Sunday, 25 June 2017

Labour Government policy on Lockerbie prosecution

[What follows is an exchange that took place in the House of Lords on this date in 1997, shortly after the election of Tony Blair’s Labour government, between the new Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, and one of his Conservative predecessors, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie:]

HL Deb 25 June 1997 vol 580 cc1571-3

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is their policy concerning the prosecution of those responsible for the murder of those on flight PanAm 103 and of residents of Lockerbie in December 1988.
The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie) My Lords, the Government's policy in relation to the prosecution of any crime is that those allegedly responsible should be brought before the courts having jurisdiction for such matters in order that the accused may receive a fair trial.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has not quite answered the Question that I put to him. As the new Administration takes up office and as the noble and learned Lord as the new Lord Advocate takes over responsibility for these matters, it would be helpful if a clear signal were given not only to this country but also to the rest of the world that the policy pursued by previous Lord Advocates will be maintained. Even in the absence of a clear answer from the noble and learned Lord, I hope I may ask him two questions. First, he will appreciate that as the public prosecutor in Scotland in that respect he does not share a collective responsibility with other ministerial colleagues but has a singular and possibly rather lonely duty to determine whether or not there should be a prosecution. Will he guard against any attempt, however well intentioned, to fetter that discretion for foreign policy or trade reasons?
Secondly, if the noble and learned Lord should determine at any stage that there should not be a prosecution in this matter, will he give an assurance that he will explain that to your Lordships' House? It is not just the relatives of those 270 people who died at Lockerbie who would like to know on what evidence the original decision was taken, but those of us who were involved in the prosecution and the original investigation, who have had our integrity impugned as conspiracy theory has piled upon conspiracy theory, would like the opportunity to reflect on how we would wish to take the matter forward.
Lord Hardie My Lords, I assure the House—as I did in my maiden speech—that I intend to guard the independence of the office which I hold. I assure the noble and learned Lord that I shall not allow anyone from any side of the House to fetter my discretion in any way. As regards reaching any decision, as the noble and learned Lord will be aware, I was involved, along with him, in the public inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster. Since taking up office I have had access to much information that was not available to me at that stage and which is not in the public domain. I can assure the House that I am satisfied on the information available to me that there is no reason not to proceed with the petitions. The noble and learned Lord will be aware that the situation is still fluid in the sense that if additional information becomes available any decision would have to be reviewed. I can also assure the noble and learned Lord that should it be decided that no prosecution will take place I shall return to the House and make a Statement to that effect.
Lord Bruce of Donington My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government are in possession of any prima facie evidence indicating the identity of those responsible?
Lord Hardie My Lords, as the noble Lord may be aware, there are petition warrants which name two people. Those warrants were issued on the basis of information available linking them with the disaster which occurred.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Early report that Lockerbie investigation pointing to Libya

[Pan Am 103 Clue Leads to Libyans : Terrorism: US and Scottish investigators now believe that the regime of Moammar Kadafi carried out the jet bombing that killed 270 is the headline over a lengthy report by Robin Wright and Ronald Ostrow that was published in the Los Angeles Times on this date in 1991. It reads as follows:]

The clue that turned the case was a microchip, a tiny piece of a triggering device to detonate a bomb.
From it, American and Scottish investigators found a new trail that refuted the conclusions of almost two years of arduous legwork by thousands of agents worldwide -- and eventually changed major assumptions about the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over a small Scottish village just four days before Christmas, 1988.
A key breakthrough, which came just as the largest international criminal probe in history neared an impasse, was almost a fluke. A "brilliant young CIA analyst," as one insider described him, decided to try a new hypothesis: Could someone besides the widely suspected culprits -- Palestinian radicals, their Syrian patrons or Iranian militants -- have been involved?
The analyst started with a hunch.
He searched for a "signature" that would match the Pan Am bombing with earlier incidents to prove his suspicions. Culling through CIA files, he came up with the 1984 bombing of a French UTA airliner in Chad. A premature explosion blew up the baggage compartment while the plane was still on the ground and wounded 27 people.
He also found a link with the 1986 attempt to blow up the US Embassy in Togo. Officials in Lome, the Togolese capital, had arrested nine people with two suitcases full of plastic explosives.
But the biggest find was an obscure case in Senegal involving the arrest of two men at Dakar airport in February, 1988. In their possession were 20 pounds of sophisticated Semtex plastic and TNT explosives, weapons and several triggering devices.
The analyst's hunch was right.
In all three cases, the "signature" was distinctly Libyan.
In Senegal, the two men who were arrested -- Mohammed Marzouk, alias Mohammed Naydi, and Mansour Omran Saber -- were both agents of Libyan intelligence. And the triggering devices in their possession matched the microchip fragment from the Pan Am bomb.
The connection has since provided a new set of answers to how and why Pan Am 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, and who masterminded the blast.
Based on the forensic breakthrough and the links with earlier cases, investigators now believe:
* The regime of Moammar Kadafi carried out the bombing. Libyan intelligence, headed by Abdullah Sanussi, orchestrated the plot.
* The primary motive was revenge for the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli in which about 40 people, including Kadafi's adopted daughter, were killed. "The notion that the 1986 bombing of Tripoli deterred Libyan terrorism is greatly flawed," a leading counterterrorism expert concluded.
* The mysterious bag carrying the bomb-laden Toshiba radio-cassette player on the blown-up Pan Am 103 came from Malta. Investigators believe the bomb was probably flown on an Air Malta flight to Frankfurt, Germany -- although the passenger and cargo log has disappeared. In Germany, the cassette player was loaded on Pan Am 103 as an interline bag, unattached to any passenger.
Vital missing pieces in the puzzle finally fell into place. "We followed a lot of leads that looked promising at the beginning but turned out to be nothing," a counterterrorism specialist said. "All the streets followed down to dead ends."
The breakthroughs mean that, unlike the unsolved cases of half a dozen terrorist spectaculars against US targets in the 1980s, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 may go to court.
Assistant Atty Gen Robert S Mueller III, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division and has been meeting frequently with the FBI on the investigation, appears poised to take the case to a grand jury, according to US officials.
Should the grand jury return sealed indictments, the biggest obstacle may not be just arresting those involved. US authorities already are working with French police now seeking to apprehend one of the Libyan suspects somewhere in North Africa, the officials said.
The problem instead may be competition over which country will get them for trial. French intelligence now believes yet another terrorist attack -- the 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772 over the West African country of Niger -- was also directed by Libyan intelligence.
Although the method differed in each case, the signature was once again the telltale clue. The UTA explosive, part of which did not blow up and was retrieved from the Sahara desert, was one of five "suitcase bombs" that investigators believed Libyan intelligence purchased earlier from the notorious Mideast bomb maker Abu Ibrahim.
The primary motive, French officials suspect, was revenge for French aid that enabled Chad -- where the UTA flight took on most of its passengers -- to rout Libyan troops occupying parts of the neighboring state in 1987. The bomb was probably loaded in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital where the flight originated.
The new evidence on the Pan Am bombing, which began to emerge last summer, contradicts the longstanding belief that it was linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) headed by Ahmed Jibril. The radical PFLP-GC, based in Syria, is outside the PLO umbrella.
The original case was based on the arrest of a cell of 16 operatives in Germany two months before the 1988 Pan Am bombing. The group was found to have five sophisticated bombs, especially designed to blow up aircraft, hidden in electronic equipment.
From his base in Damascus, Jibril was also known to have worked closely with Iran, where he frequently traveled. Investigators believed that Tehran commissioned the PFLP-GC to target an American plane in retaliation for the accidental 1988 US downing of Iran Air Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf in which 290 people died.
The crucial clues that changed the direction of the probe were the detonators. The Palestinian group's detonators were all Czech-made. They were attached to altimeter devices that were set to go off once a plane reached a certain altitude.
But, as forensic experts discovered, the detonator fragment that was culled from the wreckage of Flight 103, which had been scattered over 845 square miles of Scottish countryside, had important discrepancies.
It was of Swiss manufacture--from the same firm that had made the triggering devices that were found on the Libyan agents in Senegal. And it was attached to an ordinary timer that had been set to go off at a certain hour.
The "fingerprints" -- as forensic experts call the telltale characteristics of sophisticated explosive devices -- of the Pan Am bomb and the PFLP-GC bombs were vastly different. But the fingerprint of the Pan Am bomb was identical to the devices carried by the Libyan agents who were caught in Senegal.
Unfortunately, Senegal freed the Libyan agents, who were never formally charged, in June, 1988. US officials believe their release was part of a package deal in exchange for ending Libyan support for Senegal's opposition forces and for restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries, which had been severed eight years earlier.
At the time, the State Department issued a largely unnoticed -- but perhaps tragically prescient -- official comment: "We are extremely disappointed by Senegal's action, which raises questions about that country's commitment to the struggle against international terrorism."
Six months later, all 259 people on board Pan Am 103 and 11 others on the ground died when the New York-bound plane, flying 31,000 feet over Scotland, exploded just 38 minutes after takeoff from London's Heathrow Airport.
Crucial evidence held by Senegalese authorities also subsequently disappeared. US investigators have had to rely on photographs of the Libyan agents' materiel to match up the fingerprints of the two bombs.
US officials are unwilling to say where the two Libyans are today, but there are hints that they may be suspects in the Pan Am case. Investigators do believe, however, that the same top Libyan intelligence officials -- including Sanussi -- masterminded both the operation that was uncovered in Senegal and the Pan Am bombing.
Sanussi has been a constant headache to counterterrorism officials in the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, a well-placed US source said. In 1986, he was sentenced in absentia by an Egyptian court to 10 years' imprisonment for conspiring to assassinate a group of prominent Libyan exiles.
Sanussi also reportedly makes regular use of Libyan Arab Airlines, the national carrier, as a cover for intelligence and terrorist activities. He is believed to have recruited baggage-handlers and airport personnel in Europe and Africa to facilitate his operations.
The new case against Libya has effectively absolved Syria, the PFLP-GC's primary sponsor, of involvement in the Pan Am bombing, counterterrorism officials say.
But neither Damascus nor Jibril has been cleared of plotting terrorist activities. US officials also believe the arrests that broke up the radical Palestinian cell operating in Germany probably foiled what could have been an even bigger terrorist spectacular: the bombing of three other planes over a period of only a few days.
Counterterrorism analysts suggest that one of the Palestinian group's targets was an Iberia Airlines flight from Madrid to Israel via Barcelona. Among its scheduled passengers were members of an Israeli sports team.
A former US intelligence official says that PFLP-GC operatives also had surveyed the Pan Am counter at Frankfurt airport, although no evidence indicated specific plans against Flight 103 as one of the three planes.
The biggest outstanding question in the investigation is what role, if any, Iran may have played, several key US sources say.
"Unlike the connection established between Iran and Jibril, we have nothing to prove Iran's link with Libya," one official said. "But some still believe there's a link (that) we haven't found yet."
Another added: "I'll go to my grave believing Iranians had a role in Pan Am 103."
By contrast, before the latest breakthrough, investigators felt they had a strong circumstantial case of Iranian links with the PFLP-GC cell on the Pan Am bombing.
Through electronic intercepts, intelligence services had monitored messages from Iranian officials known for their militancy who expressed concern after arrests of the PFLP-GC cell. They apparently were worried about the implications for an operation they wanted carried out.
Investigators initially thought the PFLP-GC and Libyan plots were directly connected. One early scenario suggested that Iran funded two separate cells for the same operation. The second cell was to provide a backup if the first one failed.
But investigators have increasingly moved away from the so-called "Cell A, Cell B" scenario.
So far, investigators have no evidence from intercepts or secret meetings of direct contact between Libya and Iran. Indeed, relations between Tripoli and Tehran have been erratic.
But if the PFLP-GC and Libyan plots were not linked, the implications are even more serious. "You have to be terrified that there were two groups out there in the fall of 1988 plotting to bomb planes," the well-placed official said. "That's even scarier."
[RB: It was just under five months later that it was announced by the prosecution authorities in Scotland and the United States that charges were being brought against Abdelbaset Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah.]

Friday, 23 June 2017

Forensic scientific dogmatism

[Seventeen years ago, the Crown’s principal forensic scientific witness, Allen Feraday, had just completed his evidence in the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist.  Here is a contemporaneous commentary from the website The Lockerbie Trial which was edited by Ian Ferguson and me:]

As one of the Crown's key witnesses gave his testimony this week in Camp Zeist at the trial of the two Libyans accused of the bombing of Pan Am 103, one man, Hassan Assali watched news reports with interest as Allen Feraday took the witness stand.

Assali, 48, born in Libya but who has lived in the United Kingdom since 1965, was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to nine years. He was charged under the 1883 Explosives Substances Act, namely making electronic timers.

The Crown's case against Assali depended largely on the evidence of one man, Allen Feraday. Feraday concluded that the timers in question had only one purpose, to trigger bombs.

While in Prison Assali, met John Berry, who had also been convicted of selling timers and the man responsible for leading the Crown evidence against Berry was once again, Feraday. Again Feraday contended that the timers sold by Berry could have only one use, terrorist bombs.

With Assali's help Berry successfully appealed his conviction, using the services of a leading forensic expert and former British Army electronic warfare officer, Owen Lewis.

Assali's case is currently before the [English] Criminal Cases Review Commission, the CCRC. It has been there since 1997. Assali believes that his case might be delayed deliberately, as he stated to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw in a fax in February 1999: "I feel that my case is being neglected or put on the back burner for political reasons."

Assali believes that if his case is overturned on appeal during the Lockerbie trial it will be a further huge blow to Feraday's credibility and ultimately the Crown's case against the Libyans.

There is no doubt that a number of highly qualified forensic scientists do not care for the highly "opinionated" type of testimony, which is a hall mark of many of Feraday's cases.

He has been known, especially in cases involving timers to state in one case that the absence of a safety device makes it suitable for terrorists and then in another claim that the presence of a safety device proves the same, granted that the devices were different, but it is the most emphatic way in which he testifies that his opinions are "facts", that worries forensic scientists and defence lawyers.

In his report on Feraday's evidence in the Assali case, Owen Lewis states, "It is my view that Mr Feraday's firm and unwavering assertion that the timing devices in the Assali case were made for and could have no other purpose than the triggering of IED's is most seriously flawed, to the point that a conviction which relied on such testimony must be open to grave doubt."

A host of other scientists, all with vastly more qualifications than Feraday concurred with Owen Lewis.

A report by Michael Moyes, a highly qualified electronics engineer and former Squadron Leader in the RAF, concluded that "there is no evidence that we are aware that the timers of this type have ever been found to be used for terrorist purposes. Moreover the design is not suited to that application."

Moyes was also struck by the similarity in the Berry and Assali case, in terms of the Feraday evidence.

In setting aside Berry's conviction in the appeal Court, Lord Justice Taylor described Feraday's evidence as "dogmatic".

This week in the Lockerbie trial, Feraday exhibited that same attitude when questioned by Richard Keen QC.

Keen asked Feraday about Lord Justice Taylor's remarks on his evidence, but Feraday, dogmatically, said he stands by his evidence in the Berry case.

He was further challenged over making contemporaneous notes on items of evidence he examined. Asked if he was certain that he had made those notes at the time, he said yes. When shown the official police log book which showed that some of the items Feraday had claimed to have examined had in actual fact been destroyed or returned to their owner before he claimed to examined them, his response, true to his dogmatic evidence was the police logs were wrong.

Under cross-examination though, it did become clear that Feraday completed a report for John Orr who was leading the police Lockerbie investigation and in that report he stated he was,  "Completely satisfied that the Lockerbie bomb had been contained inside a white Toshiba RT 8016 or 8026 radio-cassette player", and not, as he now testifies, "inside a black Toshiba RT SF 16 model."

As recently as May [2000], the leading civil liberties solicitor, Ms Gareth Peirce, told the Irish Times that the Lockerbie trial should be viewed with a questioning eye as lessons learned from other cases showed that scientific conclusions were not always what they seemed.

Speaking in Dublin Castle at an international conference on forensic science, Ms Peirce said she observed with interest the opening of the Lockerbie trial and some of the circumstances which, she said, had in the view of the prosecution dramatically affected the case.

She asked herself questions particularly relating to circuit boards which featured in the Lockerbie case and also in a case that she took on behalf of Mr. Danny McNamee, whose conviction for conspiracy to cause explosions in connection with the Hyde Park bombings (another case in which Feraday testified) was eventually quashed. She asked herself whether the same procedures were involved.

Danny McNamee may be the most recent Feraday case to be overturned, Hassan Assali believes his case will be the next.

[RB: Hassan Assali’s conviction was quashed in July 2005. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, stated that Allen Feraday “should not be allowed to present himself as an expert in the field of electronics”.]

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Inconsistencies and contradictions of Lockerbie

[This is part of the heading over a lengthy item posted on this date in 2009 on the Ed's Blog City website. Reproduced below is the bulk of the text of the post.]

Since the release of the Dutch TV documentary, Lockerbie: Revisted, a number of curious unexplained inconsistencies in the accounts given by many of those who led the investigation have remained unchallenged. Officially anyway. The documentary maker Gideon Levy asked a number of important questions, crucial to the investigation and pivotal to the whole case, which were quite clearly not satisfactorily answered. Even more astounding, given the position and power of those in the investigation, some of the answers given by those entrusted to find those guilty of the bombing in 1988 directly conflicted with one another.

Mr Levy's first unexplained question relates to the PFLP-GC cell which was exposed by the German BKA and who's members were arrested in Neuss, Germany in October 1988, two months before the Pan Am bombing. They had been discovered with an array of weapons including a radio cassette manipulated into a bomb designed specifically for targeting aircraft. The key member of this group Marwan Khreesat, seemingly known to be the bomb maker, and part of a group planning on attacking American targets, was inexplicably released without charge and was thought to have left Germany for Jordan. After the bombing over Lockerbie, and it was determined that the bomb had been concealed in a radio cassette player, naturally suspicion focussed on the cell that had been exposed in Germany.

Lord Fraser, the former Lord Advocate entrusted in leading the investigation into the bombing, claims that the Scottish authorities were never given the opportunity to question Khreesat at any point with regard to any connection or knowledge about the Lockerbie bombing. Mr Khresat's involvement with the PFLP group and yet subsequent release can only be explained by deducing he was involved with very powerful individuals with the capability of securing such a release, and we can only conclude that the chance to question him was denied due to Khreesat's complex and unclear association with various intelligence and government agencies.

Richard Marquise, head of the FBI investigative team, states that he does not know why Khreesat was released by the Germans, and it is a matter Mr Levy should take up with the German government to clarify. Mr Marquise considers an explanation may be that Khreesat was working for the Palestinian group, as a bomb maker targeting US trains, bases and aircraft, but was also involved with the Jordanian intelligence services who enabled his release from Germany. Lord Fraser however, suggests that the only plausible explanation was that Khreesat was working for the Palestinian group while also involved with US intelligence therefore facilitating his release from Germany and proving someone who the Scottish authorities could not gain access to interview.

This in itself seems a disturbing chain of events and assumptions by those investigating the bombing of 103, and even more inexplicable to those who expect honest endeavour when seeking truth and justice from the investigators, especially given the nature of Khreesat's activities in Germany and his apparent history of expertise in bomb making. This cynicism is merely strengthened when Mr Fraser had stated unequivocally that neither he nor the Scottish prosecutors had ever gained access, despite repeated attempts, "they (the PFLP-GC cell) had simply disappeared", to interview Khreesat, while Mr Marquise seems quite indifferent to the fact that the German authorities had simply released a man of extremely dubious background clearly engaged in activities to cause serious harm to American citizens and institutions.

Mr Marquise does however state that to his knowledge Scottish prosecutors did in fact interview Khreesat, as did the FBI in 1989, clearly contradicting Lord Fraser's position, and that Scottish investigators were happy to accept Khreesat's word during an interview that he knew nothing of the Lockerbie bombing. That a key figure such as Khreesat, the man that according to Mr Marquise was "building the bombs", with the motive, method and capability of attacking US targets, and whether investigators had interviewed him or not, is not conclusively known to either of the two people leading the investigation, is simply incomprehensible.

Mr Levy then enquires about the possibilty of financial payments made to witnesses before, during or subsequent to the trial at Zeist in Holland where Al-Megrahi was found guilty. Inducement had been made to the public by the US authorities to "Give up these terrorists, and we'll give you upto $4 million" by the way of posters with photographs of the two Libyans, and presumably, naturally, by those investigating while interviewing suspects or witnesses. Even if not explicitly offered to those potential witnesses by investigators, the witnesses would be well aware of the financial reward that was available for the successful conviction of the two Libyan's.

Both Lord Fraser and Mr Marquise deny any financial reward, as promised in the posters and adverts issued, was made before or during the trial. However, while Lord Fraser is unaware of any payment subsequent to the trial, Mr Marquise will not comment. The only implication that can be made from this is that the reward offered before the trial and during the investigation was indeed paid to some witnesses after the trial. Any financial reward or inducement to those providing statements would surely render any testimony or information as lacking credibility and does not enhance the supposed search for 'truth' when life changing amounts of money are used as enticement.

So concerned with the implication of rewards to witnesses that Lord Fraser is reluctant to even comment on the suggestion that money was paid to witnesses after the trial without his knowledge.

The focus of the documentary then turns to the most pivotal and crucial piece of evidence found during the investigation and presented at the trial in Zeist. The fragment of microchip discovered 6 months (although the exact period has been disputed) after the disaster, and determined to be the most significant piece of evidence linking the bomb to a Swiss timer manufacturer who had links to Megrahi and Libya.

This particular piece of evidence, the microchip fragment, already somewhat controversial given the unexplained altering of the labels on evidence bags containing the 'charred' fragments, was examined and concluded had originated with the Swiss company called 'Mebo'. They had supplied these timers, it was claimed, to Libya, and Megrahi with his connections and dealings with Mebo, had used this timer in constructing the bomb which he then placed on a flight in Malta, later finding it's way onto the Pan Am flight from Heathrow.

Now it seems, neither Lord Fraser or Mr Marquise can conclusively explain who exactly made this identification of the timer fragment, and where this identification was made. In the UK or in Washington? By Mr Thurman or Mr Feraday? The fragment itself, or as part of the larger circuit board from where the fragment came? By photograph or the actual fragment?

Mr Marquise is certain that this evidence was transported from the UK to the US, and taken to the FBI labs in Washington, by a member of RARDE, thought to be Alan Feraday were the identification was made. The photograph of the tiny piece of fragment of the microchip (evidence PT35b) on a persons finger is claimed to be that of Thomas Thurman of the FBI, who was also the scientist who uncovered the microchips origin and connection to the circuit board made by Mebo. He claims in Mr Levy's film that the microchip was "brought over by UK authorities" to the United States were identification was made, and was conclusively re-identified in the UK by RARDE (Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment).

However, once again there are contradictions in the accounts given. Lord Fraser is adamant that no evidence recovered from the Pan Am debris has ever left his authority or the UK mainland. This would have compromised the whole investigation and could have resulted in accusations of manipulation and, or, contamination of any evidence purity. Detective Chief Supt Mr Stuart Henderson, head of the UK police investigation, also states that the evidence relating to Pan Am 103, any evidence, but specifically the fragment of microchip, never left the UK mainland, but in actual fact the US investigators and the FBI had travelled to the UK to identify the fragment at RARDE with Mr Feraday.

When the public are asked to trust the integrity of those we commend with providing the truth and justice our democratic society demands, expectations can be, on occasion, somewhat unrealistic. Especially when dealing with highly complex issues of international politics, international crimes of nation states and multi-national business corporations. The public however, do expect a genuine and honest search for these truths, and those we charge with this responsibility to fulfil those simplest and most honourable tasks to have carried out their duty, with conscience and integrity.

Those who died over Lockerbie, and the families of the victims deserve at least this. With the pain of a lost loved one however, the relatives of those who died have also had to endure the persistent inaccuracies, the constant contradictions, and the inexplicable decisions taken with respect to those who carried out the atrocity and how their government failed in their loved ones protection. Not by those who wish to seek conspiracies were there are none, and not by those who have ulterior motives for continuing to ask questions. But by the very investigators, police, professionals, experts, lawyers and those in power entrusted with upholding their faith in human kind and seeking justice in the supposed democratic nation we live in today. For those fundamental expectations and hopes are diminished with every conflicting statement, every unexplained area of the investigation, and every inscrutable and unaccountable decision taken by those with power in relation to finding the true perpetrators who organised and carried out the crime over Lockerbie in 1988.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

When truth is inconvenient

[On this date ten years ago a long article by Hugh Miles headlined Inconvenient Truths was published in the London Review of Books.  The following are excerpts:]

From the outset the Lockerbie disaster has been marked by superlatives. The bombing was the deadliest terror attack on American civilians until 11 September 2001. It sparked Britain’s biggest ever criminal inquiry, led by its smallest police force, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary. It spelled the end of Pan Am, which never recovered from the damage to its reputation. The trial at Camp Zeist was the longest and – at a cost of £75 million – the most expensive in Scottish legal history. The appeal hearing was the first Scottish trial to be broadcast live on both television and the internet.

Lawyers, politicians, diplomats and relatives of Lockerbie victims now believe that the former Libyan intelligence officer is innocent. (...)

Al-Megrahi applied to the SCCRC for a review of his case in 2003 and the commission has been reinspecting evidence from the trial for the last four years. It will submit its findings at the end of June. It looks likely that the SCCRC will find that there is enough evidence to refer al-Megrahi’s case back to the appeal court. The Crown Office has already begun reinforcing its Lockerbie legal team in anticipation of a referral.

If al-Megrahi is granted a second appeal, it will, like the original trial, be held before a panel of Scottish judges, without a jury. This time the trial will take place in Scotland, and if the glacial pace of proceedings in the past is anything to go by, it will probably not be heard before the summer of 2008. Al-Megrahi’s defence team would be ready to launch an appeal in a matter of weeks, but the prosecution would be likely to delay the hearing for as long as possible. If an appeal takes place, al-Megrahi’s defence team will produce important evidence that was not available at the time of the first appeal, evidence that seems likely not only to exonerate al-Megrahi but to do so by pointing the finger of blame at the real perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing and revealing some inconvenient truths.

Even the [official] who presided over the Lockerbie investigation and issued the 1991 arrest warrants for the two Libyans has cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. In an interview with the Sunday Times in October 2005, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scotland’s larger-than-life lord advocate from 1989 to 1992, questioned the reliability of the shopkeeper Tony Gauci, the prosecution’s star witness. ‘Gauci was not quite the full shilling. I think even his family would say [that he] was an apple short of a picnic. He was quite a tricky guy, I don’t think he was deliberately lying but if you asked him the same question three times he would just get irritated and refuse to answer.’ Lord Fraser made it clear that this did not mean he thought al-Megrahi was innocent. But he had presented Gauci as a reliable witness; he went on to become the heart of the prosecution’s case. Now he was casting doubt on the man who identified al-Megrahi. (...)

Hans Köchler, the UN observer at Camp Zeist, reported at the time that the trial was politically charged and the verdict ‘totally incomprehensible’.

In his report Köchler wrote that he found the presence of US Justice Department representatives in the court ‘highly problematic’, because it gave the impression that they were ‘“supervisors” handling vital matters of the prosecution strategy and deciding … which documents … were to be released in open court and what parts of information contained in a certain document were to be withheld.’ ‘The alternative theory of the defence,’ he went on, ‘was never seriously investigated. Amid shrouds of secrecy and national security considerations, that avenue was never seriously pursued – although it was officially declared as being of major importance for the defence case. This is totally incomprehensible to any rational observer.’ The prosecution, Köchler noted, dismissed evidence on the grounds that it was not relevant; but now that that evidence has finally – partially – been released, it turns out to be very relevant indeed: to the defence.

Whatever happens, al-Megrahi may not have to wait long. As soon as a further appeal is scheduled, he can make an application to be released from custody: the convicted Lockerbie bomber, who was supposed to serve no fewer than 27 years in a Scottish jail, might well be free this summer. Whether al-Megrahi is freed pending his appeal – and what conditions would be applied if he were – depends largely on whether his defence team can convince the judge that he is not a flight risk. This may be hard to do. The judge might decide that if he left the country, he might choose to stay in Libya rather than come back next year for another round in court. If al-Megrahi is exonerated, many tricky questions will resurface, not least what to do about the $2.7 billion compensation paid by Libya to the relatives of the victims of the bombing. And then, of course, there is the question of who really bombed Flight 103.

In the first three years following the bombing, before a shred of evidence had been produced to incriminate Libya, the Dumfries and Galloway police, the FBI and several other intelligence services around the world all shared the belief that the Lockerbie bombers belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC), a Palestinian rejectionist organisation backed by Iran. The PFLP-GC is headed by Ahmed Jibril, a former Syrian army captain; its headquarters are in Damascus and it is closely allied with the Syrian president and other senior Syrian officials. In the 1970s and 1980s the PFLP-GC carried out a number of raids against Israel, including a novel hang-glider assault launched from inside Lebanon. Lawyers, intelligence services and diplomats around the world continue to suspect that Jibril – who has even boasted that he is responsible – was behind Lockerbie.

The case against Jibril and his gang is well established. It runs like this: in July 1988, five months before the Lockerbie bombing, a US naval commander aboard USSVincennes in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian airbus, apparently mistaking it for an attacker. On board Iran Air Flight 655 were 270 pilgrims en route to Mecca. Ayatollah Khomeini vowed the skies would ‘rain blood’ in revenge and offered a $10 million reward to anyone who ‘obtained justice’ for Iran. The suggestion is that the PFLP-GC was commissioned to undertake a retaliatory bombing.

We know at least that two months before Lockerbie, a PFLP-GC cell was active in the Frankfurt and Neuss areas of West Germany. On 26 October 1998, German police arrested 17 terrorist suspects who, surveillance showed, had cased Frankfurt airport and browsed Pan Am flight timetables. Four Semtex-based explosive devices were confiscated; a fifth is known to have gone missing. They were concealed inside Toshiba radios very similar to the one found at Lockerbie a few weeks later. One of the gang, a Palestinian known as Abu Talb, was later found to have a calendar in his flat in Sweden with the date of 21 December circled. New evidence, now in the hands of al-Megrahi’s defence, proves for the first time that Abu Talb was in Malta when the Lockerbie bombing took place. The Maltese man whose testimony convicted al-Megrahi has also identified Abu Talb. During al-Megrahi’s trial Abu Talb had a strange role. As part of a defence available in Scottish law, known as ‘incrimination’, Abu Talb was named as someone who – rather than the accused – might have carried out the bombing. At the time he was serving a life sentence in Sweden for the bombing of a synagogue, but he was summoned to Camp Zeist to give evidence. He ended up testifying as a prosecution witness, denying that he had anything to do with Lockerbie. (...)

Other evidence has emerged showing that the bomb could have been placed on the plane at Frankfurt airport, a possibility that the prosecution in al-Megrahi’s trial consistently ruled out (their case depended on the suitcase containing the bomb having been transferred from a connecting flight from Malta). Most significantly, German federal police have provided financial records showing that on 23 December 1988, two days after the bombing, the Iranian government deposited £5.9 million into a Swiss bank account that belonged to the arrested members of the PFLP-GC.

The decision to steer the investigation away from the PFLP-GC and in the direction of Libya came in the run-up to the first Gulf War, as America was looking to rally a coalition to liberate Kuwait and was calling for support from Iran and Syria. Syria subsequently joined the UN forces. Quietly, the evidence incriminating Jibril, so painstakingly sifted from the debris, was binned.

Those who continued to press the case against the PFLP-GC seemed to fall foul of American law. When a New York corporate investigative company asked to look into the bombing on behalf of Pan Am found the PFLP-GC responsible, the federal government promptly indicted the company’s president, Juval Aviv, for mail fraud. Lester Coleman, a former Defense Intelligence Agency operative who was researching a book about the PFLP-GC and Lockerbie, was charged by the FBI with ‘falsely procuring a passport’. William [Chasey], a lobbyist who made similar allegations in 1995, found his bank accounts frozen and federal agents searching through his trash. Even so, documents leaked from the US Defense Intelligence Agency in 1995, two years after the Libyans were first identified as the prime suspects, still blamed the PFLP-GC.

Suspicions and conspiracy theories have swirled around Lockerbie from the beginning. Some of them are fairly outlandish. In Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse (2005), Brigid Keenan, the wife of the British diplomat Alan Waddams, reported that over dinner in Gambia, a former Interpol agent told her and her husband that the bombing had been a revenge attack by Iran, in retaliation for the downed airliner (though she didn’t say how he knew this). The Interpol agent claimed the cargo had not been checked because the plane was carrying drugs as part of a deal over American hostages held by Hizbullah in Beirut. Militant groups were being allowed to smuggle heroin into the US in exchange for information; the bomb had gone on board when the PFLP-GC found a loophole in this drug-running operation.

At least four US intelligence officers, including the CIA’s deputy station chief in Beirut, were on the Flight 103 passenger list. In the days following the bombing, CIA agents scoured the Scottish countryside, some reportedly dressed in Pan Am overalls. Mary Boylan, then a constable with Lothian and Borders police, has said that senior police officers told her not to make an official record of the CIA badge she recovered from the wreckage, asking her instead to hand it over to a senior colleague. Her testimony, too, is now in the hands of the SCCRC. Jim Wilson, a farmer from the village of Tundergarth, reported shortly after the bombing that he had found in his field a suitcase packed with a powdery substance that looked ‘like drugs’. He last saw the suitcase when he handed it over to the police, he said; he was never asked about it again.

When al-Megrahi was handed over for trial, Libya declared that it would accept responsibility for his actions. But it never accepted guilt. This distinction was spelled out clearly in Libyan letters to the UN Security Council. In a BBC radio interview in 2004, the Libyan prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, underlined once again that compensation had been paid because this was the ‘price for peace’ and to secure the lifting of sanctions. When asked if Libya did not accept guilt, he said: ‘I agree with that.’

If the court that convicted al-Megrahi now reverses its decision, then Libya would clearly have a case for demanding its money back. Since recovering the compensation from the relatives would be unthinkable, it is more likely Libya would pursue those responsible for the miscarriage of justice. ‘What they might try to do,’ Black suggests, ‘is to recoup the money from the British and American governments, who after all are responsible for the initial farce and the wrongful conviction in the first place. They paid that money on the basis of a miscarriage of justice perpetrated by the British courts.’ Al-Megrahi’s acquittal on appeal would not ipso facto make a compelling case for Libya to have its money back: even if guilt can’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt – the test of the criminal burden of proof – it could still be shown that it was more likely than not (which is the burden applied to civil cases such as compensation cases). If Libya paid the money for purely political reasons then, one could argue, it might have to live with that decision. When I asked the Foreign Office whether Britain would consider reimbursing Libya in the event of al-Megrahi’s exoneration, a spokesman declined to comment.

If al-Megrahi is acquitted, he will also have the right to sue for wrongful conviction. He could claim compensation to the tune of several tens of thousands of pounds. The Crown Office, which is headed by the Scottish lord advocate, is responsible for what happened, which means that al-Megrahi would sue the Scottish Executive. The lord advocate is now one of the ‘Scottish ministers’, whereas previously he – now she – was one of the law officers of the UK Government. The Scottish Executive might refuse to pay, blaming Westminster. Westminster, meanwhile, would argue that Lockerbie is and always has been a Crown Office matter and that the UK government has no say. A political storm is on its way, especially now that the SNP is in charge in Scotland.

Since the case against al-Megrahi was so weak, it is hard to understand how the judges who presided over the trial could have got it so wrong. Black has a view:

It has been suggested to me, very often by Libyans, that political pressure was placed upon the judges. I don’t think for a minute that political pressure of that nature was placed on the judges. What happened, I think, was that it was internal politics in Scotland. Prosecutions in Scotland are brought by the lord advocate. Until just a few years ago, one of the other functions of the lord advocate in Scotland was that he appointed all Scottish judges. I think what influenced these judges was that they thought that if both of the Libyans accused are found not guilty, this will be the most fiendish embarrassment to the lord advocate.
The appointment system for judges has changed since the trial, but another controversial aspect of the al-Megrahi case may also be re-examined: the policies on disclosure. Compared to almost any other similar criminal justice system, Scotland does not have a proper system of disclosure of information. In England and Wales, the Crown has to disclose all material to the defence, according to rules set out in statute. In Scotland the Crown is allowed to modify or withhold evidence if it considers that withholding is in the ‘public interest’. At least the Scottish criminal justice system doesn’t have the death penalty.