IED Fragment Survivability Tests

last update Jan 31 2011

The Basics and Prosecution’s Case
The heart of this Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that tore down Flight 103 was Semtex-H, in an amount that can only be estimated. Official guesses at the weight are not widely reported, but Professor Christopher Peel of the Royal Aeronautical Society, at the Zeist Trial in June 2000, testified to his calculations; around 450 grams was used, and wound up a bare 25 inches from the plane's fragile skin. These findings were challenged by the Defense, according to the Scotland Herald, but Peel doesn't stand alone. [Source]

There were also forensics tests, reported by David Leppard in his 1991 book On the Trail of Terror, that are said to confirm "RARDE's initial assessment that the bomb had contained about 400 grammes of Semtex high explosive - less than a 2lb. bag of sugar." These were the Indian Head tests carried out April 89 in the USA by RARDE's Ferraday and FBI's J. "Tom" Thurman. Interestingly, Leppard cites this confirmation as "the explosive charge used to bring down the plane was 'in all probability' about 454 to 680 grammes or 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of Semtex." [p 139-141]

I'm no expert on how much energy is unleashed by 454-680 grams of this legendarily powerful compound. But consider the "trial loading" below used at trial (image found here and improved the labels a bit, added width notation). This is the alleged bomb - a Toshiba RT-SF16 "BomBeat" radio with explosive, a detonator rod, battery and MST-13 timer without waterproof casing, all fitting in a remarkably small case, about 16 inches across. It has the cassette assembly, about 4 inches wide, removed to allow the pat of semtex. This makes the timer, it seems, no more than two inches from that origin of the blast - inches of mostly air, not lead.

According to the officially accepted evidence of what actually survived these circumstances, refer to the following crucial evidence attested to.
- Fragment of bomb timer circuit board
Obviously, the half-inch square fragment of circuit board named PT/35(b) was a crucial clue to Libyan guilt, as seen on TV with its identifier "Tom" Thurman. This is the part people have been questioning in recent years. This led to Swiss makers Mebo, who only made a few of these ever, for Libyan intelligence JSO.

- Fragments of radio housing, circuit board, etc.
These were fairly small, fragmented, melted, lumped together in far-flung luggage. The radio remains are not implausible, but didn't prove the radio type. Consistent with but not exclusive to the RT-SF16.

- Fragments of radio instruction manual

This nearly-intact cover page saying Toshiba RT-SF16, was supposedly found in a field and brought in by citizens. This and other page fragments clumped together were consistent with a RT-SF16 manual, and convinced the Zeist judges of the model. This was presumably in a plastic sleeve, packed snugly in the radio box, perhaps three inches from the explosive center. Result - crumpled and torn a bit, slight singeing.

If it's bizarre, it's proportionally useful; the radio model itself is said to indicate Libyan guilt. It's not very conclusive, but 3/4 of the small run of RT-SF16s were sold to a company said to be connected to Libyan intelligence.

A Challenge: Dr. Wyatt's tests
Over the years, critics have contended the amount of explosive really used, their type, their placement, and whaether or not i would be strong enough to rupture an aircraft, or too strong to have left the clues that were found. The last question was brought to the fore, and left there it seems, by recently announced experimental evidence. Repeated tests simulating the alleged conditions indicated that larger items like, in particular, the famous bomb-timer fragment that nailed Libya, would have never been found if they were in the explosion. This was aired by, of all parties, the BBC program Newsnight, on 8 January, 2010. The program is currently viewable at this BBC page and definitely worth a watch. The tests were carried out by Dr. John Wyatt, an explosives expert retired from the British Army, now running a security consulting company called SDS, and is a blast consultant for the United Nations (Europe and North Africa region). The details behind how he came to test the official scenario – twenty times over - is unclear at the moment, and so far there’s been no detailed report of his methodology and precise findings, but just what the program shares is compelling enough.

From what Marshall explains in voice-over, Dr. Wyatt carried out his twenty tests over time, starting with the radio bomb detonated by itself. One sample he showed the cameras is at right, a suitcase filled with random clothes, and a radio (different model than alleged, a bit larger), rigged as a bomb and set in a homemade cardboard box. Another he showed contained yet another type of radio, bright red, and a suicase he says is the same model used for PA103 (Samsonite hardside). Both were soon after blown up with the pat of plastic explosives tucked inside. Of the consistent results, Wyatt told Newsnight:
“I must admit, since the quantity of explosives we were using was only three or four hundred grams, I thought there were going to be some remnants of the radio left. But it – it – (chuckling) it just totally disintegrated. I mean really just went into tiny, tiny bits."
Please note that he was using amounts, if this accurate, of 300-400 grams, when the Indian Head Tests considered 454-680 grams the likely force behind the half-inch readable chunk "found" in the Scottish countryside. Wyatt elaborated a bit on method to The Times of Malta, specifying a separate timer was included and considered, as well as the general radio unit, and that the tests were done in varying conditions.
"We tried exploding the device on its own; in a radio similar to the one it was supposed to have been planted in; in a suitcase with and without clothes; surrounded by other suitcases and, eventually, in a container. In all tests, the timer and the circuit board were completely destroyed."

He later “built the tests up” to a finale – a dozen or so pieces of luggage piled in an airliner luggage container, arranged among other containers, and detonated in a field, videotaped from several viewpoints. This last was the only outdoors test; he told the Times he had done the other 19 indoors, “to make sure we could collect all the evidence.” Collecting the remains is what it was all about, of course, and so they used sparse concrete rooms (rather than a hundreds of square km countryside) and “we even painted the circuit board bright yellow to make it easier to identify any fragments among the debris. In no circumstance did we find any fragment," Dr Wyatt explained. Presumably he means no fragments of the scale of PT/35(b), since elsewhere he does mention “tiny tiny bits.” Perhaps the yellow was simply cooked off in all cases?

Above is a dramatic image from one of the tests, in a darkened room and greatly slowed down. The curly stuff is presumably the "hard-side" suitcase material, the little bars parts of its frame. The white-hot cluster at center is that 3-400 grams of explosive, semtex it should be, consuming the whole radio and vaporizing/weaponizing everything around it. Do consider that the bomb penetrated the plane's hull, after losing force bursting from the luggage container, after tearing through the suitcase lining, surrounding clothes, cardboard box, and the radio's plastic casing. The timer would be got to right away, before any energy was lost in an of those battles. Is Wyatt's testing just an elaborate (and expensive) way of proving the patently obvious?

Presented by Newsnight host Peter Marshall with the official story again - that a 1cm square chunk of circuit board so near the blast survived inside a small piece of cloth, and was found on the ground, during manual searches, 35 km from Lockerbie? Dr. Wyatt stopped precisely this far short of calling it all a grand farce:
"Obviously these things are not impossible, we only carried out 20 tests, we didn't carry out 100 or 1,000 tests, but in every of those 20 tests we found absolutely no sign at all. So I find it highly improbable that you would find anything like that, particularly at 10,000 feet when bits are dropping into long wet grass over hundreds of miles. […] I do find it quite extraordinary and I think highly improbable, and most unlikely that you would find a fragment like that – I mean, it is unbelievable.” [emphasis as spoken]

Response and counter-response

- Crown Response / Indian Head Forensic Tests
A Scottish Crown Office response quickly followed. It started with a standard appeals to 'we already won, he was convicted,' which have no bearing on the issue at hand, which cuts to the how of the conviction. They note irrelevant facts like "Dr John Wyatt has never examined the timer fragment (PT 35)." Indeed, only certain scientists who have a history of "political" science (Feraday, Thurman) were allowed touch this one and decide it was indeed from the Libyan explosion. Erroneously, the Crown Office state "conclusive forensic evidence proved that the fragment was part of the timer ... at the time of the explosion which destroyed Pan Am 103." Such tests apparently consisted of finding it in a burnt piece of shirt. They did not test it for explosives residue, or do anything to prove it was not planted for them to find. Most interesting and relevant, the press release stated:
"In fact, extensive explosives tests were carried out in the United States in 1989, some time before the fragment PT35 was extracted by the forensic experts, as part of the Lockerbie investigation. The purpose of these tests was:
o to estimate the amount and location of the explosives used on PA103;
o to establish the extent of damage to the improvised explosive device ( IED ), the adjacent suitcases and their contents; and
o to ascertain what parts of the IED and its contents it was possible to recover and identify." COPFS original posting
This fragment survivability aspect is not mentioned in Leppard's book, but hinted at with the note that the clothing within the IED case was “sprayed with a distinctive colour of paint for ease of identification.” [p 139] The Crown office release continued to explain what was found:
"After a number of test explosions a detailed search was made and circuit board fragments, radio cassette casing and parts, fragments of instruction manual, the suitcase and clothing were all recovered in a condition which was consistent with the debris recovered in relation to the Lockerbie disaster." 
The results of these tests have never been formally publicized to my knowledge, making verification impossible. David Leppard does cite a varying amount of explosive in each test - from 360 to 680 grams. [p 140] Interestingly, Alan Feraday had overseen the low end test, and probably recovered the debris from a 360-gram blast "in a condition which was consistent with the debris" that started being found and identified by Mr. Feraday himself and his scientists, right afterwards. RT-8016 radios were used in the US tests, exactly like the model later identified from 103's wreckage, except for case color - the 8016 is white, the SF16 black. The best identifier of the radio model, aside from the amazing manual, was AG/145, a lump of material including a tiny but identifiable bit of internal circuit board. This was consistent with either Toshiba model.

Conclusion: More Information Needed
If indeed there's something in the Indian Head tests that clearly contradicts Dr. Wyatt's findings, and large fragments (up to 1cm square) were indeed recovered from an equivalent blast, the details should now be brought forward. Dr. Wyatt insists 300-400 grams of semtex disntegrates the whole radio, and shown us at least some of the methodology. On the other hand, we've got a few lines in an error-filled Crown Office press release suggesting that Thurman and Feraday did it right and got big chunks similar to what they found - and that they felt was after a blast of 454-680 grams.

That is a serious discrepancy. Obviously the laws of physics are immutable and unchanging, so if two sets of tests produced different results, then some variable was set up differently (wrong) between them. So far Dr Wyatt's is more open, better illustrated, makes more sense, and reeks less of politically-driven obfuscation, but Id like to see more documentation on that as well.
Update: A little more information has come out on the tests since the first article. See "On Planted Evidence"

Update Jan 2011: Dr. Wyatt's findings and credibility are in some question. See later comments below.

Yes, Millions to Malta

Who Says Tony Got $2 Million.
July 19 2010

last update 27 September (see bottom)

Who Says?
The primary witness that mattered in convicting Abdelbaset al Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing was, of course, Maltese shopkeeper Anthony "Tony" Gauci. Gauci provided the only link between al Megrahi and the primary suitcase, "identifying" the Libyan as the purchaser of clothes ruled to be inside when the bomb went off. Gauci's evidence and its reliability has come under withering critique from different quarters, and among the more repeated charges in recent years is that Tony was paid - and more importantly offered in advance - $2 million by U.S. authorities for delivering his testimony. The earliest reference I can find is from The Guardian, October 3, 2007:
"The key prosecution witness in the Lockerbie bombing trial was allegedly offered a $2m reward in return for giving evidence, raising fresh doubts about the safety of the case." [source]
This was referring to documents held by Megrahi’s leagal team, first uncovered by the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission in its four year investigation. In the end they found six grounds of possible miscarriage of justice to refer the case back for appeal. Four of these were publicized, all dealing with aspects of Gauci's evidence, and two remain secret to this day. The SCCRC's public announcement (PDF)  of June 2007 in itself makes no mention of reward concerns, but that might have been one of its secret points. However well-supported, the story was widely repeated in credible reports as an explosive allegation.

Consider this audio discussion from September 7 2009, between Scotish politician/activist George Galloway and Frank Duggan, president of the US families group Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc. Not himself a family member of a PA103 victim, Duggan was a political appointee to liase with them from 1989 on. He wasn't able to cite the number of families he represented in 2009, but was quite clear in stating their unanimity about Megrahi's guilt among that unknown number. "There’s no difference of opinion as to the guilt of Mr. Megrahi."

On Tony Gauci, Duggan said “I don’t know anything about the man. I think he’s an honorable guy just trying to do what he thinks is right,” but admits “I’m not that familiar with what he said.” He also said “Dr. Swire doesn’t believe him and I’m sorry about that, but everyone else seems to believe him who’s looked at this case,” notably the "eight judges" that reviewed the case at trial and appeal. Indeed, they accepted what Gauci said, aside from small details like the buyer’s build and height, his age, and the date of purchase. (see first link).

Duggan correctly notes that Gauci’s "inconsistencies" are the subject of the SCCRC’s publicized grounds of appeal, while incorrectly citing “three or four” grounds total. He chalks up their quibbles to "natural" variation from one interview to the next, while admittedly not knowing what was said. And he misunderstands how many interviews were really done with Tony by the same Scots-Maltese team – at least 23, only indicating Megrahi near the end. Duggan seems to feel each nation was only allowed one interview, and 19 involved nations made 19 interviews.

When Mr. Galloway asked the simple question “why did the US government pay him several million dollars?” Duggan about snapped.
“They never did. Who said that? Dr.Swire? Let me tell you one thing. And forgive me if I raise my voice, ‘cause I really get angry. We keep hearing about witnesses being bribed, witnesses who have new evidence, all sorts of things that are just not true. Who said we paid the man two million dollars? It’s preposterous." 
Galloway: “it’s a matter of public record … it’s a commonplace.”
Duggan: “No it’s not. No - it’s - not. … Who said that? Who said that? Who said that? … That’s not so. That’s - not - so.”

Sorry, Frank. I noticed that George said "several million,"and you said "two million," so I know you've heard this before. And yet all you can do in return is call it "preposterous" to pay this witness $2 million. And you’d likely find it crazier yet to pay his brother - who wasn’t even a witness - another $1 million. It would be highly troubling, wouldn’t it? And it happened. Galloway didn't know who to cite, but the SCCRC and Scottish police and US DoJ personnel say so. The two brothers also reportedly moved to Australia in a witness protection plan. That's an aside for the moment, but it gives an idea of the scope of this.

These People Say.
It wasn't until about two weeks after this interview that further support of the two-year old charge became available. After Megrahi’s mysterious release and abandonment of his appeal, he controversially published this information on a website in mid-September. The Grounds of Appeal cite the SCCRC’s findings, based on documents they looked at. The appeal had stuck to the Gauci issue by and large as referred, and it seems the pay-out was one of their areas of great interest: 
There is significant evidence regarding the credibility of the witness Tony Gauci in respect of his having a financial interest in, and his having received substantial monetary payment for giving evidence. This interest and payment was not disclosed at trial and the various documents which indicate same were not disclosed at trial.

The SCCRC has recovered undisclosed material which indicates that:
(a) The witness Tony Gauci had, at an early stage, expressed an interest in receiving payment or compensation for his co-operation in giving evidence, and that this interest persisted until after the trial
(b) that the witness Paul Gauci had " a clear desire to gain financial benefit" from his and his brothers co-operation and that Paul Gauci exercised considerable influence over his brother
(c) that the U.S. authorities offered to make substantial payments to the witness Tony Gauci from an early stage
(d) that an application for reward monies was made on behalf of the SIO of the investigation team of the Scottish police to the U.S. Department of Justice, after the trial, and that substantial payments were received by both Tony (in excess of $2m) and Paul Gauci (in excess of $1m) after the appeal.
Following are some of the source materials they called on to make these startling (to some) conclusions. This list is more than most people will need.
Extract from DCI Bell Diary (HOLMES version) (28/9/1989) [SCCRC Appendix: chapter 23/3] which indicates that on 28th September 1989 the FBI discussed with the Scottish Police an offer of unlimited money to Tony Gauci, with $10,000 being available immediately. Thereafter there is a comment about challenging Murray as to what he thought Gauci could give in return that he was not already giving.
They had only been speaking with him since September 1, and before the month was out they were discussing money for different/better information. The next is from February 21 1991, six days after Tony had first pointed to a photo of Megrahi and said he was similar to the buyer, but younger.
Memo from DCI Bell to DSIO Gilchrist (21/2/91) [SCCRC Appendix: chapter
23/1] which states that Tony Gauci had expressed an interest in receiving money in recent meetings and that "if a monetary offer was made to Gauci this may well change his view and allow him to consider a witness protection programme as a serious avenue"
It was clearly a service they were grateful for, and the endless visits likely petered off once they had an "ID" that fit with the other new clues. By the end of 1991, a US Grand Jury had looked at the screened evidence of Gauci, Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, and various other circumstantial clues. The result was the indictment of Megrahi and his "accomplice" Fhimah on 14 November, a major goal of U.S foreign policy that would be leveraged into a massive embargo of Libya. The Gaucis thought they deserved something for their important part in that. From DCI Harry Bell's diary, January 8 1992:
“The manuscript version states "Bhiel states DOJ(Department of Justice) will give Magid [Abdul Majid Giaka] $2 million dollars. Advised of our concern." The dictated version has the same first sentence but continues "He was immediately advised of our concern regarding this. I also clarified with him about the Gauci reward and the response was only if he gave evidence." (This last comment is also unredacted in more recently disclosed manuscript version)
So as far back as January 1992 the standard $2 million amount was given to liar for hire Giaka, and also for Tony, but only in the future, after some possible, far-off trial. They already had all they needed at the moment, having secured the indictments.

The trial wasn't supposed to happen, but somehow the US was presuaded to agree to a third-couuntry compromise in 1998, and the two accused were flown to the Netherlands and turned themselves in as prisoners awaiting trial. In the run-up to his testimony at Camp Zeist, Tony had concerns, capture in a Strathclyde Police Witness Protection Report of June 10, 1999, which had addressed:
(a) the frustration of Tony Gauci that he will not be compensated
(b) that in respect of Paul Gauci "It is apparent from speaking to him for any length of time that he has a clear desire to gain financial benefit from the position he and his brother are in relative to the case. As a consequence he exaggerates his own importance as a witness and
clearly inflates the fears he and his brother have. He is anxious to establish what advantage he can gain from the Scottish police. Although demanding, Paul Gauci remains an asset to the case but will continue to explore any means he can to identify where financial advantage cane be gained."
(c) that the Gauci family had financial problems

Yet his Crown Precognitions of March 18 and August 25 1999 were clear "that Tony Gauci has never at any stage sought to benefit but that Paul Gauci whilst not "openly" seeking a reward has been "more alive to the possibility of receiving substantive assistance" SIO Henderson wrote to Maltese police security branch in August 1999 to say that Paul & Tony had been accepted onto the witness protection program, and have “expressed some dissatisfaction at the Scottish response to their particular circumstances”.

Then the trial, Tony's disastrous testimony, the judges' mysterious acceptance of the Crown reading of it, and the surprise conviction of Megrahi at the end of January 2001. Another piece can be seen in a letter of 1 February from SIO McCulloch to PF Brisbane. On the day after the guilty verdict, he was double-checking with the Crown before applying for the Gaucis' reward money. An enclosed report from McCulloch gave the reasons it should go ahead:
(a) " the issue of financial remuneration has not been discussed in detail with the witnesses and no promises exist"
(b) " It is considered that the witnesses may harbour some expectation of their situation being recognised, however
whilst proceedings are still 'live' they displayed a clear understanding that such matters could not be explored"
(c) " The conduct of the Gauci brothers reflects both their own integrity and their response to the manner with which the police have dealt with them. It is therefore vital that they continue to perceive that
their position is recognised and they continue to receive the respect that their conduct has earned."
The final justification accompanying payment (date redacted, unknown) the reasons for approving were about the same. Here Paul's role and reward were again affirmed.
“In relation to Paul Gauci, it was a decision of the Crown not to call him to
give evidence and agree a joint minute for elements of his evidence. His evidence was important as it related to the identification of the clothing. However, it should never be overlooked that his major contribution has been
maintaining the resolve of his brother. Although younger, Paul has taken on the role of his father (died 7 years ago) with regard to family affairs. His influence over Anthony has been considerable (It is considered critical that the contribution of Paul is recognised in order to preserve their relationship and prevent any difficulties arising in the future).”

How much resolve does it take to simply recall what happened and describe it to the police? How many meeting and how many years should it take? It took a team effort deemed to be worth at least three million. In fact, the authorities were never averse to paying the Gaucis whatever they wanted - they only afraid of being seen doing it. And Paul clearly did more than help his brother's mood, judging by how Tony works on his own (trial testimony):

Yes, [the police] came a lot of times. They used to come quite often, didn't they. […] I don't know exactly when they used to come, but I did not take notes when they used to come. But they used to come quite often to see me. They used to come and ask questions, and they used to take me to the depot and things like that.

Yes, yes, and the ice cream. I'm sure he loved that. But he knows money too, and he still wasn't getting it after the conviction. There was an appeal to be heard first. After this was dismissed for its own complex reasons, on April 19 2002 a letter "records a meeting held with the US Department of Justice where the reward was discussed and supported by the FBI and refers to a suggestion made at the meeting that the sums applied for - $2m for Tony Gauci and $1m for Paul Gauci could be increased."

The SCCRC states that at some time after the appeal the two witnesses were each paid sums of money under the "Rewards for Justice" programme adminstered by the U.S. Department of Justice [SCCRC Reference at 23.19]

Concerns surfaced among investigators in 2007 about how this would look if the SCCRC publicized the heretofore secret facts:
Briefing Note D12915 DI Dalgleish to ACC Graham (16/5/07) Refers to the
“expectation that the SCCRC’s statement of reasons, which will be furnished to Mr Megrahi and his defence team, is likely to question the integrity of Anthony Gauci’s evidence and also reveal that he and his brother have received substantial payments from the American authorities. [...] there is scope for distorted or malicious reporting of the facts and a real danger that if SCCRC’s statement of reasons is leaked to the media, Anthony Gauci could be portrayed as having given flawed evidence for financial reward [...] Providing these witnesses with the financial ability to leave the island whenever they wished to avoid media or other unwanted attention was a significant factor in the nomination being made to the Rewards for Justice programme in the first place...
The concern about "distorted reporting" is ironic, given the distortion caused by years of keeping these payments secret. And the last bolded suggests it was partly hush-up and get out of town money. Go somewhere where you're not recognized and take new names under witness protection. As fragile a thing as Gauci's evidence cannot handle sneaky press inquiries, which are inevitable when something is this fragile. Clearly the best move is effectively disappear the men, as they did Giaka.

Now Mr. Duggan can take back his claim this is a ludicrous event, and craft an argument as to why it's all perfectly natural, normal, and expected, not to mention open and well-known from day one.
Postscript - further notable denials:
The August 2010 STV video Lockerbie bomber: Sent home to die features fresh affirmations, from investigators themselves, that money had not a lick to do with the case. Around 29:30 in, the $2 million payment - and Gauci's pre-trial pursuit of such - is mentioned. FBI SCOTBOM chief Richard Marquise issued the usual 'no money was promised or asked for,' meaning no money was relevant to what anyone said, but allowed for payment afterwards ("not allowed to comment" means yes, and so he's not a total liar). Scottish Senior Investigating Officer Stuart Henderson immediately followed with this (at 30:02):
"When we extracted the evidence and information from Gauci, he was well aware that there was no such thing as a reward being handed to him and he certainly didn't get any remote thoughts from us that he would get anything. Didn't enter his head. He had such a good relationship with our officers he really tried hard to help us."
It could be said he and Paul were left hanging, and unsure if they'd get a reward, or how large it would be. But to say it was made clear there would be nothing is absolutely not illustrated by the evidence shown above, and would have been a lie. Henderson's claim to know what did and didn't enter Tony's head is classic appeal to authority. And finally, note how the witness' compliance is attributed to the "good relationship" he held with the police. As shown above, good feelings are always put forth when money delayed enters the frame. For example as the application for reward was put in by Henderson's successor as SIO:
"[T]he issue of financial remuneration has not been discussed in detail with the witnesses and no promises exist ... It is therefore vital that they continue to perceive that their position is recognised and they continue to receive the respect that their conduct has earned."

Exposing Guilty Projects, part two

Continuation on review of Actual Innocence
19 October 2010

<< part one

Holding Them Accountable
“For 63 percent of the DNA exonerations analyzed by the Innocence Project study,” the book reports, “misconduct by police or prosecutors played an important role in the convictions.” That is, in a solid majority of cases, procedures that are either illegal or improper, as opposed to simple mistake, contribute to wrongful conviction. The degree and even definitions may vary, but this figure could be as easily conservative as it could be inflated. See the pie charts from the book, at left, for breakdown of misconduct type, including outright evidence fabrication by police in one case out of ten.

Even in the frequent cases where such wrongdoing is partially exposed, it’s rarely if ever dealt with properly. One exception that proves the rule, in part, is the case of trooper Fred Zain, on which the previous post closed. One man that Zain’s pseudo-science helped put away was Glen Dale Woodall, given a sentence of 335 years plus two life terms for two 1987 rapes. He was eventually exonerated by DNA, had rather strange leading of the witnesses exposed, and was released about an eternity earlier than planned.

Woodall was also given a hasty and unexplained cash bonus by West Virginia. A State auditor looking into the Zain brand of political science wrote in undisguised alarm: “based on that investigation, I have recommended that the case be settled as quickly and quietly as possible, as the potential exposure is catastrophic.” To avoid a trial, Woodall was offered and took $1 million to much public protest. The “reign of error” over the lives of many was exposed anyway, and other exonerations followed, with larger settlements yet and increasingly quiet complaints. The West Virginia Supreme Court in 1992 found Zain’s 0% science record “shocking and egregious,” and ruled him and his work invalid within the entire state. He was already operating out of Texas by then.

The above is an extreme example, and another came a couple states over in Illinois. In the spring of 1999, a handful police investigators and prosecutors from DuPage county, seven total, were formally charged and tried for perjury and a rare little crime called obstruction of justice. This was following the disastrous exposure of their epic railroading of Rolando Cruz for a brutal 1983 child-killing. The usual slate of bad evidence did the trick, starting with several leads from “crazy Alex” Hernandez, who offered the police several names, including Rolando Cruz, to earn the big reward. They chose to indict both Cruz and Hernandez plus a third man whose role faded with time. It was announced on “the eve of the Republican primary for the DuPage County state’s Attorney.”

The case at first had no evidence aside from the standard “scientific” clues “linking” them to the crime, like so many others have been wrongly linked in the past. The most important clue the police swore by at trial was how Cruz obliquely confessed, by admitting a dream or vision with forensically exact details of the attack. Reading the account of it, it really is hard to conclude otherwise, but they had made no record of this May 1983 discussion at the time. They further let Cruz walk away after this admission, and made no mention of it at the later grand jury hearings issuing the indictments against the two.

Prosecutors only learned of this smoking gun evidence on the eve of the trial, which suddenly changed into something formidable. “More than a vision, the statement was nearly a miracle,” the book muses. The defense tried to block the account as evidence, but failed. The procedings were complex, with both men tried and sentenced together to life, then tried again separately, turning Cruz' life term to a death sentence. On appeal, both convictions were thrown out dur to “mistakes,” not misconduct. The state pressed on through it all, blocking appeals and re-trying the mistrials.

The case started falling apart early on. A shoeprint analysis done voluntarily by Nike, confirmed by an internal criminologist finding, destroyed one prosecution clue. This was concealed from the court. And more to the point, another child rapist admitted to the very crime and verified neither Latino was involved (and DNA later confirmed this), but stubborn officials pushed on, even as the people they sent out to do it started resigning.

A detective had been cited to support the vision story, but was only called to testify for Cruz’ third trial in 1995. Expected to corroborate the miracle, at the last minute he “searched his mind” and admitted he was on vacation at the time. He was summarily dropped from the prosecution's witness list, which was the last straw for the judge. The book describes the end of that ugly road:
For judge Ronald Mehling, that was enough. […] He held a picture Jeanine Nicarico up in the courtroom. For twelve years, longer than the little girl’s entire life, the state of Illinois had pursued Rolando Cruz, with highly suspicious testimony and outright fakery. The case was over.
Following this unusual and devastating reversal, the law started looking at itself a little bit, and hence the 1999 trials. Some grand jurors had sworn that there had been off-the-record murmurs of the dream confession at the time, and the judgment found fault only with the police failing to write down the confession dream, avoiding the obvious question of whether they made it up and colluded to present it as true.

Of course, no convictions were finally brought in the case, with no willful misconduct found. Lucky for the state treasury, faced with monster lawsuits over the sick episode. The authors note even this near-miss with accountability was “a singular event, done at great cost and turmoil, and unlikely to be repeated.” So only the most “shocking” and “egregious” violations have ever come close to having serious consequences. And as the high conviction records across the nation for tough crimes shows, there’s every reason to go ahead and twist the case to fit whoever will suffice. I’ll let the reader do the math on that.

Victim: Walter Snyder
19-year-old Walter T. Snyder of Virginia was sentenced in 1986 to 45 years for attacking a neighborhood woman. She was raped in her home by a black male with short hair and a “musky” smell. She never got a good look at him, but police practice helped enhance her certainty. Detective Barry Shiftic somehow took a photo of Snyder, her neighbor across the street, within days of the crime. He presented it that same day to the victim along with others, and she didn’t recognize any. But she came back to Snyder’s photo indecisively, and was informed that he lived in her neighborhood. Three days later she just happened to look out a window she rarely did to see the same man washing his car right across the street, for the first time she later said, and just knew it was him.

Back at the start of this rapid coalescence, on the day after the crime, the victim responded to Shiftic, “I know exactly what kind of hairdo you are talking about. In fact, there is a fellow that lives right across the street that is very much like what I am talking about, and he has a hairdo like that.” [p 59] This starting point was instantly and thereafter denied by both victim and detective, but it’s on the record – she mentioned him first, then the photo and the ensuing multi-day ... charade?

At the station following his unorthodox identification, officers coached Mr. Snyder to admit the rape, posing hypothetical cases with her starting it. Besides insisting his innocence, he recalled mentioning to the detective that whoever did it must have been out of his mind. However, “by Shiftic’s account, Snyder spoke about being physically present at the rape but his mind not being there.” There was no record to clear up the different readings. The detective instantly arranged a dramatic and improper one-on-one “show-up” identification. The victim arrived to see Shiftic but first passed “her attacker” who’d just “confessed” minutes before. With great terror she fingered him again, and the kid was arrested. He also suffered three broken ribs in a disputed incident, and reportedly said he was Jesus Christ.

Evidence like shorts he owned (red as she said, when shown inside out like they were in court) and a hair analysis that wasn’t even a match were taken as supports. The showstopper however was the victim’s emotional certainty, arrived at as described above. As the book sums up, “the case against him was built on evidence that was, by any reasonable standards, compromised, corrupted, and unsafe.”

Both the victim and the detective denied steering things to Snyder, but as we can see above they clearly did one way or another and other things shifted around suspiciously. She originally said the rapist had smelled “musky,” like “sweat and alcohol and possibly cigarette smoke.” After learning the man she identified lived in his mother’s basement and worked in the fuel oil business, she suddenly remembered he smelled “musky … a combination of oil and a basement – a musty smell.” [p 56] Thereafter, Snyder’s known work with oil became a prime prosecution point.

The young man was convicted and remained behind bars for years, even well after DNA tests were finally successful, all but bankrupting his hardworking family along the way. No one could argue Snyder was guilty, but due to limits on new evidence (a tragic 21 days in Virginia at the time) the Governor had to pardon the innocent, and he refused to do so until public pressure mounted on him. After his release, detective Shiftic remained convinced of Snyder’s guilt, wondering if the DNA samples had been altered in some conspiracy. And even if he were innocent, Shiftic told the authors “I have no remorse for anyone that I have ever arrested.”

Victim: Abdelbaset al Megrahi?
This is not in the book, obviously, but in context, it’s worth thinking about. A re-analysis of the shady details of the “investigation” is too much for this post but it’s well covered in many others, The overall evidence is perhaps best addressed in toto at the guided tour of the case against Megrahi.

One consistent theme in the book that may reflect on al Megrahi's conviction is prosecutors’ desperate refusal to admit when a killer simply got away with it. They are seen as needing to convict someone, and do it, wrongly if necessary. No one ever gets framed for shoplifting when the thief makes it away and isn’t identified. But something that shocks the community like the rape and murder of a child, or blowing up an airliner with 259 people on board, requires a head on a platter. If the right one can’t (or just won’t) be identified, then look out fringe people from easily-maligned groups, engaging in anything unusual at all the day of the crime.

The Scottish version of the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission, which Actual Innocence cites as a model for a possible American institution, has reviewed the case against Megrahi. After almost four years of laborious study, the SCCRC found, on six grounds, that the conviction may well have been a miscarriage of justice. No one million dollar settlement would suffice here, after Libya was forced to pay out $2.7 billion on the verdicts premise. Luckily for some, that appeal was never heard, due to something very confusing that happened in August 2009.

There is no DNA sample to re-examine in this case, so both hard science and Project Innocence might seem to have little to offer. So what’s our DNA test proving innocence? What could even hypothetically suffice?

Reconciliation, Sort Of
Ronald Cotton is yet another victim of a miscarriage of justice, convicted of two rapes and later exonerated. One of the victims who had helped misidentify him spoke with the authors, and the media at large, about her complex feelings. She felt repudiated and hated for putting an innocent man way and even though another man, Bobby Poole, was later identified by DNA as her assailant. “When I have nightmares about the rape, I still don’t see Bobby Poole,” she explained.

It’s still Mr. Cotton haunting her mind forever despite a face-to-face meeting she arranged with him and his wife after learning of his innocence. He forgave her for the mistake that cost part of his life, and expressed sympathy for her own shattered years. She told the authors “It’s weird, I hated him so much I wanted to watch him die. And now I care a lot about him. He taught me grace and forgiveness.”

Any of these victims who had wrongly identified someone, who lunged at them across the witness table and convinced a jury to send him off for half a lifetime (or half of a small town's lifetimes), could have asked questions. They had or should have had the right to go back and review their own case, to be sure the right process was followed and the right man punished. Depressingly few do so, preferring to move on in whatever direction has been established. They only face the error and its implications - as well as they can - once it’s proven without doubt. If even then.

In the Lockerbie bombing, at least one victim isn’t waiting for the far-off or unreachable exoneration. On his own, Dr. Jim Swire has re-assessed the case against his daughter’s convicted murderer, as he was being tried. The far-seeing Dr. Swire says the evidence led at trial in 2000 convinced him the men in the dock were innocent, and helped him see just who was likely behind it – the PFLP-GC, with a Khreesat bomb loaded at London, as an increasing number are now accepting. He literally fainted at the verdict of guilty.

Meeting Megrahi again in 2010, a year after his controversial release, Swire said of the "Lockerbie bomber"
"We are friends. I believe he is the 271st victim of Lockerbie. We know enough about the other to be confident to know we're trying to achieve the same thing - a re-examination of the verdict [… and] of the available evidence which led to a verdict we believe was reached under political pressure rather than the rules of justice.”
Is this case different, or what?
(emphasis mine throughout)

"They told me no one knew…”

Ray Manly and the Heathrow Break-in
January 14 2011

last edits Jan 16

The Whistleblower
Former Heathrow airport security guard Ray Manly was indeed a manly man. I hear he has deceased, but I haven’t been able to verify that easily enough. He apparently suffered greatly at the end of his life (see below), but before it was over, he became the epic whistleblower whose actions dredged up perhaps the key piece to the puzzle of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The same clue had been erased from the record early on by authorities, and kept from the world for over a decade. That long silence ended for good with his clue’s first publication in the news, nearly eight months after Megrahi’s conviction for his plot on Malta. This came on Tuesday, September 11 2001, and it was obviously superceded by events overseas. A new record was set that day - by a landslide - for American civilians killed in a terrorist attack. But the explosive power of Manly’s revelation to understanding the previous record-holder, also involving an airliner, was not diminished.

Patrolling Heathrow’s terminal three shortly after midnight on December 21, he had discovered a padlock that had been cut (or at least forcibly broken, see below) on a certain door called T32A. This had left open the way to the usually-secured airside area, where luggage is loaded onto airliners. He dutifully reported this to his superiors, but apparently nothing further was done, and about 17 hours later, Pan Am 103 was loaded with a bomb at terminal three.

Somehow the fact of this breach never emerged during the investigation, as attention turned first to Germany, and then to Malta. For years it remained unknown, up to and even at the trial in 2000. There, Megrahi’s defense tried to argue for a bomb introduction at Heathrow, based on other compelling evidence (see below). But they were as clueless as anyone that there was also a reported break-in at the airport, almost a smoking gun in that context.

Manly says the memory remained with and “weighed” on him over the years, and when it still hadn’t come up as of the wrongful verdict at the end of January 2001, he contacted al-Megrahi’s defense team and, later, the media.

“My statement has disappeared” - what he said
News of the Heathrow break-in was first published on September 11 by the Daily Mirror, and soon widely reported. Manly told correspondent David Pidlitch that the break-in was “the most serious security breach that I came across in 17 years at Heathrow.” The padlock he found on the floor was “cut like butter,” he said, in what he considered “a professional operation.”

He elaborated on the potential significance of it:
"I believe it would have been possible for an unauthorised person to obtain tags for a particular Pan Am flight then, having broken the CP2 lock, to have introduced a tagged bag into the baggage build up area.

A terrorist who wanted to put a bomb on that plane would have gained access to the perfect place. The luggage would not be checked again before being loaded on the plane."
Alternately, this perceived breach could be some kind of coincidence. But he was rightly alarmed at how it was completely ignored or forgotten, as if it was definitely irrelevant, but without any explanation – or even acknowledgment - given.
"I can't believe my evidence was not part of the trial and my statement went missing. […] Although police took a statement, I never heard from anyone afterwards. […] They told me no one knew about my statement or the break-in. I find that just incredible. My statement has disappeared and so has the padlock. No one can even tell me if it was tested for fingerprints.”
That’s strong evidence for two things that are already heavily illustrated to those who dig deep enough – the bomb did in fact start only in London, and British authorities have done all they can to avoid acknowledging that.

Tested in Court 1: A Problem Witness
Mr. Manly swore a few affidavits with the defense about the break-in as he remembered it. He recalled making a police statement, but none was found to confirm or deny that. The records from Heathrow security, however, existed and bore Manly out. And his superior, one Phillip Radley, remembered the incident as well. The defense then made the verified new clue a central point of the appeal of conviction – a revived London-origin argument, put before a five judge panel at Camp Zeist in February 2002.

The case they made, calling on this plus the previously known evidence, was quite compelling. But the court rebuffed it, using highly questionable reasoning that is covered elsewhere. Their flippant rejection does nothing to the actual theory except prove that it is not 100% proven and too obvious to deny. That we already knew, seeing it denied in court once already and dismissed by investigators for over a decade by then. I imagine that judges are not always fond of questioning the findings of their peers, and are perhaps less inclined yet to re-create police investigations to re-solve a crime in their own parallel universe. So despite the evidence in their faces, the appeal court decided the Zeist court had it right, and compared to Malta, a London introduction "was a theoretical rather than an actual possibility," whatever that means.

For his part, Mr. Manly performed poorly in court. Consider the following, from a March 2002 report by Dr. Hans Köchler, UN observer at the trial and appeal:
13. The defense strategy was further seriously undermined by the rather bizarre
circumstances of the testimony given by the Defense's key additional witness, Mr. Manly. While being adamant about the technical details about how the padlock at Heathrow airport was broken (“cut like butter”), he was highly confused and proven totally wrong in regard to the exact location of the door and the way in which the padlock was attached to the door. At the beginning of his testimony he told the court that, because of an accident, he was under medication and that he was afraid he might have to vomit in the course of his testimony. He looked very frail and behaved in a highly emotional, at times even aggressive manner. For the undersigned it was impossible to obtain any specific information about the factors which led to this deplorable state of health. In spite of the efforts promised by the Scottish Court Service, it was not possible to obtain any information on the kind of medication under the influence of which Mr. Manly may have acted in the way he did, or on the time and nature of the accident that made this medication necessary. In fact, Mr. Manly’s testimony – seen in its entirety – may even have been counterproductive in regard to the defense strategy. The question remains why the Defense introduced Mr. Manly as an additional witness under these particular circumstances.

Manly’s recall of events is what mattered when he forced the issue to the surface in 2001. Since then it’s the established facts of a deliberate break-in at terminal three, supported by Mr. Radley and by records, that matter. So Manly himself was arguably not needed to pursue the London angle, making the question a fair one. But from what I’ve seen, it seems that Manly wanted to be there, suffering or not (see photo at left, from first link below), to tell it himself to a court of law. I haven’t verified what was wrong about his memories as outlined here, but will take Köchler’s word. And as far as his “aggressive” behavior, see below.

Dr. Köchler, who incidentally is intrigued by the London origin theory, hovers here over the mysteries of Manly’s health. In so doing, he almost seems to be wondering if someone were “enhancing” his medication. Its side-effects did seem to damage his credibility, and cast some doubt on his recall of the breach, making the judges’ task of ignoring it that much easier. But of course to really keep this off the record, it would have been best to kill Manly altogether some time not-too-soon after the bombing, but before he was driven to talk. There is only a small bit of room to wonder, as I have, if someone would go so far as to connive against Mr. Manly’s mental state. And that room is because of the enormous stakes of what had been covered up before this whistleblower’s bold step forward.

What’s at Stake: “If somebody had done their job…”
Whatever they did about it, the same forces that denied his evidence in 1989 couldn’t have been happy to see Ray Manly surface with it again in 2001. It’s really a horrendous thing they were hiding. There was a security breach but someone decided not to sound the alarm, perhaps more interested in business as usual for the Holiday season. Terrorists could have planted a nuclear device for all we knew. Luckily Mr. Manly caught the breach, but negligently nothing further was done. He and Mr. Radley both say no police came when they were called, no one searched the area, and no alerts were put out. And after the murders of 270 people later that day, investigators decided, first thing out of the gate, that the bomb had to come from anywhere other than the breached terminal three.

At Malta we have a suggestion of a phantom Libyan no one saw circumventing security, slipping a bomb onto KM180, and leaving no evidence at all. At Frankfurt we’ve heard of an unexplained failure to catch with X-ray that Maltese-origin bomb. And at London, a final failure is admitted, but the loading there had to be rushed with no additional checks. And the bomb should have been caught before that, the Brits chastised.

And this whole time they were sitting on Manly’s and Radley’s reports of a physical breach of padlock security at their airport the morning before the bombing. And the police simply didn’t factor this in to their globe-trotting quest for the truth because they simply lost the statement they took about it, and then forgot all about it. We’re to presume this was on accident, but we aren’t.

The break-in is not, as some have painted it, some lone clue floating without context. Heathrow is the most logical place to load a bomb onto a London-to-NY flight, for one thing. For another, there’s the alternate villain – Iran and their contractors in the PFLP-GC who had a known bomb style that is an eerie fit with what happened. These radio IEDs – one of which went missing six weeks before Lockerbie - would be triggered by altitude change and blow up early - between 30 and 60 minutes after leaving the ground. PA 103 fell apart 38 minutes after leaving Heathrow’s runway. And, further, a case matching the primary case description (brown, hard-shell Samsonite) was noticed at the bottom of container AVE4041, inside which a case just like that, in about the spot reported, blew up. It’s clear that this is likely the bomb bag, but it was there before the Malta one could have been, so it was ruled a coincidence.

There is the problem of elapsed hours, as brought up by the prosecution and appeal judges. Why break in, plant a bomb bag among the luggage, and then leave, only to have it loaded to the last flight of the day many hours later? And is that even possible? It’s a fair question but not a slam-dunk. If someone were on the ground cutting locks at midnight to hide a bomb, might they not be willing to come back for a second penetration to actually place it for liftoff? (I’ve split off my theory about this two-phase plan into a separate article, to be posted soon)

So the actual bomb case might have been introduced to the airport following the break-in, and his report could well have led to the plot being halted. During his 2002 testimony, Manly was right to say, during a dispute with prosecution counsel Alan Turnbull:
"Maybe if this had been acted on at the time we may not be sitting here now. I'm suffering still and I have suffered all this time from the horror of it. If somebody had done their job then maybe, maybe it may not have happened."
Simple human sloppiness, and lack of vigilance could explain this and so much other suffering. But what on earth can explain the failure to put the pieces together even after the fact?

Tested in Court 2: Break-In confirmed, end of story
The dispute with Turnbull cited above was started by the latter, one report says, when he “at one point accused [Manly] of not taking the hearing seriously.” Hence the sharp reply: "I think I'm treating this more serious than you. That's the reason I'm here. It's very, very serious. You may not think so but I do and I have lived with it for 13 years.”

Turnbull’s speculations could, to a decent person, appear like the musings of a joker who did not in fact take these things seriously. To answer the whole notion of a security breach, he proposed that a worker on the airside could have forced the door enough to break the lock, just so he could take a short-cut through landside. To the same effect, “Turnbull said a muted response by airport officials and police to the incident showed they did not believe an intruder had slipped into sensitive areas at the airport.”

And of course Manly was shown wrong by the prosecution of the location of the door and other minor details, as if these matter. His report was confirmed, shown to the court, describing the break-in as "a very deliberate act, leaving easy access to airside." That was his impression doing something Turnbull has never done - looking at the evidence himself in context. Mr Radley's log book was also shown, with an entry for 12:35 saying "Door at T3 2a lock broken off." And as an excellent AP article from the time put it:
Philip Radley, Manly's supervisor, also disputed Turnbull's suggestion that a baggage handler probably forced open the double doors that were also secured with a long metal bolt. "You couldn't break it out like that," he said. […] Mr Radley said the detour for baggage handlers if the doors were locked was only "a couple of minutes". He could not recall any previous incident in which staff had forced open locked doors.
The experts on the scene agree in rejecting this bollocks speculation. It was a padlocked airside door, and it was clearly broken by someone quite intent on breaching security for possibly criminal purposes. And the appeal court even agreed on this:
"We would not ourselves be inclined to draw the inference, argued for by the Crown, that the lock was forced from airside by airport employees seeking to take a shortcut to landside from their place of work in the airside area." [248]

It was apparently then a deliberate breach of security, which Manly described as the most serious he ever saw, and it happened by sheer coincidence, the same day as the Lockerbie bombing. It was not acted on before the bombing, and was apparently covered up after. Because if anyone was in a position to understand the importance of Manly’s find, it would be the same police who lost his statement after learning some of the other clues that it tied together.

But “lost” is such a passive word when more likely it was a decision, from early and high, that the real mechanical truth must not emerge. From this denial, it was only a matter of time before the Libyan plot on Malta, or some other suitable replacement narrative, would emerge of necessity.

More on the implications: After the Break-In

- Evidence of a lock cut like butter." Feb 13 2002. AP.
- Maltese trail that left judges with no doubts. Guardian, March 15 2002.
- Lockerbie: Heathrow break-in revealed. The Independent, Sept. 11 2001.
- Lost for 12 Years... David Pilditch. Daily Mirror. Sept. 11 2001.,+1988+Guard+finds+break-in+at...-a078106831
- I have had to live with this for more than 13 years. I believe my evidence was swept under the carpet.
- Hans Köchler, report on appeal proceedings. March 26 2002.
- Appeal Court Judgment (Opinion of the Court), March 14 2002 (PDF)

Saunders' Spinsulation

13 January 2010

San Francisco Chronicle writer Debra J. Saunders, who bills herself as the paper's “token conservative,” is also a self-appointed (??) expert on the “Lockerbie bomber” Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and the feckless handling of his captivity by non-Americans. It’s not normally my style to pick on token people, but I've opted to take note of her lush layers of spinsulation - a fluffy confection of filtered snippets of reality, melted with industrial-scale hot air, and with some added color, blown up with political spin. It's a familiar commodity here, long used to rile up the public on the right issues and in the right way.

Somehow, in her pontifications on British buckling to Libya's "commercial warfare," this stuff has become jammed thick and tight between her words and the actual truth at every available point. It sure doesn’t take much to be a "journalist" using her formula.

Below is the main attraction, a two-part post collaborative with a rare guest writer. The first and scholarly half by Michael Follon deals with Saunders' wrong assertions about al-Megrahi's release. This is from an e-mail sent to her and then to me, responding to a re-printing of her article “Libya, Lockerbie, and commercial warfare.” The second part is by myself, from a comment I posted on the same article.
8 January 2011

Debra J. Saunders,
San Francisco Chronicle.

Dear Ms Saunders,

I am writing concerning an article "Pan Am bomber freed by 'commercial warfare'" written by you which appeared in the 'Gaston gazette' on Jan 03, 2011.
'On Aug. 20, 2009, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill authorized the "compassionate" release of al-Megrahi on the grounds that prostrate cancer left al-Megrahi with less than three months to live.'
FACT: The decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was made in accordance with Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993.

FACT: The Medical Report did not specify that al-Megrahi had less than three months to live. The three month period was an estimate NOT a definitive statement as to life expectancy.

From the Medical Report -
'It is very difficult to be precise on matters of prognosis for any disease and Mr Megrahi's condition is no different.'
'the report found that "Scottish officials ignored their own prostrate cancer experts, none of whom would agree to a three-month prognosis."'
FACT: From the Medical Report:
'Consensus on prognosis, therefore, has now moved to the lower end of expectations from 10 months ago. Reviewing the total picture, the concluding specialist view is that, in the absence of a good response to treatment, survival could be in the order of 'months' and, no longer 'many months'. Whether or not prognosis is more or less than 3 months, no specialist "would be willing to say"...The clinical assessment, therefore, is that a 3 month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate for this patient.'
'There was talk of releasing al-Megrahi a year before he was diagnosed with cancer.'
FACT: In June 2007, it became public knowledge that a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (the 'deal in the desert') was being negotiated between the UK and Libyan governments (at the instigation of the then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair MP). Megrahi was the only Libyan prisoner being held in gaol anywhere in the UK. The SNP government in Scotland sought to have Megrahi specifically excluded from any such agreement. The UK government advised that this was not possible.

'The Menendez report also found that the British Labour government played a role in MacAskill's decision.'
FACT: The very suggestion that the British government had a role in the decision shows a total lack of understanding of the political, legal and jurisdictional realities as well as the relationship between the current Scottish government and the UK government.

FACT: At the end of the trial at Camp Zeist in Holland the prosecution conceded that it had been unable to prove how the bomb, which destroyed Pan Am 103, got into the baggage system and onto the aircraft.

- Lockerbie - Information relating to decision on Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi 
- Medical Report on Megrahi
- Lockerbie decision
- Lockerbie release - Parliamentary Statement
- Justice Committee Official Report - Inquiry into Decision on Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
- Meeting with Senate Delegation - 16 September 2010
- Protecting patient confidentiality
- Herald Scotland - 'Megrahi's gold'
- Herald Scotland - 'History of controversial Megrahi release'
- Blogpost: THE LOCKERBIE CASE - 'Scottish Government statement following Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing'
- Blogpost: THE LOCKERBIE DIVIDE - 'Some Background on Karol Sikora'

Yours sincerely,

Michael Follon

First, on the above, the clearly flawed prognosis and questionable decision to release al-Megrahi, in my opinion, do seem a bit shady. I'm glad he got to go home, since I'm certain he's innocent. But the people deciding were not, ostensibly, motivated by mercy for an innocent man, nor likely by mercy at all. So I'd consider the motive category open, perhaps populated by more than one, and trade is likely in there somewhere. Of course, they killed his second appeal along the way, so maybe "trade considerations" aren't to blame for this – at least, not solely or even primarily. [To see my take on what happened there, see my chronology of August 2009, "MacAskill's two-track railroad"]

Then, my comment at Saunders' article, emphasizing Megrahi's likely innocence, here slightly edited and with links.
Posted by: CausticLogic 2:47 PM on January 7, 2011

I've noticed that Debra J. Saunders has been writing a lot about the "Lockerbie bombrer" and shady deals by non-Americans who live outside our little Island of virtue here, in that cold, weak-willed, terrorism-coddling world.

First, there's no doubt in reviewing convictions, appeals (heard and not), etc. that Megrahi is legally guilty and all this protest is legally justified.

But legal and physical reality are sometimes different. Take this case - a review of the best evidence suggests - strongly, coherently - that Megrahi was either framed or just wrongly convicted on accident.

So long as the distinction doesn't matter, carry on. Otherwwise, I reccommend to millions of Americans to take their own look at the facts:
- Tony Gauci's "identification" of Megrahi (different hair, face, height, build, age, and buying the clothes on a day when Megrahi wasn't on Malta at all)
- Abdul Majid Giaka's contributions to the indictments and his acceptance at trial ("liar")
- Edwin Bollier's role (google Bollier + "catch-letter")
- The many millions of $$ paid out to Gauci, another Gauci, Giaka, and perhaps Bollier (but declined by Vassallo)
- The list of important witnesses against Megrahi (precisely Gauci, Giaka, and Bollier)
- Bogomira's printout (Prod. 1060) with no verification (why no verification?)
- John Wyatt's forensics tests
- the records of political "scientists" Thomas Hayes, Allen Feraday, and Tom Thurman
- the London origin clues, Iran and the PFLP-GC as actual perps never caught.

Just in case reality, which evidence gives us a glimpse of, matters anywhere near as much as a cherished legal technicality. See about a hundred credible people that have made the right stand, with reality and against miscarried justice: "No one seriously doubts the Libyan's guilt?"


The Justification of Abuse

January 11 2011

Note: The following is an editorial written by Robert Forrester, Secretary of the Justicee for Megrahi campaign, first published Jan. 2 on the website of the Firm, re-published at the author's permission. Original link:

Following the recent article ‘Cart before Horse’ published by The Firm on the 29th of December 2010, concerning some of the developments surrounding application by the Justice for Megrahi campaign group (JFM) for an independent inquiry into the 2001 Zeist conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, a question has been posed by a reader relating to the possible constitutional propriety of asking the Scottish Government to seem to be expressing doubt in a judicial decision by acceding to the demand for such an investigation. This self same suggestion has been put to the committee of JFM from both within and without the organisation on no fewer than three occasions in the last six months.

In actual fact, the practical issues with respect to this were comprehensively dealt with on the 9th of November 2010 during the meeting between JFM and the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee (SPPPC), when one of the MSPs raised exactly the same point. At the time, Professor Black (JFM) established that there was precedent for the executive’s establishing inquiries into court judgements in Scotland, and whilst he as unable at the time of the meeting to provide references to precise cases, he did, as promised, submit such to the SPPPC by the end of business on the same day (see mail from Professor Black QC to the SPPPC appended below). This, therefore, deals with the immediate history and practicalities of the issue, however, it does not address the more general political and philosophical aspects of the relationship between the three powers of state in situations of this type.

In state constructs where absolute, usually monarchic, power reigns, legislative and judicial powers are, and always have been subservient to executive power. Nevertheless, even going as far back as classical Greece and Rome there has always been a consciousness that a balance of power needs to be struck between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive in order to ensure that no one of them can come to predominate. The importance of the separation of powers was further enshrined by Baron de Montesquieu in the early 18th century, and is frequently regarded as a kind of sacred touchstone of irreproachable and squeaky clean political conduct, which must never be transgressed. However, both the practice and appropriateness of regarding the separation of powers in such a sanctified manner is questionable and fraught with pitfalls.

To take a brief, simple and cursory glance at Westminster for instance. No one seems to have batted an eyelid at the fact that for centuries it has been perfectly acceptable for a member of the judiciary to be a member of the House of Lords (the legislature). So much for the practice relating to the separation of powers there then. The key question though is, as mentioned above, the one of appropriateness.

The principle of maintaining clear cut divisions between the three powers is, of course, vitally important in offering some, limited though it may be on occasion, guarantee that no one of the powers predominates and, equally importantly, in preventing interference of one of the powers in the affairs of another: typically political influencing of the judicial process by the executive. The latter point here is one which critics of the Zeist verdict, principally Professor Hans Köchler (UN appointed International Observer at Zeist), have suggested might have been at play in the trial. It ought to be mentioned at this juncture though that JFM’s position on the deliberations of their Lordships MacLean, Sutherland and Coulsfield when arriving at their verdict does not, nor has it ever, supported the view that the judges gave consideration to the political implications of their judgement. No such evidence exists for their having been involved in any sinister political conspiracy, indeed, far more understandable and less grave explanations could quite easily have been at play. That is not to suggest that there may not have been political machinations outwith their specific personal deliberations, and, in that respect, Professor Köchler could well be justified.

What lies at the heart of this is whom does the state exist to serve and whom does the separation of powers exist to serve? The answer, of course, is the citizens of the state concerned. This leads us to how best can the separation of powers serve the people. It may not be the most perfect analogy, but no computer, it hardware and software, is any better than the minds which create it or those who operate it. On the ground that none of us would claim to be immaculate, our political systems, however hard we strive for perfection, are inevitably going to, at some stage or other, reflect shortcomings in our creations. As such, we set up institutions that we can fall back upon to attempt to redress failings in our systems and their practice. In the context of the judiciary, one most obvious example of this is courts of appeal. Thus, we can take steps to remedy potential miscarriages of justice.

As we all know, Mr al-Megrahi’s appeals process has not been fully put to the test in law, this then leaves us with a highly unsatisfactory situation, where a man might well have fallen victim to a wrongful conviction and so long as the executive arm of state maintains its satisfaction with the verdict from the court of fact (Zeist) there is no ultimate recourse to justice; it is neither done, nor is it seen to be done. Therein lies the failure inherent in maintaining the separation of powers as an immutable Holy Grail.

Whilst JFM has on a multitude of occasions outlined in considerable detail why it believes Mr al-Megrahi’s case is deserving of an inquiry - not because the organisation is saying that the judges were wrong, but simply that the verdict appears incomprehensible in terms of the standards of proof required to reach it beyond reasonable doubt – the Scottish Government clearly seems to be presenting its case on the back of the fact that for the executive to doubt the conduct of the judiciary is to contravene the sanctity of the separation of powers. Indeed, in doing so, the government can even evade the possible embarrassment of acceding to JFM’s wish for it to outline the reasons for its satisfaction with the verdict.

Quite apart from the fact that JFM has supplied the Scottish Parliament with examples where inquiries have been set up to investigate judicial decisions in the past, such an attitude, as is being demonstrated in the Scottish Government’s confidence in the Zeist judgement, is nothing short of an abuse of the separation of powers. This political creed (the separation of powers) exists to avoid problems such as perceived interference between the executive and judicial powers of state, not to create or enhance them.

With respect to the type of case under discussion, insofar as the separation of powers is vital in preventing political expediency influencing the conduct of the judicial process, it also critically important that the separation of powers must not be used as a tool to impede justice. It is for that reason that the power to establish inquiries into the activities of the judiciary rightfully exists, and rightfully exists in the hands of the executive. To prevent inquiries of this nature from taking place on the ground that the separation of powers is sacrosanct is to say we are comfortable in maintaining a system which has ossification inherent within it and is willing to countenance the perils of convicting the potentially innocent.

One feels bound to say that this might not have been exactly what de Montesquieu had in mind. Whereas the essence of the separations of the powers of state is to avoid the corruption of power, to advocate its use in such cases as this is to justify it as a means of instituting that very thing itself: corruption.

It is well within the scope of the Scottish Government to open an inquiry into Lockerbie/Zeist without manipulating irrelevant constitutional implications. Furthermore, it is a deeply sad comment on an executive, if it chooses to sacrifice justice on the altar of a conveniently selective interpretation of constitutional law.

Robert Forrester (Secretary, Justice For Megrahi).

Robert Black's e-Mail
Here is the text of my e-mail to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee (referred to by Robert Forrester):
I write in response to the issue raised in this afternoon's hearing regarding the constitutional propriety of a judicial decision's being referred to the Scottish Law Commission for consideration.

I know that my former student [X] has e-mailed you drawing attention to the SLC's Report on Sharp v Thomson (Scot Law Com No 208, 2007). In this instance the reference was made to the Commission by the Scottish Ministers. Another example that springs to mind is the Commission's report on Dorchester Studios v Stone, published as Irritancies in Leases (Scot Law Com No 75, 1983). Here the reference was made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, but if it were to occur today, it would be the Scottish Ministers who would do it.

There are other examples -- both before and after devolution -- of decided cases being referred to the Commission, but I hope these two will suffice to reassure the Committee of the constitutional propriety.

May I also say that the powers which now repose in the Scottish Ministers to recommend the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy in the case of a convicted person would involve the institution by those Ministers of an inquiry into the safety of the conviction in question. Once again, there is no constitutional impropriety in this -- indeed it is the only way in which the decision whether to recommend the exercise of the prerogative can properly be taken.

Professor Robert Black QC

Cart before the horse

January 11 2011

Note: The following is an editorial written by Robert Forrester, Secretary of the Justicee for Megrahi campaign, first published Dec. 29 2010 on the website of the Firm, re-published at the author's permission. Original link:

Tuesday the 21st of December 2010 marked the 22nd anniversary of the Lockerbie tragedy, and, yet again, the megaphones of the self righteous upholders of our sacred establishment were turned up to full volume broadcasting their moral rectitude, their contempt and their outrage at the compassionate release of the ‘Lockerbie bomber’ by those contemptible money grubbing Brits. And who do these Scots think they are, by the way? How dare their ministers refuse to appear before us to account for their sins?

What’s more, they’re obviously barbarians, just look at them, the men dress up in skirts! Perhaps I am just old fashioned, but, what is it about these politicians, whose currency is emblazoned with the strapline “In God We Trust”, and yet are so utterly oblivious of the need for common courtesy and respect to be shown to the bereaved of Pan Am 103 on the 21st of December? For the families and friends of that fateful flight in 1988, this day is their day of remembrance; a day for them to be left in peace. It is not a day for American senators: Gillibrand, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Schumer to vent their views on Mr al-Megrahi’s repatriation.

Not content with having openly demonstrated their comprehensive ignorance concerning, amongst other things, the fact that Scots law differs in a variety of substantial respects from English law, succeeded in muddling up the compassionate release with the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) and, moreover, made a most embarrassing public display of exhibiting their impotence when attempting to get those insolent Scots provincials, Messrs Salmond and MacAskill, to comply with their senatorial diktats, they now seem to consider it appropriate to trample over the sensibilities of those for whom the 21st of December will forever be a day cast with pain. Far be it for any of us to suggest that, prior to the November mid term elections, the US senators might initially have hyped up the release for their own cynical political advantage, however, to further raise the issue on the 21st betrays any sense of civilised decorum.

Predictably, the Scottish Tories too have fallen into line by bemoaning the fact that Mr al-Megrahi still hasn’t been invited to atone for ‘his’ heinous conduct before a “higher power.” Nothing new there then, Britain is still “self evidently the junior partner”, as Prime Minister Cameron clarified in his ‘Special Relationship’ gaffe. Such exquisitely tactless timing, of course, is nothing new. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary in 2008, Peter Fraser (AKA: Baron Fraser of Carmyllie, the Lord Advocate who brought the indictments against Messrs Fhimah and al-Megrahi no less) thoughtfully impressed the world with his psychology credentials by suggesting that one of the bereaved (Dr Swire) was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Only the bereaved can truly claim the right to represent themselves on this annual commemoration. Whether they do or don’t doubt the safety of the Zeist verdict, they all deserve to be allowed the freedom and dignity to mourn their losses without politicians and other commentators utilising the occasion as an opportunity to exercise their crass and frequently ill-informed opinions. Given that Senator Menendez does not believe that Mr al-Megrahi is terminally ill anyway, he could presumably have held back the senators’ report until the anniversary of the verdict (the 31st of January), but perhaps that wouldn’t have had quite the same impact on the US market. After all, the senate wants to restrict the matter to the release and to speculating on the relationship between medical practice and business interests. Therefore, to associate the publication of their conclusions with the date of the judgement would inevitably attract even more attention to the issue of a possible miscarriage of justice at Zeist. And the last thing that ‘anyone’ wants is to query legal practice, isn’t it?

However, the on-going vaudeville being played out across the Pond has unquestionably had some quite unusual repercussions in Scotland. Firstly, SNP activists clearly owe a deep debt of gratitude to Menendez et al for achieving something that no amount of campaigning could. The Senate’s antics managed to recruit massive support from almost all the ‘barbarian’ inhabitants of Scotland behind their champions, Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, in their refusal to become subservient to Washington’s arrogance when requiring that Scottish ministers subject themselves to the circus in person. Quite an accomplishment indeed.

The SNP must now be praying that the Washington mob start shooting from the hip again just prior to the forthcoming 2011 Holyrood elections. Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, the Justice For Megrahi (JFM) campaigners got in on the act too. Given all the righteous talk of opening an inquiry, JFM sent individual letters of invitation to the senators to join up as signatory members of its quest for an inquiry to be set up. Nor did it stop there. JFM also invited Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill to become members of the campaign group. Despite the gravity of the Lockerbie/Zeist case, never let it be said that JFM doesn’t have a sense of humour!

No doubt in part due to their busy election schedule, not one of the senators deigned to reply. Not so our Scottish ministers. It’s all in the breeding, you see. As expected, the ministers felt it inappropriate to accept the JFM invitation, however, in a letter to the organisation from the Scottish Government Justice Directorate, the government considerately outlined its reasons for not establishing an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie/Zeist case under the auspices of the Scottish Government. The message contained in the letter was nothing new or unexpected, in fact, it was identical to a statement made by Mr MacAskill shortly after Mr al-Megrahi’s release, namely: the Scottish Government does not possess the power to open such an inquiry due to the international facets of the case, it ought to be sanctioned by a body with the requisite powers to do so, and finally, the government “do not doubt the safety of the conviction of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi.”

The position of the government on this issue is one which leaves the party’s supporters with considerably less cause for celebration than the input of the US Senators. SNP activists quite openly express their befuddlement and even anger at the government’s stance. JFM has no allegiances to any political parties but does empathise with those members of the SNP who can’t comprehend the government’s reaction to what, on the face of it, seems to be an electoral gift to a party that professes its very raison d'être is Scotland’s independence from the UK.

On the 9th of November, armed with its public e-petition, JFM persuaded the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee (SPPPC) to write to the Scottish Government asking it to cite the legislation it is relying on to support its somewhat disingenuous contention that it lacks the power to sanction an inquiry into matters which fall squarely and exclusively under Scottish jurisdiction. [ed - see the video of that powerful session here] The SPPPC graciously gave the government until the 10th of December, an entire month no less, to locate just such legislation. Three weeks after the deadline, the government has still failed to reply. Surely it can’t be, given the legions of legal advisers at its disposal, that the government’s claim is fallacious after all. It’s all a bit embarrassing really. On the one hand, the SNP seems to want to break Scotland’s ties with the Union, whilst on the other, the behaviour of the government in abrogating its responsibilities on this matter leaves one with the image of the First Minister clinging on to the apron strings of mother Britannia.

It won’t be much of a vote winner amongst the electorate who are concerned about the direction the criminal justice system is currently moving in if the government finally has nothing left to resort to other than mimicking UK Foreign Secretary William Hague’s recent remarks by saying that an inquiry wouldn’t be in the public interest. Nor will it enhance the SNP’s democratic credentials if the government is seen to give the SPPPC the brush off. The SPPPC has the potential to become one of the most democratic developments in recent UK political history. What petitioning in Scotland needs is more power; such as would bind the government by statute to the holding of referenda when a petition attracts a given percentage number of signatories, for example.

Ultimately, should the government produce no legislative support for not opening an inquiry into a wholly Scottish legal case, JFM’s position will be vindicated and, by dint of this, the question of endorsing an inquiry held by some body with international authority will automatically be rendered totally redundant as the ping pong ball that has been batted backwards and forwards between Edinburgh and London finally comes to rest at the doors of Holyrood. The only straw which will then remain for the government to grasp on to will be its satisfaction with the safety of the conviction. JFM’s position on the verdict has been widely and comprehensively disseminated throughout the public domain since it commenced campaigning for an inquiry. JFM has itemised in considerable detail its reasons for having doubts over Lockerbie/Zeist, the government has yet to reciprocate.

It could be a mistake though to come away with the impression that the dead hand of the Crown might not have been making its presence felt in all of this. In fact, through both their actions and inaction, the government and the parliament have been instrumental in providing the High Court of Justiciary, and, therefore, the civil service, with unprecedented and final powers to accept one application for appeal and reject another. Not only does this introduce a dangerous conflict of interest into the justice system, but it also disposes of the essential independent scrutiny that is provided by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) and clearly poses a new and significant obstacle in the path of anyone considering the reopening of Mr al-Megrahi’s second appeal in the interests of justice.

Moreover, the government seems quite reluctant to lift the legal consent requirements which are hindering the publication of the SCCRC’s statement of reasons for referring Mr al-Megrahi’s case back to the court of appeal.

Our legal system may well have its imperfections, one of the reasons we have a court of appeal is to try to address possible shortcomings in the system and in its functioning. The SCCRC’s grounds for Mr al-Megrahi’s second appeal have yet to be tested in law. Until the question marks which continue to hover over this case are cleared openly and independently, there will always exist the suspicion that the actions of the civil service and governments are more concerned with the protection of the reputations of individuals in preference to the reinstatement of the reputation of Scottish justice.

One particularly sobering thought resultant from Zeist must surely be that if anyone ever manages to establish that Mr al-Megrahi was in fact a victim of a miscarriage of justice, and had he been tried by an American court, he would almost assuredly not be alive today.

So, to return to our friends in Washington, what’s the beef? Many wonder what can be so important that you need to invade a private day of grief and mourning for individuals who have become random victims of fate with your speculative theories. After all, it’s not as if the hegemony of those who uphold the safety of the Zeist verdict is losing the battle. Except, of course, for the moral one, where the more draconian their actions (see section 7 of the ‘Cadder Case’ Legislation) and the more vapid their excuses (see the Scottish government’s reasons for not opening an independent inquiry), the more suspect this whole affair looks. Perhaps it might be a good idea to have an inquiry into the safety of the conviction before we sound off too much about investigating the compassionate release of Mr al-Megrahi. Just a passing thought.

Robert Forrester (Secretary, Justice For Megrahi).