February 13 2010
For the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, the single worst loss of American civilians in a terrorist act prior to 9/11, the blame was of course brought to bear on two Libyans and their nation by extension. This assignation has no shortage of support; the entire U.S. government, even the usual dissenters, Scottish police, British scientists, the UN Security Council, and finally three Scottish judges all acted as if they believed the evidence-led case that these two without doubt organized the bombing. It’s an impressive enough roster, backed by official evidence, and, hey, didn’t the Libyans themselves admit it?
Yet serious questions have been openly verbalized and acted on across the divide, and quite widely outside fortress America. A number of the victim’s families, learned academics, involved officials, legal experts, and others (like myself, an unusual American dissenter of no particular standing) have put their reputations on the all-too-real possibility of a miscarriage of justice; the verdict does not reflect reality and would be unsafe if ever assailed - on the level - with all the facts.
The lone convicted "Lockerbie bomber” Abdelbaset al Megrahi was only into his ninth year of a life sentence in a Scottish prison when he was sent home in August 2009, in line with the established laws of Scotland, to die of his prostate cancer with his family. Anger on his early “compassionate” release was widespread within the United States, where doubt over his true guilt is proportionally narrowspread. Susan Cohen, who lost her 20-year-old daughter, among other strong words called Megrahi’s release "a triumph for terrorism." Kara Weipz, who lost a brother to the bomb said of the release "I think it's disgusting … why they're showing compassion to this — I hesitate to use the words 'human being' — is beyond me. He should spend the rest of his life in jail."
But across the pond attitudes are more varied, and among them, UK families leader Dr. Jim Swire said of the release “even if I was convinced that Megrahi was guilty, my Christian compassion and forgiveness would extend to wanting to see him die with his family around him in Libya … It's not a head on a platter I want, but the truth […] I am convinced Megrahi is innocent." Dr. Swire said in response to this site’s creation “all who display independent thought about this disaster are welcome in the fight to lay the fallacies of the 'official version' open to analysis, and to the public's sight.” Signed humbly “Jim, father of Flora, a victim of Lockerbie, who just wants to know who murdered her and why they were not prevented from doing so.”
I’ve yet to receive any such support from the larger pool of American relatives, many of whom, as it happens, are represented by Victims of Pan Am 103, Inc. This in turn is led by president as of 2008 Frank Duggan (and formerly by Kara Weipz). Among other things, VPA103 Inc. organizes the annual ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, and the divide looms Alpine over the selection of addresses to be given for the 21st anniversary of the bombing, and the first since Megrahi’s release. The board selected speeches based on appropriateness for “a day to remember 270 innocent souls murdered in an act of state sponsored terrorism,” Duggan explained. “It is not a day for politics, a discussion of the bomber's trial and conviction or of his health,” even though he may have been an innocent victim of state-sponsored terror-framing.
This formula disallowed the remarks of Friar Pat Keegans of Lockerbie itself, an old friend of all victims’ families but, to the chagrin of some Americans, sympathetic to Dr. Swire’s position. In his submitted address, Keegans expressed support for the compassionate release of al Megrahi, and stated “I do believe that he is an innocent man and that in time the truth of that will emerge.” His remarks were to be read out, until the board read them. On the other hand, President Obama’s terrorism adviser John O. Brennan was allowed to remark on the bomber, the trial, and politics, after taking the microphone from Mr. Duggan:
"The evidence was clear. The trial was fair. The guilt of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. His conviction stands. The sentence was just. And nothing—not his unjustified release and certainly not a deplorable scene on a tarmac in Tripoli—will ever change those facts or wash the guilt from his hands or from the hands of those who assisted him in carrying out this heinous crime."The double standard is clear, but Brennan’s statements were in line with government policy from 1991 onwards, and the general trend of American popular thought, and the leadership of Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc., whose business has always been squeezing Libya, which required widespread certainty of their true guilt.
The divide can also be seen looking at these two reactions by two very different insiders. FBI Director Robert Mueller, declared that Megrahi’s release “makes a mockery of the rule of law,” and “gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that […they may] be freed by one man's exercise of "compassion."" Mueller had been, as he puts it, “Assistant Attorney General in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi.” From this lofty perch he spoke to “the quality of the investigation,” and “the conviction by jury after the defendant is given all due process.”
Well, there was no jury and the trial was arguably quite unfair. Mueller might just be honestly mistaken; he wasn’t there for that second act. But Dr. Hans Köchler was, as the primary international observer at the Zeist trial in 2000, a provision of the compromise trial the Americans never wanted. In September 2009 he said “I welcome the release of Megrahi, because I firmly believe that he is innocent of the charges made against him. Believe me, if I thought he was guilty I would not be pleased to see him released from jail.” What he witnessed at the 2000 trial and 2002 appeal constituted “a rather spectacular case of a miscarriage of justice” that “looks more like an intelligence operation than a genuine undertaking of criminal justice.”
It’s been my (limited) experience that a closer look at the evidence and the trial universally leads to questioning of it. Flaws appear, thicker and thicker, until they stop seeming like mistakes. A vast conspiracy, of complicity at least, that started out seeming ludicrous will start to seem possible, and then all too likely. It’s also been my experience that those who enjoy the current status quo are never eager to look closely at these facts. Once was enough, they say.
It’s strange how in this same physical world, under the same sun of reason and natural laws, the facts raining and running down to one flood plain are so different from the other side’s drainage. This is the Lockerbie divide, a monumental ridge of false certainties and fears, splitting the experience and beliefs of those who care about the issue.
With so many credible voices raised in protest, one should wonder are these all, as Frank Duggan so tactfully puts it, “Libya shills?” Or is there something else, something even the USA can’t keep down forever, behind this constant disbelief? Some type of reality (like the real one maybe?) that can challenge such a mammoth official truth? And while it may seem useless Monday morning quarterbacking, do consider the flip-side of this; if the convicted bomber was in fact innocent of it, as many have concluded or at least suspect, then clearly somebody else tore down Flight 103 and got away while the Libyans were harassed as cover. And all of our harping on letting terrorists go, and boycotting Scotland, is only helping cover the long-cold but still-real path that could be followed to a truer Justice.