September 28, 2000

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Defense in Lockerbie Trial Undermines a Key Witness


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Lockerbie Chronology
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Related Web Sites
• Lockerbie Trial Briefing Site, from the University of Glasgow School of Law.
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CAMP ZEIST, the Netherlands, Sept. 27 — In an atmosphere so hostile that the witness's fear could be heard even in the voices of his translators, the testimony of the most important witness in the Lockerbie trial was systematically torn to pieces by defense lawyers today.

Two defense lawyers spent the day battering every important point made on Tuesday by Abdul Majid Giaka, a Libyan double agent who has been in a United States federal witness protection program for the last decade.

Mr. Abdul Majid's tentative performance today, coupled with his failure on Tuesday to link the two defendants firmly to the bomb, seemed seriously to undermine his usefulness to the prosecution and its effort to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the two Libyans on trial, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, blew up Pan Am 103 in 1988, killing 270 people.

Today the defense lawyers called Mr. Abdul Majid a liar at least 30 times, and only once the whole day did a prosecutor rise to object.

To question after question, Mr. Abdul Majid flailed for a response and often was reduced to answering: "I do not remember," "I am not lying," "These things were many years ago," "I did not see what the C.I.A. wrote," or "Maybe I said it, or maybe I forgot."

Quoting from Central Intelligence Agency cables describing its many interviews with Mr. Abdul Majid from 1988 to 1991, William Taylor, a defense lawyer, raised serious doubts that Mr. Abdul Majid had ever seen the defendants carrying a brown Samsonite suitcase through the Malta airport, that they ever stored 25 pounds of TNT in a desk, that Mr. Abdul Majid had ever prepared a report for Libyan intelligence on how to slip an unaccompanied suitcase onto a plane, or that one of the defendants had ever referred to that report and warned him, "Don't rush things."

Mr. Taylor elicited a pattern: Each time the C.I.A., which was paying Mr. Abdul Majid $1,000 a month, threatened to cut him off as a worthless informant, he argued, Mr. Abdul Majid would come up with a new bit of information.

Mr. Taylor's questions also implied a darker subtext and became, in effect, a scathing indictment of the behavior of the C.I.A. and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The C.I.A. emerged as an agency that knew Mr. Abdul Majid was a worthless informant but deliberately unloaded him on F.B.I. investigators trying to crack the Lockerbie case by advising Mr. Abdul Majid that he could realize his dream of getting to America if the Justice Department accepted him as a witness.

It then concealed, from 1988 until just last month, under the claim of national security, cables that made clear just how grave its doubts were about Mr. Abdul Majid's veracity.

If the prosecution fails, questions will no doubt be raised about the $200 million spent arranging this special trial in the Netherlands, as well as about the decade of international sanctions that Libya claims cost it $30 billion.

For its part, the F.B.I. has protected Mr. Abdul Majid, who is now an American citizen, for a decade despite his C.I.A. record and the extravagant claims he made before a grand jury in Washington in October 1991, such as that he was relative of former King Idris of Libya, and that the presidents of Malta and Libya were secretly part of a Masonic plot.

The prosecution is expected to call some of Mr. Abdul Majid's former low-level C.I.A. handlers as part of its case. Oddly, neither the head of the F.B.I.'s Lockerbie investigation nor the C.I.A.'s are on the witness list.

The C.I.A. cables read out by Mr. Taylor today showed a slow progress from excitement in 1988 about Mr. Abdul Majid's potential as a double agent to barely concealed disgust for him by 1991.

Mr. Taylor repeatedly referred to the cables as "concealed from the defense until the trial started" or "obscured until recently."

By 1991, the C.I.A. was describing Mr. Abdul Majid as "a shattered person" who "does not want to be part of the security apparatus and is certainly milking any of his contacts, including us, for whatever he can get."

By then his handlers knew that he had never been an important member of Libyan intelligence, and his procrastination about penetrating it was "testing his case officer's patience." He had been taken off the payroll but was still getting some cash. He had even "wondered aloud if it would be possible to get $2,000 to buy bananas for his return to Libya, where they sell for 2 to 3 times the Maltese price." He had "burned all his bridges," his wife was pregnant, and he was afraid of assassination.

The most damning element concerned the bomb-loaded suitcase. From 1988 to mid-1991, Mr. Taylor said, while giving the C.I.A. many details of minor Libyan intelligence activities, Mr. Abdul Majid had never mentioned seeing the two defendants with a brown Samsonite suitcase — the same kind that contained the Lockerbie bomb and the kind that he testified on Tuesday the defendants had carried through the Malta airport on Dec. 7, 1988.

After his case officers, eager to get rid of him, explained how important his shipboard meeting with the F.B.I. would be, "this deafening silence on the subject ends the very next day, when you come up with a brown Samsonite suitcase and this rubbish about Customs," Mr. Taylor said snidely. "What do you have to say?"

Mr. Abdul Majid answered weakly that the Justice Department had very good investigators. In one of the day's more theatrical touches, Mr. Taylor suggested the court break for lunch.

In the afternoon, cross-examination was taken over by Richard Keen, lawyer for Mr. Fhimah.

His questions were simpler: What made you tell an American grand jury that the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, his foreign minister and the president of Malta were all Masons and part of a Masonic conspiracy? Why did you claim you were a relative of King Idris? When you approached the C.I.A., did you lie about your career to make them think you were more important than you were?

Mr. Abdul Majid refused to answer about Colonel Qaddafi and claimed he had said nothing about a Masonic conspiracy. He denied being related to King Idris or ever claiming to be, and blamed a translator. He denied inflating his importance, or concealing the fact that he started at the Libyan intelligence service as an auto mechanic. He conceded that he had claimed friendship with important Libyans he barely knew, but would not concede that this amounted to lying.

Mr. Keen accused Mr. Abdul Majid of embellishing his stories as late as Tuesday. His suggestion that Mr. Fhimah had been involved in a sexual harassment complaint was absent from his first descriptions of the incident 10 years ago.

Like Mr. Taylor, Mr. Keen was soon ending each line of questioning with: "That's a complete lie," or "Either now you're lying or you lied before. Which is it?"

Mr. Keen, too, capped his questioning with a flourish. He asked Mr. Abdul Majid if he remembered going through Gatwick, the London airport. Getting an affirmative response, he ended with the question, "Do you remember trying to sell yourself to British intelligence?"

As Mr. Abdul Majid spluttered, "What do you mean?" Mr. Keen said he had no more questions, and the court adjourned for the day.

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