Lockerbie

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Scottish criminal justice system is under fire for taking orders from the UK and the US. The Crown Office has been accused of perverting the course of justice during its investigation of the deadliest terrorist attack in the UK: the bombing of Pan Am 103 on 21 December 1998. The plane flying from London to New York disintegrated over the Scottish town of Lockerbie killing all 269 passengers on board and eleven people on the ground. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan citizen, was convicted in 2001 in the Netherlands under Scottish law. He died earlier this year in Libya after being released ostensibly on compassionate grounds.

The Justice for Megrahi (JFM) group alleges the former Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, senior prosecutors and the police concealed evidence, gave false statements, undermined a fair trial and were involved in a subsequent political cover-up. Despite mounting public concern the Scottish government has steadfastly refused to hold an independent public inquiry into the disaster. In June this year the Scottish “Herald” revealed the UK government had for 20 years kept secret a document that might have proved Megrahi’s innocence. Last month the JFM sent the Scottish government new evidence which it promised to make public if the government did not agree to an inquiry. It’s done so now.

The revelations come in the wake of a report last month which showed police had callously blamed innocent football fans for the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 people were crushed to death. Establishment credibility has also been rocked by the unmasking of BBC-manufactured celebrity, Sir Jimmy Savile as a paedophile. Allegations that he abused vulnerable young girls on the corporation’s premises have led to “the greatest crisis at the BBC in 50 years”.  More importantly the JFM is not alone. Senior barristers, leading human rights lawyers and international observers have all been scathing about the £80m show trial at Camp Zeist. Even the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission concluded the conviction was “unsafe”.

In May this year 42 prominent personalities – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu – signed an open letter to the Scottish government. They said Scottish justice had become a “mangled wreck” because of Megrahi’s conviction. The eminent human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce demonstrated clinically how the Lockerbie investigation had corrupted Scottish justice. It was hijacked from the beginning, infiltrated by scores of unidentified Americans some wearing the insignia of the FBI and others pretending to be Pan Am staff. They tampered with baggage strewn over the countryside. Labels attached to bodies and a suitcase containing heroin disappeared. Gunmen in unmarked helicopters aimed their rifles at the rescuers below.

Early on it seemed the case might easily be solved. There were a flood of warnings that a Palestinian splinter group, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP –GC) was targeting Pan Am flights. A bomb built into a Toshiba radio cassette player and triggered by a barometric switch was found when members of the group were arrested months before Pan Am 103 was brought down. Investigators were told a second similar bomb was in circulation. In November Interpol circulated warnings about the PFLP-GC bombs. Iran had a motive. In July 1988 a US battleship, the Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf, with 290 passengers, many of them pilgrims. The CIA confirmed that Ahmad Jibril, the leader of the PFLP-GC, had met government officials in Iran and offered to exact revenge.

Two years later it all changed. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the US prepared for the Gulf War. It needed Iran and Syria onside and their forces joined western troops at the beginning of 1991.The CIA was by now running the show and Vincent Cannistraro was brought out of retirement to take charge. His clandestine programme to destabilise Libya culminated in the bombing of Gaddafi’s house in Tripoli in 1986 on the basis of intercept evidence later acknowledged to be false.

Libya was Cannistraro’s target again. In November 1991, the UK and the US announced two Libyan Airlines officials, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, had planted the bomb in Malta on behalf of Libyan intelligence. UK foreign secretary Douglas Hurd told parliament that Libya was the sole suspect.

Protracted negotiations followed and it was not until May 2000 that the two men who had run the airline’s office in Malta finally went on trial – in a purpose-built court outside Utrecht before three judges rather than a jury.

The prosecution depended on the scientific identification of a circuit-board fragment which was part of the timer of the bomb allegedly used. They were made in Switzerland and sold exclusively to Libya. Thomas Hayes and Alan Feraday of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) in England found the fragment.At every point vital information about the fragment was either missing or had been altered, although Hayes had made meticulous notes for hundreds of other exhibits.

RARDE scientists were responsible for a string of wrongful convictions in the 1970s and both Hayes and Feraday were involved. Hayes notoriously gave false evidence about a stick of gelignite leading to the conviction and imprisonment of Vincent Maguire,16, Patrick Maguire,13, their parents and their uncle Giuseppe Conlon who was to die in prison. All were later found to be innocent. Feraday who is unqualified has now been banned from future appearances as an expert witness.

The fragment was linked to Libya by Thomas Thurman of the FBI.  In 1997 Thurman was barred from FBI labs and from giving evidence as an expert witness following a review into a large number of criminal investigations. He also has no formal scientific qualifications. The circuit-board fragment was found in a remnant of a shirt-collar and traced back to a shop in Malta owned by Tony Gauci. The court accepted Gauci’s shaky and extremely suspicious identification of Megrahi in violation of every legal safeguard. Gauci is reported to have been paid millions of dollars for his testimony and now lives in Australia.

After the trial it emerged that an employee of the Swiss firm which manufactured the timers had passed one on to a Lockerbie investigator. The owner of the firm Edwin Bollier told Hans Kochler, the UN representative at the trial that he had been offered $4 million if he would connect the timer to Libya. Thurman did not appear at the trial. The judges found Bollier’s evidence was ‘inconsistent’ and ‘self-contradictory’ and that other witnesses had “openly lied to the court”. They convicted Megrahi nevertheless.

Flora Swire was 23 when she died in the crash on her way to visit her boyfriend in New York for Xmas. She thought she was lucky to get a seat on the flight at short notice.  She would not have known that a delegation of 23 South Africans – including foreign minister Pik Botha – had cancelled, six taking an earlier flight to New York and the others returning to Johannesburg. Her father Dr Jim Swire has been pressing for an independent inquiry. In a recent article about the diversion of blame at Hillsborough and Lockerbie he described how the families of the American victims were manipulated and brain-washed into believing Libya was responsible.

He says there is a special case for compassion for the majority of the US relatives for unlike the families in the UK they believe they have achieved “closure” with the conviction of Megrahi. The US Justice Department had offered each American family an “all expenses paid” fortnight. A capacious lounge was set aside for relatives at the trial and they were given evening reviews by a mixed group of Scottish and US lawyers invited to sit on the prosecution bench in court. “The content was choreographed to convey, right from the start the message ‘these are the bastards who murdered your families, we got them they are going to go down for a very, very long time’. The defence side was not represented. This was grooming writ large and official, and our Scottish prosecution lawyers were an integral part of it.”

Dr Swire says the propaganda campaign has continued ever since culminating in disgraceful attempts by US secretary Hilary Clinton to extradite Megrahi from Libya in his dying days to face new sentencing in the US. Faced with punitive sanctions Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion, $10 million to each of the victim’s families but did not accept responsibility for the bombing.In May this year British Prime Minister David Cameron bemoaned the fact that Megrahi who was released so that he could die in Libya was still alive.

“One thousand days on, this is yet another reminder that Alex Salmond’s Government’s decision to free the biggest mass murderer in British history was wrong and an insult to the families of the 270 people who were murdered.”

Westminster has been pulling the strings since George Bush senior issued instructions to Margaret Thatcher in 1989 to keep Lockerbie “low key”. The UK government cannot allow an inquiry that would uncover its mercenary role. Scottish political commentator Ian Bell says, “The real point about Lockerbie is that it happened above and inside a very small country that did not have the means to object, or to respond. The integrity of the Scottish legal system, once co-respondent in the birth of the European Enlightenment, was treated as a joke… Scotland was wounded, then insulted, then treated as a colony’s colony.”

And that’s how it will stay until the Scots show some backbone.

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