By Robert Forrester,
Secretary, Justice For Megrahi Campaign
Special to The Lockerbie Divide
March 28 2011
In 1958 President Eisenhower was so concerned about the prevailing hatred for the United States amongst the peoples of the Middle East that he commissioned a report in the hope that better minds than his could explain what seemed to have flummoxed him. In 1953, Eisenhower, supported by Churchill and later Eden, sanctioned Operation Ajax. Operation Ajax was regime change at its cheapest and most effective. It cost a mere $1,000,000 to run, involved buying off the Iranian military and employing gangs of Teherani thugs to create civil disorder and achieved its desired result of overthrowing the popular Iranian prime minister Mohamed Moussadeq. Why did he do this? Because Moussadeq was showing unfortunate socialist tendencies whilst at the same time as sitting on some rather desirable oil supplies. In fact, the man actually had the gall to suggest that Iran should be controlling its own mineral wealth and selling at prices the Iranian people felt appropriate, not those which the UK and USA felt like paying. Happily, everything went according to plan. Moussadeq ended up under house arrest for the rest of his days, the Iranians were subjected to thirty years of murder, torture and political repression by the West’s man of the hour, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and we got the fuel to fund our casino economies at our prices, at least until Ayatollah Khomeini flew home to roost. Eisenhower’s National Security Council, in its report to the president, explained that the people of the Middle East seemed to have run away with the bizarre notion that the US is only interested in supporting tyrannical despots in their region who are willing provide cheap mineral resources. It is tempting to ponder whether Eisenhower’s illuminating report cost more than Operation Ajax.
Saddam Hussein proved to be a tad more awkward to deal with however. But once he had gone past his sell by date (he never did manage to club those dashed mullahs over the border despite all the help we gave him), and despite the weaponry we’d supplied him with, he really didn’t stand a chance. All that was needed was to await a convenient source of outrage, in his case the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre, to creatively stitch him into, trample all over the UN, then let him have it. Abracadabra. Ignoring the appalling cost in lives, a country that was once an example to the region in terms of its social services and state run enterprises was bombed back into surviving in open sewers. But hey, they got democracy, plus, the oil was free again, just like the 1920s.
So now it’s Libya’s turn. Gaddafi stands even less of a chance than Saddam. It’s hard to imagine the bookies taking bets on anything other than the precise hour and minute of when the rope will go round his neck. How can the rebels lose? They have copious amounts of the very best that modern air power, intelligence gathering and command and control can provide taking out any and all opposition they would otherwise have fallen victim to. They simply have to pick up the pieces, follow the instructions and keep shambling on towards Tripoli. Neither the Chinese nor the Russians have shown any real signs of stepping in. Even the US has estimated that it really doesn’t need to take such a prominent role in affairs and handed it all on to NATO. In any case, the US already has enough on it’s plate what with commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst at the same time having to keep a weather eye on other developments in the region: not least on the fact that Syria is getting a little frayed round the edges, and, although Israel is doubtless smiling, it won’t be sleeping. Furthermore, oil is marginally less of a lure to the States where Libya is concerned. Not so however with the UK. Let’s not forget Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’, the BP contract and all the embarrassing mud that is sticking over the revelations that have come out concerning Gordon Brown’s government’s attempts to help Tripoli negotiate the legal hurdles of Mr al-Megrahi’s repatriation.
Despite the distress caused to anyone directly connected to the Pan Am 103 incident,
it almost seems wrong to draw a spotlight on to the Lockerbie/Zeist case at a time when Libya is being torn apart by civil war. Nevertheless, David Cameron has chosen to do just that recently in seeking to justify his belligerence by saying of Muammar al-Gaddafi: "The people of Lockerbie know what this man is capable of." (David Cameron - 21/3/2011). Justice Secretary Ken Clark is also now playing the Lockerbie card by saying that we have to bring Gaddafi down to prevent him from seeking another Lockerbie in revenge for the UK’s support of the rebels.
It is always much healthier if you can draw on some moral high ground to justify your cause in the public eye. We tried it on in Afghanistan with how we were lifting the Afghans out of their feudal political system by waving our magic wand of democracy over them. Now, with Libya, it is Lockerbie and terrorism. Ever since Libya’s ex justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, set himself up as leader of Eastern Libya in February with claims that he had proof that Gaddafi was behind Lockerbie, this has provided the opportunity to indulge in a bit of sleight of hand and massaging of public opinion. Lockerbie combines public ignorance, terrorism, fear and righteousness, and, it sells papers into the bargain. Abdel-Jalil’s claims are simply that, claims. After a month, he has yet to produce one iota of substance. Is he saying that he was negligent enough to leave the documents back in Tripoli? Once Tripoli falls and no documents are produced, are we then going to hear that Gaddafi must have destroyed them? Perhaps though, documents will be produced, however, we all know what is said about truth and the fog of war. Even today, and despite the payments the Telegraph had to make to George Galloway concerning the documents that were allegedly found in Baghdad proving his complicity with Saddam’s government, their origin is still not settled. In any case, it surely comes as no surprise to anyone that Gaddafi would have been behind an action such as Lockerbie if one of his countrymen had carried it out. But, did Abdelbaset al-Megrahi do it? Therein lies the rub.
To say that the case against Mr al-Megrahi has one or two problems would be arch understatement.
- There was a break in to Heathrow airside giving access to Pan Am 103’s loading bay area shortly before take off. This incident was reported to the Heathrow authorities at the time but not made public until after the verdict was passed twelve years later.
- There is no evidence of any unaccompanied luggage leaving on flight KM180 from Malta’s Luqa airport.
- There are question marks over the provenance of documentary evidence provided by Frankfurt Airport ( the transit point from Luqa to Heathrow).
- Along with other alleged inducements, the Crown’s star witness, Mr Tony Gauci (the proprietor of a Maltese clothes outlet) and his brother, Paul, are accused of having been in receipt of payments of $2,000.000 and $1,000,000 respectively under an American rewards for justice scheme for their testimony (a practice understandably alien to Scots Law, and presumably sufficient to dismiss both Tony and Paul Gauci as witnesses. The US authorities have yet to deny this deal). Tony Gauci’s testimony falls considerably short of being conclusive in terms of his eye witness account, which attempts to match up the identity of the purchaser of clothes from his shop, on account of key discrepancies with regard to the date of the purchase and the height, weight, age and build of the purchaser. Even though he had been prompted by numerous photo spreads containing pictures of Mr al-Megrahi and privy to media photographs of the accused prior to the trial, Mr Gauci could do little better than say that the man in the dock “resembled” the purchaser of the clothes.
- Serious doubts also arise over the provenance of the fragment of circuit board alleged to have been part of a triggering device for a bomb which brought down pan Am 103. How did it (along with a sample of Mr Gauci’s clothes) survive temperatures of around 4,000ºC at the heart of a Semtex explosion? Why was it not tested for explosive residue? Why was forensic testimony accepted from representatives of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE), who had in previous terrorist trials been pilloried for the nature and standard of their testimony? Why were alterations to the discrepancies in the notebooks of the RARDE forensic witnesses not made more of in the trial? Why was the fact that a Crown witness, Mr Ulrich Lumpert, signed a sworn affidavit in 2007 retracting his Zeist testimony relating to the fragment of circuit board as effectively being a pack of lies not pursued? Why was the fragment sent to the US and allowed to leave Scottish jurisdiction, surely this would disqualify it as evidence?
- Suspicions are also rife concerning what influence the FBI and the US Department of Justice had over the Scottish led police investigation and the trial under the auspices of the High Court of Justiciary.
The above simply serve to illustrate some of the more prominent worries over the safety of the conviction. To compound this, the judges chose to believe a tale of how the bombing was carried out that defies what any normal person could accept as credible, namely: that Mr al-Megrahi contrived to place an unaccompanied luggage item on to flight KM180 from Malta which was then subsequently transferred at Frankfurt to a feeder flight to Heathrow, again unaccompanied, where it was finally loaded on to Pan Am 103, unaccompanied. Thus defying three security regimes in three separate countries, and the bomb still managed to blow up its target and not either one of the first two flights despite the inevitability of delays etc which would have been par for the course around Christmas time. It is truly hard to believe that 15 lay Scottish jurors could reach anything other than a not guilty verdict in such circumstances. Although impeccably qualified as judges, their Lordships, MacLean, Sutherland and Coulsfield, in arriving at their guilty verdict, displayed an absence of experience when it comes to the role of being a juror. Indeed to give credence at all to the story of the Luqa-Frankfurt-Heathrow connection, especially as it was presented at Zeist, demonstrates a complete inability to imagine how paramilitaries operate.
It also cannot be ignored that the structure of trial itself could well have contributed to the conviction in that the Crown played the role of prosecutor, judge and jury. The litany goes on.
Mr al-Megrahi’s first appeal failed, this is true. However, in their judgement, the judges were at pains to point out that they took no account of the sufficiency of evidence since the defence did not require them to do so. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) then referred the case back to the Court of Appeal on six grounds suggesting that no reasonable court would have reached a guilty verdict on the basis of the evidence laid before the Crown by the prosecution. This appeal was then, unnecessarily, dropped by Mr al-Megrahi in his attempt to gain compassionate release. There has been much speculation regarding the possibility that he may have come under pressure to do so even though the terms of compassionate release do not require an appeal to be dropped to become a beneficiary of it. The long and the short of it is, therefore, that this conviction has not yet been fully tested in law in the interests of justice. The best that the Crown, in the form of the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, has been able to offer as a counter to these concerns is a mind-boggling merry-go-round of circular polemic which amounts to little more than: he was convicted, therefore, he did it. So parlous are the arguments offered up by the Crown that one almost feels bound to ask what qualifications are required for the job of Lord Advocate. To reassure us all that the Crown and the police are still taking the Lockerbie Zeist affair seriously though, even at a point ten years after the conviction, Angiolini also claims that the Dumfries and Galloway police are conducting an on-going review of the investigation. It, in fact, transpires that this is being carried out by one sole officer. In the words of Christine Grahame MSP, this constitutes little better than “file management.”
Recently, on Auntie Beebs weekly vox pop mainstay, Question Time (broadcast from Edinburgh on the 10th of March) we were again treated to the predictable and tedious question of how Mr al-Megrahi must be laughing now that he is back in Libya. I imagine the member of the public who posed the question will be reduced to stitches if he ever contracts a malignant carcinoma. In order to kick the SNP bashing off, Douglas Alexander was straight in with claims that Mr al-Megrahi was currently being chauffeured around Tripoli in a Lamborghini (presumably to make him a more awkward target for the coalition missiles). Annabel Goldie took the biscuit though in bemoaning the damage that the compassionate release had done to the good name of Scottish justice, completely ignoring the profound and legitimate concerns over the safety of the conviction. Clearly, a potential miscarriage of justice does no harm at all.
There are of course differences between the histories of Iran and Libya, however, the salient threads of Western foreign policy run through both. In the case of Libya, we have the Italian genocide of the late 20s and early 30s (accounting for upwards of 50,000 deaths in camps), the Second World War, and then a monarchy (supported by Italy, the UK and the US) that pocketed Libya’s wealth until overthrown by Gaddafi. Much like Khomeini was viewed later in Iran, Gaddafi was seen in the late 60s as someone who would stand up to Western depredations. The surprising thing is that he managed to survive being a thorn in the side of the West for as long as he has: Reagan’s bombs, sanctions and all the rest. In pitting himself against such power, he, of course, subjected his people to his own brand of Gestapo for decades. Ex justice minister Abdel-Jalil’s claims, therefore, should be seen in this light. Anyone who managed to negotiate the perils to attain such a position under such a tyrannical regime is bound to have washed his hands in the people’s blood on a fairly regular basis. To that extent he doubtless has every reason to make the types of claims he is making in the hope of protecting his own skin.
It is hard to see Gaddafi going anywhere now except to follow Saddam to the gallows. The West will do what it knows best and install someone who is suitably on message until the oil runs out. Who knows what may become of Mr al-Megrahi? A one way ticket to the US’s Guantánamo rest home perhaps? Whatever transpires, it will make no difference to the case being put before the Scottish parliament by justice campaigners. No amount of dissembling mendacity claimed by politicians and others can ever change the documented historical fact of what took place at Zeist. This conviction simply does not stack up, no matter how good your gas mask.