July 25 2010
last edits July 30
The early release from Scottish prison of “Lockerbie bomber” Abdelbaset al Megrahi has been getting much airplay and page space the last three weeks. A myth that he might live for decades more, and the “news” that Gulf-despoilers BP (British!) had also lobbied for the “bomber’s” release back in 2007, stuck together for indignorant Americans. This spurred a flurry of commentary and Congressional calls for investigations, summoning foreign CEOs and ministers to explain themselves, as the Brtis say with annoyance, like naughty schoolchildren before the headmaster.
This will surely settle down before long, and amid the furor, one crucial issue will still lie in the dust, unseen by most. And that is the assassination of Megrahi’s hard-won second appeal of conviction. Many informed commentators have been bringing up the appeal in a more recent backlash, but so far It’s hardly even a side note in the US - just a trifle the “bomber” was “allowed to drop” right before going home to live way more than three months.
Three Important Witnesses
And so the appeal’s secrets were buried, for the moment The central point of the surrendered challenge, soon submitted to the court of public opinion, was the reliability and credibility of eyewitness Anthony “Tony” Gauci. The scope of this article will be wider and consider two other witnesses who share three key features with Gauci.
Upon finding Megrahi guilty for the bombing on January 31, 2001, the three judge panel ruling at Camp Zeist issued an 87-page Opinion of the Court (PDF link) to explain their thinking. Among the points in setting up the evidence against Megrahi was this short list:
“In relation to the first accused, there are three important witnesses, Abdul Majid, Edwin Bollier and Tony Gauci.” [paragraph 41]To those who know enough about the case, that line is itself hilarious, the punch-line to a sick joke. To those who don’t know enough (and that’s who this article is for), it take a little explaining. Besides being the only three with anything truly incriminating to say against Megrahi, each of these has in common two further points:
1) The evidence they provided is questionable in many cases, and unquestionably fraudulent in others.
2) They were all offered (or have said they were offered) millions of dollars, and at least two apparently collected.
Abdul Majid Giaka (an alias, true name unknown, called ”Abdul Majid” by the Zeist judges) was a Libyan intelligence agent with the JSO, Libya’s CIA. He was very low level and knew almost nothing, but from August 1988 he had been able to draw money from the CIA ($1,000 a month, increased to $1,500) selling them small tidbits. The CIA called Giaka code-name “Puzzle Piece.”
The defector was stationed at Luqa airport on Malta, where the JSO and Libyan Arab Airlines mingled. At some point after Pan Am 103 fell to Earth in December, two of the people he’d named as high JSO agents working on Malta – Megrahi and his “accomplice” Fhimah – came to the center of suspicion. Strange clues emerged suggesting Libyan authorship, and a Malta link that pointed right to Megrahi. By early 1991, the other puzzle pieces (including Gauci and Bollier) were all in place, and they needed a witness closer to the perps.
It seems the Libyans were by then tired of Abdul Majid’s strange behavior on Malta and ready to call him back to Tripoli. The CIA threatened to cut him off and let him go unless he said something good, and if it was good enough, he might say it to the FBI. So in the summer, he met with agent Hal Hendershot and laid down a whole new version of the previous years in which Megrahi and Fhimah had plotted the bombing in the open and he saw half of it himself.
Hendershot liked what he heard, and Giaka went straight to Washington, with his pregnant wife fetched from Malta soon after. He testified to a grand jury in October 1991, telling of the brown Samsonite case he’d seen the Libyans with on December 20, of the report he (Giaka) was asked to write about bombing a “British plane,” the TNT they kept in a desk at the airport…
As the indictments were sealed and put in place on November 14, the defector Giaka was re-settled somewhere under a new name and witness protection, and paid handsomely. Megrahi’s appeal documents reveal, from DCI Harry Bell's diary, January 8 1992: “Bhiel states DOJ (Department of Justice) will give Magid [Giaka] $2 million dollars. Advised of our concern." This seems to have been dispensed under a US DoJ “Rewards for Justice Program."
When the millionaire was presented as the star witness at Camp Zeist in 2000, it was an unprecedented event – the first time a CIA asset had testified in open court (his voice was disguised and he was hidden behind a screen). The judges were not told about the $2 million, but they did know of his CIA paychecks, other arrangements and efforts to secure money, and his relocation to America, which was clearly of immense value to the witness. They noted how Abdul Majid’s best stories about late 1988 only appeared in mid-1991, and learned along the way that the CIA themselves didn’t believe his information, and had tried to conceal that fact. Therefore, they explained, rather timidly:
“Information provided by a paid informer is always open to the criticism that it may be invented in order to justify payment, and in our view this is a case where such criticism is more than usually justified […] we are unable to accept Abdul Majid as a credible and reliable witness on any matter except his description of the organisation of the JSO and the personnel involved there.” [para 42, 43]
This is an embarrassing rebuke - the most crucial witness to the whole Libyan plot was found to be almost entirely a fraud. It was this loss that led to a total lack of Fhimah clues and the judges having to find the “accomplice” not guilty. And then there was the $2 million they didn’t even know about, as the Crown either didn’t know or didn’t pass it on. And Giaka wasn’t the only witness considered at Zeist who was given this princely sum and had the fact successfully concealed.
Tony (and Paul) Gauci
This now-famous refugee shopkeeper from Malta, clearly a man of simple intellect, was able to recall the exact sale (in different exact versions) of some odd clothes that were later “found at Lockerbie.” Anthony Gauci's original performance recalling the sale was convincing enough, and it seems likely, barring a very elaborate set-up, that he really did sell these clothes to some particular man, on November 23 1988, and they wound up in the bomb bag.
But Megrahi was not on the island that day, so the second-best fit of December 7 (a distant second) was chosen by investigators as what the man meant to describe. By “six feet or more in height,” he meant 5’8” like Megrahi. By around 50, he meant 36. By raining enough to warrant an umbrella, he meant no rain. Etc. But Gauci is touted as identifying a photo of Megrahi, on February 1991, as “similar” to the buyer but ”ten years” too young. Even Tony himself noted the obvious slant of the lineup in question. “The first impression I had was that all the photographs were of men younger than the man who bought the clothing.” With the police’s help, he picked the oldest one shown – Megrahi.
Payments to Mr. Gauci, and to his brother Paul, who assisted somehow behind the scenes, are covered in detail elsewhere, but Megrahi’s appeal documents note the earliest American mention of money is from September 28, 1989, just weeks after the brothers were first approached. “The FBI discussed with the Scottish Police an offer of unlimited money to Tony Gauci, with $10,000 being available immediately." It's not clear if any of this ever came through, but as Giaka was being put up for a reward in 1992, the Scottish police lobbied for Tony to get the same. "I also clarified with him about the Gauci reward and the response was only if he gave evidence."
Tony had his chance to give evidence in mid-2000 and he performed well, considering, fudging everything possible. Under 6 feet, under 60, I don't know, raining a little, not really, no, maybe. Mysteriously, the Judges bought it and Megrahi’s fate was sealed.
The day after the verdict, February 1 2001, the Scottish police started the application for the brothers’ rewards – they had realized specific arrangements couldn’t be discussed until after the judgment, had no explicit promises, had delivered well, and deserved their money now. Paul’s assistance upholding his brother’s “resolve” was noted - but so was his evident desire for money. For some reason they had to wait until the appeal was over as well, and only in April 2002 was “a meeting held with the US Department of Justice where the reward was discussed and supported by the FBI,” say the appeal papers. Further, a suggestion was made there “that the sums applied for - $2m for Tony Gauci and $1m for Paul Gauci - could be increased."
The Scottish review board found all this, and that at some time after the appeal (date redacted) the two were paid some amount under the US DoJ "Rewards for Justice" program. And that is why the appeal they authorized had to be killed.
The third witness is a Swiss electronics merchant, supposed supplier to Libyan JSO of the only 20 MST-13 timers ever made. When an implausibly large chunk of one was “found at Lockerbie” and identified in mid-1990, Bollier’s 18-month-old campaign to sell evidence to the CIA paid off. Much of what he said before and during the trial was dismissed as an obvious bunch of rubbish, but the 1991 indictments did feature his info for points (a), (b), and (j).
Bollier is quite different from the other two “important witnesses.” First, he has not disappeared as a protected witness and made silent. Quite the contrary; He has continued to claim a leading role in the fight to clear Megrahi (comments as "ebol"), and claimed in a 2008 interview that this is to secure a $200 million prize from Libya. [Video, 41:10]. Mr. Bollier reminds me (see comments below) the BBC cut out Q: "Will Libya pay you for your work in the Lockerbie case?" A: "No, if we win the case and the compensation for the victims (US$ 2.7 billion) is refunded I will get a success honorary of US$ 200 million." If the victims pay Libya back, Bollier says he gets almost 8%. To this end, he uses illogical or unsupported claims and exclamation marks, and hasn’t even bothered learning to write in English for a campaign this ambitious.
And unlike Giaka and Gauci, there is no evidence I’m aware of that Bollier was ever paid by investigators for his own evidentiary offerings. He does claim a measly 1% of Libya’s later offering, $2 million - was offered to him in January 1991 by a FBI legal attaché in Switzerland named Fanning. This sounds entirely plausible, actually. But in the same interview linked above [33:35], he says FBI chief Richard Marquise personally doubled the offer just a couple weeks later, “up to $4 million and a new identity” merely to say that this fragment was from a Libyan timer. But they already knew this, and he says he refused anyway (Marquise firmly denies this offer).
Bollier’s oddball account isn’t to be trusted, and he hasn’t been. But he’s served a useful role since the conviction, as a lightning rod to safely channel revisionist thought down blind alleys. Someone really should pay him if they haven't yet.
A Tentative Tally
So far it appears the Scots-CIA-FBI Lockerbie witness pipeline brought in all three “important" but unreliable witnesses against Megrahi. The DoJ payout was at least $5 million to Giaka and the Gaucis plus possible money to Bollier that we just don’t know of. There would be administration, manpower, paid dinners, car rentals and air travel, and assorted overhead for arranging all this, some under FBI, others under CIA or Scottish police. All told, we’re dealing with at least $8 million for just this aspect of what seems like an intelligence operation masquerading as a criminal investigation. The whole case was bigger than this but no squarer, and the other, wider costs of the resulting miscarriage of justice will defy all efforts at calculation.