Sunday, 1 May 2016

Libya in £68m Lockerbie payout

[This is the headline over a report published in The Sunday Times on this date in 2005. It reads as follows:]

The payment, following Libya’s admission of responsibility for the tragedy which claimed 270 lives, was made into a Scottish bank account last week.
Minmar, which insured the fuselage of the aircraft, will receive £45m plus interest, while the remainder will go to the trustees of Pan Am, which went into bankruptcy in 1991, three years after the tragedy.
Until recently, lawyers for the Libyan government had contested the insurance claim in the Scottish courts despite a public admission of guilt by Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, the country’s leader. [RB: No such public admission of guilt was ever made by Gaddafi.]
Charles Wardle, the former Tory Home Office and trade and industry minister who was involved in compensation discussions, described the payment — which settles the insurance claim — as a positive step forward.
“On Wednesday $130m was paid into the Scottish bank account. It is a significant piece of unfinished business,” he added. “This is the last action to be settled in respect of the Lockerbie bombing in a Scottish court, so it is momentous in that respect.
“Nothing will ever remove the horror of the atrocity in the eyes of the Scottish people but at least the shadow it has cast over the Scottish courts for all these years has been lifted.”
The payment follows a visit to Tripoli by Tony Blair in March last year, during which he is believed to have persuaded Gadaffi to settle the claim.
British and American diplomats had a successful follow-up meeting in Libya in January. Anthony Layden, the British ambassador to Tripoli, and lawyers representing Pan Am’s interests also took part.
However, it is still uncertain how Libya’s latest move will affect the final compensation package for relatives of the victims of the disaster.
[RB: The background of this compensation claim is explored here.]

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Libya ratifies agreement with UK that could send Megrahi home

[This is the headline over a report by Lucy Adams that was published in The Herald on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

Libya has signed and ratified the prisoner transfer agreement with the UK that could see the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing returning to Tripoli.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan serving 27 years in HMP Greenock for the bombing that killed 270 people in December 1988, can now make an application to return home.
In order to apply for a transfer he would have to drop his appeal against conviction, which entered its second day yesterday.
In a tacit acknowledgement that Megrahi is likely to be allowed to return home, the Crown Office wrote to all relatives of the victims two weeks ago explaining the transfer process.
Earlier this year, The Herald revealed that Libyan officials had been encouraged by senior civil servants from both sides of the border, including Robert Gordon, the head of the Justice Department in Scotland, to apply for Megrahi to be transferred as soon as the agreement was ratified.
Megrahi, whose case was referred back for a fresh appeal in June 2007 because it "may be a miscarriage of justice", is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and relatives and campaigners are concerned that he will not survive the appeal, which is expected to last at least 12 months - partly because the court will be sitting for only four days a week on alternate months.
His request for interim bail was last year turned down by three appeal court judges.
The e-mail from the Crown coincided with the publication of a critical report on the transfer agreement by the Joint Committee on Human Rights at Westminster.
Mr Straw wrote to the committee in March to say he would delay ratification only until the Easter recess because "a delay beyond early April is likely to lead to serious questions on the part of Libya in regards to our willingness to conclude this and three other judicial co-operation agreements".
The decision on Megrahi's transfer would ultimately rest with the Scottish Government and there have been indications in recent months that governments on both sides of the border are preparing for the transfer.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The prisoner transfer agreement between the UK and Libya was laid before Parliament on January 27. The Instruments of Ratification have been exchanged and the agreement is now in force.
"In the case of prisoners in Scottish jails, including Megrahi, and respecting the devolution settlement, any decision to transfer under this agreement would be for Scottish ministers and Scottish ministers alone."
The transfer deal was one of four co-operation agreements signed by the director of legal affairs at the Libyan Foreign Ministry and the British ambassador to Tripoli.
"These agreements open the way for ... judicial authorities in both countries to co-operate in the field of exchange of wanted suspects, transfer of prisoners, and carrying out judicial decisions," said the official.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Libya admits Lockerbie liability

[This is the headline over a report published on the Sky News website on this date in 2003. It reads as follows:]

Libya will pay £6.29m to each of the 270 victims of the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing after accepting civil responsibility for the blast. Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham confirmed the £1.69bn compensation deal.
He said. "My country has accepted civil responsibility for the actions of its officials in the Lockerbie affair, in conformity with international civil law and the agreement reached in London in March by Libyan, American and British officials."
Mr [Shalgham] said full payment was conditional on UN sanctions against Libya being lifted after payment of an initial installment of £2.5m to each victim.
Sanctions imposed by the US would be lifted after a similar payment.
And after a final installment of around £1.25m, Libya would ask to be removed from the US list of countries supporting terrorism.
The £1.69bn total sum Libya will pay is the same as US officials said Libya had offered on March 12 as compensation in talks with the US and Britain.
They also said Tripoli was prepared to assume limited responsibility for the downing of Pan Am flight 103, something it has previously refused to do.
The Boeing 747 blew up and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988, after taking off from London, killing all 259 people on board and another 11 on the ground.
In January 2001, a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands convicted Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, one of two Libyan agents charged with the bombing, and sentenced him to life in prison.
His appeal was rejected in March last year.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Hard to shake off suspicions of bias

From "In the Back" in the current edition of Private Eye:

Second Megrahi appeal commences

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

The legal team for the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has told judges that the evidence against him was "wholly circumstantial".

Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, who has prostate cancer, was not in court as his second appeal got under way.

However his QC, Maggie Scott, said he could follow proceedings via live video link to Greenock Prison.

She told the Court of Appeal that it remained Megrahi's view that he had suffered a "miscarriage of justice".

The second appeal is being heard by five judges in Edinburgh, headed by Scotland's senior judge, the Lord Justice General, Lord Hamilton.

Miss Scott said that because of his cancer Megrahi would need to take breaks due to the pain and was set to see doctors later this week for a new course of treatment.

She told the court: "The appellant's position is that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

"The trial court, on the basis of wholly circumstantial evidence, concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was involved in the commission of this crime.

"Our submission is it was wrong to do so".

She argued that the guilty verdict against Megrahi depended upon four "critical inferences" drawn at his trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Miss Scott said these included that Megrahi was the buyer of clothing remnants of which were found in the suitcase containing the bomb and that the purchase was made on 7 December, 1988.

She said it was also inferred that the purchaser knew the purpose for which the clothing was bought and that the suitcase containing the improvised explosive device was "ingested" at Luqa airport in Malta.

The defence counsel argued that they were not sufficiently supported by accepted evidence and relied on defective reasoning.

She said: "In this wholly circumstantial case the critical inferences are not the only reasonable inferences that could have been drawn from the accepted evidence."

She said they were insufficient in law to support the guilty verdict returned against Megrahi.

The first part of his hearing is expected to last four weeks with further stages in the process taking it into next year.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Police coached Lockerbie witness to identify Libyan as bomber

[This is part of the headline over a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

The key witness in the Lockerbie bombing trial was coached and steered by Scottish detectives into wrongly identifying a Libyan sanctions buster as the bomber, his appeal lawyers claim.

Lawyers acting for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi will tell an appeal court that Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police before giving the evidence that finally led to Megrahi's conviction for the bombing in 1991.

Their allegations are central to Megrahi's appeal, which begins in Edinburgh tomorrow, against his conviction for the murder of 270 passengers, crew and townspeople when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988.

The first stage of the Libyan's lengthy appeal, which may take until next year to complete, will focus on his claims that the original trial judges were wrong in law to convict him and wrong to discard crucial evidence which undermined their guilty verdict.

Gauci identified Megrahi as the purchaser of clothes at his shop on Malta which were later allegedly packed in the suitcase carrying the Lockerbie bomb. But the Libyan's lawyers will claim there is now substantial evidence undermining the credibility of Gauci's testimony.

Megrahi's lawyers now believe Gauci received a "substantial" reward from the US government after his conviction thought to be as much as $2m - a payment not disclosed at the trial. The case against Megrahi hinges on Gauci's claim that the clothes allegedly packed into the suitcase bomb were bought on 7 December - the only day when Megrahi was in the area.  Megrahi’s lawyers lawyers say they can now prove they were bought up to two weeks before then, when the Libyan was not in the country.

Megrahi's lawyers will claim that in nearly two dozen formal police interviews, Gauci gave contradictory dates of purchase, changed his account of the sale, and on one occasion appeared to identify the Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Talb as the purchaser. Gauci's evidence is made unreliable by "undisputed factors", the appeal court will hear. They include an "extraordinary" delay in Gauci recalling the events of December 1988 and naming Megrahi; the "extraordinary amount of post-event suggestion to which the witness was subjected"; and his exposure to photos of Megrahi.

The appeal, which Megrahi is expected to watch live on a video link from Greenock prison near Glasgow, is being contested by the Scottish prosecution service, and the British government.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

New witness casts doubt on Lockerbie bomb conviction

[This is the headline over a report published in The Independent on Sunday on this date in 2009. It reads as follows:]

A new witness is expected this week to undermine thoroughly the case against the only person to be convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. New testimony will call into question evidence linking the Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, his lawyers claim.
Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, is serving 27 years in Greenock prison for the bombing.
Appeal hearings are due to begin on Tuesday, and Megrahi's lawyers insisted this weekend they will go ahead as planned, despite speculation that he may be returned to Libya under the terms of a controversial prisoner transfer agreement, due to be ratified tomorrow.
"We are turning up next week," said Tony Kelly, his solicitor. "We are seeking that the court upholds his appeal, admit that there has been a miscarriage of justice, and grant him his liberty. Whatever remedies come after that is for after the appeal."
Appeal documents seen by The Independent on Sunday reveal that testimony from a new witness is expected to undermine the evidence of a key prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper. His testimony was vital in connecting Megrahi to the bombing at the trial in 2001.
Mr Gauci identified Megrahi as the person who bought the tweed suit, baby sleepsuit and umbrella found among the remnants of the suitcase that contained the bomb on board.
The new witness, not named in the documents, will provide an account the defence claims is "startling in its consistency with Mr Gauci's account of the purchase, but adds considerable doubt to the date the key items were purchased and identification of Megrahi as the purchaser".
All of this may be academic, as 56-year-old Megrahi, who was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in October 2008, has been reported as having less than a year to live and the appeal could take two years.
Increasingly, however, it seems likely that the Lockerbie suspect will spend his last days in Libya. This month, officials wrote to the families of victims of the bombing explaining the prisoner transfer programme, interpreted as a tacit agreement that Megrahi may be returned to Libya. Under the terms of the deal, if Megrahi participates in the transfer scheme, he will forfeit his right to appeal.
"If he goes back to Libya, it will be a bitter pill to swallow, as an appeal would reveal the fallacies in the prosecution case," said Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103. Dr Swire is a member of UK Families Flight 103, which wants a public inquiry into the crash. "I've lost faith in the Scottish criminal justice system, but if the appeal is heard, there is not a snowball's chance in hell that the prosecution case will survive."
[RB: The “new witness” was David Wright. His story can be followed here.]

Monday, 25 April 2016

Sacked Lockerbie trial briefer in news again

[An article headlined Former Top UK Spy Now Works for Team Putin—and a Mobbed-Up Russian Lawyer is published today in The Daily Beast. The reference is to Andrew Fulton, whose link to the Lockerbie case is described in the article as follows:]

Andrew Fulton is a British ex-diplomat as well as the former chairman of the Scottish Conservatives. His role as an operative for the British Secret Intelligence Service has been reported in the UK press for years. It was confirmed in 2000 when he lost his job as coordinator of Glasgow University’s Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit, which covered the prosecution of Libyan terror suspects accused in the infamous 1988 bombing on Pan Am 103. Fulton was dismissed “following investigations into his MI6 career,” according to the Scottish weekly newspaper, the Sunday Herald. But by then Fulton had long since retired from government service.
In his MI6 days, Fulton reportedly had been posted in East Berlin, Saigon and New York. He had served as “head of station” in Washington, DC, and at the peak of his career he was the sixth most powerful official in the organization, according to The Herald.

Closing the Lockerbie case, not solving it

[This is the headline over an article by Simon Tisdall that was published in The Guardian on this date in 2000. It reads as follows:]

The long search for justice by the families of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie disaster is approaching a crucial point with the opening next week in the Netherlands of the trial of two Libyan suspects accused of sabotaging Pan Am flight 103. The plane crashed near the Scottish town of Lockerbie after exploding in mid-air, killing 270 people.

But the trial of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifah Fhimah may raise more questions than it answers. The two men, alleged to be agents of Libyan intelligence, are expected to deny all the charges levelled against them. And terrorism experts say it is almost inconceivable that, even if they were involved, they could have acted alone or without the knowledge of the government of Colonel Muammar Gadafy.

As a condition for finally handing over the two suspects, after a protracted legal wrangle, Libya stipulated that the special court to be convened in Zeist would not seek to put the Libyan state on trial but concentrate solely on the case against the two men.

Libya's longstanding involvement in international terrorism will, however, provide the context for the trial. The US state department lists Libya as a state sponsor of terrorism and has maintained bilateral sanctions against the country. Its status as one of a group of so-called "rogue states" is used by the US, for example, to justify its need for a new "Star Wars" defensive missile shield.

Col Gadafy is a long-standing bogyman of the west. The US air attacks on Tripoli in 1986, ordered by President Ronald Reagan, followed a Libyan-inspired attack on a Berlin discotheque used by American servicemen. At various times, Col Gadafy has expressed support for groups engaged in armed struggles, from Lebanon to Northern Ireland.

Libyan "diplomats" were responsible for the murder in London of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Last May, a shipment of Scud missile parts bound for Libya were discovered at Gatwick airport - a breach of the international arms embargo against Libya. And earlier this year, it was alleged that the British intelligence service, MI6, had at one time plotted to assassinate Col Gadafy.

Despite Libya's bloody track record, the Lockerbie attack was widely reported at the time to have been commissioned and paid for by Iran, which was said to be determined to avenge the earlier, accidental shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane over the Gulf by the American navy ship, the USS Vincennes. The Iranians allegedly employed a Syrian-based terrorist group as middlemen. Under this theory, the Libyans were merely the "bag men" and the two suspects are fall-guys for a much wider plot.

Col Gadafy has been trying to clean up his image recently. His agreement to pay compensation for the death of WPC Fletcher, and his handing over of the Lockerbie suspects last April, brought a resumption of diplomatic ties with Britain, which has now sent an ambassador back to Tripoli. This week, Sir John Kerr, the top Foreign Office civil servant, will pursue this improvement in relations with a personal visit to Libya. Even the US has reopened informal diplomatic contacts.

Col Gadafy has also returned to the Organisation of African Unity fold, after many years of self-imposed isolation. And he attended the recent EU-Africa summit meeting in Cairo. Although on his best behaviour, he could not resist a characteristic tirade against the former colonial powers' African legacy.

The EU has lifted most remaining sanctions on Libya, although a proposal by Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, to invite Col Gadafy to Brussels was withdrawn recently amid much embarrassment.

Behind this thaw lies economic self-interest - Libya has important oil reserves and untapped commercial potential - and a desire to encourage Col Gadafy to adopt less threatening policies; put simply, to bring Libya in from the cold.

Thus while the Zeist trial may finally help bring the long-suffering families of the Lockerbie victims some sense of vindication, it may be unable to uncover the whole story of what really happened to flight 103. And suspicions will persist that governments as far apart as Tehran and Washington share a common interest in bringing the affair to a conclusion, however unsatisfactory - and in drawing a veil over the many murky and bloody episodes which comprised the West's undeclared 20-year war with Col Gadafy.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The hidden scandal of Lockerbie

[What follows is the text of a review by Steve James of John Ashton and Ian Ferguson’s Cover-up of Convenience—the Hidden Scandal of Lockerbie that was published on the website on this date in 2002:]

John Ashton’s and Ian Ferguson’s work on the circumstances surrounding the destruction on December 21, 1988, of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland is worthy of careful study. It raises serious doubts, not only regarding the recent conviction of the Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, now incarcerated in Barlinnie jail, Glasgow, but over the entire official presentation of events before and after the crash, from 1988 to the present day. They give indicators as to how the full facts regarding the atrocity which killed 270, perhaps 271, people might be uncovered and conclude with a series of searching questions which any genuinely independent inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster should direct toward various governments, intelligence services, and individuals.
Ashton and Ferguson have followed Lockerbie for years. Ashton worked as the deputy to the late British film maker Allan Francovich, whose film The Maltese Double-Cross, examined various alternative scenarios that have been advanced as an explanation for the Lockerbie disaster, favouring that the bombing was a consequence of a CIA controlled drug running operation utilised to spy on Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian armed political groupings and factions.
Ferguson is a journalist, who has written many articles on Lockerbie, and along with Scottish lawyer Robert Black, architect of the Camp Zeist trial, maintains the website.
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the special Criminal Court verdict at Camp Zeist convicting al-Megrahi, Ashton and Ferguson have drawn together the fruits of long research and interviews with a large number of people involved in the disaster, including a number of current and former spies.
The authors do not proclaim that al-Megrahi is innocent. Rather, they review a large body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that responsibility for Lockerbie may lie primarily with the intelligence services of several Western governments, particularly the United States. They are highly critical of the role played by the media in parroting the twists and turns of the official line and note that no major British or US newspaper, radio, or TV channel has had the journalistic independence to undertake a sustained investigation of this most murky aspect of the disaster.
Ashton and Ferguson note that there were many general indications of a possible attack on an American flight in late 1988. After the 1988 American attack by the USS Vincennes on an Iranian Airbus, in which 255 pilgrims were murdered, Iranian broadcasts warned that the skies would “rain blood” in consequence. A Syrian backed Palestinian group with a history of attacks on passenger aircraft was known to be operating in Germany. Many staff at the US Embassy in Moscow altered flight plans to avoid Pan Am over the Christmas period.
More specifically, the authors suggest there may have been prior warnings of an attack on flight PA103. They imply that both the US ambassador to Lebanon, John McCarthy, and the South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha had their travel plans altered at the last minute in order to avoid PA103.
Others, including Charles McKee, a US Army Special Forces Major, and Matthew Gannon, the CIA’s Beirut deputy station chief, uniquely amongst US officials, allegedly changed their plans at the last minute to fly on PA103. McKee had been leading a hostage rescue team in Beirut. One suggestion, and it is no more than that, is that these individuals were the target of a successful assassination attempt in which intelligence agencies themselves played a role.
According to the authors, from as little as two hours after the crash, US intelligence officers were at the southern Scottish site. Over the next days many more arrived. They were not looking for survivors or explanations as to the cause of the crash. They did not cooperate with local rescue services. Instead, they were searching for particular pieces of debris, luggage and particular corpses. Ashton and Ferguson cite finds of large quantities of cash, cannabis and heroin on the flight, as well as intelligence papers owned by McKee, whose luggage was removed and replaced. A report noting the location of hostages held in Beirut was apparently found on the ground. There were reports of helicopter-borne armed groups guarding and then removing a large box, and an unidentified body.
A police surgeon from Bradford, David Fieldhouse, insists that one body was moved, after it had been tagged and its location noted, while another disappeared entirely. Fieldhouse was subsequently victimised. Other concerns were raised by local police officers, some of which phoned Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who then began to take an active interest in the case.
Ashton and Ferguson detail the main alternative theory—that the bombing was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PLFP-GC). This was also largely the official position until 1991. Ahmed Jibril formed the PFLP-GC in 1968, when he broke away from the PFLP. The authors assert, on the basis of discussions with a number of spies, that the PFLP-GC were recruited by the Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian governments to attack a US plane. When considering the motivation for such a terror operation, whether on the part of the PFLP-GC or any of their possible sponsors, the book is at its weakest. It gives very little insight into the politics of these governments or of the PFLP-GC, other than to make such observations as support for the PFLP-GC allowing the regime of Hafez Al Assad in Syria to appear to be supporting the Palestinian struggle against Israel.
The authors instead draw attention to the bombing by the PFLP-GC 18 years earlier, in 1970, of two aircraft destined for Israel—one survived with a two foot hole in the fuselage, the other, Swissair 330 to Zurich crashed killing 147 people—and another bombing 16 years earlier, in 1972. The PFLP-GC in 1988 certainly appears to have had a European operation based in Nuess in the Ruhr, Germany, intent on attacking US and Israeli targets. The group eventually blew up some railway lines used by US troop trains, planned an attack on an Israeli sports team, and became the target of a huge surveillance operation by German state security, the BKA. Their operation was hopelessly compromised. Raids by the BKA eventually discovered timers, guns, along with various electrical goods altered to contain explosives. Two PFLP-GC members were eventually jailed in 1991 for the train attacks.
Astonishingly, however, bomb-maker Marwan Khreesat was released on a legal technicality and left Germany. According to Ashton and Ferguson, Khreesat, who built the bombs used in the attacks during the 1970s, had by this time become a Jordanian spy in the PFLP-GC. Jordanian intelligence apparently has a close relationship with the Israeli Mossad and the CIA. Khreesat is still living in Amman, the Jordanian capital, under protection.
Ashton and Ferguson note an interview with Khreesat by the FBI, which was cited at the Camp Zeist trial but never reported in the world’s press, in which Khreesat alleges that one of his bombs went missing after the BKA raid. On this basis, the authors speculate as to whether the CIA had, with the cooperation of other intelligence agencies, played a more active role in allowing the destruction of the plane. They restate the suggestion that this might have been to prevent exposure of the CIA’s drug running operations from the Bekaa Valley, or for other reasons associated with US policy in the Middle East, particularly the aftermath of the Iran-Contra machinations. They suggest that a CIA approved suitcase, loaded with heroin from the Bekaa Valley, might have been swapped for one loaded instead with a bomb intended to kill McKee.
McKee and others had reportedly developed serious reservations about the drug-running operation; it having recently endangered their own lives through an aborted hostage rescue operation. The authors note that PA103 was brought down shortly after the election of ex-CIA chief George Bush, father of the current US president, when exposure of CIA drug running would have been highly embarrassing.
Those who have made allegations of possible CIA involvement include an ex-Mossad spy, Juval Aviv, hired by Pan Am to investigate the destruction of its aircraft, an erratic ex-US spy Lester Coleman, who at one point sought political asylum in Sweden, William Chasey, a Washington DC lobbyist, and Time journalist Roy Rowan.
Ashton and Ferguson trace the development of the official position of blaming Libya for the bombing. Bush called Margaret Thatcher in early 1989 asking for the inquiry to be “toned down”, at a time when Syria and the PFLP-GC were favoured suspects. Just over two years later, on November 14, 1991, simultaneous indictments were brought by the Scottish Crown Office and the US State Department against Libyan airline staff al-Megrahi and Lamen Fhimah. Days later, Bush announced that Syria, which had acquiesced in the 1991 US attack on Iraq, had taken a “bum rap”. The State Department put out a fact sheet to justify the change of position, claiming that previous pointers to the PFLP-GC and Syria had been cunning ruses by the Libyan government. UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that no other countries besides Libya were targets for investigation. Four days later, the last Western hostages, including the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy, Terry Waite, were released from Beirut.
The authors thereafter recount the official line that the bomb, equipped with an MST-13 timer from MeBo of Zurich, was loaded in a Samsonite suitcase packed with clothes, which was inserted by Libyan agents onto flight KM180 from Luqa airport in Malta, transferred at Frankfurt to a feeder flight for PA103, and then shuttled to Heathrow, where it was loaded on the fated Boeing 747. This was the case presented in the Camp Zeist trial.
Ashton and Ferguson carefully summarise the numerous problematic aspects of all the prosecution evidence at the trial; the dubious visual identification of al-Megrahi by Maltese shop owner Tony Gauci; the contradictory and bizarre ramblings of CIA spy Abdul Majid Giacka, the so-called “star witness” at Luqa airport whose evidence collapsed in court; the contested luggage records at Frankfurt airport; and the claim by MeBo owner Edwin Bollier that he had been approached by the CIA and encouraged to frame Libya, and that the CIA had had an MST-13 type timer in their possession before 1988.
At Camp Zeist, the trial was in danger of disintegrating. By November 2000 few observers, including the book’s authors, expected anything other than an acquittal, or a not proven verdict which is available under Scottish law. But the verdict delivered on January 2001, which admitted that the prosecution case was full of holes and based on circumstantial inferences, nevertheless found al-Megrahi guilty, while his only alleged accomplice Fhimah, was acquitted.
Ashton and Ferguson by no means completely exonerate Libya or al-Megrahi. They note that his refusal to account for his activities on 20 December 1988 and his visit to Malta using a false passport cannot be dismissed. Trial evidence suggests that al-Megrahi indeed worked for Libyan intelligence and he has, so far, offered no explanation as to why he chose not to take the stand to defend himself. Many aspects of the whole business remain to be uncovered.
What the authors do is to cite 25 questions to which any genuinely independent inquiry must seek answers. These include:
* the circumstances of the warnings given prior to the disaster.
* the circumstances of the booking changes for Pik Botha’s entourage, and McKee and Gannon.
* the drug and cash finds at Lockerbie.
* the possibility of an extra body, the circumstances under which bodies were moved, and the circumstances of wrong police evidence given against David Fieldhouse at the 1989 Fatal Accident Inquiry.
* why Transport Secretary Paul Channon was able to announce that arrests were imminent and why Margaret Thatcher blocked a full judicial enquiry?
* the relationship of the British MI6 to the Iran Contra deals and why was the Foreign office official in charge of liaising with the US on Iran-Contra, Andrew Green, was put in charge of the Lockerbie investigation.
* the role of the CIA and MI6 in hostage deals made after the exposure of Iran Contra in 1986 and 1991.
* why Juval Aviv and others were never interviewed by the investigation authorities about the bombing. What were the circumstances of legal cases brought against Aviv and others?
* why did it take a year for the MeBo circuit board to be discovered, what were the circumstances of its discovery, and what were the connections between MeBo’s Edwin Bollier and the CIA?
* why did the CIA and the Scottish Lord Advocate seek to block access to CIA cables that were helpful to the defence?
Under conditions where the US government is refusing to investigate its own intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 terror attacks, any exposure of a possible CIA role in aircraft terrorism clearly assumes great significance. Earlier this year, al-Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction was thrown out, despite defence evidence that made a strong circumstantial case for the bomb having been loaded at Heathrow airport in London.
Following Tam Dalyell’s question in parliament, on March 26, there is a suggestion that police evidence relating to Lockerbie is being destroyed, and that yet another suitcase owned by another Special Forces member, Joseph Patrick Murphy, was at one point early in the investigation thought to contain the bomb.
Without making wild or unsustainable accusations, and despite serious political limitations, Ashton and Ferguson have provided an essential reference for anyone seeking to understand why a Boeing 747 should explode in mid-air killing hundreds of ordinary air travellers, and yet, more than 13 years later, there is still no generally accepted explanation of why it happened and who was responsible.