Two Libyan men stand accused of planting the bomb that blew up Pan Am
flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people, in 1988. They
are being framed, says James Heartfield
According to Lester Coleman, a former agent of America's Defence Intelligence
Agency, American and British authorities have conspired to blame Libya for
the Lockerbie bombing when the evidence points elsewhere. Having written
a book exposing the frame-up, Coleman has fled to Sweden, where he has been
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah have been charged
with planting the bomb by the Western authorities. But Colonel Muammar Gadaffi,
the Libyan leader, is the real target of the frame-up. His regime is a convenient
whipping-boy for Western powers which want to demonstrate their authority
on the world stage. Being seen to push the 'terrorist state' around can
make Western leaders look far stronger than they do at home.
Under pressure from the USA, Britain and France, the United Nations has
now imposed sanctions against Libya to force Gadaffi to hand over the two
accused. Quite apart from the suffering sanctions themselves will cause,
the demonisation of Gadaffi's Libya is paving the way towards more Western
military strikes in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the Americans, who have pushed the case against the Libyans
the hardest, know that it is not true. Indeed, according to Lester Coleman,
it was an American government agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA),
that established the procedure which was used to evade security on Pan Am
Coleman's book, Trail of the Octopus, describes in detail how the
DEA established a route through which drugs could be smuggled from the Lebanon
to the USA. The DEA was trying to infiltrate the Lebanese drugs trade.
The detection-proof route they established for smuggling drugs was later
used to plant the bomb on the American airliner flying from Frankfurt to
JFK airport, New York. Those responsible were, in all likelihood, militant
Islamic supporters of the Iranian regime, active in the Lebanon. They simply
used the DEA-established drugs route, substituting a semtex bomb at the
Something like the Lockerbie affair is inevitably shrouded in intrigue,
disinformation and counter-charges, which make the truth elusive. However,
Coleman's story does chime with the initial report commissioned by Pan Am
from Juval Aviv, an Israeli private investigator. Aviv's report found that
the Americans had several warnings of the bombing, both from the Israeli
secret services and from Arab sources, but seemed to go out of their way
to ensure that the package was not intercepted. Coleman suggests that American
intelligence assumed the package was drugs, and wanted to protect their
The bombing was a retaliation for the American attack on an Iranian Airbus,
carrying mostly pilgrims from Bandar Abbas to Mecca, in July 1988. The USS
Vincennes was patrolling the Persian Gulf in Iranian waters when, claiming
that it was under attack from an F-14 fighter, it blew the Airbus out of
the sky, killing all 290 passengers. The Vincennes air-warfare coordinator
was awarded a Commendation Medal for his 'heroic achievement'.
The truth about who planted the Lockerbie bomb does not suit the requirements
of US and British foreign policy. So they have gone to enormous lengths
to disguise it. Juval Aviv's report of American involvement in setting up
the bomb route, and the congressman who leaked it, James Traficant, were
pilloried in the press.
Lester Coleman, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent who stumbled
across the story by mistake, was framed by his employers on charges of giving
false information on a passport application - as he had been told to do by
the DIA. The American authorities are still trying to persuade the Swedes
to hand him over.
Pinning the blame for Lockerbie on Gadaffi's Libya fits the stereotype of
international terrorist that the West has worked hard to create. Libya was
first declared a 'terrorist regime' in 1977. Since then the West has attacked
Libya on several occasions, most famously in 1986, when a joint US-British
airstrike against Tripoli and Benghazi killed scores of Libyans, including
Gadaffi's adopted daughter.
The '86 raid was justified as retaliation for the bombing of the La Belle
Discotheque used by American servicemen in Berlin. In fact, West German
anti-terrorist police chief Manfred Ganscho found all the evidence pointing
at Syria instead of Libya. Then the Americans released a translation of
a tape purporting to be a coded message from Libya's East Berlin bureau
According to Ronald Reagan, the message read that 'the attack would be carried
out the following morning'. The West German authorities translation was
less conclusive, reading only 'something will happen tomorrow when Allah
wills it' - hardly damning evidence (Observer, 27 April 1986).
Manufacturing evidence of Libyan responsibility for the Berlin bombing fitted
the stereotype of Gadaffi the international terrorist, and allowed the Western
powers to look tough by launching a raid against soft targets. By contrast,
taking on Syria, a regional power which the Americans were keen to court,
would have been more difficult and dangerous.
Similarly, at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, it suited Western purposes
to point the finger at Gadaffi's men rather than pro-Islamic Lebanese guerrillas.
The Islamic militants in Lebanon were holding American hostages. More importantly,
the Reagan government was trying to rebuild its links with Iran through
the 'arms-for-hostages' deal set up by Oliver North. Disturbing the delicate
web of intrigue in the Lebanon seemed a lot less attractive than pinning
the blame on the all-purpose villain, Colonel Gadaffi.
Today's sanctions are in keeping with the vilification of the 'terrorist
state'. The assumption of Libya's guilt is built into the UN resolution
that imposes sanctions, demanding full compensation for crash victims and
the breaking of all ties with international terrorism. This amounts to a
demand that Libya not only hands over its citizens for a showtrial in the
West, but also pleads guilty to the bombing before sanctions can be lifted.
The photofit of Gadaffi as godfather of international terrorism is a Western
invention. While the Libyan leader talks up his opposition to the West among
his own people, in practice the Libyan government has been trying to ingratiate
itself with Western leaders. Earlier this year the Libyans offered to share
their intelligence on Irish republicans with the British authorities.
By playing up the threat of 'international terrorism', the Western powers
depict themselves as the victims rather than the aggressors in the third
world. The Lockerbie bombing was a response to Western military intervention
in the Middle East. But by pinning the blame on Libyan terrorism, the West
separates the bombing from the attack on the Iranian Airbus. Consequently,
the Lockerbie bombing is seen as the fanatical act of ideologically motivated
terrorists, instead of a desperate retaliatory blow in a war between the
Western powers and the people of the Middle East.
Once the Libyans are caricatured as terrorists, and sanctions imposed, it
is but a short step to further military 'retaliation' by the USA and its
allies. Attacking Libya is a virtually risk-free way of demonstrating Western
firepower in the Middle East. Libya itself has a population of only 3.5m,
most of whom are farmers or herdsmen. Libya is isolated from its more conservative
Arab neighbours and vulnerable to attack. Attacking Libya could provide
the USA and Britain with the sort of uncomplicated show of military strength
that has eluded them of late, as Western forces have become bogged down
in Somalia and the Balkans.
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah stand little chance
of a fair trial if they are forced out of Libya to face the charges. The
full weight of Western security and diplomatic forces have been brought
to bear in order to pin the blame on Libya. They are not likely to let anything
as unimportant as proof stand in their way.
And, when the West again frames Gadaffi for involvement in 'international
terrorism', the sentence on the Libyan people may well be carried out by
the US Air Force and the RAF once more.
Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie, Inside the DIA, Donald
Goddard with Lester K Coleman, Bloomsbury, £16.99 hbk
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 61, November 1993