Lockerbie, 20 years on: Behind the frame up of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is republishing these important articles. Since their first publication, important new evidence has cast even more doubt on the unjust conviction of  Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi -- see comments section below. 

[Read Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi's legal defence documents HERE.]

By Norm Dixon

February 14, 2001 -- The eminent barrister Horace Rumpole has often noted that the “golden thread running through the history of British justice” is that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Of course, Rumpole is a fictional character created by writer John Mortimer. As the verdict handed down in the Lockerbie bombing trial proves, the “golden thread” is just as fictional.

On January 31, 2001, the three Scottish lords sitting in judgement on the charges against two Libyans accused of planting the bomb that felled Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland on December 21, 1988, found Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi guilty of the murders of the 270 people killed in the disaster. Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was found not guilty.

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Lockerbie victim's relative: Free al Megrahi (video)

Lockerbie anniversary plea

In the week leading up to the 20th Anniversary of Lockerbie, Dr Jim Swire, relative of a Lockerbie victim, speaks about his belief in the innocence of convicted Al Megrahi. The Libyan was convicted of the atrocity after a trial in 2001 at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

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The nine-month trial was held in the Netherlands and conducted according to Scottish law. It was the result of an agreement between Libya and the US and British governments that finally allowed the trial — which had been stalled for almost five years by London's and Washington's insistence that the case be held in either the United States or Britain — to be heard in a “neutral” third country.

In their 82-page judgement, the three judges found that, despite “uncertainties and qualifications”, “there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused [Megrahi]”.

According to the judges, the evidence showed that Megrahi, Libyan Arab Airlines' security chief at Malta's Luqa airport, had purchased items of clothing from a shop in Malta that were of the same brand and type as those that forensics experts had determined were in the Samsonite suitcase that contained the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103. From the presence of these brands and types of clothes in the suitcase, the judges inferred that Megrahi had somehow succeeded in having the “item of baggage”, unaccompanied by a passenger, transferred from Malta, via Frankfurt, to London's Heathrow airport, where it was loaded onto the doomed aircraft.

The judges added that with “other background circumstances” — such as Megrahi's previous (and seemingly continuing) service with Libya's security organisation (JSO), his “association” with the Swiss company that manufactured a type of timer which the prosecution claimed was attached to the bomb and “his movements [between Malta and Libya] under a false name at or around the material time” — “a real and convincing pattern” formed.


Ian Bell wrote in the Scottish Sunday Herald on February 4, “Last week you would have been hard-pressed to find an Edinburgh lawyer willing to bet on any guilty verdict being reached at Camp Zeist. The same belief was evident, it is reported, in Whitehall.”

Robert Black QC, the highly respected professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University who in 1994 first suggested the plan for a third country trial, told the BBC on February 4: “This was a very, very weak circumstantial case. I am absolutely astounded, astonished. I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence.”

Michael Scharf, a law professor at the New England School of Law, agreed, telling the February 2 New York Times: “It sure does look like they bent over backwards to find a way to convict, and you have to assume the political context of the case influenced them.”

Even some of the British relatives of the Lockerbie victims were sceptical: “All we know from this trial is that one of the two was innocent. I think we should be grateful... But we have our doubts about the guilt of Megrahi”, Martin Cadman, whose son was killed in the disaster, told the February 2 London Independent.

Beyond reasonable doubt?

The prosecution case, and the judges' verdict, rested fundamentally on two points: it was Megrahi who purchased the clothes which were packed into the suitcase that contained the bomb, and that suitcase began its fateful journey in Malta rather than either Frankfurt airport or at Heathrow.

Yet, Megrahi was never positively identified as the man who purchased the clothing, the prosecution did not provide any physical or documentary evidence to link Megrahi to the suitcase or the bomb components, and no evidence was offered to prove that the suitcase began its journey in Malta, let alone that it was Megrahi who sent it on its way.

The guilty verdict hinged most on the testimony of Tony Gauci, the owner of the clothes shop in Malta. In their judgement, the judges stated: “We are nevertheless satisfied that his identification so far as it went of the first accused as the purchaser was reliable and should be treated as a highly important element in this case.”

In their verdict, the judges described the torturous path Gauci's “identification” of Megrahi had taken. The shopkeeper was first interviewed by police on September 1, 1989, and described the purchaser as being “six feet or more” in height and well-built. On September 13, he told police the man was about 50 years old.

Megrahi is five feet, eight inches tall, of medium-build and was 36-years-old in December 1988.

On September 14, 1989, Gauci was shown 19 photos and identified a man as being “similar” to the purchaser but added that the purchaser was 20 years older. The man's photo — who was not Megrahi — was included because police thought he resembled an artist's impression and an identikit portrait based on Gauci's description.

On September 26, 1989, Gauci viewed more photos and pointed out another man included at the suggestion of German police. On August 31, 1990, Gauci was shown 24 photos and pointed out a man who, he said, had a face with a similar shape and style of hair to the purchaser. It was not Megrahi.

On December 6, 1989, and again on September 10, 1990, Gauci was shown photos but did not identify anybody. Included both times were photos of Abo Talb, a Palestinian jailed in Sweden in 1989 for terrorist bombings. Yet, Gauci told the court that in late 1989 or early 1990 his brother had shown him a newspaper article about the Lockerbie disaster which included a photo of a man with the word “bomber” printed across it. Gauci said he thought it was the man that bought the articles from him or that it resembled the person who bought the clothes from him. The man was Abo Talb.

On February 15, 1991, police showed Gauci 12 photos. Gauci told police that all the men in the photos were younger than the purchaser. The police pressed Gauci to “allow for any age difference” and look again. He pointed to a photo and said the man “resembles the man who bought the clothing ... of all the photographs I have been shown, this photograph 8 is the only one really similar to the man who bought the clothing, if he is a bit older, other than the one my brother showed me [of Abo Talb].” Photograph 8 was Megrahi's 1986 passport photo.

Towards the end of 1998 or the beginning of 1999, Gauci approached police after he was shown a magazine article about the Lockerbie disaster which named Megrahi as a suspect. He told police that the photo of Megrahi in the article “looks like the man” he sold clothes to.

On August 13, Gauci picked out Megrahi from an identification parade with the words: “Not exactly the man I saw in the shop. Ten years ago I saw him, but the man who look a little bit like exactly [sic] is number 5”. At the trial, Gauci pointed to Megrahi and said he “resembles him a lot”.

The defence lawyers protested that Gauci's eventual, less than positive identification of Megrahi had taken place after the defendant's photo had been in the world news for years.

In their verdict, the judges admitted that Gauci “never made what could be described as an absolutely positive identification”. The judges defended their assessment of Gauci's “identification” with the incredible statement that, “There are situations where a careful witness who will not commit himself beyond saying that there is a close resemblance can be regarded as more reliable and convincing in his identification than a witness who maintains that his identification is 100% certain.”

Gauci was also unclear as to when the items were purchased. On the witness stand, he agreed the date was either November 23 or December 7, 1988. The prosecution insisted it was December 7 and in the verdict, the judges did too.

However, in his statements to police and in his testimony at the trial Gauci said that it had been, or was, raining when the purchaser entered the shop. The nearby Luqa airport's chief meteorologist testified that it did not rain on December 7, but did so on November 23.

Interestingly, before the indictment of the two Libyans, the press reported that the police had stated that the clothing had been purchased on November 23.

Why is this important? First, because Megrahi was in Malta on December 7 but investigators could find no evidence that he was there on November 23, and second, because Abo Talb, who Gauci first identified as the purchaser, might have been. Talb had visited Malta from Sweden in late October 1988. When he left on October 26, he flew to Sweden on a return ticket valid for one month, raising the possibility could have returned.

Talb, who testified at the Lockerbie trial, could only prove he was in Sweden until November 10 and most of December, including on December 7. Talb presented no evidence to prove he was in Sweden after November 10 and before December 5. It is therefore possible that Talb entered Gauci's shop on November 23.

In December 1989, it was reported in several major newspapers that Scottish police, in papers filed with the Swedish legal authorities, had named Talb as the suspect “in the murder or participation in the murder of 270 people”.

The judges, however, chose to declare that “there is some support for Abo Talb when he said that he remained in Sweden and did not return to Malta after 26 October 1988”.


Talb's possible involvement is in line with the defence team's argument that there was a more plausible — and simpler — theory of how the bomb-laden suitcase reached Heathrow than the prosecution's convoluted speculations.

Talb was a member of the Syria-based Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, which worked closely with another Syria-backed terrorist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). On October 26, 1988 — less than a month before the Lockerbie disaster — West German police raided PFLP-GC safe-houses and seized Toshiba radio cassette players, explosives, detonators, timers, barometric pressure devices, as well as Pan Am timetables and unused airline baggage tags.

The cache suggested a plot to bomb an aircraft. A trade mark of the PFLP-GC's bombs at the time were that they were concealed within Toshiba radio cassette players. The bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 had been concealed in a Toshiba player, although a different model from that generally used by the PFLP-GC. That not all the PFLP-GC's stock of bombs had been discovered was proven when, in April 1989, three explosive devices were seized in a raid.

At first, US and British investigators also were convinced that the PFLP-GC — with the backing of the Syrian and Iranian governments — was the prime suspect in the Lockerbie disaster.

The FBI in April 1989 leaked news that the PFLP-GC had smuggled the bomb onto flight in Frankfurt. The Washington Post on May 11, 1989, reported that the US State Department had stated that the CIA was “confident” that the PFLP-GC had carried out the attack on behalf of the Iranian government. The attack was said to be in retaliation for the 290 pilgrims massacred while returning from Mecca when a US warship blew a Iranian passenger jet out of the sky as it passed over the Persian Gulf.

On December 16, 1989, the New York Times reported that Scottish investigators had announced that they had “hard evidence” that the PFLP-GC was behind the bombing.

In October 1990, US and British authorities suddenly did a backflip as the US build-up in the Gulf was gathering pace following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Investigators attention suddenly shifted from the Syria-backed PFLP-GC to Libya. In 1991, the two Libyans were formally indicted.

What changed between 1988 and 1991? Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad was an enthusiastic participant in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, whereas Libya's leader Moammer Qadhafi opposed the war and campaigned for a peaceful settlement.

The judges rejected this alternative theory, although they did “accept that there is a great deal of suspicion as to the actings of Abo Talb and his circle, but there is no evidence to indicate that they had either the means or the intention to destroy a civil aircraft in December 1988”.

This contention is based on the claim that the Lockerbie bomb was triggered by a Swiss-made timer of a type (MST-13) that had been supplied to the Libyan army in the mid-1980s. Yet the owner of the company that made the devices testified that MST-13s had also been supplied to the East German Stasi spy agency. East Germany is known to have harboured the PFLP-GC.

Despite the judges' proviso that “we are unable to exclude the possibility that any MST-13 timers in the hands of the Stasi left their possession, although there is no positive evidence that they did and in particular that they were supplied to the PFLP-GC”, their verdict stated that “the evidence relating to [the terrorist activities of the PFLP-GC] does not create a reasonable doubt in our minds about the Libyan origin of this crime”.

`Major difficulty for Crown'

The judges' verdict doggedly insisted that “we are satisfied that it has been proved that the primary suitcase containing the explosive devise was dispatched from Malta, passed through Frankfurt and was loaded onto PA103 at Heathrow”.

Yet, the judges contradict themselves by admitting that there were no records that showed any unaccompanied baggage was carried on the flight to Frankfurt and that all luggage in Malta was checked by military personnel for the presence of explosives. The judges noted that the Luqa airport had a “relatively elaborate security system” and security procedures that “seem to make it extremely difficult for an unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight out”.

The judges conceded that: “If therefore the unaccompanied bag was launched from Luqa, the method by which that was done is not established, and the Crown accepted that they could not point to any specific route by which the primary suitcase could have been loaded... The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 [the Malta to Frankfurt flight] is a major difficulty for the Crown case.”

The judges' determination to deny that the bomb could have been introduced at a point other than Malta, and by a culprit other than Megrahi, led them to ignore that the security at Frankfurt airport was notoriously lax — something the US law enforcement authorities knew about at the time.

According to an October 30, 1990, US NBC television news report, “Pan Am flights from Frankfurt, including 103, had been used a number times by the [US Drug Enforcement Agency] as part of its undercover operation to fly informants and suitcases of heroin into Detroit as part of a sting operation to catch dealers in Detroit... Informants would put suitcases of heroin on the Pan Am flights apparently without the usual security checks ... through an arrangement between the DEA and the German authorities.”

The report stated that the DEA was investigating the possibility that a young man who lived in the US and regularly visited the Middle East may have unwittingly carried the bomb aboard flight 103.

An investigation commissioned by Pan Am's insurance company in 1989 also concluded that the most likely source of the bomb was that the PFLP-GC had infiltrated the DEA's protected drug smuggling operation and succeeded in having the bag containing the bomb placed on Pan Am 103 in Frankfurt.

Megrahi should have been found not guilty because the prosecution did not prove him guilty beyond “reasonable doubt”. A terrible miscarriage of justice has taken place because the three loyal servants of the British imperialist ruling class who sat in judgement on the fate Megrahi and Fhimah had already decided to find one of them guilty regardless of the facts.

The lords knew that the political stakes were too high to allow both Libyans to walk free. Such a verdict would have exposed the lies upon which nine years of UN sanctions, which have cost Libya US$33 billion and 10,000 lives, have been based. It would have also shed some light on the cynical, sleazy and embarrassing political operations that the US government is involved in throughout the world.

Review rejects key Lockerbie ‘evidence’

By Norm Dixon 

14 July 2007

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) ruled on June 28 that the 2001 conviction of Libyan citizen Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi — sentenced to 27 years’ jail for allegedly bombing Pan Am flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, killing 270 people — “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice”. The SCCRC referred al Megrahi’s case to Scotland’s appeal court.

According to the commission’s chairperson, Graham Forbes, the SCCRC’s three-year, £1.1 million inquiry, resulting in a still-secret 800-page report, made its decision based on “new evidence we have found and new evidence that was not before the trial court”. The commission interviewed 45 witnesses. That new evidence further discredits the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness, Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci.

The original trial was held in the Netherlands but conducted according to Scottish law and presided over by three Scottish judges, known as law lords. The location was the result of an agreement between Libya and the US and British governments that finally allowed the trial to be heard in a “neutral” third country after a 10-year deadlock.

In their 2001 judgement, the law lords found that, despite “uncertainties and qualifications”, “there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused [al Megrahi]”. According to the lords, the prosecution’s evidence convinced them that al Megrahi, Libyan Arab Airlines’ security chief at Malta’s Luqa airport, had purchased distinctive items of clothing from Gauci’s shop, Mary’s House, in Sliema, Malta, that matched those that forensics experts had determined were in a Samsonite suitcase that contained the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103.

The lords accepted that al Megrahi had somehow succeeded in having the unaccompanied “item of baggage” loaded onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to a second flight to London before being eventually loaded onto the doomed aircraft (no evidence of how this was achieved was presented). They dismissed alternative, simpler and more plausible scenarios that the bomb was put aboard at Frankfurt or London.

Tortuous path

At the time of al Megrahi’s conviction, respected legal observers — including the official UN observer at the trial, Hans Koechler, and Robert Black, the highly respected professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University who first suggested the plan for a third country trial — were amazed that the law lords so readily accepted Gauci’s partial and contradictory “identification” of al Megrahi as the person who had purchased the clothes. The prosecution’s circumstantial, speculative and convoluted case, and the judges’ guilty verdict, hinged largely on the shopkeeper’s testimony.

In their verdict, the judges stated: “We are … satisfied that [Gauci’s] identification so far as it went of [al Megrahi] as the purchaser was reliable and should be treated as a highly important element in this case.” However, the tortuous path Gauci’s “identification” of al Megrahi alone should have ruled out a verdict that al Megrahi was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Gauci was first interviewed by police on September 1, 1989, and described the purchaser as being “six feet or more” in height and well built. On September 13, he told police the man was about 50 years old. Megrahi is five feet, eight inches tall, of medium build and was 36 years old in December 1988.

On September 14, 1989, Gauci was shown 19 photos and identified a man as being “similar” to the purchaser but added that the purchaser was 20 years older. The identified man’s photo — who was not al Megrahi — was included because police thought he resembled an artist’s impression and an identikit portrait based on Gauci’s description. On September 26, Gauci viewed more photos and pointed out another man. On August 31, 1990, Gauci was shown 24 photos and pointed out a man who, he said, had a face and hair like the purchaser. It was not al Megrahi.

On December 6, 1989, and again on September 10, 1990, Gauci was shown photos but did not identify anybody. Included were photos of Abu Talb, a Palestinian jailed in Sweden in 1989 for terrorist bombings. But Gauci told the 2001 trial that in late 1989 or early 1990 his brother had shown him a newspaper article about Lockerbie which included a photo of a man with the word “bomber” printed across it. Gauci said he thought it was either the man that bought the clothes from him or resembled him. The man was Abu Talb.

On February 15, 1991, police showed Gauci 12 photos. He told police that all the men in the photos were younger than the purchaser. The police pressed Gauci to “allow for any age difference” and look again. He pointed to a photo and said the man “resembles the man who bought the clothing … of all the photographs I have been shown, this photograph, eight, is the only one really similar to the man who bought the clothing, if he is a bit older, other than the one my brother showed me [of Abu Talb].” Photograph eight was al Megrahi’s 1986 passport photo.

Towards the end of 1998 or the beginning of 1999, Gauci approached police after he was shown a magazine article about the Lockerbie disaster which named al Megrahi as a suspect. He told police that the photo of al Megrahi in the article “looks like the man” he sold clothes to.

On August 13, 2000, Gauci picked out al Megrahi from an identification parade with the words: “Not exactly the man I saw in the shop. Ten years ago I saw him, but the man who look a little bit like exactly [sic] is number 5.” At the trial, Gauci pointed to al Megrahi and said he “resembles him a lot”.

In their verdict, the judges admitted that Gauci “never made what could be described as an absolutely positive identification”. The judges defended their assessment of Gauci’s “identification” with the incredible statement: “There are situations where a careful witness who will not commit himself beyond saying that there is a close resemblance can be regarded as more reliable and convincing in his identification than a witness who maintains that his identification is 100% certain.”

Gauci was also unclear as to when the items were purchased. On the witness stand in 2001, he agreed the date was either November 23 or December 7, 1988. The prosecution insisted it was December 7 and, in the verdict, the judges did too.

However, in his statements to police and in his testimony at the trial Gauci said that it had been, or was, raining when the purchaser entered the shop. The nearby Luqa airport’s chief meteorologist testified that it did not rain on December 7, but did so on November 23. Gauci’s brother had stated that the purchaser had entered the store while he was away at a soccer match, which definitely took place on November 23. The date was decisive because al Megrahi was not in Malta on November 23. However, Abu Talb, the convicted bomber first “identified” by Gauci, may have been.

New evidence

According to the SCCRC’s June 28 summary of its main findings, “there is no reasonable basis in the [2001] trial court’s judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items … took place on 7 December 1988”. The SCCRC found that “new evidence not heard at the trial concerned the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in the area of Sliema in which Mary’s House is situated … taken together with Mr Gauci’s evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, this additional evidence indicates the purchase of the items took place prior to 6 December 1988 [when Xmas lights were illuminated] … it indicates that the purchase took place at a time when there was no evidence at trial that [al Megrahi] was in Malta.”

The SCCRC also reported that additional evidence, not made available to al Megrahi’s defence lawyers, showed that “four days prior to the identification parade at which Mr Gauci picked out [al Megrahi], he saw a photograph of [al Megrahi] in a magazine linking him to the bombing … evidence of Mr Gauci’s exposure to this photograph in such close proximity to the parade undermines the reliability of his identification of [al Megrahi] …”

Without providing details, the SCCRC also cited “other evidence, not made available to the defence, which the Commission believes may further undermine Mr Gauci’s identification of [al Megrahi] as the purchaser and the trial court’s finding as to the date of the purchase”.

Jim Swire, a spokesperson for a significant group of victims’ families, said he hoped that the SCCRC decision and the subsequent court appeal, which may not be heard for more than a year, would open “a new chapter” in the search for the truth about the Lockerbie disaster. “I went into that court in Holland [in 2001] thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter”, he told BBC Radio on June 29. “I came out thinking [al Megrahi] had been framed.”

While the SCCRC upheld al Megrahi’s defence lawyers’ misgivings about the reliability of Gauci’s evidence, it rejected most of the other grounds for an appeal presented by the defence. These included evidence that British and US authorities had planted and tampered with crucial evidence to implicate al Megrahi and Libya, rather than a German-based cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC) — a group Abu Talb was associated with.

For more than a year, US, Scottish and British investigators were convinced that the Syrian-based PFLP-GC was the prime suspect. In October 1990, Washington and London suddenly began pointing the finger at Libya and started unearthing “evidence” out of the blue to justify this. It coincided with the US military build-up in the Persian Gulf following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. In 1991, two Libyans — including al Megrahi — were formally indicted.

What changed between 1988 and 1991? Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad was an enthusiastic participant and key US ally in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, whereas Libya’s leader Muammar Qadhafi opposed the war and campaigned for a peaceful settlement.


The American media and political establishment reacted to the release of the man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 with outrage--but their slanders obscure one of the most grotesque frame-ups of recent history, says Alan Maass.

"DESPICABLE." "OUTRAGEOUS." "An utter insult and utterly disgusting."

The slurs flew fast and furious after Scottish officials released Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man convicted for the 1989 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground.

Officially, Megrahi was released on humanitarian grounds--he is dying of cancer and has three months to live, according to doctors. That produced a round of yammering from right-wing blowhards unfamiliar with the concept of "humanitarian."

The volume got turned up even louder after some commentators decided the British government must have pressured Scottish officials to secure the release as part of a deal to gain greater access to Libyan oil. So we were treated to the spectacle of Fox News pundits expressing their shock that a government could sink so low in the pursuit of oil.

The Obama administration got on the bandwagon, too. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said a homecoming celebration that greeted Megrahi's arrival at the airport in Libya was "tremendously offensive."

Nowhere in Gibbs' comments--nor in the American mainstream media's coverage--was there a hint of why Libyans might celebrate Megrahi's return. His conviction is widely regarded elsewhere in the world--including among many families of British victims of the bombing--as a travesty of justice engineered by the U.S. government.

More to the point, it is a travesty that might have unraveled completely if Megrahi and his lawyers were able to continue with an appeal in the Scottish courts to reexamine the verdict. Success with that motion, said British writer John Palmer, "would show up the Scottish judiciary as at best hopelessly incompetent and at worst complicit in what one Lockerbie victim's parent has said was 'the charade of a case' against Megrahi."

Megrahi said in a statement after his release that he agonized over whether to accept the agreement that freed him, because it meant dropping his appeal:

I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted. The choice which I made is a matter of sorrow, disappointment and anger, which I fear I will never overcome.

Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died on Pan Am Flight 103, echoed Megrahi's words. "I feel despondent that the West and Scotland didn't have the guts to allow this man's second appeal to continue," said Swire, who is the spokesperson for an organization of family members that has been demanding a public inquiry into what happened 20 years ago. "Because I am convinced that had they done so, it would have overturned the verdict against him."

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MEGRAHI WAS convicted in 2001 of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing after an extraordinary 18-month trial, presided over by three Scottish judges, but held in the Netherlands.

Megrahi was accused along with another Libyan man, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah--both were employees of Libyan Arab Airlines at the airport in Malta, a country made up of a chain of islands south of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. But though prosecutors argued the two worked as a team, Fhimah was found not guilty by a unanimous decision of the three judges--while Megrahi was found guilty, also unanimously.

This contradictory verdict matched the quality of the evidence against the two:

-- The prosecution's star witness was revealed to be a CIA informant who was paid more than $300,000 and resettled in the U.S. before the trial, stood to gain millions in reward money for testifying--and had to be interviewed 17 times by prosecutors before he came up with his "evidence."

-- Megrahi and Fhimah were accused of getting a suitcase bomb on an Air Malta flight from the airport where they worked. The suitcase was then allegedly transferred twice, at airports in Frankfurt, Germany, and London, to get it on Pan Am Flight 103. Prosecutors never produced any evidence that the two men did get a suitcase on the flight. But in any event, Air Malta has proved in court that all suitcases carried on its flight to Frankfurt were accounted for. When a British television producer repeated the prosecution's Malta flight theory in a documentary, the airline sued for libel and won.

-- The only evidence connecting Megrahi to the bomb was the testimony of a storeowner in Malta who said he remembered Megrahi bought clothing that ended up in the same suitcase as the bomb, according to an analysis of material found in the wreckage of the aircraft. But the storeowner didn't make this identification until 11 years after the bombing. He originally described a man who was bigger and older than Megrahi, and there is evidence that Megrahi wasn't even in Malta on the day he supposedly bought the clothes.

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EVEN MORE incredible than the shoddiness of the case against Megrahi is the lengths to which the British and U.S. governments went to avoid accusing and prosecuting the seemingly obvious suspects.

The Lockerbie bombing took place four days before Christmas in 1989. Eighteen months before, the USS Vincennes, a U.S. Navy cruiser on patrol in the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iran Air passenger plane, killing all 290 people on board.

U.S. officials claimed their ship mistook the giant Airbus for an attacking F-14 jet fighter, but that beggared belief, especially in the political context--the shootdown took place in the final year of the Iraq-Iran War, after the U.S. had swung more and more openly behind Iraq and its new favorite Middle East ally, Saddam Hussein.

George Bush Sr., then vice president under Ronald Reagan, declared, "I'll never apologize...I don't care what the facts are." When he took over the White House the following year, Bush decorated the Vincennes' captain with the Legion of Merit medal.

Anger in Iran at the U.S. attack was intense, and the country's leaders vowed revenge. A year later, the outlines of one possible attempt emerged.

Several men from a Palestinian splinter group not connected to the mainstream liberation movement and with a record of carrying out terrorist attacks were arrested in Neuss, Germany, a two-hour drive from the city of Frankfurt. Among the belongings of one was a bomb built into a Toshiba cassette recorder that was almost identical to the device that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 later that year. The German police released the men because of a lack of evidence.

In early December, the U.S. embassy received a phone call from a man who said that a Pan Am flight originating in Frankfurt would be blown up in the next two weeks by a Palestinian militant group. U.S. officials took the warning seriously--the State Department circulated it to European embassies, and as a result, personnel who typically took December Pan Am flights to return home for the holidays booked on other carriers.

Even without this information, speculation after the December 21 explosion immediately centered on Iran and Syria, not Libya. The evidence from the wreckage yielded the remains of the bomb similar to ones constructed by the men in Germany.

The conclusion seemed inescapable--Palestinian operatives, supported by Syria and financed by Iran, had avenged the shooting down of the Iranian plane. Three months after Lockerbie, a Cabinet minister from Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party government in Britain bragged to journalists that arrests were imminent.

Then George Bush Sr. stepped back into the picture.

According to a Washington Post report, Bush personally contacted Margaret Thatcher and urged that the Lockerbie investigation be made "low key," in his words, according to leaked accounts of the conversation. Thatcher apparently complied--there were no arrests or charges.

Why would the U.S. want to downplay allegations against Palestinian terrorists paid by Iran--then still public enemy number one in the Middle East, at least publicly?

Some of the shadowy events surrounding Lockerbie provided possible reasons.

For one thing, U.S. intelligence agents knew about the arrests in Germany, but apparently didn't move aggressively. Other revelations in Britain pointed in a different direction--that an embarrassing security breach at Heathrow Airport may have allowed the bombers to put the explosives on board there.

Investigators for Pan Am turned up a more startling possibility. They concluded that U.S. intelligence officials, seeking to free American hostages held in Lebanon, had struck a deal with Syrian drug dealers connected to the hostage takers.

In exchange for information about the hostages, the investigators claimed, CIA agents would route drugs from Lebanon into the U.S. in luggage that was exempt from normal airport security procedures. Interfor, the security firm hired by Pan Am, speculated that the drug dealers may have switched a suitcase containing a bomb with one filled with drugs.

Interfor further suggested that Charles McKeen, the head of a U.S. intelligence team traveling on Pan Am Flight 103, was coming back to Washington to blow the whistle on the drug operation--and that his colleagues may have looked the other way as the bomb plot developed.

If that seems far-fetched, it should be remembered that the White House was now inhabited by Bush, a former head of the CIA, and staffed by the men who came up with the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages operation under Reagan--selling military supplies to a country they publicly denounced as an enemy of peace in exchange for freeing American hostages in Lebanon, with the proceeds from the arms sales going to the right-wing contras fighting to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WHATEVER THE truth of these allegations, a major political shift in the Middle East soon provided an even more compelling reason for finding a new scapegoat for Lockerbie.

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait, threatening the flow of Middle East oil through the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration instantly denounced its recent ally as the "new Hitler" and began preparing the ground for the largest American military intervention since Vietnam.

Bush was determined to overcome the "Vietnam Syndrome" by building a coalition of countries that would support a war on Iraq. Suddenly, Syria went from enemy to valuable ally in the battle against Saddam's tyranny. Syria's possible role in Lockerbie disappeared--as did Iran's when it made clear it would stay neutral in the coming Gulf War.

Libya under Muammar el-Qaddafi was one of the only Middle Eastern countries to resist U.S. incentives to join the "coalition of nations" against Iraq. In short order, U.S. propaganda replaced the Iranian regime with Qaddafi as the chief sponsor of terrorism in U.S. propaganda.

In November 1991, the U.S. and British governments finally ended their "low key" attitude toward Lockerbie with the announcement that they were charging two Libyan airline employees--Megrahi and Fhimah--with planting the bomb. All the previous references to the involvement of Syria, Iran or Palestine vanished. Bush himself explicitly said that Syria had gotten a "bum rap" on Lockerbie.

As British socialist and journalist Paul Foot wrote in the Guardian:

[T]he U.S. and British governments' propaganda machines worked night and day to rubbish the story they had so successfully peddled. Pretty well the entire media in Britain and the U.S. complied. Libya was denounced with the same stale invective previously reserved for the Iranians and Syrians.

None of the facts had changed. The only change was political. The new enemy of the Western powers was their former favorite, Saddam Hussein. In the Gulf War for a new world order, the ruthless Syrian dictator Assad was a vital ally. Iran was neutral. It was suddenly obvious that neither of these two governments could possibly have had anything to do with Lockerbie.

It seemed for a while that Libya would refuse to extradite Megrahi and Fhimah to stand trial. But in 1999, Qaddafi's government turned over the two men to be tried in the Netherlands. Sanctions against Libya were promptly dropped, and Western multinationals invested billions in Libya's oil industry. Another "Hitler" of the Middle East was transformed into an ally.

A campaign to show Megrahi's innocence continued after the travesty of his trial, with family members of the Lockerbie victims among its most committed activists. Former South African President Nelson Mandela traveled to Scotland to visit Megrahi in prison and declared his support.

Megrahi's lawyers lost their first appeal of his conviction, but were preparing for a second that they hoped would expose the facts of the frame-up for the world to see. It was this appeal that was short-circuited by the agreement that sent Megrahi home.

Megrahi does not have long to enjoy the freedom he deserves. As this article was being written, he was being treated in an intensive care unit of a hospital in Tripoli, according to reports.

But the U.S. political establishment still heaps slanders on him. Its callous attitude toward the truth is, in Foot's words, "a terrible indictment of the cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit of the British and U.S. governments and their intelligence services. Which is probably why [that truth] has been so consistently and haughtily ignored."




Archbishop Desmond Tutu has backed the Scottish Government's decision to release the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, it emerged today.

The South African cleric said Scottish Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to allow Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, to return home to die in Libya should be "commended."

In a message to the Scottish Government, Archbishop Tutu welcomed the bomber's return home.

"I believe the Scottish Justice Secretary's decision to release Mr al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds is to be commended," said the former Nobel Peace prize winner.

"One understands the anguish of family members and friends of the victims but they honour their memory more by being compassionate than retributive."

He is the second world figure to back the release in recent weeks, after Nelson Mandela also welcomed the move.

Megrahi is the only man to be convicted over the 1988 PanAm airline bombing which resulted in 270 deaths.


Disputed conviction of Megrahi treated nearly universally as 'closed case' by US media.

By Morgan Strong - NEW YORK

President Barack Obama has said Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was wrong to order the compassionate release of Ali al-Megrahi, a former Libyan Intelligence agent who was the only man convicted of the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, an appalling act of terrorism that killed all 259 passengers aboard and 11 more on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.

“We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this, and we thought it was a mistake," Obama declared.

The President, however, did not appear to be fully informed about the Megrahi case, perhaps understandable given the one-sided coverage that it has received in the US news media. Left out of much of that coverage was the fact that in 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed to reconsider Megrahi’s conviction in 2001 out of a strong concern that it had been a miscarriage of justice.

Lamen Khalifa, Megrahi’s co-defendant, had been acquitted and the evidence presented against Khalifa was nearly the same as that presented against Megrahi. Further, the verdict by the three-judge panel was for a complete acquittal for Khalifa, rather than a “not proven” verdict, which would have implied a less certain judgment.

The panel’s principal stated reason for finding Megrahi guilty – while exonerating Khalifa – was the testimony of Toni Gauci, the owner of a clothing store, Mary’s House, in Malta. Gauci allegedly sold a shirt to Megrahi, the remnants of which were found with the shards of the suitcase that contained the bomb. The shirt was traced to Gauci’s shop.

The remainder of the case rested on a theory that Megrahi could have put the luggage on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to a connecting flight to London, where it was transferred onto Pan Am 103 bound for New York, a decidedly idiosyncratic way to undertake an act of terrorism given the random variables involved.

It would be a brilliant example of evil genius – or a case of bewildering stupidity – to assume that at a time of heightened scrutiny about possible airline terrorism that an unaccompanied bag would be mindlessly transferred from plane to plane to plane.

For the prosecution’s theory to be correct, one would have to assume that three separate airport security systems – at Malta, Frankfort and London – failed to give any serious scrutiny to an unaccompanied suitcase or to detect the bomb despite security officials being on the lookout for just such a threat.

(And as historian William Blum recounted in a article after Megrahi’s 2001 conviction, “The case for the suitcase's hypothetical travels must also deal with the fact that, according to Air Malta, all the documented luggage on KM180 was collected by passengers in Frankfurt and did not continue in transit to London, and that two Pan Am on-duty officials in Frankfurt testified that no unaccompanied luggage was introduced onto Pan Am 103A, the feeder flight to London.”)

Plus, there was the problem with Gauci’s belated identification of Megrahi as the shirt-buyer 10 years after the fact (and only after Gauci had made contradictory IDs and given a physical description that didn’t match Megrahi).

The chief reason that Megrahi’s new appeal was ordered in 2007 was that the Scottish review panel found Gauci’s testimony unbelievable. Gauci had been interviewed 17 times by Scottish and Maltese police prior to Megrahi’s trial and often gave conflicting testimony as to the dates and times he claims to have sold the shirt to Megrahi.

Gauci also reportedly received a $2 million reward for his testimony and has since moved to Australia, where he lives in retirement with his brother.

Apart from the evidence given by Gauci, the entire case against Megrahi was circumstantial at best. Indeed, it was more a hypothetical construct, which showed that it was a theoretical possibility – assuming a variety of unlikely events lined up in an implausible manner – that Megrahi could have been the bomber, but not that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Megrahi’s conviction, however, did serve the understandable human desire to see someone punished for the heinous crime. The original accusations against him in the early 1990s also fit with the geopolitical interests of powerful figures in Washington and London.

Plus, Megrahi’s background as a member of Libya’s intelligence service made him a target easy to demonize.

After Megrahi’s conviction in 2001, Libya was placed under severe sanctions by the United Nations, making materials for Libya’s oil industry, available for the most part only from the United States, exponentially more costly and thus more profitable for companies that could evade the embargo.

To export some of this machinery and equipment to Libya, American firms used dummy firms, little more than post office boxes in offshore locations, to handle the transfer of the materials to Libya at significantly inflated prices.

While these methods appeared to be illegal, it was difficult to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute, according to the Justice Department. American oil-field workers also continued to travel to Libya, albeit by boat rather than airplane.

To get the costly sanctions lifted, Libya was required to accept "responsibility" for the Pan Am 103 bombing and pay about $1.8 billion in compensation to the victims’ families. Libya, however, never admitted that it actually had carried out the bombing and Megrahi continued to protest his innocence.

After Megrahi’s release last month as a humanitarian gesture because he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, the US news media, American politicians and some victims’ family members went into overdrive with their condemnations of what they called Megrahi’s “hero’s welcome” back to Libya.

The outrage in the United States might have been more measured if the US press corps had reprised the fragility of the case against Megrahi, but his conviction was treated nearly universally as a closed case.

The reaction in the UK and elsewhere was more tempered, although British authorities did come under criticism for allegedly mixing the Megrahi case with efforts to expand oil trade with Libya.

“Why is there such an apparent divide between the US and British relatives” of the Pan Am 103 victims? asked Pamela Dix, writing in the UK’s Guardian. “Why do they [the Americans] believe he is guilty, and we remain to be convinced?”

Dix then posed as a possible answer: “Britain is a country that has experienced terrorism first hand for many years, and has also seen numerous miscarriages of justice where innocent people were convicted and jailed for terrorist crimes they did not commit. So it is no surprise that many British relatives have a scrupulous desire to ensure this does not happen again.”

There have been examples of the US news media making brief references to Megrahi’s continued claims of innocence but the evidence of his innocence has been played down or ignored.

For instance, you have to read to the end of a recent New York Times article, which puzzles over why Qaddafi had “overreached” in welcoming Megrahi home, to spot this stunning revelation by Dirk Vandewalle, associate professor of government at Dartmouth.

“I remember talking to one of the judges from the panel that convicted him,” Vandewalle recalled. “He said there was enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.”

This comment from one of the Scottish judges – indicating that Megrahi was railroaded – was extraordinary, and it might have gone a long way to explain why the Libyans hailed Megrahi as a hero: because they consider him an innocent man wrongly imprisoned in large part because he was a Libyan. But the judge's admission was ignored by most of the US news media.

Instead, the US press corps joined the outrage over Megrahi’s release and published, without skepticism, a harsh attack from FBI Director Robert Mueller, who had been a US prosecutor involved in the Pan Am 103 investigation.

In a letter to Scottish Justice Secretary MacAskill, Mueller wrote: "I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors,” but "your decision to release Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice in this case. I do so because I am familiar with the facts, and the law. ...

“And I do so because I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of 'compassion.'"

Mueller said Megrahi's release "makes a mockery of the rule of law" and "gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation ... the terrorist will be freed by one man's exercise of 'compassion.'"

However, the intensity of Mueller’s protest may have been meant more to obscure the weakness of the case against Megrahi and to further discourage the US press corps from reexamining the evidence, including the possibility that other terrorist elements in the Middle East may have been responsible -- and that the FBI had bungled the whole affair.

Despite the fact that warnings of a possible terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 were circulating in 1988, the FBI and CIA failed to take effective action, especially regarding the chief suspect, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, or the P.F.L.P.-G.C. headed by Ahmed Jabril.

At the time, there was strong evidence that Iran was desperate to get revenge for the destruction of Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988, by a missile fired from the American destroyer, the USS. Vincennes. Though excused by US officials as an unfortunate mistake, the missile killed 290 people aboard, including 66 children.

The PFLP-GC allegedly received several million dollars from Iranians to get revenge. The evidence of this Iranian/PFLP-GC collaboration included interviews with PFLP-GC intelligence officer, Major M. Tunayb, who identified one of the group’s members as the person who planted the bomb in a suitcase that was carried onto Pan Am 103.

Knowledge of this complicated history among Europeans is one of the reasons that there has been a more subdued reaction to the Megrahi release in Europe than in the United States, where the fury has bordered on hysteria.

In the United States, some members of a victims’ families association are calling for a boycott of Scottish goods and tourism in retaliation for the decision, while also demanding the resignation of the Scottish Justice Secretary and a personal apology from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

President Obama’s response also has been disappointing to some people who have followed the case closely, which he apparently has not. His comments critical of the release seemed to be calculated not to challenge "the Libyans-did-it" conventional wisdom of the US news media nor to invite the anger of the victims’ families.

As for the US news media, it clearly finds selling outrage and pain a lot easier than confronting the difficult issues raised by the Megrahi case. Some journalists also might cringe at the possibility of being labeled “Libyan apologists” or “conspiracy theorists” if they challenge the official story.

As part of the deal for his release on humanitarian grounds, Megrahi was forced to drop his appeal, which could mean that the Pan Am 103 bombing will remain a mystery forever – and that a host of politically touchy questions will never be answered.

Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern history, and was an advisor to CBS News “60 Minutes” on the Middle East.


Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was convicted before the High Court of Justiciary sitting in the Netherlands of the murder of 270 people.

Mr Megrahi contends that he has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

His case was referred back to the Court of Criminal Appeal by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on 27th June 2007.

He abandoned his appeal against conviction and sentence, with leave of the Court, on 18 August 2009.

The purpose of this website is to explain the basis of his challenge to that conviction.

Initially, he intends to publish those parts of his Grounds of Appeal which were argued before the Court between 28 April and 19 May 2009.

Thereafter, he will publish the Grounds of Appeal which were due to be the subject of argument before the Court, commencing on 2nd November 2009.

The documents are available at


“Greed is the inventor of injustice as well as the current enforcer.”

By Julian Casablancas

The clamour following the release of Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi has hardly died down.

‘Terrorist celebrated in Libya’ barked the headlines of U.S. media.

What shame and hypocrisy!

Why shouldn’t Al-Megrahi be returned to a hero’s welcome and be met with scenes of jubilation, especially by his family members, relatives and close friends? Wasn’t the hero’s welcome given to Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the other accused and acquitted, equally and rightfully deserving?

Back in 2001, when Al-Megrahi was convicted of the bombing by a Scottish court, the newspapers were filled with pictures of happy relatives of the victims of the 1988 bombing of PanAm 103. Admittedly, they had believed that justice had been meted out, albeit doubtfully.

So, what’s wrong with welcoming home a man whom his countrymen strongly believe to have been unjustly convicted?

What disturbs me most about this matter is the revenge motif. It seems that revenge is a dish best served cold, off the human menu and serves no genuine purpose. The lack of compassion expressed by some shows that they are no better than any terrorist.

I lived in Libya for over three years, so know first hand that most Libyan people are peaceful, hospitable, and generous. The spontaneous warm celebration welcoming this unfortunate man back home does, beyond any doubt, credit to them.

Moreover, not only Libya but various other competent authorities, have

always perceived Al-Megrahi as innocent.

As he quite rightly said: “I have returned to Tripoli with my UNJUST conviction still in place.” It is extremely shameful for anyone saying that his attempt to challenge his conviction and clear his name is deplorable. Where have we arrived at? Is it justice to deprive one the chance of proving his innocence?

Although it appears that the U.S. President was not properly informed about the Al-Megrahi case, he did not hesitate to condemn Scottish Justice for his compassionate release. And what now. Mr. President, if Mr. Al-Megrahi, is finally proved innocent? Perhaps, if the U.S. President cares to give the Al-Megrahi’s conviction a second look, reading the book, ‘Cover-up of Convenience – The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie’, co-authored by Ian Ferguson, an investigative journalist, would surely restrain him from being so vociferous in his unabashed convictions!

When asked whether Britain would consider reimbursing Libya in the event of Mr. Al-Megrahi’s exoneration, all at the Foreign Office declined to comment.

What was the reason that the film, ‘The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie’,

was so fiercely criticised by the U.S. and British governments that subsequently it had to be withdrawn from public viewing?

Truth is everyone’s right and it seems it is still being denied to us.

In a move agreed to by the US and British governments, Libya had offered compensation to the relatives of those killed in the bombing.

In February, 2004, the Libyan Prime Minister formally declared that his country was innocent but was forced to pay-up as a "price for peace". The Libyan government paid the relatives of the Lockerie victims £803 million in compensation.

The conditions in the deal included; the lifting of the United Nations sanctions against Libya, the removal of U.S. sanctions and the removal of Libya from the U.S. list of States ‘sponsoring terrorism’. Anything goes as long as it’s paid for! At that time even the Maltese government had offered support to the Libyan stance. Anything goes as long as it’s paid for!

The only objections to the Libyan initiative had come from the French government. Citing the much lower sums offered by Libya to relatives of victims of another aircraft bombing, the French government has demanded a comparable level of compensation for the victims. The victim’s relatives were paid up to $33,000 each by Libya, in contrast with $10 million each for relatives of victims of PA 103. Still more avarice! A ceaseless overwhelming desire for more.

How many of the relatives of victims of the Lockerbie bombing, recently protesting outside the U.N. building at President Gaddafi's appearance, were recipients of Libya’s contributions?

Seif Al Islam Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, angered Lockerbie victims relatives last years when he said they were ‘very greedy’ and ‘trading with the blood of their sons and daughters’ in their battle for compensation’. That’s nothing but the honest truth!

If the release of Mr. Megrahi was based on greed, as has been implied by various media, it definitely wasn’t from the side of the Libyan government.

Contagious avarice

When the British were calling the I.R.A. terrorists, American sympathizers funded and protected them and called them ‘freedom fighters’.

Remember the wisecrack – ‘the safest place to be in London during an IRA bombing campaign was any branch of McDonalds, as they would never ever blow up a business outlet of one of their US supporters’.

Previously, the British government had always stated it would not intervene in compensation claims brought by victims of explosives and weaponry allegedly supplied to the IRA by Libya.

Still reeling from the row surrounding the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has now changed his stance to support compensation claims against Libya by victims of IRA attacks.
In a shameless U-turn, Gordon Brown has now thrown his support behind the victims of IRA bombings when they head to Libya to demand compensation from Colonel Gaddafi, including the assignment of a dedicated staff from the foreign office to support the victims and their families. Hopefully, if the Libyan government accepts to donate compensation, the U.S. government will not let itself be outdone and would likewise agree to offer a hefty compensation!

But President Gaddafi's son, Saif al Islam, told Sky News that the matter will be argued in court.

"Anyone can knock at our door and ask for money," he said. "But we go to the courts. They have their lawyers, we have our lawyers."

I am convinced that none can disagree with his statement that any such claims will be rejected.

Libya must no longer remain captive to greed.

Finally, may I suggest to all who are still dubious about the facts regarding the Lockerbie drama and are willing to learn the whole story to visit the new website: ‘Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi - My Story’.

“Justice must prevail beyond all other considerations. Beyond politics, convictions, religion, even compassion (and certainly expedience), regardless of one's sympathies, JUSTICE must be the banner that unites us. This is more than pity for a dying man; this is a demand for justice.” (Danton de Vouvray)

Joseph M. Cachia September, 2009

jmcachia [at] maltanet [dot] net

Vittoriosa – MALTA

ID. 698736 (M)

Fax: 21332156



“Most of the greater evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.” Bertrand Russell

So, finally he is set free from bondage! Or is he?? Definitely yes, but not from the responsibility of proving his innocence. This is deserved and merited by all, but mostly by the alleged victim himself, Al-Megrehi and his family, as well as all the family members and friends of the victims of the fatal accident and all honest and decent people craving for proper and befitting justice to all concerned. The outrage at the release of Al-Megrahi should not overshadow the memory of the trial that condemned and sentenced him.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi has never stopped reiterating his innocence and non-involvement in the blowing up of the Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988 over Lockerbie.

A lot has been said about such release on ‘compassionate grounds’, but I understand that mercy and compassion are only bestowed on the repentant - that is, those who acknowledge their fault. Thus, a pardon requires the acknowledgement of the crime, a fact which Al-Megrahi never acknowledged.

As Ian Ferguson, author of the book “The Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie”, points out: ‘From the start, there was a determination to try to prevent the appeal being heard. It opened but never got off the ground, with stall after stall, as each month Al-Megrahi weakened with the cancer that was killing him. There was rejoicing in the Crown Office in Edinburgh when he was released and the appeal abandoned.’

In this regard, it should be ensured that beyond any hindrance or censorship, all assistance and co-operation should be extended to Al-Megrahi to enable him to deservedly affirm his innocence.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) had already granted him a second appeal. His legal team has been trying to see the secret papers which they believe could help overturn his conviction. However, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has signed a public interest(?) immunity certificate, claiming that making the document public could cause “real harm” to national security and international relations. Of course, and stopping a convicted man from proving his innocence!! Is this intended to thwart any redress or amends by Al-Megrahi?

When only selected evidence is available and the defence does not even get to see parts of it, then the conviction becomes unsound.

Does anyone seriously believe that a Scottish Government would release a man convicted of murdering innocents, unless there was good reason for considering that conviction to be more than a manipulated conspiracy?

What Cheek!

It was more than nauseating to note how some dazed or perhaps swayed media played upon the trumped-up assumption of ‘worldwide condemnation’ for his release. Oh no; nothing of the sort! What we see here is just a cynical U.S. condemnation and filthy politics. Playing politics in this matter is the politics of the gutter!

The UK and the U.S. have their differences regarding the law and justice that they may not agree on. The elaborate and shadowy politics behind the Lockerbie trail, including these same American families that are complaining about Megrahi's release, also took blood money from Ghaddafi, as far as a $2 billion dollar settlement.

Do you not remember how the U.S. military personnel responsible for the shooting down of the Iranian flight Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 passengers including 66 children received a medal? What remuneration did the families of the victims receive?

Everybody seems to forget that the Cuban terrorist, Luis Posada Carrilles, who bombed a Cuban plane in 1976 killing 73 people, got paroled by Bush and is walking free in the US, although Venezuelan and Cuban authorities have requested his extradition. Where is the outcry about this? Are American lives worth more than others?

If I were to record all U.S. hypocrisy, I would never stop writing.
So, U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton reiterated her opposition and condemnation to the release of the alleged Lockerbie bomber in a strongly-worded message to the Scottish government. She stressed that it was “absolutely wrong” to release Megrahi. What is she afraid of? Could it be the absolute truth?

I would here dare to suggest two main reasons why the U.S. Administration is highlighting its disdainful opposition to this release.

Firstly, it is more than apparent to the world at large that America cannot accept a decision, not in line with its policy, made in another country and is prepared to spout its wrath against it.

Secondly, as according to the lawyer of Al-Megrahi, he was in a “very real risk” and could die before his appeal, after a judge’s illness caused further delay in the case, it was evident that his release would eliminate this immediate danger and raise all possibilities for a final honest outcome of this affair.

Perhaps in Europe we ought to ask if the USA is indeed our ally any more. It is not customary for allies to boycott each other when they disagree.

On the other hand, high profile supporters, including Nelson Mandela and Michael Mansfield QC among others, strongly maintain that Megrahi is innocent.

What did the Americans want? Perhaps that he should be let to die in prison and to have the dead body handed to the U.S. so that they could ‘execute’ it?

Against the judgement of a number of embassy officials, on the evening before the trial, the U.S. Embassy hosted a reception in Zeist for family members of the Lockerbie victims.

So, United States President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday praised Senator Jim Webb for facilitating the release of American John William Yettaw but at the same time urged Burma’s ruling junta to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

So could the members from the USA Administration do us the favour of stepping down from their platform of moralising on world events?

The Malta connection

Although the political furore over the release of Al-Megrahi mainly centred around three countries, namely Britain, the U.S. and Libya, there may well have been covert dealings, until now kept secret, which had been hatched in other countries. New and compelling evidence has now been released which would may now well prove his innocence.

In a memo dated September 24, 1989, and reproduced in the appeal submission, the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) states: ‘The bombing of the Pan Am flight was conceived, authorised and financed by Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, Iran’s former Interior Minister. The execution of the operation was contracted to Ahmad (Jibril), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) leader, for a sum of $1 million.’
The prosecution case was that Al-Megrahi took the bomb, wrapped in clothes bought from a shop in Malta, to the island's Luqa airport, where it was checked in and then transferred onto Pan Am flight 103.
A key witness against al-Megrahi was the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who owned Mary's House, where the police say the garments were bought.
Also, central to Al-Megrahi’s conviction was the evidence of this Maltese shopkeeper, who claimed that Al-Megrahi had bought clothes allegedly found in the suitcase bomb. Lawyers were due to claim that Gauci was paid over a $2 million reward by U.S. investigators for his evidence, which followed more than 20 police interviews, and that many of the often wildly conflicting statements taken on each occasion were withheld from the defence
But his police statements are inconsistent, and prosecutors failed to tell the defence that shortly before he attended an identity parade, Mr. Gauci had seen a magazine article showing a picture of Megrahi, and speculating he might have been involved. The BBC programme has discovered that the Scottish police knew Mr Gauci had looked at al-Megrahi's photograph just days before the line-up.
But contrary to police rules of disclosure, designed to ensure a fair trial, this crucial information was not passed on to the defence.
Besides that, if it were proven that he was rewarded, his testimony casts doubt on its value.

The SCCRC has thoroughly checked out the claims and found he received ‘a phenomenal sum of money’ from the U.S. It is reported that Gauci is understood to be planning to use his newfound wealth to fund a move to Australia with his brother, Paul, who was also on the witness list but was not called to give evidence.
Professor Emeritus Robert Black of Scots Law at the University of Edinburgh, 'architect' of the Scottish court on Dutch soil (and himself from Lockerbie) said of the original conviction: "I thought this was a very, very weak circumstantial case. I am absolutely astounded, astonished. I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence."
He said in 2005 that Al-Megrahi's conviction was "the most disgraceful miscarriage of justice in Scotland for 100 years." "Every lawyer who has ... read the judgment says 'this is nonsense'. It is nonsense. It really distresses me; I won't let it go."
It is no wonder that some people were hoping that Al-Megrahi would die before certain witnesses were called. The release on compassionate grounds is a blessing for them, as much as it is for him.

The key lesson is that the human rights of all parties need to be at the centre of the legal process and decision making if the public interest is to be served, and if justice is to be done and be seen to be done.

The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them.

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” William Gladstone

Joseph M. Cachia August, 2009

31, St. Lawrence Street,
Vittoriosa – MALTA
ID. 698736 (M)
Tel:21807566 - 99866151
Fax: 21332156



Claim refers to concerns raised about safety of Libyan's conviction for Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

The man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing released evidence today claiming to show that a key witness at his trial received payments from the US after giving evidence.

The claim is made in documents published online by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in support of his attempt to clear his name of involvement in the worst terrorist attack on British soil.

It refers to concerns raised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) about the safety of Megrahi's conviction for killing 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing on 21 December 1988.

The documents would have formed part of an appeal, which Megrahi, who is terminally ill, agreed to drop in return for his release on compassionate grounds.

The commission found police memos suggesting that Tony Gauci, the only witness to link the Libyan to the alleged plot, expressed an interest in being paid to give evidence. He also received payments from the US department of justice after the trial, the new documents claim to show.

The commission said the documents should have been disclosed to Megrahi's defence team, and that the failure to do so made Megrahi's conviction unsafe. The papers allege that Gauci was paid $2m (£1.2m) after Megrahi's conviction, and his brother Paul $1m.

In one of the memos released by Megrahi, police officers discussed the issue of payments that they said were made under the US "Awards of Justice" scheme. The memo warns of that Gauci "could be portrayed [by the media] as having given flawed evidence for financial reward," if the commission's concerns were disclosed.

In a statement Megrahi continued to protest his innocence. He said: "In releasing this information I have no desire to add to the upset of many people I know are profoundly affected by what happened in Lockerbie. My intention is only for the truth to be made known."

The new documents, published on a website set up for the purpose, constitute the convicted bomber's attempt to prove his innocence after his controversial release from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds in August. Megrahi is in the terminal stages of prostate cancer, and Scottish ministers believe he has less than three months to live.

Last month Megrahi released 298 pages of legal papers, which appeared to suggest the commission regarded Gauci's evidence as "unreasonable" .

The crucial mistake, the SCCRC said, was believing prosecution claims that Megrahi had bought clothes at Gauci's shop on 7 December 1988, allegedly later found in the suitcase used for the bomb. This evidence was "unreasonable", the SCCRC said, and was alone grounds for belief that Megrahi was wrongly convicted.

It was the commission that referred Megrahi's case back to the courts for its second appeal.

The new dossier presents what is said to be fresh and undisclosed evidence, suggesting that the clothes found in the suitcase were not purchased on 7 December 1988 as was was argued during the trial.

Gauci told the court that Megrahi bought the clothes before the Christmas lights were illuminated. Evidence from the diary of Michael Refalo, then Malta's tourism minister, stated that he switched on the Christmas lights on December 6. That evidence was not available at the time of the trial.

The new 180 page dossier also claims there was potentially another independent witness who saw other Libyans, not Megrahi, purchasing the clothes.

The witness said he overheard Gauci referring to the men as "Libyan pigs" which Megrahi's lawyers claimed showed he was "hostile" to Libya.

A spokesman for the Scottish government said the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, made his decision to free Megrahi "based on the due process of Scots Law" and he "supports the conviction".

He added: "The Scottish government has already released as much relevant information as possible, and have met with the SCCRC to look at what documentation relating to the appeal could be released by them."

    * © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009


Gareth Peirce

It is, of course, now all about oil. Only a simpleton could believe that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, was not recently returned to his home in Libya because it suited Britain. The political furore is very obviously contrived, since both the British and American governments know perfectly well how and for what reasons he came to be prosecuted. More important than the present passing storm is whether any aspect of the investigation that led to al-Megrahi’s original conviction was also about oil, or dictated by other factors that should have no place in a prosecution process.

The devastation caused by the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, at the cost of 270 lives, deserved an investigation of utter integrity. Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights demands no less. Where there has been a death any inquiry must be independent, effective and subject to public scrutiny, to provide the basis for an attribution of responsibility and to initiate criminal proceedings where appropriate. But, in the absence of this, a number of the bereaved Lockerbie families have of necessity themselves become investigators, asking probing questions for two decades without receiving answers; they have learned sufficient forensic science to make sense of what was being presented at al-Megrahi’s trial and make up their own minds whether the prosecution of two Libyans at Camp Zeist near Utrecht was in fact a three-card trick put together for political ends.

Perhaps the result could have been different if there had been an entirely Scottish police investigation, with unrestricted access to all available information, without interference or manipulation from outside. Instead, from the beginning, the investigation and what were to become the most important aspects of the prosecution case against al-Megrahi were hijacked. Within hours, the countryside around Lockerbie was occupied: local people helping with the search under the supervision of Dumfries and Galloway police realised to their astonishment that the terrain was dotted with unidentified Americans not under the command of the local police.

Each aspect of every criminal investigation in Britain has to meet certain essential standards; where they are not met, these parts of the investigation should not in principle become the basis of a prosecution. There must be precise notes made of each physical exhibit found and by whom; its movements must be tracked; each time an exhibit is inspected, a record must be kept. The rationale is obvious: without a precise record, interference, contamination or simple mistakes could jeopardise a prosecutor’s reliance on evidence that should be tangible and therefore potentially more convincing. For that reason, a crime scene must be sealed off until searches are complete.

Those engineering the destruction of a transatlantic airliner in mid-flight might have believed that it would be likely to happen over the sea. Instead, Pan Am 103 was destroyed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie and its fall-out was scattered over an area too huge to cordon off. The first and most desperate searches were for the passengers: could any have survived? Volunteers included a police surgeon from Yorkshire who had driven to the site as soon as he heard the news; together with the local police, he and others searched non-stop for 24 hours. They found bodies, none showing any sign of life; the doctor labelled each of the bodies he found, more than 50 of them, noting the place of discovery. Once it was clear there were no survivors, a search for evidence of the cause of the explosion would begin.

Extraordinarily, however, distinct from the Dumfries and Galloway police, scores of men, some wearing no insignia, some the insignia of the FBI and Pan Am (it was noted at the time that many of these men were clearly not Pan Am staff), invaded the area. Lockerbie residents reported seeing unmarked helicopters hovering overhead, carrying men with rifles whose telescopic sights were pointing directly at them. And when, much later, items of baggage came to be married up with the passengers they had accompanied, there were disturbing signs of interference. The suitcase belonging to Major McKee (a CIA operative flying back to the US to report on his concern that the couriering of drugs was being officially condoned as a way to entrap users and dealers in the US) was found to have had a hole cut in its side after the explosion, while the clothes in the suitcase were shown on subsequent analysis to bear no trace of explosives. A second suitcase, opened by a Scottish farmer, contained packets of white powder which a local police officer told him was undoubtedly heroin; no heroin was ever recorded as having been discovered. All but two of the labels that Dr Fieldhouse attached to the bodies he found were removed and have never been found.

Although the crime was the most hideous Scotland had ever known, the integrity of the crime scene was violated; in part because outsiders were conducting a desperate search for wreckage that it was important for them to find and spirit away. As many police investigations over the years have demonstrated, such distracting irregularities can simply be red herrings, and these intrusions may have no bearing on the question of who blew up Pan Am 103. Was it individuals? Was it a country? And if so which one? From the very beginning, in fact, it seemed that the case could and would be easily solved. Considerable (and uncomplicated) evidence immediately to hand suggested who might be responsible; it was as if giant arrows were pointing towards the solution.

In the weeks before the bombing in December 1988 there had been a number of very specific warnings that a bomb would be placed on a Pan Am aircraft. Among them was a photograph of a bomb in a Toshiba cassette radio wired to a barometric timer switch; a number of such bombs had been found earlier in 1988 in the possession of members of a small group with a history of successfully carrying out bombings, primarily of American targets. One group member told police that five bombs had been made; at least one was missing at the time of the Lockerbie disaster and never recovered. The warnings were sufficiently exact that the staff of the American Embassy in Moscow, who usually travelled by Pan Am when they returned to the US for Christmas, used a different airline. Flora Swire, who was travelling to New York to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, found it surprisingly easy to buy a ticket.

All the Toshiba cassette bombs that had been seized were found, when tested, to run for 30 minutes after they were set. The advantage of barometric timers is that they aren’t activated until the plane is airborne – the bomb won’t go off on the ground if the plane is delayed. Some seven or eight minutes would elapse before the air pressure dropped enough as the plane gained height to activate a barometric timer set to go off 30 minutes later, i.e. 37 or 38 minutes after the flight took off. It was precisely 38 minutes after Pan Am Flight 103 took off from Heathrow on 21 December 1988 that it exploded over Lockerbie; when the remnants of the destroyed plane and its contents were put together piece by piece by the Dumfries and Galloway police, fragments of a Toshiba cassette radio were found.

Forensic scientists believed that the radio had been in a suitcase in which there were clothes whose label was traced to a shop in Malta. A search of the house of a man affiliated to the group that manufactured the Toshiba bombs produced clothes bought in Malta; it was established too that he had travelled to Malta before the bombing. And the owner of the Maltese shop from which the clothes were thought to have been purchased identified to his brother, without prompting, a newspaper photograph of that man as the person who had bought the clothes found in the suitcase with the bomb inside.

But the man who bought the clothes was not al-Megrahi, nor was he Libyan. The group making Toshiba radio cassette bombs had no connection at all with Libya. Neither the man nor the group was ever prosecuted for involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. The fact that the explosion took place exactly when one would have expected it to if a Toshiba cassette bomb had been used was ignored: the bomb had not, the prosecution contended at al-Megrahi’s trial, been triggered by a barometric switch in this way. The Lockerbie device, it claimed, was different from the devices made by the group. The difference was that it was a Toshiba cassette radio with one speaker rather than two. From a logically compelling case that seemed to point clearly in one direction the prosecution switched tack, but not at the beginning: not, in fact, until two years after the bombing, when the politics of the Middle East shifted and new allies had to be found quickly if the flow of cheap oil were to continue.

It is not difficult to achieve a conviction of the innocent. Over many decades several common factors have been identified, and the majority of them are present, centre stage, in this case: achieving the co-operation of witnesses by means of a combination of inducements and fear of the alternative (the tried and tested method of obtaining evidence for the prosecution on which many US cases rely); the provision of factual information by scientists where there is no proper basis for it (a recurrent theme in UK convictions as well as in the US); reliance on ‘identification’ evidence which is no such thing. Add to that the political will to achieve a prosecution, and the rest is easy. Fabrication demands outright dishonesty, but it isn’t always necessary, or necessary in every aspect of an investigation: the momentum of suspicion, and a blinkered determination to focus on a particular thesis and ignore evidence pointing to the contrary, is a certain route to achieving the desired end. Al-Megrahi is reported as saying that he has evidence, which will be revealed on his death, that will prove his innocence. But it is clear even from the evidence that can be looked at today that his conviction was extremely disturbing.

For the first two years there was no mention at all of Libya. The investigation originally seemed to have clear evidence of a motive (tit for tat retaliation); evidence of the existence of a bomb intended to destroy airliners in mid-flight contained in the same brand of cassette radio discovered on the plane; and evidence implicating a Palestinian splinter group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which was prepared at the time to hire itself out to regimes that were known to be state sponsors of terrorism; Syria was one (somewhat earlier, Libya had been another), so was Iran.

Behind every crime there is of course a motive. For the initial prime suspect, Iran, the motive was brutally clear. In July 1988 a US battleship, the Vincennes, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf, with 290 passengers, many of them pilgrims en route to Mecca. There were no survivors. By chance a television crew was on the Vincennes when the attack took place and images of triumph at the carnage were immediately beamed around the world. When it became clear, as it did straight away, that the attack was an appalling error, the US compounded its mistake: President Reagan claimed self-defence and the ship’s commander and crew were awarded high military honours.

Two days after the downing of the Iranian airbus, Tehran Radio condemned the attack as an act of naked aggression and announced it would be avenged ‘in blood-splattered skies’. At the same time, US Air Force Command issued a warning to its civilian contractors: ‘We believe Iran will strike back in a tit for tat fashion – mass casualties.’ Warnings became more specific: ‘We believe Europe is the likely target for a retaliatory attack . . . due to the large concentration of Americans and the established terrorist infrastructures in place throughout Europe.’ Within days, US intelligence was convinced that Iran meant business; and the CIA in due course acknowledged that it had intelligence that Ahmad Jibril, the leader of the PFLP-GC, had met government officials in Iran and offered his services.

Such a partnership would indeed have been ominous, since the activities of the PFLP-GC had since 1970 included planting bombs on planes – bombs built into transistor radios and detonated by a barometric pressure switch. It was in this context that the flood of warnings immediately preceding the disaster had obvious significance for the subsequent investigation. One of them read: ‘team of Palestinians not associated with PLO intends to attack US targets in Europe. Time frame is present. Targets specified are Pan Am Airlines and US military bases.’ Five weeks before this warning, a PFLP-GC cell had been arrested in Germany. The PFLP-GC was precisely a ‘team of Palestinians not associated with the PLO’. Jibril’s right-hand man, Haffez Dalkamoni, was arrested in Frankfurt with a known bomb-maker, Marwen Khreesat, as they visited electrical shops in the city. In the boot of Dalkamoni’s car was a Toshiba cassette recorder with Semtex moulded inside it, a simple time delay switch and a barometric switch. Later US intelligence officials confirmed that members of the group had been monitoring Pan Am’s facilities at Frankfurt airport. Dalkamoni admitted he had supervised Khreesat when he built bombs into a Toshiba radio cassette player, two radio tuners and a TV monitor. He said that a second Toshiba containing similar pressure switches had been built. Although Dalkamoni was prosecuted in Germany, Khreesat was inexplicably released; it only later became clear that he had been acting throughout as an undercover agent for Jordanian intelligence, which is extraordinarily close to the CIA (the CIA played a central role in its creation). On Dalkamoni’s account, other bombs made by Khreesat were at large somewhere, including the one built into a second Toshiba player.

On 9 November 1988 Interpol circulated warnings about the PFLP-GC bombs. Heathrow Airport issued its own warning to security staff, stating that it was ‘imperative that when screening or searching radios, radio cassette players and other electrical equipment, staff are to be extra vigilant’. Over the next three weeks the airport received more information, including photographs of the Toshiba bomb from the German authorities. (A document giving information and advice was drawn up by the UK’s principal aviation security adviser on 19 December, but there were problems obtaining colour photographs and delays in the Christmas post and most airlines did not receive it until the new year, weeks after the disaster.)

In March 1989, less than three months after the downing of Flight 103, the then secretary of state for transport, Paul Channon, had lunch with some journalists. He talked, indiscreetly, of the brilliant detective work undertaken by the smallest police force in the country. Arrests, he told the journalists, were imminent. Although such conversations are customarily regarded as not for attribution, the next morning’s newspapers revealed that a cabinet minister had stated that those responsible for the Lockerbie bombing had been identified and would soon be arrested.

At precisely the same time, however, the US president, George Bush Senior, was reported by the Washington Post as having spoken to Margaret Thatcher about Lockerbie, advising her to keep Lockerbie ‘low-key’, to avoid prejudicing negotiations with Syrian and Iranian-backed groups holding Western hostages in Lebanon. There were no arrests; Channon left the cabinet; and political interest in the case and desire to identify who was responsible for the disaster disappeared. The victims’ families demanded evidence that a proper inquiry was being conducted and in September 1989 Channon’s successor, Cecil Parkinson, met the newly formed UK Families Flight 103. He promised them a full judicial inquiry. Thatcher countermanded this promise, and he returned to the relatives with an admission of total failure. ‘Low-key’ meant no judicial inquiry, no prosecution, and instead a Fatal Accident Inquiry with no powers to subpoena which declined to investigate how the bomb got on the plane for fear of interfering with police inquiries.

As political players grow old, they reminisce and sometimes they forget what they are meant to have said or not said. Five years later Parkinson took part in a television programme about another horrific disaster, the sinking of the Marchioness, in which he confirmed that it was Thatcher who had blocked a judicial inquiry. He remembered discussing with the Lockerbie relatives whether, ‘because the security services were involved’, a High Court judge could look into the security aspects and report privately to him: ‘Because when you get into the Lockerbie business – how did we find out certain information, how did we know this, how did we know that? – you would have had to recall not only our own intelligence sources but information we were receiving from overseas. Therefore that had to be a closed area.’ This suggested the real block.

Nevertheless, investigators had clearly remained confident that despite government diffidence a prosecution would soon be brought. Late in 1989 an imminent arrest once again seemed tantalisingly on the cards. The Sunday Times (known to enjoy detailed briefings from the police and security services) reported that the ‘net was closing’ on the Lockerbie suspects and stated categorically that the bombing had been carried out by the German PFLP-GC cell led by Dalkamoni under orders from Ahmad Jibril and with a bomb made by Khreesat. What was new was the suggestion that the bomb had first been put on a plane not in Frankfurt but in Malta. Clothes made in Malta, the report added, had been found in the suitcase in which police believed the bomb had been planted. A member of Dalkamoni’s cell, Abu Talb, who was then awaiting trial for separate offences in Sweden, had, it revealed, visited Malta. He was the man identified by the shop owner: the man who had clothes bought in Malta in his possession. The Sunday Times articles went on to predict that Abu Talb would be extradited at any moment to stand trial for the bombing.

The suggestion that the bomb was placed on a plane from Malta was made in an attempt to link the discovery of the Maltese clothes with the already existing evidence of the German group. As no passengers transferred from Air Malta to Pan Am 103A in Frankfurt, the feeder flight for Pan Am 103, it would have had to be an unaccompanied bag from Malta that carried the bomb. Two documents were said to have been discovered: a list of the stages followed by Frankfurt airport’s automated baggage system which related to Pan Am 103, and a handwritten worksheet from one of the several stations from which baggage came into the system. As this was official information, it must have been given lock, stock and barrel by investigators to the journalist in question.

A fundamental objection to the last part of the new thesis was blindingly clear: if the intended target was an American aircraft, why risk a premature explosion triggered by the barometric switch by putting the suitcase on an Air Malta flight? The scientific underpinning necessary to support a counter-proposition was established during 1989 and 1990 and rested on two ‘discoveries’: a fragment of an entirely different type of timer in the remnant of a shirt collar and the matching of that fragment with the manufacturer’s prototype. This timer, it was argued, could, once set, keep a barometric switch from detonating for days. It was in the development of this proposition that every safeguard fundamental to a criminal investigation came to be jettisoned.

That Iran and the PFLP-GC were responsible had fitted comfortably with UK and US foreign policy in the Middle East. Both countries had severed relations with Syria on the grounds of its persistent support for international terrorism; both had supported Iraq in the Iran/Iraq war, which ended in the summer of 1988. The obvious truth as it appeared at the time was that the Jibril group, sponsored in this instance by Iran, was a logical as well as politically acceptable fit.

Then, in August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, thereby putting at risk almost 10 per cent of US oil supplies, and the stability of the Saudi and Gulf sheikhdoms on which the West depended to preserve the status quo in the region. A sudden shift of alliances was necessary: if Iraq had to be confronted, then Iran had to be treated differently and the Syrian regime needed to be brought on board. At the beginning of 1991 Syrians joined Western troops in the attack on Saddam Hussein’s invading army.

The centre of the Lockerbie investigation had by this time ceased to be Scotland: the CIA was in charge. Vincent Cannistraro had made his mark under Ronald Reagan, with a clandestine programme to destabilise the Libyan regime. He boasted that he ‘developed the policy towards Libya’ which culminated in the bombing of Gaddafi’s house in Tripoli in 1986 on the basis of intercept evidence later acknowledged to be false. Now brought out of retirement, Cannistraro shifted the investigation’s approach. The suspect country was no longer Iran but Libya, and in November 1991, the UK and the US made a joint announcement that two Libyan Airlines officials, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, had planted the bomb in Malta on behalf of Libyan intelligence. Douglas Hurd, the foreign secretary, announced to the House of Commons that Libyans alone were suspected and that other countries were not implicated.

Years of protracted negotiations were to take place before the Libyan government agreed to release the two men to stand trial in a ‘neutral country’. It was not until May 2000 that the two Libyan Airlines officials who had run the airline’s office in Malta finally went on trial – in a purpose-built court outside Utrecht created from a mothballed air-force base – under Scots law, albeit before three judges rather than a jury. What did Gaddafi expect when he agreed to the extradition of the two men? That they would in due course be exonerated because they were innocent but that he would meanwhile reap the diplomatic benefit by having delivered them? The idea of their individual responsibility was anyway peculiar: as agents of a state where not a mouse squeaks without the say-so of Gaddafi, al-Megrahi and Fhimah were either ordered to do what it was said they did, in which case dealing with Gaddafi as a statesman then and now has been beyond hypocrisy – or the thesis was wrong.

The key features needed to prosecute al-Megrahi successfully were the scientific identification of the circuit-board fragment, which would in turn establish its origin, and the identification of the purchaser of the clothes in Malta. The timers, the indictment stated, were made by a firm in Switzerland; their circuit board matched the fragment retrieved from Lockerbie, and they sold the timers exclusively to Libya. Everything, essentially, hinged on those links.

Who found the fragment? And who understood its relevance? Thomas Hayes of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) claimed the find (with his colleague Alan Feraday) and Thomas Thurman of the FBI claimed the analytical victory. All were swiftly hailed (or hailed themselves) as heroes. Thurman appeared on television on 15 November 1991, the day after indictments were issued against the two Libyans, boasting that he had identified the piece of circuit board as part of a timing device that might have been sold to Libyan Airlines staff. ‘I made the identification and I knew at that point what it meant. And because, if you will, I am an investigator as well as a forensic examiner, I knew where that would go. At that point we had no conclusive proof of the type of timing mechanism that was used in the bombing of 103. When that identification was made of the timer I knew that we had it.’ This was the claim – the hard evidence – that linked Libyans to the crime. If the claim was false the bereaved Lockerbie families have been deceived for 20 years.

On 13 September 1995 the FBI’s forensic department was the subject of a programme broadcast in the US by ABC. At its centre was a memorandum from the former head of explosive science at the FBI, Dr Frederic Whitehurst. It was a devastating indictment of a former colleague. The colleague was Thomas Thurman and the accusations related to his investigation of a terrorist attack in which a judge was killed by pipe bombs. Two years later, as a result of a review by the US inspector general, Michael Bromwich, into a large number of criminal investigations, Thomas Thurman was barred from FBI labs and from being called as an expert witness. Bromwich had discovered that he had no formal scientific qualifications and that, according to a former colleague, he had been ‘circumventing procedures and protocols, testifying to areas of expertise that he had no qualifications in . . . therefore fabricating evidence’.

Thurman had made the Libyan connection, and its plausibility relied on the accuracy of his statement that the fragment of circuit board proved that it would have been possible for the unaccompanied bag to fly from Malta without the seemingly inevitable mid-air explosion. And thus it was that a witness from Switzerland, Edwin Bollier, the manufacturer of the MEBO circuit board, was called on to provide evidence that such boards had been sold exclusively to Libya. Bollier was described by al-Megrahi’s barrister in his closing speech as an ‘illegitimate arms dealer with morals to match’. The evidence he was clearly intended to provide had begun to unravel even before the trial began. Sales elsewhere in the world were discovered, Thurman did not appear at the trial, and the judges commented that Bollier’s evidence was ‘inconsistent’ and ‘self-contradictory’. Other witnesses, they found, had ‘openly lied to the court’. Despite all this al-Megrahi was convicted.

Bollier had been one of the most potentially dubious of many dubious witnesses for the prosecution. But Dr Köchler, the UN’s observer throughout the trial, recorded that Bollier had been ‘brusquely interrupted’ by the presiding judge when he attempted to raise the issue of the possible manipulation of the timer fragments. Could the MEBO board, or a part of one, have been planted in such a way that it could be conveniently ‘discovered’? After the trial, new evidence that would have been at the centre of al-Megrahi’s now abandoned appeal made this suggestion more credible: a Swiss electronics engineer called Ulrich Lumpert, formerly employed by Bollier’s firm, stated in an affidavit to Köchler that in 1989 he stole a ‘non-operational’ timing board from MEBO and handed it to ‘a person officially investigating in the Lockerbie case’. Bollier himself told Köchler that he was offered $4 million if he would connect the timer to Libya.

There were throughout two aspects of the investigation over which the Scottish authorities exerted little authority: in the US, the activities of the CIA and in particular of Thomas Thurman and the forensic branch of the FBI; in England, the forensic investigations of RARDE, carried out by Hayes and Feraday. Without Hayes’s findings, the Lockerbie prosecution would have been impossible. His evidence was that on 12 May 1989 he discovered and tweezed out from a remnant of cloth an electronic fragment, part of a circuit board. The remnant of cloth, part of a shirt collar, was then traced to a Maltese shop. A number of aspects of the original circuit board find were puzzling. The remnant was originally found in January 1989 by a DC Gilchrist and a DC McColm in the outer reaches of the area over which the bomb-blast debris was spread. It was labelled ‘cloth (charred)’ by him, but then overwritten as ‘debris’ even though the fragment of circuit board had not yet been ‘found’ by Hayes. The fragment found by Hayes, and identified as a MEBO circuit board by Thurman, meant that the thesis of an Air Malta involvement could survive.

Even if one knew nothing of the devastating findings of the public inquiry in the early 1990s into the false science that convicted the Maguire Seven or of the succession of thunderous judgments in the Court of Appeal in case after case in which RARDE scientists had provided the basis for wrongful convictions, Hayes’s key evidence in this case on the key fragment should be viewed as disgraceful. There is a basic necessity for evidential preservation in any criminal case: every inspection must be logged, chronology recorded, detail noted. But at every point in relation to this vital fragment that information was either missing or had been altered, although Hayes had made meticulous notes in respect of every single one of the hundreds of other exhibits he inspected in the Lockerbie investigation.

No forensic scientist knows when he conducts his examinations whether or when there will be a prosecution that will depend on them; this makes it all the more important that his notes are exact. Hayes confirmed that it was his practice to draw pieces of circuit board where he found them – for instance in the vicinity of blast-damaged material – but he made no such drawings of this item, nor had he given it an exhibit reference number as he had every other exhibit being designated at the time, nor did he carry out a standard test for traces of explosive. Almost a month after his inspection of the timer fragment, Hayes was identifying and drawing exhibits which were given reference numbers smaller than the number of the vital exhibit. He recorded his finding on page 51 of his notes, but the pages originally numbered 51-55 had been renumbered 52-56 at some point. Hayes stated that he had ‘no idea’ when the change in pagination was carried out. The inference put to Hayes was that the original page 51 and the following pages had been renumbered, an original page removed and space made to insert what was now page 51 of his notes.

Curiously, a memorandum from Hayes’s colleague Feraday, written on 15 September 1989, to a detective inspector working on the case, referred to a fragment of green circuit board: ‘Willy, enclosed are some Polaroid photographs of the green circuit board. Sorry about the quality, it is the best I can do in such a short time.’ No one was able to explain why there should have been any shortage of time to make available in September 1989 photographs of an item that had been found on 12 May. Feraday’s note continued: ‘I feel that this fragment could be potentially most important so any light your lads or lasses can shed upon the problem of identifying it will be most welcome.’ Again no one was able to explain what light the lads and lasses could shed on something it was most curious they had not seen before now, given that Hayes had recovered it in May. Clearly it could not have been seen by the police before the cloth was passed to Hayes at RARDE and the fragment extracted by him. If Hayes had photographed the exhibit, as was his normal practice, then Feraday would not have needed to rely on Polaroids of dubious quality. The issue of his notes’ pagination was described by Hayes as ‘an unfathomable mystery’. In view of the importance of exhibit PT/35(b), how could the court have been satisfied by this evidence? The new evidence of the former MEBO employee who stole a circuit board would of course have been ripe for analysis by the Court of Appeal, which has now been discharged from considering new evidence in al-Megrahi’s lately abandoned appeal.

A secondary important proposition for the Crown to consider was that the suitcase was on the second layer of a luggage container on the aircraft – which meant that it must have come from Frankfurt. Examining the largest surviving fragment of the outside case of the Toshiba device on 25 January 1989, Hayes had considered its state consistent with its having been at the base of the container. This would have contradicted the Crown’s position that the device was in a suitcase that had arrived last, as unaccompanied baggage from Malta via Frankfurt, and so was nearer the top. By the time he gave evidence at the trial, Hayes had revised his assessment of its position.

(Since the trial, evidence new to the defence but known from the start to the police has surfaced of a break-in at Heathrow in the hours before the disaster. The Fatal Accident Inquiry, which didn’t have this knowledge, had made a finding in 1991 that Pan Am 103 was ‘under constant guard at Heathrow’. Iran Air’s hangar at Heathrow was next to Pan Am’s.)

This isn’t the first time we have heard of Hayes and Feraday. Among the many wrongful convictions in the 1970s for which RARDE scientists were responsible, Hayes played his part in the most notorious of all, endorsing the finding of an explosive trace that was never there, and speculating that a piece of chalk mentioned to the police by Vincent Maguire, aged 16, and a candle by Patrick Maguire, aged 13, ‘fitted the description better’ of a stick of gelignite wrapped in white paper. Both were convicted and imprisoned on this evidence, together with their parents and their uncle Giuseppe Conlon, who was to die in prison. All were later found to be innocent.

Although Feraday was often addressed by the prosecution as ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’ when he gave evidence, he had no relevant academic qualifications, only a higher national certificate in physics and electronics some 30 years old. Dr Michael Scott, whose evidence has been preferred in appeals to that of Feraday, commented that ‘the British government employed hundreds of people who were extraordinarily well qualified in the areas of radio communication and electronics. Alan Feraday is not qualified yet they use him. I have to ask the question why.’ Feraday, like his US counterpart Thurman, has now been banned from future appearances as an expert witness, but he had already provided the key evidence in a roll-call of convictions of the innocent. A note of a pre-trial conference with counsel prosecuting Danny McNamee (who was wrongly convicted of involvement in a bombing in Hyde Park) provides a typical instance: ‘F [Feraday] prepared to say it [a circuit board] purely for bombing purposes, no innocent purpose.’ The implication here was that anyone who had involvement with this circuit board would have knowingly been involved in bomb construction. That, in common with many other assertions made by Feraday, was entirely false, but it resulted in McNamee’s imprisonment for 11 years.

To discover that al-Megrahi’s conviction was in large part based on the evidence of scientists whose value as professional witnesses had been permanently and publicly demolished ten years before his trial is astounding. The discovery nearly two decades ago of a large number of wrongful convictions enabled by scientific evidence rightly led to demands that the community of forensic scientists change its ways. Similarly, a series of catastrophic misidentifications required the introduction of sound new practices for evidence based on that most fragile of human attributes, visual memory. Witnesses must not be prompted; a witness’s memory, as far as possible, must be as safely protected from contamination as a crime scene. The first description is vital. If a witness makes a positive identification of one individual, no subsequent identification of a second is permissible. Equivocation and uncertainty are not enough. Even if the science that convicted al-Megrahi had not offended against every minimum standard, then the second pillar of the prosecution case, his identification by Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper, would remain spectacular in its noncompliance with any safeguard. He described al-Megrahi as ‘6’0’’’ (he was 5’8’’), ‘50 years old’ (he was 37), and ‘hefty’; said that he ‘had been to the shop before and after’, ‘had been there only once’; that he ‘saw him in a bar months later’; that he ‘will sign statement even though I don’t speak English’; that al-Megrahi ‘was similar but not identical’, ‘perhaps like him but not fully like him’, and, fatally for any identification of al-Megrahi in the first place, that he was ‘like the man in the Sunday Times’ (in other words, like Abu Talb, whose picture Gauci had initially identified). But Gauci’s evidence was needed and, reports suggest, handsomely rewarded. He apparently now lives in Australia, supported by millions of US dollars.

That a court of three experienced judges convicted on such evidence and that an appeal court upheld the conviction is profoundly shocking. Köchler, the UN observer, reported finding the guilty verdict ‘incomprehensible’ in view of the court’s admission that Gauci’s identification was ‘not absolute’. We had come to believe that such an outcome, resting on invalid identification, was no longer possible. ‘The guilty verdict’, Köchler wrote, was ‘arbitrary, even irrational’ with an ‘air of international power politics’ present ‘in the whole verdict’, which was ‘based on a series of highly problematic inferences’. He remarked on the withholding of ‘substantial information’ (‘more or less openly exercised influence on the part of actors outside the judicial framework’) and on the very visible interference with the work of the Scottish prosecutors by US lawyers present in the well of the court. But most seriously, he set out his ‘suspicion that political considerations may have been overriding a strictly judicial evaluation of the case’. All of this harks back to the bad old days when a blind eye was turned to the way convictions were obtained.

Al-Megrahi’s trial constituted a unique legal construct, engineered to achieve a political rapprochement, but its content was so manipulated that in reality there was only ever an illusion of a trial. Dr Köchler recorded at its conclusion that it was ‘not fair’ and that it was not ‘conducted in an objective manner’, so that there were ‘many more questions and doubts at the end than the beginning’. Since then, these doubts have not disappeared: on the contrary, the questions are graver, the doubts have grown and so has the strength of the evidence on which they are based. Köchler’s observations continue to have compelling relevance; he found the respect of the court, the defence lawyers included, for the ‘shrouds of secrecy’ and ‘national security considerations’ to be ‘totally incomprehensible to any rational observer’. ‘Proper judicial procedure,’ he continued, ‘is simply impossible if political interests and intelligence services – from whichever side – succeed in interfering in the actual conduct of a court.’

The term miscarriage of justice carries with it the inference of accident, but also of death. There is a pressing need to investigate in detail how it has come about that there has been a form of death in this case – the death of justice – and who should be found responsible.

Vol. 31 No. 18 · 24 September 2009 » Gareth Peirce » The Framing of al-Megrahi pages 3-8 | 6644 words


Vol. 31 No. 19 · 8 October 2009

From Benedict Birnberg

As a partner of Gareth Peirce until my retirement may I add a sequel to her penetrating analysis of the al-Megrahi case (LRB, 24 September). First, to point out that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) after an investigation lasting over three years referred his conviction to the Scottish court of appeal in June 2007; its statement of referral extended to more than 800 pages with 13 volumes of appendices. It is that appeal which, as Gareth Peirce says, al-Megrahi abandoned before his release and repatriation to Libya, thus denying the court the opportunity to consider the case, even though the SCCRC stated in its press release: ‘based upon our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court ... the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.’ Why did al-Megrahi withdraw his appeal? Was it because he was put under pressure to secure his release on compassionate grounds? Or was it voluntarily done because he lacked confidence in the impartiality of the court? Whatever the truth may be, the onus now rests on the Scottish government to establish a public judicial inquiry, so that the case so painstakingly prepared by the SCCRC does not go by default.

Second, to add to the suspicions Peirce’s article exposes, it needs to be said that the Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision has unleashed a hysterical torrent of vilification, not least in the US where many of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims are convinced of al-Megrahi’s guilt. We have witnessed a campaign of denigration on which even Obama, Hillary Clinton and the late Edward Kennedy have bestowed their benediction. On this side of the Atlantic too the irrational commentators abound. The overwhelming weight of media comment has been hostile to al-Megrahi. On 3 September the Guardian carried a long article by Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary and a prominent Scottish lawyer, headed ‘Megrahi’s return has been a sorry, cocked-up conspiracy’: it failed even to mention the SCCRC reference. Even pillars of the human rights establishment, such as Geoffrey Robertson, have shouted themselves hoarse: ‘We should be ashamed that this has happened’ (Guardian, 22 August) and ‘Megrahi should never have been freed: the result is a triumph for state terrorism and a worldwide boost for the death penalty’ (Independent, 2 September).

Yet, when al-Megrahi releases part of the SCCRC case on the internet, his declared aim being to clear his name and ostensibly to prove his innocence, pat comes the Scottish lord advocate (Scotland’s chief prosecutor) joining relatives of the victims convinced of his guilt to denounce him for his ‘media campaign’. Meanwhile pleas from those who, like Dr Jim Swire, believe justice has not been done and who, for the sake of the memory of the victims as much as al-Megrahi, wish there to be a genuine and far-reaching inquiry, fall on deaf ears.

Benedict Birnberg
London SE3


February 27, 2012

Fresh scientific evidence unearthed by a Scottish legal review undermines the case against the man convicted of being responsible for the Lockerbie aircraft bombing, an investigation for Al Jazeera has found.

The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) report details evidence that would probably have resulted in the verdict against Abdel Baset al-Meghrahi, a Libyan man convicted of carrying out the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 in 1988, being overturned.

'Lockerbie: Case Closed', an hour-long documentary to be aired on Al Jazeera on Monday, examines the evidence uncovered by the SCCRC as well as revealing fresh scientific evidence which is unknown to the commission but which comprehensively undermines a crucial part of the case against the man known as the Lockerbie bomber.

Among the evidence examined by the SCCRC was the testimony of Tony Gauci, a shop owner from Malta, and the most important prosecution witness in the case.

Special Al Jazeera programme

Gauci identified Megrahi as a man who had bought clothing and an umbrella from him on December 7, 1988 - remnants of which were later recovered from among debris recovered from the disaster scene.  

The SCCRC found a number of reasons to seriously question this identification and Gauci’s account of events on that date, which was also the only day on which Megrahi could have been present in Malta to make such purchases

The report also raises concerns about the legitimacy of the formal identification process, in which Gauci picked Megrahi out from a line-up. The commission found that Gauci had seen Megrahi’s photo in a magazine article identifying him as a possible suspect many weeks before the parade took place

The SCCRC also found that Scottish police knew that Gauci was interested in financial rewards, despite maintaining that the shopkeeper had shown no such interest

Gauci reportedly picked up a $2 million US government reward for his role in the case. Under Scottish law, witnesses cannot be paid for their testimony.

Most significantly, the documentary will reveal the dramatic results of new scientific tests that destroy the most crucial piece of forensic evidence linking the bombing to Libya.

The new revelations were put to the terminally sick Megrahi in Libya, and his comments on the case will be heard for the first time in these films.

Of Gauci, he maintains that he never visited his shop.
"If I have a chance to see him [Gauci] I am forgiving him. I would tell him that I have never in my entire life been in his shop. I have never bought any clothing from him. And I tell him that he dealt with me very wrongly. This man - I have never seen him in my entire life except when he came to the court. I find him a very simple man," Meghrahi told Al Jazeera.
John Ashton, who has been investigating the case for nearly 20 years, including time spent as part of Megrahi’s defence team, said: "The Lockerbie disaster was Europe’s worst terrorist attack. More Americans died in that attack than in any other terrorist event before 9/11. It's also Britain’s worst miscarriage of justice, the wrong man was convicted and the real killers are still out there."
Lockerbie: Case Closed will be broadcast on Monday, February 27, 2012, at 20:00 GMT on Al Jazeera English.