archives to implicate the Gaddafi regime and Megrahi in the bombing. Jalil later claimed he had been misquoted and the best he could offer by the way of evidence was the fact that the regime had paid Megrahi’s legal bills. Said Rashid’s papers implicated Rashid in terrorism, but there was nothing new and substantial to demonstrate that he had a role in Lockerbie.

The only genuine document to emerge from the ruins of the old regime that speaks directly to the suspects’ private views on the case is a letter by Megrahi to Senussi, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, in which he protested his innocence. (The WSJ speculated that he might have expected the prison staff to check his mail, but that didn’t happen, as he was free to hand over correspondence to the Libyan consulate staff who frequently visited him.)

Megrahi continued to plead his innocence following his return to Libya in 2009. By then there was nothing for him to lose in admitting his guilt, yet he wouldn’t and he spent much of his remaining time cooperating with me in writing his biography – hardly the actions of a guilty man. The Gaddafi regime also had nothing to lose. In 2004 it made a formal admission of responsibility and paid compensation for the bombing, but only because it was obliged to do so in order to free itself of crippling UN sanctions, which had been imposed under US and UK sponsored Security Council resolutions passed in the early 90s. It never made an unambiguous admission of guilt.

Megrahi didn’t act like a terrorist when he was in Malta. Although he travelled on a coded passport under a false name, he went to visit his co-accused Lamin Fhimah’s Maltese business partner, whom he had never met before, and introduced himself under his real name. He then stayed the night at the Holiday Inn, rather than at one of the island’s Libyan-owned hotels, despite having stayed there for two nights only a fortnight earlier under his own name. He kept the passport for 11 years until he went to The Netherlands to stand trial and handed it over to the prosecution; again, not what one would expect of a terrorist.

Megrahi told a number of lies, not least, it seems, about his relationship with Masud, but lies do not prove guilt. Truth telling is a luxury of liberal democracies. In countries like Gaddafi’s Libya it can be fatal.

A second omission is the strong evidence that points away from Megrahi and Libya. Unlike the Libyans, the original suspects in the bombing, the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), had a track record of bombing aircraft. Moreover, they made bombs into Toshiba BomBeat radio cassette players, the same brand – although a different model – that was used to destroy Pan Am 103. According to their bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat, who was arrested in Germany with other members of the group two months before Lockerbie in an operation code-named Autumn Leaves, his fellow arrestee Hafez Dalkamoni had come to Germany to coordinate an attack on a western airline and had shown a particular interest in Pan Am. 

The German cell also had a link to Malta through the Swedish-based terrorist Mohamed Abu Talb, some of whose associates had visited Dalkamoni and Khreesat’s German apartment two weeks before the Autumn Leaves raids, and who himself visited Malta around the same time. 

There have been suggestions that the PFLP-GC and the Libyans somehow joined forces and that the Libyans were responsible for the plot’s final execution. This would make sense if the Autumn Leaves arrests had halted the PFLP-GC’s operation. However, other evidence suggests that it continued. Khreesat told the German police that other members of the group had evaded arrest, including one called Abu Elias, who, Khreesat gleaned, was to have an important role in the planned attack. Another PFLP-GC member called Mobdi Goben, who led the group’s Yugoslavian cell and was visited by members of the German cell shortly before their arrest, later claimed that the bombing had been coordinated by Abu Elias. 

Further evidence that the PFLP-GC’s plot remained active after the Autumn Leaves raids came in a warning circulated by the US State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security three weeks before Lockerbie (and a few days before the better known and allegedly hoax Helsinki warning). It stated that a group of radical Palestinians in Europe was planning to target Pan Am, adding ‘Timeframe is present’. 

A number of declassified US intelligence documents have stated as fact that the bombing was commissioned from the PFLP-GC by Iran in revenge for the accidental shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655 by US battlecruiser the USS Vincennes six months earlier. Former CIA agent Robert Baer revealed specific details of the Iranian/PFLP-GC attack, which he said came from a number of reliable sources. Another, Richard Fuisz, revealed in a court deposition that he was told by numerous senior Syrian officials who were close to PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril that the group was behind the bombing. 
None of this rules out Libyan involvement in the attack: Libya backed the PFLP-GC and may well have provided logistical and material support to the bombers. This scenario was one that neither the Lockerbie prosecutors nor the Libyans themselves would wish explored. 

A third omission is the evidence suggesting that the La Belle bombing was not a straightforward act of Libyan terrorism. Three of the four people convicted of the bombing worked at the Libyan People’s Bureau in East Berlin: Palestinian Yassar Chraidi, Lebanese-born German Ali Chanaa and Libyan Musbah Eter. Eter confessed to his role in the bombing in 1996 and became the key prosecution witness (Chanaa also confessed but his evidence was not relied upon by the prosecution). Also central to the case were files from the former East Germany security service, the Stasi, which documented information provided by its network of informers within Berlin’s Arab community.

The files appeared to corroborate Eter’s claim that Masud was a bomb technician and indicated that he was in Berlin around the time of the bombing. The Libyan witnesses in the Lockerbie case all denied knowledge of Masud. Also important to the case were intercepts of incriminatory messages supposedly sent between the Libyan government and the East Berlin People’s Bureau. Said Rashid was identified as the main voice behind the instructions from Tripoli. Ostensibly, all this was convincing evidence of Masud’s and Libya’s guilt. But other evidence suggests the bombing had some very murky undercurrents.

The Stasi files suggested that the staff of the East Berlin Libyan People’s Bureau were far from being a close band of Gaddafi loyalists. Most startlingly, they showed that Musbah Eter had a long-standing relationship with the CIA. A 1998 investigation by the German TV channel ZDF alleged that, at the time of his confession in 1996, he was running a CIA front company in Malta.

Some of the Stasi’s Arab informants also had a relationship with the CIA. So too did a number of non-Libyans, whom the Stasi files implicated in the wider La Belle plot, but who escaped justice. One key informant, Mahmoud Abu Jaber, and his brother Mohamed, both of whom were both close to Chraidi, ran a freelance Palestinian terrorist cell that was mistrusted by other Palestinians. The Stasi learned that the CIA knew that Mahmoud and another cell member, Khaled Shatta, were involved in the bombing. In the months prior to the attack the cell lived in East Berlin and met the defendants almost daily. Hours before the attack they travelled to West Berlin. Their movements were monitored by both the Stasi and the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB, who concluded that they were working for Western intelligence. A declassified KGB document indicated that Jaber was suspected of being an agent provocateur, who was being used by the CIA to concoct a case against Libya. The KGB reported that, two days before the bombing, he told his CIA contacts that it would cost $30,000, rather than the previously quoted amount, $80,000. Another member of the group admitted to ZDF that he was a Mossad asset.

All this is important in the light of the widely reported and well documented fact that throughout the Reagan presidency the CIA ran a massive covert campaign against Libya. In the run up to the La Belle attack, the US navy conducted aggressive exercises off the coast of Libya, which were clearly designed to provoke a Libyan military response, although none came. The bombing gave the White House hawks the excuse they craved to strike. 

When the US released the incriminatory intercepts to the German authorities a decade after the attack they appeared to be genuine. However, according to former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky the Americans were duped by a Mossad, who broadcast phony messages from Tripoli. Neither the La Belle prosecutor Detlev Mehlis nor the FBI bothered to interview Ostrovsky about his claims. 

To be clear, I do not claim that Libya, Said Rashid and Abouagela Masud were not involved in La Belle – I would not be surprised if they were – I merely caution against taking a black and white view of the case.

The fourth major omission in the recent media coverage is the evidence that demonstrates that the Lockerbie bomb did not originate in Malta. To remind you, Megrahi’s conviction rested on the belief that he had managed to smuggle a bomb contained in an unaccompanied suitcase on board Air Malta flight KM180 from Malta to Frankfurt and that this case had been transferred to Pan Am feeder flight PA103A to Heathrow, where it was transferred to PA103. The claim relied upon two documents from Frankfurt airport, which, according to the Crown, demonstrated that an unaccounted-for suitcase had been transferred from KM180 to PA103A.

However, that claim in turn relied upon a number of shaky inferences about the documents and the surrounding events at Frankfurt (which are documented in ‘Megrahi: You are my Jury’ and, more exhaustively, in Dr Morag Kerr’s book, ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’).

Megrahi’s conviction depended upon two still more unlikely assumptions. The first was that he had struck very lucky. Forensic evidence suggested that the bomb’s position within luggage container AVE4041 was such that it was as close as it could be to the skin of the aircraft and that had it been any further away it would not have penetrated the skin and caused the plane to disintegrate. 

The second was that he had managed to circumvent Air Malta’s baggage loading procedures. Unlike Pan Am’s these were unusually strict; they required the head loader to physically count all the bags to make sure the total tallied with the number checked in. To ensure that he had done so, he was not told this number, but instead had to report the total to the flight’s ramp dispatcher, who would check it against the checked-in total. KM180’s records showed that the numbers had matched. The police investigation established that all these bags had made it onto the flight and been collected by their owners, which ruled out the possibility that Megrahi or an accomplice had managed to swap the bomb suitcase for a check-in bag prior to the head loader’s count.

The only witness from any of the three airports investigated by the police who could recall seeing a brown Samsonite case of the type that contained the bomb was a Pan Am loader at Heathrow called John Bedford. On the day of the bombing he was based in the so-called interline shed, which processed bags transferred from other flights, but not those from PA103A from Frankfurt, which allegedly carried the suitcase from Malta.

When interviewed by the police he remembered clearly that it was lying flat in the luggage container AVE4041 in the approximate position that the explosion later took place. He said he noticed it when he returned from his tea break at around 16.45 and that a colleague, Sulkash Kamboj, had told him that he had placed it there. (Kamboj subsequently had no recollection of doing so and there is no suggestion that he was part of the bomb plot.) 

Crucially, Bedford went off duty before PA103A arrived from Frankfurt, so the suitcase he saw could not have originated from that flight and could therefore not have been a rogue suitcase from the Air Malta flight KM180. Equally crucially, he and the two other loaders who saw AVE4041 were sure that, by the time it was taken to PA103A to be topped up with baggage from Frankfurt, the base of the container was covered by a single layer of baggage, which consisted of at least five cases standing vertically along the back and two lying flat at the front.

These details were important because two police memos uncovered during preparations for Megrahi’s second appeal showed that only six legitimate interline bags would have been loaded into AVE4041, none of which matched that described by Bedford. Clearly then, the Bedford suitcase was rogue and, to the best of his recollection, it matched the one that contained the bomb.

Further evidence that the bomb was planted at Heathrow has been unearthed and compiled in an exhaustive investigation by researcher Dr Morag Kerr in her book ‘Adequately Explained by Stupidity?’. Taken together, the Heathrow evidence is far more convincing evidence of the bomb’s origin than the fact that Megrahi and Abouagela Masud left Malta together on the morning of the bombing.

The final important omission is the evidence that destroys the Crown’s central claim that the Lockerbie bomb contained an MST-13 timer from a batch supplied by the Swiss company Mebo to Libya. The claim relied upon a fragment of circuit board known as PT/35(b), which was found within the Lockerbie debris. According to the Crown, it matched the boards used in the Libyan batch, which had been made for Mebo by another Swiss company, Thüring. However, there was a crucial difference, which was not revealed to the trial court: PT/35(b)’s copper circuitry was plated with pure tin, whereas the boards in the timers supplied to Libya were plated with a tin-lead alloy. In 2008 Thüring’s production director confirmed to Megrahi’s lawyers that the company had only every used tin-lead alloy plating. It meant that the fragment could not have been from one of the MST-13s supplied to Libya. 

As well as omitting such vital evidence, the media coverage surrounding ‘My Brother’s Bomber’ has swerved an urgent question: given that Abu Agila Masud apparently linked the La Belle attack and Lockerbie, why did the Lockerbie investigators never make anything of the fact? It’s clear from the statements of Scottish police officers that Masud was a prime suspect from 1991 onwards. In 1997 he was named in the indictment against the La Belle accused. Had the Lockerbie prosecutors known of the link, they should have used it to bolster the weak circumstantial case that they had assembled against Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamin Fhimah. The fact that they did not looks like a major cock up, which the announcement of the pursuit of the two new suspects has effectively concealed. The Crown Office claims that there is now a ‘proper basis’ in Scots law to treat the two men as suspects, implying that there wasn’t previously. In fact, such a basis has existed since 1991.

The initiative has already descended into farce. The Crown Office has discussed getting access to the suspects with the internationally recognised government in Tobruk, which is powerless to help, because they are being held by the rival government in Tripoli. That government is willing to allow the Crown Office to interview the suspects, but has heard nothing from them. As leading Libya observer Jason Pack has observed, given the very delicate political situation in the country, which the UN is attempting to resolve by brokering the formation of a national unity government, the Crown Office’s announcement seems ‘particularly ill-timed and naïve’.

I can believe that the police and FBI failed to be sufficiently curious about La Belle, but find it hard to believe that the CIA missed the Masud link with Lockerbie. In the official narrative, the two bombings were umbilically linked. The CIA of all people should therefore have been alert to the possibility that there were common players between the two attacks. They could not have been unaware that Masud had been implicated in La Belle if the man who implicated him, Musbah Eter, was one of their own.

Why, then, was it not until 19 years after Eter named Masud, and 18 years after he was named in the La Belle indictment, that the Lockerbie connection was made? And why did it fall to one of the Lockerbie victims’ relatives to make the connection? Clearly the Libyans kept silent about Masud because they knew that the La Belle connection, whether genuine or not, would damage Megrahi and Fhimah’s prospects at trial, but why the apparent silence from the CIA?

We are unlikely to get answers to these and the many other questions that cloud Lockerbie. We should applaud Ken Dornstein for adding some pieces to the jigsaw. He has seen a picture that he finds convincing, but when I look at the other pieces, I am equally sure he is wrong and that, if we ever get to see the complete picture, the part he has illuminated may prove to be peripheral.

We must nevertheless hope that Masud and Senussi are handed over to the Scottish authorities, unlikely as that prospect may currently seem. The case urgently needs reopening and a trial of the two men may be the best way of achieving it. Should there be one, the prosecution would have to re-run most of the discredited case that convicted Megrahi, and the defence would be armed with vital exculpatory evidence that the Crown previously withheld. The result, I predict, would be a deepening rather than an answering of Lockerbie’s mysteries. 

 

 

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