...we weave When first we practice to deceive...
This was written in September 2009, and probably posted at the time. I'm re-posting it because of the unedifying spectacle of Cameron the NeoCon and Mike Rivero's President Pussy hyperventilating in the past few days about some putative "oil deals" with Libya that supposedly led to Megrahi's release.
Lockerbie: Megrahi Was Framed By John Pilger
September 04, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- The hysteria over the release of the so-called Lockerbie bomber reveals much about the political and media class on both sides of the Atlantic, especially Britain. From Gordon Brown’s "repulsion" to Barack Obama’s "outrage," the theater of lies and hypocrisy is dutifully attended by those who call themselves journalists. "But what if Megrahi lives longer than three months?" whined a BBC reporter to the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond. "What will you say to your constituents, then?"
Horror of horrors that a dying man should live longer than prescribed before he "pays" for his "heinous crime": the description of the Scottish justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, whose "compassion" allowed Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to go home to Libya to "face justice from a higher power." Amen.
The American satirist Larry David once addressed a voluble crony as "a babbling brook of bullsh*t." Such eloquence summarizes the circus of Megrahi’s release.
No one in authority has had the guts to state the truth about the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above the Scottish village of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 in which 270 people were killed. The governments in England and Scotland in effect blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release. Of course there were oil and arms deals under way with Libya; but had Megrahi proceeded with his appeal, some 600 pages of new and deliberately suppressed evidence would have set the seal on his innocence and given us more than a glimpse of how and why he was stitched up for the benefit of "strategic interests."
"The endgame came down to damage limitation," said the former CIA officer Robert Baer, who took part in the original investigation, "because the evidence amassed by [Megrahi's] appeal is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice." New witnesses would show that it was impossible for Megrahi to have bought clothes that were found in the wreckage of the Pan Am aircraft – he was convicted on the word of a Maltese shopowner who claimed to have sold him the clothes, then gave a false description of him in 19 separate statements and even failed to recognize him in the courtroom.
The new evidence would have shown that a fragment of a circuit board and bomb timer, "discovered" in the Scottish countryside and said to have been in Megrahi’s suitcase, was probably a plant. A forensic scientist found no trace of an explosion on it. The new evidence would demonstrate the impossibility of the bomb beginning its journey in Malta before it was "transferred" through two airports undetected to Flight 103.
A "key secret witness" at the original trial, who claimed to have seen Megrahi and his co-accused al-Alim Khalifa Fahimah (who was acquitted) loading the bomb on to the plane at Frankfurt, was bribed by the US authorities holding him as a "protected witness." The defense exposed him as a CIA informer who stood to collect, on the Libyans’ conviction, up to $4m as a reward.
Megrahi was convicted by three Scottish judges sitting in a courtroom in "neutral" Holland. There was no jury. One of the few reporters to sit through the long and often farcical proceedings was the late Paul Foot, whose landmark investigation in Private Eye exposed it as a cacophony of blunders, deceptions and lies: a whitewash. The Scottish judges, while admitting a "mass of conflicting evidence" and rejecting the fantasies of the CIA informer, found Megrahi guilty on hearsay and unproven circumstance. Their 90-page "opinion," wrote Foot, "is a remarkable document that claims an honored place in the history of British miscarriages of justice." (Lockerbie – the Flight from Justice by Paul Foot can be downloaded from the Private Eye website for £5).
Foot reported that most of the staff of the US embassy in Moscow who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights from Frankfurt canceled their bookings when they were alerted by US intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned. He named Margaret Thatcher the "architect" of the cover-up after revealing that she killed the independent inquiry her transport secretary Cecil Parkinson had promised the Lockerbie families; and in a phone call to President George Bush Sr. on 11 January 1990, she agreed to "low-key" the disaster after their intelligence services had reported "beyond doubt" that the Lockerbie bomb had been placed by a Palestinian group contracted by Tehran as a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a US warship in Iranian territorial waters. Among the 290 dead were 66 children. In 1990, the ship’s captain was awarded the Legion of Merit by Bush Sr. "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer."
Perversely, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Bush needed Iran’s support as he built a "coalition" to expel his wayward client from an American oil colony. The only country that defied Bush and backed Iraq was Libya. "Like lazy and overfed fish," wrote Foot, "the British media jumped to the bait. In almost unanimous chorus, they engaged in furious vilification and op-ed warmongering against Libya." The framing of Libya for the Lockerbie crime was inevitable. Since then, a US defense intelligence agency report, obtained under Freedom of Information, has confirmed these truths and identified the likely bomber; it was to be centerpiece of Megrahi’s defense.
In 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Megrahi’s case for appeal. "The commission is of the view," said its chairman, Dr. Graham Forbes, "that based upon our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court, that the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice."
The words "miscarriage of justice" are missing entirely from the current furor, with Kenny MacAskill reassuring the baying mob that the scapegoat will soon face justice from that "higher power." What a disgrace.
The Frame-Up By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
"Was this corporation willing to trade justice in the murder of 270 innocent people for oil profits?” Not too many guesses as to which oil company is under discussion: BP, current epitome of Big Oil at its foulest. But what populist rabble-rousers were posing the question? Look no further than that errand boy of finance capital, New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer.
On July 13, under Schumer’s senatorial letterhead he and his fellow New York senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, plus Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, widening the indictment of BP from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe with the accusation that in 2007, in pursuit of valuable oil leases in Libya, it had twisted the arm of the British Government to arrange the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted in the bombing of Panam flight 103 over the Scottish village of Lockerbie in 1988, with 281 dead.
“We write,” the senators informed Clinton, “to urge the State Department to fully investigate the disturbing news reports linking BP to the deal that allowed for the release of convicted Pan Am Flight 103 bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. The information that such an investigation would yield is important to fully determine the legitimacy of the decision to release this mass murderer… As you may know, in 2007, BP and the Libyan government agreed upon a $900 million oil exploration deal, following two visits to Libya over the course of three years by then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was reported in September of last year that BP communicated to the British government concerns that possible delays in the release of al-Megrahi could throw the oil deal into jeopardy.”
This coming July 29 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Gillibrand and Menendez serve, is scheduled to hold hearings into the circumstances of Megrahi’s release. Already the four senators have elicited a session with Britain’s new prime minister, David Cameron, during his recent visit to Washington DC, to discuss the affair. Cameron swiftly passed the buck to the Scottish authorities, who actually okayed the release of Megrahi last August on the “compassionate” grounds that he had prostate cancer and had only three weeks to live. Megrahi, safely back in Libya remains in fine fettle.
For the four senators, tv footage and news headlines of them flailing away at BP, and odious Libya, were opportunities not to be missed. BP freely admits that amid the 2007 negotiations with Libya –– the company had told the British government that failure to release Megrahi under a Prisoner Transfer Agreement would be a big problem, but insists it played no role in the “compassionate release” – not a formal PTA -- which was the sole decision of the Scottish authorities. Obama, who was very muted at the time of the compassionate release, said last week merely that it had been a "misguided decision" by Scottish authorities and that “most Americans were "surprised, disappointed and angry" about the decision to let al Megrahi go.
It’s hard to conceive of anything surpassing this merry-go-round of grandstanding and self-serving hypocrisy, with the possible exception of BP, which freely admits corporate self-interest in this instance. It was the United States, specifically the CIA, which originally framed Megrahi, because in the late 1980s it was eager to divert the investigation from – of all countries – Iran. It was the Scotch judiciary which bowed to pressure from Westminster to ignore mountains of evidence to the contrary and to convict Megrahi. It was a British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who colluded with a U.S. President, G.H.W. Bush, in instigating this disgraceful miscarriage of justice. Will the Senate Foreign Relations Committee probe such matters? Of course not. Gillibrand and Menendez will erupt on schedule for the cameras and call it a day.
Megrahi was innocent, framed by the US and British security services. What follows is my brother, Andrew Cockburn’s investigation of the frame-up, which we published in our CounterPunch newsletter just after the original trial.
The original Lockerbie trial took place in 2000, presided over by three Scottish judges who travelled to a courthouse in the Netherlands, convicting Megrahi and acquitting his colleague, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah.
In a trenchant early criticism of the verdict, Hans Koechler, a distinguished Austrian philosopher appointed as one of five international observers at the trial in Zeist, Holland, by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, issued a well-merited denunciation of the judges' bizarre conclusion. “In my opinion,” Koechler said, “there seemed to be considerable political influence on the judges and the verdict.”
Koechler pointed out that the judges found Megrahi guilty even though they themselves admitted that his identification by a Maltese shop owner (summoned by the prosecution to testify that Megrahi bought clothes, later deemed to have been packed in the lethal suitcase bomb) was “not absolute” and that there was a “mass of conflicting evidence.”
Furthermore, Koechler queried the active involvement of senior U.S. Justice Department officials as part of the Scotch prosecution team “in a supervisory role.”
In essence, the case was based (a) on the presumption that the bomb timer on the Pan Am plane was from a batch sold by a Swiss firm to Libya; (b) that fragments of clothing retrieved from the crash site and identified as having been in the suitcase that contained the bomb, had been bought by the accused Megrahi from a shop in Malta; and (c) that a “secret witness,” Abdulmajid Gialka, a former colleague of the accused pair in the Libyan Airlines office in Malta, would testify that he had observed them either constructing the bomb or at least seen them loading on the plane in Frankfurt.
The prosecution was unable to produce evidence to substantiate any of these points or to encourage any confidence in Gialka’s reliability as a witness. The Swiss manufacturer of the timer, Edwin Bollier, testified he had sold timers of a similar type to the East Germans and conceded, in cross-examination by defense lawyers, that he had connections to many intelligence agencies, including not only the Libyans but also the CIA.
By the time of the trial, Gialka had been living under witness protection in the U.S.A. He had received $320,000 from his American hosts and, in the event of conviction of the accused, stood to collect up to $4 million in reward money. He had CIA connections, so the defense lawyers learned, before 1988.
The prosecution's case absolutely depended on proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Megrahi was the man who bought the clothes, traced by police to a Maltese clothes shop. In nineteen separate statements to police prior to the trial the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, had failed to make a positive identification of Megrahi. In the witness box, Gauci was asked five times if he recognized anyone in the courtroom. No answer. Finally, the exasperated prosecutor pointed to the dock and asked if the man sitting on the left was the customer in question. Even so, the best that Gauci could do was to mumble that “he resembles him.”
Gauci had also told the police that the man who bought the clothes was 6 feet tall and over 50 years of age. Megrahi is 5 feet 8 inches tall, and in late 1988 he was 36. The clothes were bought either on November 23 or December 7, 1988. On an earlier occasion, when shown a photograph of Mohammed Abu Talb, a Palestinian terrorist whom the defense contended was the real bomber, Gauci used almost the same words with more confidence, declaring, according to his brother, that Talb “resembles” the clothes buyer “a lot.” Gauci's identification of Megrahi at the identity parade just before the opening of the trial was with the words, “not exactly the man I saw in the shop. Ten years ago I saw him, but the man who look [sic] a little bit like is the number 5” (Megrahi).
Megrahi was in Malta on December 7 but not on the November date. The shopkeeper recalled that the man who bought the clothes also bought an umbrella because it was raining heavily outside. Maltese meteorological records introduced by the defense showed clearly that while it did rain all day on November 23, there was almost certainly no rain on December 7. If it did rain on that date, the shower would have been barely enough to wet the pavement. Nevertheless, the judges held it proven that Megrahi had bought the clothes on December 7.
No less vital to the prosecution's case was its contention that the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103 had been loaded as unaccompanied baggage onto an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, flown on to London, and thence onto the ill-fated flight to New York. In support of this, prosecutors produced a document from Frankfurt airport indicating that a bag had gone from the baggage-handling station, at which the Air Malta bags (along with those from other flights) had been unloaded, and had been sent to the handling station for the relevant flight to London. But there was firm evidence from the defense that all the bags on the Air Malta flight were accompanied and were collected at the other end. Nevertheless, the judges held it proven that the lethal suitcase had indeed come from Malta. When Granada TV broadcast a documentary asserting such a transfer as a fact, Air Malta sued and extracted damages.
The most likely explanation of the judges' decision to convict Megrahi despite the evidence, or lack of it, must be that either they panicked at the thought of the uproar that would ensue on the U.S. end if they let both the Libyans off, or they were simply given their marching orders by high authority in London. English judges are used to doing their duty in this manner – see, for example, the results of various “impartial” judicial inquiries into British atrocities in Northern Ireland over the years, such as Justice Widgery’s whitewash in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday.
In closing arguments, the prosecution stressed the point that Megrahi could not have planted the bomb without the assistance of Fhimah – that both defendants were equally guilty, and should stand or fall together. Nevertheless, the judges elected to find one of the two conspirators guilty and the other one innocent, a split verdict that Koechler found “incomprehensible.” It is, however, entirely comprehensible if we accept that the judges knew there was no evidence to convict either man, but that it was politically imperative for them to convict at least one.
Iran the Likely Sponsor
A former CIA official and friend of CounterPunch back at the time of the original trial in 2000, Andrew continues, notes that he had taken part in the original investigation of the Pan Am 103 bombing. He said that if the original CIA report was ever to be made public, it would provide “damning evidence” that “the Libyans were never directly involved in the Lockerbie bombing.” In fact, the evidence in the CIA’s possession pointed more clearly in the direction of the original suspects in the case, members of a group known as the PFLP-GC, closely linked to Iran.
The Iranians had a clear motive for an attack on an American airliner, following the destruction of an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf carrying 290 passengers, including 66 children, on July 3, 1988. The U.S. Navy missile carrier Vincennes had casually blown it out of the sky despite clear indications it was a civilian plane. Afterwards, the U.S. Navy concealed the fact that the Vincennes had been in Iranian territorial waters at the time, refused to admit error or pay compensation, and handed out medals to the ship’s officers for heroism in combat.
The initial U.S. and British investigations pointed clearly to a case against the Iranians as having contracted with the Lebanon-based PFLP-GC, or a section thereof, to exact retribution. Two months before Lockerbie, the West Germans arrested members of this group outside Dusseldorf as they were preparing bombs specifically designed to bring down airliners. U.S. intelligence had traced a payment of $500,000 into the account of a professional bomber, Abu Talb, in April 1989. A British journalist showed the Maltese shop owner who sold the clothes found in the bomb-suitcase a photo of Talb, and he declared that the man in the photo “most resembled” the purchaser. At one point, the Scottish police were about to charge Talb who had, since 1989, been serving time in a Swedish jail for a series of bomb attacks in Sweden and Denmark.
In March 1989, however, Margaret Thatcher called President G.W.H. Bush to discuss the case. The two leaders agreed it was important to “cool it” on the Iranian angle, since they were in no position to punish the Tehran regime, which had just survived the eight-year war with U.S./U.K.-sponsored Iraq. Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, it became more imperative than ever to obscure any suspicion of Iranian complicity in the Lockerbie bombing, given the importance of Iranian assistance in the upcoming war with Saddam Hussein. Thus the perennial “rogue,” Muammar Al-Qaddafi, was drafted as the suspect of choice.
Another factor probably played a role in the Scotch decision to release him on compassionate grounds last year. Megrahi and his able legal team had been preparing an appeal which would have deeply embarrassing to the Scottish judiciary. But with the release, the thousands of pages of Megrahi’s appeal went into the trash bin and Megrahi will, in the complacent words of a Scottish government spokesman, “die a convicted man”, however long he evades the Reaper.
The irony is that today the U.S. would no doubt be only too eager to finger Iran as the perpetrator. Perhaps that at least might stir Schumer and his colleagues.
http://www.counterpunch.org/ July 23 – July 25, 2010