Editor's Notes: Lockerbie - a miscarriage of justice?
David Horovitz , THE JERUSALEM POST
To this day, it stands as the deadliest terrorist action ever to hit
attack with the exception of 9/11. It prompted the most expensive criminal
investigation in British history.
And it may now turn out to be
Nineteen years after Pan Am Flight 103, en route from London to New York,
was blown up over Lockerbie in Scotland with the loss of all its passengers
and crew, the perennial suspicion that the investigation was skewed and the
wrong parties held responsible is hardening. If so, the implications are
horrific, potentially implicating the American and British authorities in a
cover-up which enabled the guilty state sponsors to evade punishment and,
emboldened, to commission further murderous attacks.
On Thursday, a minor procedural hearing in an
beginning of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's appeal against his
conviction for murder in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. A Libyan
intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, Megrahi
is one of only two people ever prosecuted in the case. He was indicted in
1991 along with Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, Libyan airlines' station manager at
containing the Lockerbie bomb began its journey. Ten years later, a panel of
three Scottish judges acquitted Fhimah but convicted Megrahi; he was
sentenced to life imprisonment with a stipulation that he serve a minimum of
20 years in jail, later increased to 27 years - a curiously light term for
mass murder. His first appeal was dismissed in 2002. Earlier this summer,
after repeated rejections, he finally won leave to mount his second.
Libya's purported culpability is generally presented in the context of its
various mid-1980s confrontations with the United States - notably Libya's
bombing of a Berlin nightclub used by US troops, and US air attacks on
targets in Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986, including a strike on the personal
quarters of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in which his adopted daughter was killed.
consequent UN sanctions, and then paid compensation to the Lockerbie
victims' families as a condition for the lifting of those sanctions (which
had cost it an estimated $30 billion). But Gaddafi savaged the Scottish
judges when they found Megrahi guilty,
specific responsibility for the bombing, and in 2004, its prime minister
told the BBC that it had capitulated only because "we thought it was easier
for us to buy peace."
The decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to finally
grant Megrahi his appeal, announced in an 800-page report after a nearly
four-year study, was based on six possible grounds for a miscarriage of
justice. Crucially, the commission found problems with the testimony of a
Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, the central witness tying Megrahi to the
Gauci had identified Megrahi as the man who bought clothing and other items
from his store in the Maltese resort of Sliema two weeks before the
Lockerbie blast - the very items whose charred remains, it was established,
were packed into the brown Samsonite suitcase in which the bomb was hidden.
But now the commission has established that four days before he picked out
Megrahi in a line-up, Gauci had been shown a photograph of the suspect in an
article about the bombing - rendering the identification profoundly flawed.
Moreover, the commission cited documents indicating that Gauci had been paid
up to $2 million by American intelligence agencies for his testimony. He had
changed that testimony repeatedly over the years, including on what emerged
as the significant matter of whether Christmas lights were on in the street
outside his shop, "Mary's House," when Megrahi purportedly came shopping.
Gauci was also strikingly described by the former top Scottish law officer
who issued the warrant for Megrahi's arrest, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, as
being a "slightly simple fellow... not quite the full shilling... an apple
short of a picnic," who might have been "easily led." Fraser, two years ago,
actually urged that Megrahi be sent home to a Libyan jail for the remainder
of his sentence.
The commission was reportedly troubled, too, by the existence of a
classified report relating to the timing device by which the Semtex
plastic-explosive bomb was purportedly detonated - a document which was not
disclosed at the trial. The chain of evidence by which Megrahi was convicted
involved the sale of this particular Swiss-manufactured timing device, a
MeBo MST-13, to a Libyan military unit of which he was a member. Now, that
chain of evidence has apparently been weakened.
Megrahi did not attend Thursday's procedural hearing, but is expected to
soon seek a conditional release ahead of the full appeal - so called
"interim liberation." If his lawyers can persuade the Scottish judges that
he will not flee, the sole Lockerbie convict could be only weeks away from
freedom. But it is more likely that he will have to wait a little longer,
until the completion of the appeals process next year.
No smoking gun
The prosecution's case was acknowledged by the judges themselves in their
2001 verdict to have been beset by "uncertainties and qualifications." Key
witnesses had lied, the CIA's Libyan insider agent was discredited, and they
lamented that they had been given no "explanation of the method by which the
primary suitcase" was smuggled aboard. There was certainly no smoking gun:
No witnesses or forensic evidence tying Megrahi to the bomb itself.
Dr. Jim Swire, the longtime spokesman for the
daughter Flora was killed on Flight 103, has branded Megrahi's conviction
"one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in history." In a phone
interview on Tuesday, he expressed the conviction that the new information
that has emerged since the trial would now see Megrahi freed.
Hans Koechler, appointed by the UN Security Council on the nomination of
secretary-general Kofi Annan to serve as an observer throughout the
Lockerbie legal proceedings, also told me this week he was certain the
conviction would be overturned.
"They'll cancel the judgement," Koechler said flatly down the phone from
occurred, because of the unreliability of Tony Gauci's evidence."
Robert Black, the professor emeritus of law at the
who formulated the legal mechanism that facilitated the 2001 trial, held
before a panel of three Scottish judges in The Netherlands, said the same
"Megrahi will go free," Black told me by phone. "He should never have been
convicted. The evidence does not show him to have had anything to do with
[the Lockerbie bombing]."
The original thesis
But if they are right, who did orchestrate and carry out the bombing of Pan
Am's Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, and why were those responsible not held to
It is here that the Lockerbie case lurches from a grave potential
miscarriage of justice, based on flawed evidence, to still more sinister
Throughout the close to 20 years since the bombing, "conspiracy theories"
have ebbed and flowed, with fingers pointed in all directions based on all
manner of supposed evidence. Such theorizing, of course, is a familiar
feature of numerous terrorist investigations, no matter how unambiguous the
trail of evidence may seem.
With Lockerbie, however, the dominant "conspiracy theory" constantly
proposed by the skeptics is a little different. For it is the theory that
the investigators themselves advanced and followed for the first weeks and
months of their investigation. It is the theory that senior politicians in
various governments privately, and in some cases publicly, endorsed. It is a
logical explanation for both the motivation and the logistics of Lockerbie.
And it has nothing to do with Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.
reported in The Jerusalem Post that the bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight
103 had been concealed in a radio-cassette recorder. I further reported that
the crash investigators had established that the device was similar to
devices found in the possession of members of Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, 17 of whose alleged members
had been arrested in a
wrote that article on the basis of official documentation that I personally
report from a news conference Ariel Sharon, then
minister, had held the day before during a visit to
responsible for Lockerbie,
In the subsequent days and weeks, the evidence for this claim mounted: The
bombing investigators confirmed that the bomb had indeed been hidden in a
radio-cassette player, a model known, with murderous irony, as the "Toshiba
It was reported that four similar devices had been found in the possession
of the arrested PFLP-GC cell in Germany, which was said to have been
planning attacks on airplanes heading to the US and Israel; these devices
were detonated by a barometric pressure device and timer, designed to
activate when a plane reached a certain altitude.
One of the devices seized by German police exploded when it was being
examined by a bomb-disposal expert in a
him. It was reported that a fifth bomb had been built and had disappeared -
presumably the bomb that blew up Flight 103.
Among those arrested in the PFLP-GC cell was its leader, Hafez Dalkamouni,
and the Toshiba bomb-maker, Marwan Khreesat. (Khreesat, who was quickly
released, later turned out to be a Jordanian intelligence agent and the
reported source of the German police information on the cell, which he said
had been checking Pan Am flight schedules, casing
also contemplating an attack on an
is also said to have reported that the missing fifth bomb had been taken
away by Dalkamouni before the arrests.)
terrorism charges relating to Lockerbie, including Mohammed Abu Talb. Talb
is still serving a life term in
involvement in a 1980s European bombing campaign that featured attacks on
steadfastly maintained that he had nothing to do with Lockerbie, even being
brought from jail to testify to this effect as a prosecution witness at the
Lockerbie trial... and being rewarded with immunity from prosecution.
(Conspiracy theorists have a field day with Talb, a former Egyptian army
officer who has been reported to have also been clothes shopping in Malta in
the weeks before Lockerbie, to have met Dalkamouni there and in Cyprus, to
have also been cautiously identified by Gauci in a photograph at some point,
and to have circled the December 21 date on his calendar at home in Sweden.)
It was also reported that American intelligence had established that the
Syrian-hosted PFLP-GC had been paid to carry out the Lockerbie bombing. By
into a Swiss bank account whose number was found in Dalkamouni's possession
immediately after the bombing.
guided-missile carrier USS Vincennes, of an Iran Air Airbus in the
promised the skies would "rain blood."
Lockerbie also occurred amid the crisis over American hostages being held by
the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah in
team was killed on Flight 103. It included Maj. Charles McKee, who was on
secondment to the Defense Intelligence Agency in
hostages. Noted Swire: "They had bought their tickets in
that the terrorists knew this flight was a particularly juicy target."
In April 1989, CBS News reported that Khalid Jaafar, a 21-year-old
Lebanese-American who died on the plane, had been tentatively identified by
US Federal investigators as the unwitting bomb carrier, and that the device
had been planted in his suitcase by a relative of the man who "set up the
network which carried out the attack" - Hafez Dalkamouni.
More arrests were said to be imminent. The net appeared to be closing.
Prof. Black told me this week that he has been shown "the official minutes
of the investigation. They were on the verge of announcing who'd done it,
and it wasn't
annoyed when the climate of the investigation changed."
AMONG THE factors that gradually changed that climate was the reported
emergence of CIA information on the meeting where
purportedly decided to commission the attack. There was the now queried
identification of Megrahi by shopkeeper Gauci. A CIA informant in
also said to have named Megrahi and Fhimah as the bombers.
And there was the news that a tiny piece of charred material discovered at
the crash site, ostensibly found in a remnant of clothing from the "Megrahi"
suitcase, was a fragment of a Swiss-made digital electronic timing device.
Now it seemed the bomb couldn't have been Dalkamouni's missing fifth device
after all, because the fragment had apparently been traced to a consignment
of such timers purchased by
Libyan terrorists arrested 10 months before Lockerbie, in
The evidence relating to the discovery of this timer and its provenance has
long been contested. While it made plain that it had "serious misgivings"
about assertions from an unnamed former senior Scottish police officer that
he planted the incriminating fragment at the crash site by order of the CIA,
found no basis for claims of fabricated evidence and rejected the notion of
malevolent involvement by the CIA, the Scottish review commission is
nonetheless now apparently troubled by aspects of the crucial Swiss timer
evidence, as well.
SWIRE IS adamant that the principle established by the 14th century English
friar and logician William of Ockham - that the simplest explanation that
fits all known facts is usually the right one - applies to the Lockerbie
bomb that killed his daughter and 269 others.
"The Iranians had told the world that they would seek revenge for the
sequence of events. "They had colluded in the past with the PFLP-GC under
Jibril, and now they colluded again. The PFLP-GC was the 'sensible choice'
because, as has been established, it maintained a workshop on the outskirts
switch for bombs to detonate aboard airplanes.
The German authorities, having found several such devices built into
domestic objects when they arrested members of the PFLP-GC in October 1988,
Swire went on, alerted the international authorities to the danger. "
had warned the
Lockerbie," he noted.
The Germans also tested one of them by taking it up in a 747, "and they
established that a bomb detonated by these timers would go off between 32
and 42 minutes after take-off.
"Flight 103 was in the air for 38 minutes [before it blew up]," he pointed
out, "right in the middle of the time frame."
In contrast to the narrative that led to Megrahi's conviction, which
requires the incendiary suitcase to have begun its journey in
other theories which hold that the case began its journey in
Swire's personal conviction is that it was loaded at Heathrow. He noted that
the first appeal court, in 2002, heard that there had been a break-in at
Heathrow the night before the bombing, and that the Iranian Air facility was
immediately adjacent to the baggage assembly area where transit luggage for
Flight 103 was loaded. The suitcase was smuggled into Heathrow at night,
Swire believes, and then brought from the Iranian facility to the unsecured
baggage assembly point and placed in the clearly marked (with a big Pan Am
logo) Flight 103 container on the day of the bombing.
He recalled that the chief baggage handler, John Bedford, testified that he
saw two additional suitcases had been loaded into the relevant container for
Flight 103 when he returned from a coffee break that day. The crash
investigators, Swire went on, established that the explosion occurred
precisely where those cases had been placed, above a single layer of baggage
Swire contrasted that simple sequence with the official narrative, under
which the terrorists immensely complicate their mission by sending their
bomb on two flights before it reaches Heathrow, with all the attendant
security and timing complexities. Planes often run late; indeed, Flight 103
was late taking off. And yet, in the official narrative, the purported
Libyan timing device, which did not feature an air-pressure switch, made its
convoluted journey to Heathrow and then detonated successfully soon after
the Pan Am flight's delayed take off.
Which is more plausible, Swire asked, a bomb with a conventional timer
making a Malta-Frankfurt-Heathrow journey and detonating 38 minutes into the
third of its flights, or a bomb with an air-pressure switch, proven to
detonate 32-42 minutes into a flight, doing precisely that? A bomb,
moreover, of a kind known to have been in the possession of the PFLP-GC...
one of whose bombs had gone missing.
Of course, the counter-argument is that had Flight 103 departed on schedule,
and the bomb been detonated by an electronic timer set for that schedule, it
would have been over the
orchestrators would likely have been untraceable...
Fabrication of evidence?
FOR THE first year or so, Swire noted, the investigation did rightly focus
But the investigation was skewed in the run-up to the first Gulf War, he
claims. The US-led coalition, gearing up to take on Saddam Hussein, needed
Syria to stay out of the conflict and did not want to face "hordes of
Iranian foot soldiers swarming across the border to attack it. So it was not
In fact, US officials first publicly tied
1990, two months after Saddam had invaded
Gulf War. And its name had already been blackened.
Swire believes it will be convenient for the appeals court to free Megrahi
on a "semi-technical" count - "something along the lines of the prosecution
having failed to give the defense access to all the evidence," without the
truth ever coming out.
And that truth, he said carefully, involves what "I fear was the deliberate
fabrication of evidence" that enabled Megrahi to be charged and
framed. By this he means the fragment of the purported timer, which he says
he fears was planted, and the identification of Megrahi, which he says may
have been achieved as a consequence of the large sums of reward money made
"Intelligence services act in the perceived best interests of their own
countries," Swire said in a bitter reference to the alleged skewing of the
case. "That is not the same as getting to the truth... The Scottish justice
system never had a chance.
"I didn't used to believe that our governments would do this," he concluded.
He recalled that he met with Gaddafi to encourage him to give up Megrahi for
trial, "because I believed Scottish justice was the best in the world. I
feel guilty for [Megrahi] now, because I worked so hard to get him put on
trial... The deceit needs to be brought to light."
A dubious judgement
UN OBSERVER Hans Koechler was far more circumspect at first when asked who
blew up Flight 103 and why the investigation may have been skewed. "I am
definite on only one matter," he told me. "The decision of the courts in
2001 and [in the appeal of] 2002 made no sense. It was not consistent. The
indictment charged that the two Libyans had acted together. The court's
judgement said they did not coordinate and that one [Fhimah] was innocent.
Yet Koechler ultimately made plain his conviction that the case was fatally
compromised. "My personal impression is that the authorities in the
a lone intelligence officer could have planned and carried out Lockerbie.
Yet they have not looked for others. If
of law, it should investigate until all the culprits are found... What they
have produced is a very dubious judgement - one person, only one person, and
he may not even have done it!"
And Koechler added that he had no other explanation for
refusal to order further investigation of the case, or for the lack of
pressure from the
Americans," he stressed.
Black was more outspoken. Like Swire, he is adamant that Lockerbie was a
PFLP-GC operation, financed by
is "scandalized" by the cover-up. It's terrible that "national governments
would get up to this kind of thing," he said. But as a "parochial Scottish
lawyer," he went on, he was most pained "that the criminal justice system in
my country lent itself to this."
He too speculated that the timing of the Lockerbie affair, coinciding with
the first Gulf war, explained the skewing of the investigation. "The PFLP-GC
was funded and protected by
Black added that "it was never anticipated that
two suspects for trial. The thinking was, 'We'll just generally blame the
Koechler, by contrast, said he could not advance an alternate theory,
"because I do not have the access [to evidence] of British, German and
American officials." Then he added dryly: "I must assume they do know what
Minefield of theories
THE LOCKERBIE affair is immensely complex, a minefield of conflicting
theories, from highly credible to thoroughly implausible. It does seem
curious, but not out of the question, that terrorists would have loaded a
bomb intended for Pan Am flight 103 onto a feeder flight two stops away.
Such complexity. Such risk of flight delays foiling their bomb plot. Such
danger of the unaccompanied luggage alerting security suspicions.
It seems strange, too, but far from impossible, that the very kind of device
found with the PFLP-GC in
Lockerbie bomb detonated, was not the bomb on the plane.
Indeed, a prime concern if Lockerbie was an Iranian operation is that,
having never been exposed, Teheran was both underestimated by the
counterterrorism community and emboldened to strike again, with the
consequent loss of other innocent lives.
Yet to muddy the picture still further, some theorists have speculated that
the PFLP-GC cell did carry out the bombing, but on behalf of
Gaddafi's known supply of Semtex to the IRA and his close ties to the
PFLP-GC, which he funded heavily in the 1980s.
Halevy and Thatcher
HERE IN Israel, the former Mossad officer and eventual chief Efraim Halevy
told me this week that, although he didn't recall all the details, "to the
best of my knowledge the Libyans were the perpetrators. I don't know if it
was in conjunction with others."
Nahum Admoni, who headed the Mossad at the time of the bombing, said he was
not prepared to comment on the case.
And his successor, Shabtai Shavit, who took over the Mossad at the height of
the Lockerbie investigation in the
and that he only remembered vaguely "all sorts of speculation about
Jibril, the Libyans... I was dealing with unrelated matters."
By contrast, Robert Baer, the CIA's former top agent in the
worked on the Lockerbie case, told me flatly last week that Pan Am 103 was
blown up by one of Dalkamouni's bombs.
Margaret Thatcher, British prime minister at the time of Lockerbie, for her
part, implicitly seemed to rule
Downing Street Years, that the 1986
did not prompt a feared Libyan revenge attack. "There were revenge killings
of British hostages organized by
Libyan counterattack did not and could not take place."
It is hard to imagine that Thatcher, if she was persuaded that Libya was
responsible for the deadliest attack on Britain since World War II, would
have written, as she then went on to specify, that in the wake of the 1986
US air strikes, "There was a marked decline in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in
Remarkably, Thatcher does not mention Lockerbie at all in her book, which
was published in 1993. The gravest terrorist outrage ever perpetrated in her
country, ignored in a comprehensive work of 862 pages, except for the
four-word reference in the "Chronology" for 1988 on page 871: "December 21:
Definitive answers, of course, should rightly have been supplied by that
most costly criminal investigation in British history. Instead, the case
against the only man ever convicted for Lockerbie is collapsing, and the
governments whose citizens figured most prominently among the dead seem
unconscionably unwilling to dig relentlessly for the truth, having
repeatedly resisted calls for a wider public inquiry.
Would the British and American governments be prepared to mount so extensive
a cover-up for the expediency of keeping
War and avoiding irritating
explanation - the narrative that ought to be marshalled to swat away so
unthinkable an accusation - is now being questioned more pointedly than
BLACK AND Koechler are both grimly convinced that the truth about Lockerbie
will never come out.
Koechler is renewing calls for a new, independent investigation, without the
participation of the
will not happen."
In a follow-up e-mail, Koechler added that "criminal justice cannot be
conducted under circumstances in which intelligence services are allowed to
decide what, and to what extent, evidence is made available in a court of
law and where 'national interests' are used as an excuse for not disclosing
Black said Megrahi will be released, the British government will "stonewall"
and the American government will deride the incompetence of "what they'll
call the 'Mickey Mouse' Scottish courts for letting him go. 'The guilty man
would never have gone free in
But if Black is most aggrieved by the alleged subversion of the Scottish
legal apparatus, Koechler is concerned, too, for the battle against
terrorism. "If you want to be credible in combatting terror, you must look
for those responsible for terrorist attacks," he said simply. "And if you
are not seeking all the culprits in this case, you have no credibility in
other cases. You cannot apply double standards. The rule of law must be
upheld. The victims' families have the right to justice. And so does the
IN FACT, the public has the right not only to justice but to protection. For
if, as a consequence of incompetence or cynical realpolitik, the true
culprits are not tracked down and prosecuted, they and their government
sponsors are free to orchestrate further murderous outrages. And experience
shows that this is precisely what they do.
Linda Amar contributed research to this report.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com
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Dr Jim Swire (firstname.lastname@example.org)