Friday, 27 November 2015

Washington's convenient scapegoat

[What follows is an excerpt from an article by William Blum that was published on this date in 2006 on the CounterCurrents website:]

I have closely followed and often written about the case of PanAm Flight 103, blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, taking the lives of 270 people. For well over a year afterward, the US and the UK insisted that Iran, Syria, and a Palestinian group had been behind the bombing, until the buildup to the Gulf War came along in 1990 and the support of Iran and Syria was desired for the operation. Suddenly, in October 1990, the US declared that it was Libya -- the Arab state least supportive of the US build-up to the Gulf War and the sanctions imposed against Iraq -- that was behind the bombing after all.

Eventually, in 2001, a Libyan, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, was sentenced to life in prison for the crime, although his Libyan co-defendant, charged with the same crime and with the same evidence, was acquitted. The trial was the proverbial travesty of justice, which I've discussed in detail elsewhere. ("I am absolutely astounded, astonished," said the Scottish law professor who was the architect of the trial. "I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence.")[8] The prosecution's star witness, Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, groomed and presented by the CIA, was a thoroughly dubious character who didn't know much or have access to much, and who pretended to be otherwise just to get more CIA payments. And the CIA knew it. The Agency refused to fully declassify documents about him, using their standard excuse -- that it would reveal confidential sources and methods. It turned out they were reluctant because the documents showed that the CIA thought him unreliable.

Then, in 2005, we learned that a key piece of evidence linking Libya to the crime had been planted by the CIA.[9] Just like in movie thrillers. Just like in conspiracy theories.

For anyone still in doubt about the farcical nature of the trial, now comes along Michael Scharf, an attorney who worked on the 103 case at the State Department and was the counsel to the counter-terrorism bureau when the two Libyans were indicted for the bombing. In the past year he trained judges and prosecutors in Iraq in the case that led to the conviction and death sentence of Saddam Hussein. Scharf recently stated that the Panam case "was largely based on this inside guy [Giaka]. It wasn't until the trial that I learned this guy was a nut-job and that the CIA had absolutely no confidence in him and that they knew he was a liar. It was a case that was so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese." He says that the case had a "diplomatic rather than a purely legal goal".[10]

Victor Ostrovsky, formerly with the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, has written of Mossad what one could just as correctly say of the CIA: "This feeling that you can do anything you want to whomever you want for as long as you want because you have the power."[11]

So, let's hope that Abdelbaset al Megrahi is really guilty. It would be a terrible shame if he spends the rest of his life in prison simply because back in 1990 Washington's hegemonic plans for the Middle East needed a convenient scapegoat, which just happened to be his country. However, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is to report in the coming months on whether it believes there was a miscarriage of justice in the case.

And by the way, my usual reminder, Libya has never confessed to having carried out the act. They've only taken "responsibility", in the hope of getting various sanctions against them lifted.

[9] The Herald (Glasgow), August 19, 2005; Scotland on Sunday (Glasgow) August 28, 2005
[10] Sunday Herald (Glasgow), November 12, 2006
[11] Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, By Way of Deception (1990), p.335

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Granada Television's "Why Lockerbie?"

[On this date in 1990 Granada Television’s dramatised documentary Why Lockerbie? was broadcast in the United Kingdom. It was later broadcast in the United States under the title The Tragedy of Flight 103. Paul Foot in his Private Eye special report Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice had this to say (page 7):]

The programme focused on a bakery in Malta and a Palestinian cell based there. The programme made the same connection as the Sunday Times had done a year earlier – between the fact that the clothes in the bomb suitcase were bought in Malta and the less certain fact that an unaccompanied bag from Malta was loaded onto a Pan Am feeder flight from Frankfurt to London and thence to Pan Am 103. To illustrate this hypothesis, the programme showed a sinister-looking Arab checking in a bag at Malta airport and then sliding surreptitiously away while the plane took off.

This was too much for Air Malta, who sued Granada for libel. Norton Rose, the London commercial solicitors, compiled a huge dossier detailing almost everything about the flight from Malta to Frankfurt on the day of the Lockerbie bombing and proving that all 55 bags checked in on the flight could be ascribed to passengers, none of whom travelled on to London. The evidence was so powerful that Granada settled the action before it got to court. They paid Air Malta £15,000 damages and all the costs of the case. The only time these matters had been tested in a legal action, the Maltese connection to the bomb suitcase was comprehensively demolished.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Private Eye on the SCCRC’s Lockerbie decision

[What follows is the text of an article in the current issue of Private Eye, as reproduced today on John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury website:]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feraday's "expert" evidence

[The following are brief excerpts from a long article published in The Herald on this date in 2005. I strongly recommend that the full text be read:]

[T]he man I am interviewing, Gilbert McNamee ... usually known as Danny ... is the man who was accused of being the "master bomb-maker" behind the devastating 1982 Hyde Park blast which killed four members of the Household Cavalry. McNamee was found guilty in 1987 and sentenced to a 25-year jail term. He served 12 years before his release under the Good Friday Agreement. It wasn't until 1998 that his conviction for conspiracy to cause explosions was quashed on appeal and declared unsafe. (...)
During his trial, the Crown put forward in evidence three fingerprints and two pieces of electronic circuit board. The fingerprints were from a bomb left on a London street, and from sticky tape found in two separate arms caches, recovered in 1983 and early 1984. One of the circuit boards had been found in one of the arms caches; the other fragment was said to have been discovered after the bomb explosion at Hyde Park in 1982. The Crown's key scientific witness, Allen Feraday, said the two were matched in design and "artwork" and therefore made by the same master bombmaker. The prosecution based its case on the link between McNamee's fingerprint, the circuit board found in the arms cache, and the fragment of circuit board from Hyde Park.
When I mention Feraday to McNamee he looks directly at me. "I don't hate him, " he says. "I don't hate any of them. But I hate their methods."
McNamee's case was not the first conviction Feraday helped secure which was later overturned as unsafe. Feraday was severely criticised by the Lord Chief Justice in another case - Regina v Berry - before McNamee's conviction was finally quashed. John Berry, jailed in 1983 for selling timers to the Middle East, had his conviction quashed in 1993 after military experts challenged Feraday's evidence. The then Lord Chief Justice said the nature of Feraday's evidence in Berry's case was "dogmatic in the extreme" and "open to doubt at the very least".
In July this year, the conviction in a third case involving Feraday's expert advice was overturned. After a 20-year legal battle, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that the conviction of 53-year-old Hassan Assali, a Libyan, on terrorist conspiracy charges, was unsafe.
Assali's Hertfordshire factory was raided in 1984 and timing devices were seized. Feraday, the prosecution's only expert witness, said there was no lawful purpose for the devices, which Assali claimed were for domestic use.
"I am unable to contemplate their use in other than terrorist bombs, " Feraday told St Albans Crown Court at Assali's trial. After Assali's release, his legal team commissioned military experts from Berry's case, with backgrounds in explosives and electronics, whose subsequent report cast doubt on Feraday's evidence. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in 2003, and the conviction was then overturned.
Perhaps more controversially, Feraday told judges in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi - the Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, in which 270 people died - that a fragment of a circuit board found in the wreckage was part of the bomb's detonator. The trial judges accepted his conclusion. In 2001, judges at a special court at Camp Zeist in Holland found Megrahi, now 53, guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in jail. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was cleared.
Feraday, now in his sixties, carried out some of the principal work on the key piece of forensic evidence at the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) at Fort Halstead in Kent. RARDE, the main UK forensic centre for examining terrorist incidents, was subsumed into the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) after re-organisation. Feraday retired after 42 years' distinguished work.
Papers about Feraday's evidence in the previous cases have been sent to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which is investigating Megrahi's conviction, and speculation is rife that the Libyan could be freed if the commission refers his case to the appeal courts. There are also reports that he might be repatriated to his home country. Last month it was reported that the British, American and Libyan governments were negotiating the transfer of Megrahi to a prison in his home country on condition that he drops his appeal, suggesting that both the British and American governments would rather the case was not re-opened. Tony Kelly, who represents Megrahi, refused to comment on the pattern of quashed convictions: "My client has taken the firm view that we will not comment on the case while it is with the SCCRC."
Having worked on both the Berry and Assali cases, forensic expert Major Owen Lewis (retired), who served with the Royal Signals for 22 years, is, according to one source, investigating crucial forensic elements of the Lockerbie case on behalf of Megrahi.
Throughout his career, Lewis, who had particular experience of the Middle East, acquired specialist knowledge of electronic warfare, triggers, improvised explosive devices and surveillance.
The source said: "By now he's already got the modus operandi. And he knows how it works. Lewis is a very shrewd man, a very clever man." Kelly, Megrahi's lawyer, steadfastly refuses to comment. (...)
Dr Michael Scott, now a senior lecturer in computing at Dublin City University, gave evidence at the High Court in London where McNamee appealed his sentence. Scott has a degree in electronics from Queen's University, Belfast, and in engineering from Trinity College, Dublin. In 1977 he finished his doctoral dissertation at the University of Dundee. In spite of heading the government's explosives unit, Feraday's only relevant qualification was a Higher National Certificate in Applied Physics and Electronics. Throughout his career, however, he has spent a number of years studying explosives, and also specialised in analysing the capability of the IRA. He has also given testimony in many cases where his evidence was upheld. In June 1989 Feraday was made an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours.
When I contacted Scott in Dublin, he told me: "Taking circuit boards out of the explosives context, which in many cases was appropriate, then any number of electronic engineers would be better qualified than Feraday. Feraday's most damning conclusion was to point at a piece of electronics and say that it was part of a bomb, a purpose for which it was specifically designed and constructed, and that it could not be for any other purpose.
"However, his knowledge of electronics is in fact elementary, and his conclusions often just plain wrong. The electronics indeed could have other uses. His advantage is his explosives experience. However, even in this context there would be others better qualified than him. At the Berry appeal, where Berry had access to British army expertise, Feraday's evidence was, if you will excuse the expression, completely blown away."
Scott also described as "just nonsense" Feraday's assertion that the circuit board found in McNamee's case could only be used for bomb-making. "The simple circuit board found in this particular context could have had many other uses. Indeed, it was just an amplifier board, which is itself just a component. Just because an alarm clock can be used to make a bomb, it doesn't make possession of an alarm clock tantamount to possession of a bomb." (...)
The voice at the other end of the telephone is more upbeat than I expected. "I'm just getting on with my life, " says Hassan Assali, buoyantly. It's just over three months since his conviction on terrorist conspiracy charges was ruled unsafe, following a 20-year battle to clear his name. Having lost his house, his successful business and his first wife (he was divorced while in prison but has since remarried), he now lives in rented accommodation in Surrey. He is reluctant to discuss his case now that he intends suing the Crown for his false conviction, but he believes his freedom has given him his own sense of moral justice. (...)
He served six and a half years. After his release, his legal team commissioned military experts . . . Major Lewis, Lt Colonel John Wyatt (retired; a 23-year veteran of the Royal Engineers, involved in bomb disposal and counter terrorist operations) and Squadron Leader Michael Hoyes (retired; a chartered engineer who spent 22 years with the RAF) . . . whose report cast doubt on Feraday's evidence. As a result his conviction was overturned by the Lord Chief Justice.
According to the Appeal Court judgment:
"There is no doubt that an important part of the Crown's case against the appellant [Assali] depended on the evidence of Mr Feraday . . .
He examined all the devices that had been recovered. His evidence supported the Crown's case with regard to the nature of those devices."
The judgement also cited the Berry case, which had similarities to Assali's. It stated:
"On the appeal in that case, evidence was given by Major Lewis and Colonel Wyatt, together with Dr Bora, who were highly experienced and impressive court experts who concluded that similar devices to those in this case were simply timers. Mr Feraday had also given evidence in the case of Berry. The evidence which was given by the three experts to whom we have just referred rebutted the evidence of Mr Feraday that the absence of safety devices in the timers prevented their use for legitimate purposes.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal concluded in Berry that Mr Feraday's opinions were central to the trial and were open to doubt at the very least. They therefore quashed Mr Berry's conviction. As the evidence of Mr Feraday was equally crucial to the prosecution in this case, the implications for this case were obvious."
Of Allen Feraday, Hassan Assali simply says: "He's a very, very experienced evidencegiver. If his evidence managed to convince a judge, he must have been bloody good."
Part of the prosecution's response to the Assali appeal stated: "Critical to the case against the appellant [Assali] was Allen Feraday's evidence. The Crown is of the view that there is a reasonable argument to suggest that the . . .
material [meaning the report by Assali's defence experts] might well have left his [Feraday's] evidence open to reasonable doubt. In the circumstances, the Crown does not feel it is in a position to advance argument to support the safety of the conviction on this basis, and will not seek to resist the argument of the appellant that this material renders his conviction unsafe."
Assali was officially a free man on July 19, 2005.
Assali believes the successful challenge to the evidence in his own case "will have significance on the Megrahi case". He also believes his own case was delayed in a bid to prevent Feraday's evidence being scrutinised before Megrahi's appeal. "The authorities didn't want to rock the Lockerbie boat. This bollocks about Megrahi . . . absolute shit. I know there is some devastating stuff. The SCCRC will have it at the moment. And they can dig up further because they have extreme powers.When that comes up . . . by God. That's the satisfaction I have at the moment." (...)
Allen Feraday lives in Halling, in Rochester, Kent. He was invited to comment when contacted at his home, but declined.
Danny McNamee lives a life now where people don't really know about his past. (...)
"The system cannot handle someone who says, 'But I didn't do this, boys.'" Curiously, he says he always knew the legal process . . . though not necessarily British justice . . . would free him. "Not in those terms, " he explains. "What it did do was make me understand the value of the legal system being properly implemented. The rules are there to be followed. If there was anger, it was towards the people who should know better . . . the people who don't obey the rules and they know the rules."
Before finishing up, he talks briefly about the Lockerbie case and the impact his own case … and the cases of Berry and Assali ... might have on it. "They know Feraday's judgement is, at the very least, questionable, " he says, his voice weighed down by his past. "But you have to ask not really a question about him, but a question about the prosecuting authorities who then seek to rely upon someone whose evidence has been discredited."
He shrugs. His life has moved on. It's not come tumbling down. But the ripples of his story are still being felt. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is serving his sentence in Greenock Prison near Glasgow, where he continues to protest his innocence. The case is being considered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, whose findings are expected to be announced early in 2006.
According to one source, "the unmasking of the judicial system and all its hubris will be there for all to see".

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Megrahi "punishment part" set at 27 years

[What follows is excerpted from a report in The Guardian on this date in 2003:]

The man convicted of killing 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was today told he must serve at least 27 years in jail.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi appeared before three judges at the high court in Glasgow for the brief hearing, in which he was told what part of his life term would count as the "punishment part" of his sentence - in effect, what period he must serve before he could even be considered for parole. (...)

The hearing before the three judges, who originally sentenced him at a Scottish court convened at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, was held at Court No 3 at the high court in Glasgow's Saltmarket - the securest court in Scotland.

Today's hearing was a consequence of the European convention on human rights being incorporated into Scottish law in 2001, nine months after Megrahi was sentenced.

The legal change meant all existing and future lifers in Scotland must be told the length of the punishment part of their sentences. (...)

Two months ago Megrahi applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission for a review of his sentence and conviction. The commission is still considering his application.

[Here is what I wrote on the subject eight years ago:]

On 24 November 2003, the High Court of Justiciary, sitting in Glasgow, determined that Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted on 31 January 2001 in the Scottish Court in The Netherlands for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, should serve 27 years in prison before becoming eligible for release on licence from his life sentence. The trial judges' original recommendation that he serve at least twenty years of the life sentence before being considered for release, required to be reconsidered following changes in Scots penal law following the incorporation into domestic law of the European Convention on Human Rights. The "punishment part" of 27 years now imposed (by the same three judges as had imposed the original sentence) was backdated to April 1999, when Megrahi was remanded in custody to await trial. Both the Crown and the defence have appealed the 27-year punishment part, but it is unlikely that these appeals will be heard unless and until Megrahi's new appeal is dismissed.

Monday, 23 November 2015

No reasonable basis for its conclusion in trial court's judgment

[The evidence led at the Lockebie trial rendered it virtually certain that the items surrounding the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103 were bought in Malta on 23 November 1988 -- a date when Megrahi was not on the island -- and not on 7 December, when he was. Here is what I have previously written about this:]

From the 90 paragraph written judgement produced by the trial court (available on the Scottish Courts website it is clear that the court convicted Megrahi on the basis of the following nine factors. (...)

6. The purchases were made on 7 December 1988, a date when Megrahi was proved to be on Malta and not on 23 November 1988 when he was not.
Commentary. By reference to the dates on which international football matches were broadcast on television on Malta, Tony Gauci was able to narrow down the date of purchase of the items in question to either 23 November or 7 December. In an attempt to establish just which, the weather conditions in Sliema on these two days were explored. Gauci’s evidence was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining to such an extent that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi. The unchallenged meteorological evidence led by the defence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December; and if there had been any rain, it would have been at most a few drops, insufficient to wet the ground. On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.

[And here is what the SCCRC had to say in its press release announcing that it had referred Megrahi’s conviction back to the High Court:]

A number of the submissions made on behalf of the applicant challenged the reasonableness of the trial court's verdict, based on the legal test contained in section 106(3)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 [that, on the evidence, no reasonable court could have reached the conclusion that the trial court reached]. The Commission rejected the vast majority of those submissions. However, in examining one of the grounds, the Commission formed the view that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary's House, took place on 7 December 1988. Although it was proved that the applicant was in Malta on several occasions in December 1988, in terms of the evidence 7 December was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to purchase the items. The finding as to the date of purchase was therefore important to the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser. Likewise, the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser was important to the verdict against him. Because of these factors the Commission has reached the view that the requirements of the legal test may be satisfied in the applicant's case.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

From the beginning we have all sought justice and truth

[On this date in 2010 The Herald reported that Pat Keegans, parish priest of Lockerbie at the time of the Pan Am 103 disaster, had written to the families of US victims asking for their support in seeking an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie affair. The report no longer appears on the newspaper’s website, but a long excerpt can be read here. Canon Keegans’s letter reads as follows:]

Dear Families,

We met through an horrendous act of murder. We lost family members and friends through this heinous crime. In all that has happened over the years I have never lost sight of the great suffering inflicted upon you and have sought where possible to be a source of solace, healing and comfort. At the same time I have also been a challenge. Before the trial of Mr Megrahi and Mr Fahima I was saying to many of the families and to the media that I did not believe that the real perpetrators had been arrested and put on trial. During the trial and afterwards I was saying that the trial and the verdict would not stand up to scrutiny; it has not stood up to serious scrutiny. What I was voicing before, during and after the trial has now been voiced by many people at an international level. In his statement Cardinal O’Brien said this: “From the moment the verdict was announced, voices have been raised in protest. Over the years the clamour has grown amongst lawyers, politicians, academics and a growing number of ordinary citizens that the verdict amounted to a miscarriage of justice.”

I for my part would affirm that such voices cannot be discounted as the rantings and ravings of conspiracy theory fanatics or deranged and misguided people. Their voices merit a full, independent and public enquiry into all aspects of what we in Scotland call the Lockerbie Bombing.

I am aware that this is not a view commonly held by you; however, I would ask you to give your support, individually and/or as a group to a full, independent public enquiry. It is your strongly held view that the trial and verdict were valid. After all that has happened since the trial I would have to wonder if such a view is tenable. However, your certainty in the validity of the trial and conviction should allow you to accept that such an enquiry would vindicate your belief and you should have nothing to fear from it. At the same time your support for an enquiry would show your concern for the legitimate and sincere views consistently held by me and many others.

From the beginning we have all sought justice and truth. Whatever our views, it is clear that the full truth has not emerged; people who murdered our family members and friends are still at large. There has been a conviction which is not universally accepted but has been questioned by many. A full, public, independent enquiry into all aspects of the bombing would assist us in finding truth and justice for ourselves and all who have died.

Finally, I will continue to offer to you unconditionally, wherever it is accepted, any support, solace and comfort that I can give.

You are never far from my thoughts and prayers.

Yours sincerely,

Pat Keegans

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Visceral resistance to challenges to the Lockerbie narrative

[Lockerbie’s long shadow is the headline over a column by Dr Neil Berry published today on the Arab News website.  It reads as follows:]

The explosion of the Russian airbus over the Sinai desert had sombre echoes of Lockerbie, the destruction in 1988 above the Scottish town of that name of Pan Am Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb.

Lockerbie can be seen as a portent of the present dark moment. The fresh Paris atrocities are the latest chapter of a conflict in which non-Muslims increasingly perceive the Islamic world as a reservoir of motiveless malignity.

The issue of Lockerbie has been revived by a film recently broadcast by the PBS television network in the US and in the UK by BBC4. Hugely emotive, My Brother’s Bomber is the work of the American journalist, Ken Dornstein, who lost his older brother at Lockerbie and who has spent years investigating the attack. Dornstein takes for granted that the Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbasset Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of murdering 243 (mostly American) people at Lockerbie, was guilty as charged. But his film points an accusing finger at two possible accomplices, Abdullah Senussi, the late Libyan leader Col Qaddafi’s security chief, and Abu Agila Masud, the alleged bomb-maker. It conveys that the latter was also behind the 1986 attack on the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, popular with US servicemen, which led to the US bombing of Libya, for which Lockerbie was presumed vengeance. Currently imprisoned in Libya, the two men are now being treated as Lockerbie suspects by Scotland’s prosecuting authority.

The striking thing about Dornstein’s film is the one-eyed fixity of its gaze. Those unfamiliar with the tangled Lockerbie story could hardly grasp from it the disquiet about Megrahi’s conviction felt by British people of conscience, among them Dr Jim Swire, who, notwithstanding the loss of his daughter at Lockerbie became Megrahi’s friend, and the authors, John Ashton and Morag Kerr. They believe that the three Scottish judges who convicted Megrahi at a special court in the Netherlands perpetrated a gross miscarriage of justice. They question the credibility of Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who testified that Megrahi bought clothes from him that were wrapped round the Lockerbie bomb; they insist that the claim that the bomb originated in Malta has to be set against strong indications that it was planted in London; and they point out that the timer attached to the bomb, a key piece of evidence in the prosecution of Megrahi, proved not to belong to a batch of timers sold to Libya by a Swiss firm.

Swire and his fellow skeptics believe that Megrahi’s conviction would not have survived the appeal he was preparing when, in 2009, diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was released by Scotland’s devolved government to return to Libya to die. Public outrage at his release was matched by that of the political establishments of London and Washington. Yet one may wonder if this official fury was not in some measure theatrical. An appeal might well have unveiled politically embarrassing matters: the lavish efforts made by the US to look after Tony Gauci; the CIA’s black propaganda war against Libya; the grounds for suspecting that the Lockerbie attack was orchestrated by Iran.

Swire figures fleetingly in My Brother’s Bomber. The film shows him going to pay his last respects to the Megrahi in Tripoli, with Dornstein in attendance. Kitted out with concealed recording equipment, Dornstein hoped to accompany Swire into the dying man’s home but was politely refused entry and ended up writhing with frustration outside.

My Brother’s Bomber plays to the familiar stark binary narrative of terrorized West versus demonic Arab world. It may be felt that Dornstein shares with the US media and public opinion a visceral resistance to challenges to this narrative. In truth, there has never been much chance of the mainstream western media lending credence to alternative versions of the Lockerbie story. Now, in the poisonous, furiously polarized aftermath of the Paris massacre, the freedom of people like Jim Swire to question the official story could become more circumscribed than ever.

Lockerbie prosecution leaves a 'gaping hole'

[This is the headline over a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2000. It reads as follows:]

After 73 days of evidence and more than 230 witnesses, the Lockerbie trial was adjourned yesterday amid warnings of a yawning chasm in the crown's case which augured little chance of conviction of any of the accused.

Since the indictment faced by Abdelbaset Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was read in the high security courthouse at Camp Zeist on May 6, the prosecution's case has travelled across continents and through territory more commonly associated with airport potboilers.

But although prosecution lawyers have done their best to construct an intricate trail between the Libyans accused and the biggest act of mass murder in British history, they have continually been let down.

Key witnesses have crumbled under cross examination; others have refused to make the links the prosecution so desperately needed them to do; some have offered testimony so bizarre that even the prosecution admits it is worthless. And there is the problem of the "gaping hole".

The Libyans face three charges: murder, conspiracy to murder and a breach of the Aviation Security Act. For these charges to succeed, according to Robert Black QC, the Edinburgh law professor who proposed the trial at a neutral venue, the prosecution must prove the bomb which blew up Pan Am flight 103 began its journey in Malta. Prosecution lawyers had barely sat down after completing their case before Professor Black was warning they had not succeeded in the fundamentals of their task.

"Unless I have missed something, and I do not think I have, there is a gaping hole at the centre of the crown's case," he said. "It is an absolutely crucial element in all the three charges that the suitcase containing the bomb started in Malta. The crown has to prove that the bomb was planted at Malta - and it has not. It has merely proved there is a theoretical possibility that it was."

The omission is hardly lost on defence lawyers. Lord Sutherland yesterday granted a request from Richard Keen QC, counsel for Fhimah, for a one week adjournment. On Tuesday Mr Keen will begin his "no case to answer" submission. If he is successful, half of the trial will come crashing down.

The chances of Mr Keen's success depend on the weight of evidence stacked against his client. The credibility of key prosecution witnesses may have been destroyed in cross examination, but such things are beyond the judge's consideration.

Although the route which brought them to Camp Zeist is complex, the charges faced by the Libyans rely on a few simple premises. Megrahi and Fhimah are alleged to have been members of the JSO, the Libyan intelligence service, who worked under cover in the offices of Libyan Arab Airlines at Malta's Luqa airport. On December 21 1988, the prosecution claims, the pair planted a bomb which was contained within a radio cassette recorder in a Samsonite suitcase and loaded it on an Air Malta plane at Frankfurt airport.

The crown says that suitcase was transferred on to Pan Am flight 103. A few hours later the jumbo blew up over Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew on board and 11 people on the ground. It is a neat scenario, but it is far from certain the judges will agree that the crown has proved it is accurate.

The trial of Megrahi, the co-accused, is destined to continue until his defence has been fully heard. William Taylor QC, counsel for Megrahi, yesterday asked for an adjournment to allow Syria to respond to a court request for the release of a se cret document which claims to offer an alternative explanation of the bombing.

Both Megrahi and Fhimah have lodged a special defence of incrimination, blaming Palestinian terrorist groups, including the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. If Fhimah's no case to answer plea is successful, his side of the story will never be heard. But, over the next weeks, it is expected that Mr Taylor will advance the scenario first accepted by those investigating the bombing.

In the first years of the investigation there was just one working theory. It was believed that the bomb was a revenge attack mounted by the PFLP-GC for the shooting down of an Iranian airbus in the Gulf by the USS Vincennes in July 1988. This theory was ditched around the time of the Gulf war, when America took on Iraq with the acquiescence of Syria and Iran.

For special defence to succeed, Mr Taylor, and perhaps Mr Keen, need not prove this scenario accurate. They need only place reasonable doubt over the veracity of the scenario advanced by the crown. Much of the crown's case relies on technical evidence which has gone unreported and unobserved as the trial grinds on in Holland. Yet there have been a few key witnesses - and they have not lived up to expectation.

The first of these was Anthony Gauci. This Maltese shop owner was crucial to linking Megrahi to the bomb. When investigators picked through the wreckage of flight 103 they found clothing stained with residue from a Semtex explosion; it was labelled "Malta Trading Company". The clothing was sold at Mr Gauci's shop. But, although Mr Gauci said Megrahi resembled a man whom he remembered buying similar clothing before the bombing, he stopped short of full identification.

Next came Edwin Bollier, a Swiss businessman whose Zurich-based company, Mebo, is alleged to have made the timer used in the bomb. For years before the trial, Mr Bollier waged an internet campaign denying the timer was supplied by his firm. Under questioning from the prosecution, however, he conceded that it could only have come from Mebo.

When Mr Bollier said he supplied such timers solely to Libya, the prosecution's case appeared to receive a boost. But that may have later been dented by the admission that he also supplied timers to the Stasi, the East German security force, who in turn backed Palestinian terrorist organisations.

As far as star witnesses are concerned, that left only Abdul Majid Giaka - a Libyan who worked alongside the accused at Luqa airport. Giaka was a double agent: working for the CIA at the same time as the JSO. He defected to the US on the witness protection programme and, as he emerged after 10 years, he told the court Fhimah had shown him explosives in his drawer; he claimed he had once handed Megrahi a report on how to place a bomb on a plane leaving Luqa airport. Finally, in his most crucial piece of evidence, he said he had watched Megrahi and Fhimah take a Samsonite suitcase, flown in from Libya, unaccompanied through customs.

But under cross-examination his credibility was tarnished. "While in America, have you been able to dip into gems of American literature, such as their short-story writers like James Thurber?" asked Mr Keen. "Have you encountered someone called Mitty, first name Walter?"

Main players in bomb trial
Abdelbaset Al Megrahi
One of the accused. He is alleged to have worked undercover for the JSO, the Libyan intelligence agency, as head of security at Libyan Arab Airlines at Malta's Luqa airport. The prosecution says he used this position to plant the bomb on an Air Malta plane which fed on to flight 103 at Frankfurt. He has lodged a special defence of incrimination.

Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah
The co-accused. Like Megrahi, Fhimah is alleged to have been working undercover for the JSO when he worked as station manager at Libyan Arab Airlines.

Anthony Gauci
A Maltese shop owner whom the prosecution claims sold the clothing found in the case which housed the bomb.

Edwin Bollier
A Swiss businessman whose company, Mebo, made the timer which the prosecution say was used in the Lockerbie bomb.

Abdul Majid Giaka
The Libyan supergrass. He was a double agent - working for the JSO and the CIA - when he worked with the accused at Luqa airport. Claims to have been shown explosives in Fhimah's desk. Defence portrayed him as a fantasist who made up his testimony to secure a new life in the US.