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Hugh Miles: Lockerbie: was it Iran? Syria? All I know is, it wasn't the man in prison

A lot of powerful people would be embarrassed if the truth, whatever it is, came out

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Last week saw more than its share of stories about miscarriages of justice. But spare a thought this Christmas for the victim of the biggest miscarriage of justice in Scottish legal history, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the man convicted of blowing up Pan Am flight 103 en route from London to New York, 20 years ago today.

For many years, it looked as if there would be no trial over Lockerbie. British and US governments believed Colonel Gaddafi would never hand over the two Libyan intelligence officers accused of the bombings, which some regarded as fortunate as they believed the evidence against Libya would not stand up in a court of law.

But thanks largely to the persistence of Nelson Mandela, 12 years after the bombing a trial did take place. In exchange for the lifting of sanctions Gaddafi handed over the two accused and the Scottish court swallowed almost the whole improbable story. On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted of the mass murder of 259 passengers and crew, as well as 11 people on the ground in the village of Lockerbie. He is now serving a life sentence in a Scottish jail. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.

Megrahi's conviction was a shocker. No material evidence was presented linking him to the bombing, let alone any evidence that he put the bomb on the plane or that he handled any explosives. Even the prosecution subsequently questioned the credibility of its star witness.

Nevertheless, keen to move on, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing although it never accepted guilt. Gaddafi paid $2.7bn (£1.8bn) in compensation to the victims' families – $10m for every victim. The final payment was made this year. US lawyers took approximately a third of the final amount. But the economic and humanitarian price for Libya was far higher: UN sanctions over an 11-year period inflicted billions of dollars' worth of economic damage on Libya and prevented thousands of Libyan citizens from travelling abroad.

The central pillar of the prosecution's case was that Megrahi wrapped the bomb in clothes before checking it on to a plane in Malta without boarding it himself. The bomb, the prosecution alleged, was subsequently transferred at Frankfurt on to the flight to London, and then loaded on to the flight to New York. Two years after the bombing, Granada TV ran a programme about the bombing featuring a dramatic reconstruction, in which a bag containing a bomb was loaded on to an Air Malta flight by a sinister-looking Arab, who then sloped off without boarding. Upset by the damage to its reputation, Air Malta sued Granada TV. The airline's solicitors compiled a dossier of evidence demonstrating that all the bags checked on to that flight were accompanied by passengers and none travelled on to London. The evidence was so convincing that Granada settled out of court.

Since the Crown never had much of a case against Megrahi, it was no surprise when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) found prima facie evidence in June 2007 that Megrahi had suffered a miscarriage of justice and recommended that he be granted a second appeal.

For 11 years, while legal proceedings were pending and throughout the trial, the British Government argued that a public inquiry into Lockerbie was not appropriate as it would prejudice legal proceedings. After the conviction, it switched tack, arguing instead that no public inquiry was necessary. But if the conviction were overturned, there would no longer be a reason to hold back. For Megrahi, this cannot come soon enough. In September he was diagnosed with advanced terminal prostate cancer.

The British Government is preparing for Megrahi to be transferred to Libya for the rest of his sentence. This would eliminate the risk of an acquittal and lessen the chance of a subsequent inquiry. Applications for a transfer cannot be submitted while an appeal is pending, which for the Government raises the convenient prospect that Megrahi will abandon his appeal so he can die at home. But letting Megrahi die a condemned man reduces the chance of Scottish prosecutors, the police, various UK intelligence services plus many American and other foreign bodies being asked a lot of difficult questions. Last month, a general agreement on the exchange of prisoners was signed between Libya and Britain paving the way for such a transfer. The agreement will be ratified in January.

"The Crown and the prosecution are using every delaying tactic in the book to close off every route available to Megrahi except prisoner transfer, as this means he has to abandon his appeal," commented Professor Robert Black QC, the Scottish lawyer who was the architect of the original trial who feels partly responsible for the miscarriage that occurred. "It is an absolute disgrace. It was 27 June 2007 when the SCCRC released its report and sent its case back to the criminal appeal court, and here we are 18 months later and the Crown has still not handed over all of the material that the law requires it to hand over and it is still making every objection conceivable."

There are, however, two obstacles to the British plan. Firstly, the decision to transfer Megrahi lies with the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond. Upset that the Government reached an agreement over Megrahi without consulting him first, Mr Salmond has ruled out any transfer.

Secondly, whether Megrahi dies in jail in Scotland or Libya, under Scottish law his appeal can still go ahead without him. "Any interested person can continue the case. In this case one of Megrahi's children could continue with the appeal to clear their father's name," says Professor Black.

If Megrahi didn't do it, who did? Some time ago suspicion fell on a gang headed by a convicted Palestinian terrorist named Abu Talb and a Jordanian triple agent named Marwan Abdel Razzaq Khreesat. Both were Iranian agents; Khreesat was also on the CIA payroll. Abu Talb was given lifelong immunity from prosecution in exchange for his evidence at the Lockerbie trial; Marwan Khreesat was released for lack of evidence by German police even though a barometric timer of the type used to detonate the bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 was found in his car when he was arrested.

Three months after the bombing, Dumfries and Galloway police published a report on Lockerbie that concluded: "There can be little doubt that Khreesat is the bomb-maker for the [Palestinian group] PFLP-GC, and there is a possibility he prepared the explosive device which destroyed Pan Am Flight 103. As such he should not be at liberty."

Not surprisingly, given the amount of skulduggery that has swirled around Lockerbie over the past 20 years, conspiracy theories related to the case have bloomed. Some believe that the CIA deliberately framed Libya so Syria would fight in the first Gulf War. Others suspect Lockerbie to be linked to drug smuggling, arms shipments and Iranian hostage negotiations.

Short of an unexpected confession, Lockerbie will likely remain one of those great, unsolved political whodunnits, like the assassination of JFK.

The fate of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, however, and the tarnished reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system rest in the hand of the Scottish courts. Megrahi's acquittal, posthumous or otherwise, will undo a heinous wrong and return us to where we were 20 years ago – searching for the truth behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103.

Hugh Miles is the author of 'Playing Cards in Cairo' www.hughmiles.com

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16 Comments

Firozali, come off it. You're saying that none of the men involved in the Bombay massacres were Indian or Pakistani. They were all Canadian, British or American? You are as bad as those westerners who claim that all Muslims are terrorists. Everyone is capable of committing acts of evil, regardless of their nationality or religious beliefs.

Posted by Nick | 23.12.08, 14:12 GMT

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Forget conspiracy theories. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing there was a very strong concensus that it was an act of retribution for the shooting down by the USS Vincennes of an Iranian civilian airliner on a normal schedule flight over the Persian Gulf in July 1988. All 290 people on board including many women and children died just as horribly as those on Pan Am 103. Not only did the US Government initially deny responsibility which it later and reluctantly admitted but the Captain and Weapons Officer of the Vincennes were invited to the White House to press the flesh with President Reagan.
As for Justice in the great democracies read the findings of Judge Platt 1990-92 which effectively destroyed a great American Airline.
In chill grey Scotland an obviously innocent man from North Africa is dying far from his home and family.
But then, he is'nt one of us ,
Happy Christmas everyone.

Posted by Geoff Merrick | 22.12.08, 08:58 GMT

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Was it Iran, Syria......or apartheid South Africa?

A wealth of circumstantial evidence to incriminate the apartheid regime can be found here: e-zeecon.blogspot.com/2008/11/lockerbie-propositions.html

Posted by Patrick Haseldine | 21.12.08, 18:37 GMT

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I was very struck by a strange coincidence that occurred: the public's focus was very strongly directed on Syria as the culprits. Then suddenly all the leaking, briefing and spin was switched to Libya, though only for very tenuous reasons. What happened next?

Terry Waite was released from confinement in Beirut.

Two halves of one deal?

Posted by chris lee | 21.12.08, 16:43 GMT

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With respect to the families of the PanAm 103 victims

After that 20th anniversary of the Lockerbie tragedy

How will the world be responsive to the largest miscarriage of justice in Scotland in the "Lockerbie Case", if the manipulated proofs discovered by MEBO must be confirmed at the end of Megrahis current appeal?

In 2005 Edwin Bollier presented to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) his own investigation thesis with determining facts, which among other things show clearly that no bomb suit-case was transported from air Malta via Frankfurt to London Heathrow and no MST-13 timer made for Libya was involved! At the 28th of June 2007 the SCCRC granted Mr Abdelbaset al Megrahi a second appeal because of a possible miscarriage of justice.

More information on: www.lockerbie.ch
by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd. Switzerland

Posted by Edwin Bollier | 21.12.08, 16:19 GMT

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A lot of powerful people would be embarrassed if the truth, whatever it is, came out.
The true value of democracy what Bush wanted all over the world is here.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Sunday that it is for the courts to determine what action if any should be taken against the journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush.” I say that the law has to take its natural course in the case of Muntazer al-Zaidi even if it leads to his release," the government press office quoted Maliki as saying. Why do we look for the Iran, or Egypt, or any Muslim country? I am surprised that any small fire goes off these days, it is the Muslim Sate. I agree the 2001 and Pakistan with Taliban created bad names however please, we ought to look at the citizenship of the terrorist. They are English, Canadian or Americans and not Syrian, Iran or Pakistanis.
I thank you
Firozali A. Mulla

Posted by Firozali A.Mulla | 21.12.08, 15:36 GMT

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If Megrahi didn't do it, who did?

Was it Iran, Syria......or apartheid South Africa?

Apartheid South Africa is seldom mentioned in the context of the Lockerbie bombing, but there is a wealth of circumstantial evidence against it.

Once Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's conviction is overturned, US and British investigators will make strenous efforts to find the real Pan Am Flight 103 culprits......or will they?

Posted by Patrick haseldine | 21.12.08, 15:02 GMT

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IT WAS THE MOSSAD…

“Without contradicting Aviv, Thomas and others believe the tagging and smuggling aboard of the lethal suitcase can most easily be ascribed to a sayan or mabuah working for Mossad, which had a motive for eliminating certain passengers. (A sayan is a Jew who puts loyalty to Israel above loyalty to his own country and does services, usually unpaid, for Mossad; according to Thomas, the most famous sayan working in the UK was Robert Maxwell. A mabuah is a Gentile who fulfils the same role.) “

Read this brilliant 1999 article here…
www.guardian.co.uk/uk/1999/apr/17/lockerbie

Posted by Phil | 21.12.08, 14:19 GMT

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When in Saudi Arabia these are the following blood money rates:
100,000 riyals for a Muslim man
50,000 riyals for a Muslim woman
50,000 riyals for a Christian man
25,000 riyals for a Christian woman
6,000 riyals for a Hindu Man
3,333 riyals for a Hinu woman

1 Saudi riyal = 0.266916 US$

Posted by Aelle | 21.12.08, 12:32 GMT

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When in Saudi Arabia these are the following blood money rates:
100,000 riyals for a Muslim man
50,000 riyals for a Muslim woman
50,000 riyals for a Christian man
25,000 riyals for a Christian woman
6,000 riyals for a Hindu Man
3,333 riyals for a Hinu woman

1 Saudi riyal = 0.266916 US$

Posted by Aelle | 21.12.08, 12:32 GMT

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16 Comments