Libya's "Admissions of Guilt"

By Caustic Logic
completed February 15 2010
last update March 23 2011

But They Admitted It!"
For those who believe in Libya's guilt for the Flight 103 bombing, among the hardest points to get around is how Libya is perceived to have admitted their guilt. When whole governments act on it as fact, and the villain government finally confesses, well that would seem to confirm one's beliefs and show they had been on the right track all along.

It's a reasonably reasonable conclusion to arrive at, but a lazy one based on reading the headlines and not the main text or the footnotes and sources. Those who would like to maintain such assurances should read and be sure they can account for the following points, referring to the 2003 official admission of "responsibility" to the United Nations, an alleged 1993 confession from Colonel Gaddafi himself, and two other lesser examples sometimes cited.

Under Prolonged Duress
Following he indictment of Libyan agents al Megrahi and Fhimah in late 1991, the UN Security Council under Anglo-American leadership moved to enforce the official truth with sanctions. Resolution 748 of 31 March 1992 imposed an arms and air embargo on Libya, supported with diplomatic restrictions, and establishment of a sanctions committee. The committee’s work then led to Resolution 883 of 11 November 1993, toughening sanctions. This measure “approved the freezing of Libyan funds and financial resources in other countries,” reports, “and banned the provision to Libya of equipment for oil refining and transportation.” [1] Eventually all air traffic to and from the nation was barred, all U.S. and French trade with Libya was forbidden, and although a total oil exports embargo was considered too hard on others, their sales shrank as the industry suffered a lack of supplies.

An award of up to $4 million was offered by the US Justice Department in 1993 for help in bringing the suspects to justice (poster at left). It seems this reward stemmed from Bruce Smith, a Pan Am pilot and husband of a 103 victim, who first assembled a prize from airline pilot groups and other sources, including his own retirement account, eventually totaling $4 million. [2] The reward was renewed in 1995, and according to the Washington Post:
"[The FBI] also placed the pair, believed to be in Libya, on its 10 Most Wanted List. Seeking to rekindle international interest in the bombing, the FBI and State Department said they will work with the U.S. Information Agency to communicate with persons in Libya who might assist in bringing the suspects to court." [3]
Col. Gaddafi in fact showed great eagerness to help in that process, seeing a trial as their way out of sanctions, just as the (publicly announced) goal was suppossed to be. But as a 2001 book by Allan Gerson and Jerry Adler summed up the real thinking in Washington, "it was desirable to leave things just as they were," with Libya seeming intransigent and thus deserving of more squueezing. Rather than try thhe perpetrators with their amazing evidence, many felt "Libya would be their prison, and the United States would do its best to keep Kaddafi in there with them." Not to mention the Libyan people who also lived under these long-running punishments. And never mind the families of Flight 103's victims, who wanted to get what they percieved as justice. But this was never an open policy - the sanctions were an unfortunate effect of Tripoli's refusal to comply with terms the book says "appear to have been chosen to make it as difficult as possible for Kaddafi to comply." [4]

In October 1995, Libyan officials cited a "tragic toll" from sanctions, a $19 billion dollar wound damaging their agricultural sector significantly, and causing as many as 21,000 preventable deaths since their inception. [4.5] Such reports might be prone to exaggeration, but others started wondering if there were any deaths what the sanctions were about when the Libyans were ready to deal. Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, even Tony Blair started suggesting a little flexibility. Perhaps a trial of the suspects really would be doable outside the United States.

By late August 1998 the framework of a trial was established, and used as the measure of Resolution 1192, agreeing to suspend sanctions once the suspects were handed over to the special Scottish court in the Nehterlands at Camp Zeist. Tripoli made it happen, with help from luminaries like Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia and Nelson Mandela of Africa and the venue ideas of Robert Black QC, of Lockerbie. Megrahi and Fhimah were finally flown on a special flight to the Netherlands in early April, and on the 6th were official arrested at Camp Zeist and set to await their trial. Sanctions on Libya were immediately suspended, under threat of re-enforcement (that never did materialize). [5]

1993: Involved and Framed?
During this time of intense pressure to get the Libyans to publicly admit their guilt or at least help a court to “prove” it, a remarkable admission was reportedly taken in 1993, taken down by a prominent American journalist with suspected CIA links, Arnaud de Borchgrave. But it was not mentioned in public for over a decade, it would seem. In an article for NewsMax, from January 2004, de Borchgrave first revealed “Gadhafi’s Secret Message”:
"On July 6, after a lengthy interview, he went off the record and asked me to deliver a message to the director of Central Intelligence in Washington. He admitted Libya's guilt for the downing of Pan Am 103, but made clear that it was originally an Iranian retaliatory terrorist attack for the downing by the U.S. Navy of a peaceful Iran Air Airbus
“So the Iranians subcontracted part of the job to a Syrian intelligence service, which, in turn, asked the Libyan Mukhabarat to handle part of the assignment," Col. Gadhafi explained.“
Mr. De Borchgrave says he did report this behind the scenes to the CIA immediately on returning home from the interview. Vincent Cannistraro, who had headed the CIA's Lockerbie probe in its earliest (shiftiest) phase, continued throughout the 1990s as a voice for Libyan guilt. He has alluded to Libya taking the Iran contract from the Syrians, following the Autumn Leaves operation, but did not give de Borchgrave as a source nor give col. Gaddafi any credit. [7]

Again on Megrahi’s release, in late August 2009, de Borchgrave wrote about the interview, explaining how he asked Gaddafi “to explain, off the record, his precise involvement in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.” The Colonel “dismissed all the aides in his tent” and went candid, “in halting English without benefit of an interpreter.” Mostly he decried terrorism and offered to assist the West fight bin Laden-type terror networks. Again, he explained the bombing as payback for the shoot-down of Iran Air 655, an act the Arab world could not accept as an accident:
"[R]etaliation, he said, was clearly called for. Iranian intelligence subcontracted retaliation to one of the Syrian intelligence services (there are 14 of them), which, in turn, subcontracted part of the retaliatory action to Libyan intelligence (at that time run by Abdullah Senoussi, Gaddafi's brother-in-law). "Did we know specifically what we were asked to do?" said Gaddafi. "We knew it would be comparable retaliation for the Iranian Airbus, but we were not told what the specific objective was," Gaddafi added." [8]
So why, when Libya is usually reported as "always insisting on their innocence," did de Borchgrave’s story and its propaganda power sit in the dark for the crucial years of pressure? Is it the prominent Iranian and Syrian elements? Were the Americans holding out for a Libya-only storyline? That is roughly how it turned out. Interestingly, the colonel reportedly used this “admission” to reiterate Libya did not lead the operation.
“If we had initiated the plot, we would have made sure the accusing finger was pointed in the other direction and we would have picked Cyprus, not Malta, where some of the organization was done. The others picked Malta presumably to frame us.""
This isn't really a big help when your official storyline is that two Libyan JSO operatives, commanded by their JSO higher-ups, had specifically targetted PA103 via Malta airport, picked because Malta was their own "back door to the West." The JSO got the timers and the radio and the semtex, made the bomb, did up their own feasibility studies we were told, and had their two real movers buy the clothes, secure the suitcase, steal the luggage "taggs" to write that death sentence on, and personally shove it off from Malta on D-day. There is no "framed by the Syrians" in that scenario.

And all this when the real evidence Gaddafi may or may not have known about highly suggests the bomb went on PA103 way up in London, with nothing physically to do with Malta at all. Is this just another Libyan non-admission admission? Or worse - an attempt to hijack the West's fantasy narrative and steer it back away from himself?

99/01: Two Other Admission-ish things
Allan Gerson and Jerry Adler’s 2001 book The Price of Terror failed to mention this account of de Borchgrave while citing the available hints that Gaddafi “might have been suffering from a guilty conscience.” In a private 1999 interview with another journalist, Milton Viorst, Gaddafi “edged towards a kind of confession,” the book notes. As Viorst reported it, the leader said"
“Whether we were responsible for bringing down the French plane [UTA 772] will be decided by a French court. We don’t say anything about it. The same is true of Lockerbie. I can’t answer as to wether Libya was responsible. Let’s let the court decide.” 
That's not a full denial, but nowhere near an admission. But it was ambiguous enough that an aide later told Viorst Gaddafi “was not talking officially” and referred him to the Foreign Minister for the government's official story (few realize that Gaddafi is not really the government of Libya). Not being published in the book, we can presume this was the same claim of innocence Libya has always maintained.

In spring 2001, the book continues, Gaddafi reportedly slipped again, and confessed to diplomat Michael Steiner that Libya had been behind the Lockerbie bombing as well as the LaBelle disco bombing in Germany, but had since stopped terrorism and wanted to make up. The source for this was a cable of a top-level meeting with German and American leaders, including President Bush and Chancellor Schroder. A New York Times article from May 23 cites the leaked cable thus:
"Steiner reported on his talks with Qaddafi in Libya. Qaddafi admitted that Libya took part in terrorist actions (La Belle, Lockerbie). He clarified that he had abandoned terrorism and seeks the opportunity to make Libya's new position known. Qaddafi, too, is worried about fundamentalist trends."
Americans were upset this was leaked to the public, and it caused quite a row between Steiner, a flamboyant attention-seeker, and others in the German government, but they confirmed “that "La Belle" and "Lockerbie" were specifically mentioned by Mr. Steiner in this context.” Whatever exactly that proves. [10]

Owning Up in '03?
Many suspect the Zeist trial was never supposed to happen, as the evidence behind the indictment was too weak to stand up at Trial. The Crown's prosecutors managed to swing it somehow, but it took nearly two years from the handover, and a display of mental gymnastics worthy of the Realpolitik Olympics in the scale and skill of it. On January 31 2001, the three-judge panel made it official – Megrahi was legally guilty for the plot, and Fhimah was not guilty.

From there, many insisted sanctions should be lifted to reflect Libya’s good faith through this process. But Bush and Blair balked, demanding an admission of guilt and contrition, plus compensation to victims’ families, before they went past suspension. It was a letter, dated 15 August 2003, from Libya’s Permanent Representative to the President of the Council Ahmed A. Own, that paved the way. Own's letter explains “the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” as Libya calls itself, “has sought to cooperate in good faith throughout the past years” on solving the problems made theirs “resulting from the Lockerbie incident.” It was in this spirit that they “facilitated the bringing to justice of the two suspects charged with the bombing of Pan Am 103 and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials.” [11] Presumably they mean real actions, making this another dodge in some minds.

But the letter also pledged Libya to cooperate with any further investigations, and to settle all compensation claims with haste, and to join the international “War on Terrorism.” It was widely (and reservedly) hailed as a bold… statement. But still evasive. It doesn’t clearly state anywhere the suspects or any Libyans were in any way actually guilty of the “incident.” Nonetheless, after a month of discussion in the Security Council, sanctions were lifted on Sept. 12 2003. France and the US insisted on abstaining, but it was otherwise a unanimous vote of 13. The United States’ own sanctions would remain in full force due to the general evilness of col. Gaddafy, US officials made clear. (Additional normalizations did happen in 2007).

There’s been much oxymoronic harping on this 2003 letter in the West as both an admission of guilt and an arrogant refusal to admit their guilt. The BBC’s 2008 Conspiracy Files episode on Lockerbie is a brilliant example. “For those that believe al Megrahi was framed,” snarls the narrator, Carolyn Katz, “one fact remains hard to explain away. Libya agreed to award substantial compensation for Lockerbie. Sanctions were then lifted.” [12] Well, ignoring that they just answered their own stumper of a question, it’s a good question. Why would they agree on their responsibility and get sanctions lifted unless they knew they were guilty? Just to get sanctions lifted? The movie continues: “Tripoli accepted responsibility for what it called “the Lockerbie incident.” But does it admit guilt?” Of course not, and by pretending there’s some disconnect, they’ve primed the audience to see the darkest of cynicism at work.

No Other Solution
Despite his portrayals as a crazed prophet of death, Moammar Gadaffi proved a shrewd and patient pragmatist in all this. He can't have ever believed his nation actually did the crime, but against "guilty" as a legal truth, he accepted they had no choice but to do “the time.” It’s a type of bind known to breed passive-aggressive tendencies. The Colonel’s son and likely successor Saif al Islam al Gaddafi (left) seems to understand the dilemma. When he was interviewed at home for the same Conspiracy Files program (latter minutes), he was respectably candid, but came across strangely anyway.
Q - Does Libya accept responsibility for the attack on Lockerbie?
A - Yes. We wrote a letter to the Security Council, saying that we are responsible for the acts of our employees, or people. But it doesn’t mean that we did it, in fact.
Q - So to be very clear on this, what you’re saying is that you accept responsibility, but you’re not admitting that you did it.
A - Of course.
Q - That’s… to many people will sound like a very cynical way to conduct your relationship with the outside world.
A - What can you do? Without writing that letter, you will not be able to get out of the sanction.
Q - So this statement was just word play. It wasn’t an admission of guilt.
A - No. I admit that we play with the words. And we had to. We had to. There was no other… solution.
The BBC are masters, among others, of careful editing, and it helped bolster their whole “you don’t admit you’re guilty” thing where people have to explain there’s nothing to “admit” (or fail to explain that, as happened here). Thus he could, with a little imagination, appear to be saying “we don’t admit it, buuuuut of course we did it, you already know that.” Note the cut that removed some of his words from the middle of the exchange, unlikely to have been irrelevant. Thus is clearly established a cynical payout ($2.7 billion) and bit of semantics to buy up and slough off their non-admitted guilt so they could resume trade. They got away with Lockerbie using money and words and are laughing at us and making more money!

Immediately after “there was no other solution,” the video cuts right to the interviewer asking “so it was like blood money if you like,” which seems to be referring to what was just shown. But really it refers to the American victims' families, whose “money, money, money, money” attitude (well-known and spearheaded by Victims of PA103 Inc.) was “materialistic,” “greedy,” and amounted to “trading with the blood of their sons and daughters.” It's tactless statement, but with the magic of editing, it can seem to mean so much more!
[1] History of UN Sanctions on Libya. href="
[2] Gerson, Allan and Jerry Adler. "The Price of Terror: Lessons of Lockerbie for a World on the Brink. Harper Collins, 2001.
[3] Thomas, Pierre and Thomas W. Lippman. $4 Million Reward Offered in Pan Am Case. Washington Post. March 24 1995.
[4] Gerson and Adler pp 101-102
[4.5] "Case Studies in Sanctions and Terrorism: Libya" The Peterson Institute. Date given as October 14 1996, Source given as International Herald Tribune, 14 October 1995, 13.
[7] Biewen, John and Ian Ferguson. "Mass Murder Over Scotland." Shadow over Lockerie series. American Radio Works, 2000.
[9] Gerson and Adler, pp 290-291
[10] Cohen, Roger. "German cable on Qaddafi sets off dispute." The New York Times. May 23 2001.
[11] UN Security Council. Letter dated 15 August 2003...
[12] UN Security Council. 12 September 2003/ Press Release SC/7868: Security Council Lifts Sanctions Imposed on Libya.
[13] The Conspiracy Files: Lockerbie." Prod/Dir Guy Smith, Ex Prod Sam Anstiss, Narr Caroline Catz. BBC Two. First Aired 31 August 2008. 52:49 mark.
[14] see 13, 53:40 mark


Charles said...

As usual, Mr Logic has given a very good summary of the machinations post the 1991 charges.

A few points:

Sanctions were imposed onLibya in the name of the victims of Pan Am 103 and UT-772 of 19 September 1989.

The second atrocity is definitely Libyan, and as the FCO has confirmed to me there were links between Locerbie and UT-772 only at UN level. I don't believe the French would have got sanctions simply on the basis of UT-772 alone.

When it came to their removal which was done at the instigation of that wily and successful operator Jack Straw, they were done in the name of those over Pan Am 103 alone. Straw would not lift a finger to oblige a Frenchman, and the removal of the sanctions definitely weakened various French positions.

Guillaume Denoix de St Marc was told that the French would use their veto over withdrawal of sanctions on behalf of the French families if he insisted, but he chose (rightly in my opinion) not to demand that. He had been warned that if he had done so, that would have been the last action the Quai d'Orsay would have done for the Fremch families group, UDFEC.

There is much more of this desperately unhappy affair to come out.

Caustic Logic said...

Charles said:
"The second atrocity is definitely Libyan, and as the FCO has confirmed to me there were links between Locerbie and UT-772 only at UN level. I don't believe the French would have got sanctions simply on the basis of UT-772 alone."

I understand you've got a big stake in that incident, Charles, as it killed your brother, I understand. And I admit I haven't studied it barely at all myself. It is a worthy and very interesting story in its own right, and something I mean to study, but it's a few items down on my own list. Eric Margolis agrees with you:
"I believe al-Megrahi was probably innocent and framed. Scotland was right to release him. But Libya was guilty as hell of the UTA crime, which likely was revenge for France's attempt to kill Khadaffy."

But instinctively, I have doubts. The two events are too tied. It seems weird to blow up another airliner when you're trying to avoid blame for another, and both use timers to do so over land. "Well, Khadffi is just insane like that!" doesn't cut it. It's more like some chronic bullying situation, where Libya's that disabled kid that you just could believe really did snap.

Thurman's in there. I don't trust the French on this stuff any more than their Western Allies. Here's a bit from Alan Gerson and Jerry Adler, The Price of Terror, 2001:
"The French claimed to have information that both the UTA [772] and Pan Am [103] bombings were decided on at a meeting in Tripoli in September 1988. If true, that would tend to exonerate Jibril and Iran in the Pan Am bombing, because it implies Libya was planning the attack even before the PFLP-GC cell in Germany was rounded up; Jibril would have had no reason to hand off the job to the Libyans until after the arrests, in October. But American investigators never confirmed this September meeting." [p 98]

I'm pretty sure they never planned 103, so this meeting sounds as fake as most else I'm seeing. And they planned 772 a year ahead of time? This is just magic word salad drawing a caricature of lone wolf villain Khhffady behind EVERYTHING.

And if they were behind it after all, I'll probably figure that out when I get to it.

(note: Khffdadi misspellings done on purpose)

Quincey Riddle said...

The BBC versus Saif al-Islam (Pt 1)

Make no mistake, Saif al-Gaddafi is no spring chicken; he is intelligent, well-educated and worldly wise, and anyone in the West who thinks that he is just another uncivilised fuzzy wuzzy sitting on oil wealth that ought by rights to be ours to control is being rather quaintly naïve. We are not playing some after dinner board game popular with the chattering classes here, this is Real Politick. It doesn’t surely place too much of a strain on the imagination to work out why Mr al-Megrahi was released, does it? And after all, it’s a win win situation all round, isn’t it? Mr al-Megrahi gets his liberty, Libya gets its investment, the great and the good over here get endless sound-bite opportunities to pontificate self-righteously. Anyway, it will all be forgotten about soon enough, so no one need worry about losing access to their parliamentary expense accounts, need they?

Regrettably, the fate of Pan Am 103 and the people of Lockerbie is just one of many tragedies that has its root cause embedded in capitalism’s dependency on oil to keep its fires burning and the lucre rolling in. The final seal of approval endorsing this economic strategy came at the bean feast of the Paris Conference in 1919. From then on we have had the British bombing of defenceless Kurdish villages in Iraq during the 1920s through Operation Ajax in 1953 (which saw the ousting of the not only poplar but elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Moussadeq, by the USA and the UK at the cost of a mere $1,000,000. Snip at the price really) to all the countless post WWII conflicts in the Middle East. The message here being perfectly clear: if you are sitting on mineral wealth which we require and you have no means to defend yourself or retaliate, you will give it to us on our terms or suffer the consequences. Is it any wonder then that Iran wants to develop a nuke?

Quincey Riddle said...

The BBC versus Saif al-Islam (Pt 2)

Colonel Gaddafi, in his transformation from once rabid enemy of the ‘free world’ to flavour of the month with the oil conglomerates, has clearly come to the conclusion that it is better and far more profitable, all things considered, to give up on his nuclear weapons programme and do the diplomatic rounds. Whilst Mrs Thatcher strangely, but predictably, claimed that sanctions would not work against her friends in apartheid South Africa, she was adamant that they would when dealing with Libya. Saif al-Islam has been open about the painfully crippling effect that sanctions had on his country and its people. To deal specifically though with his statement on Lockerbie, in which he says, as Libyan representatives before him have, that Libya accepts responsibility but not guilt for the incident, I see no problem whatsoever with such precisely selected language. It is clear, unequivocal and consistent. If I purchase, for a nominal fee, a company that has fallen on hard times, I, therefore, take on responsibility for that company. That is a very long way away from saying that I was guilty of driving the company to the wall in the first instance.

It is not particularly surprising that the BBC either can’t or do not wish to see this distinction. Whilst they are not an arm of any particular hue of government, they are an integral part of something massively more powerful: the hegemony of the establishment. This particularly mysterious beast is only visible by the shadow its presence casts over our political psyche. Never mind the vacuous, largely content free, presentationally polished, general purpose newscasts for mass consumption where one has come to expect prejudice to define the selection of stories worth reporting, the loaded choice language used to describe events and conduct interviews with, not to mention the way in which reporting has been replaced by comment, even the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme, Newsnight, is equally contaminated: Gavin Esler being a typical serial offender on every occasion when he deals with the Arab or Iranian side of any conflict with the West. There again, if the hoi polloi can be so easily conditioned, why cannot those appointed as BBC anchors be appointed by its own establishment on the basis of their witting or unwitting conformity?

Let’s allow someone who really understood how to deal with all these disaffected swarthy types to sum it up, shall we? "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes." Winston Churchill (UK Colonial Secretary, responding to criticism of his plans for the people of oil rich Iraq in the 1920s).

Robert Forrester (Justice for Megrahi Campaign).

Caustic Logic said...

I never did pop back in to say, excellent posts, QR! Until now, obviously.

Cindy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.