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Lockerbie: Bellyaching over a just release

By Owei Lakemfa
THE storm of protests and rage in Europe and America over the release of convicted Lockerbie ‘bomber’ Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi by the Scottish authorities is still gathering like a destructive American hurricane.

It has also taken childish dimensions. For example the  New Jersey State governor, Jon Corzine, is leading some American politicians to stop Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi from staying at the five-acre Libyan House this month when he goes to address the United Nations General Assembly.

Some Americans have opened a  website, www. Boycottscotland .com urging Americans not to travel to Scottish tourist sites which last year yielded a $425 million income for the Scots. Also in retaliation, many Western officials gave a distance from activities marking the 40th commemoration of the September 1, 1969 coup which brought Ghadaffi to power.

Britain continues to be put on the defensive; this week it agreed to release all letters related to the release while reiterating that Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds and not  for British oil interests in Libya.

Some analysts likened the release to a second Lockerbie outrage, referring to the December 21, 1988 bombing of PAN AM Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 270 persons were killed.

President Barack Obama argued that the release was a mistake while FBI  Director Director  Robert Mueller, a lawyer who had investigated the bombing described the release as a mockery of justice and giving comfort to terrorists.

But the truth lies somewhere else. The decision to free Megrahi was not due to Scottish values  of showing mercy, but to their sense of justice; his terminal illness merely provided the Scots with a good excuse to free a man they had reasonable grounds to doubt his guilt. Long ago, they had concluded that Megrahi was merely a scapegoat in international politics; his trial was political.

In the 1980s the Ronald Reagan administration in America regarded Libya as a pariah state, a sponsor of international terrorism and surrogate of the Soviet Union. It banned Libyan oil,  prohibited Libyan students in US from continuing their studies in core sciences and carried the fairytale that Libya had sent a hit-squad to assassinate Reagan.

In a vain attempt to provoke Libya, the US Air Force in March 1986 bombed a Libyan missile battery  in Sirte, Libya and on April 14, 1986 bombed the Libyan  capital, Tripoli and city, Benghazi killing 37 and injuring many.

When the horrendous crime of bombing the PAN AM airliner occurred, the Americans had a ready culprit, Libya and all it did was work towards indicting the country. Two Libyans were identified as the bombers, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah and Megrahi.

Naturally, Libya rejected the indictment and refused to hand over the men. This led to an 11-year delay before the trials commenced on May 3, 2001 in Netherlands but under Scottish judges.

The prosecution case was that the explosion was caused by an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) contained in a Toshiba radio cassette player packed in a samsonite suitcase which also contained various clothing. It claimed that the unaccompanied suitcase was bagged at Malta on Air Malta Flight KM 103 to Frankfurt Airport, transferred to Flight PA 103A to Heathrow Airport and finally transferred on board the ill-fated aircraft.

The case against the Libyans were basically two. That the timer used in the explosion was a  MST-13 timing device manufactured by Mebo AG. The company’s co- founder Erwin Bollier testified that he had supplied Libya with 20 of the timers and that Megrahi was the Libyan contact.

A former Mebo AG employee, Ulrich Lumpet , an electronics engineer testified that he had produced all the company’s  MST-13 timers and that the timer shown him could be from one of those he had produced.

Six years after the trial, Lumpet admitted that he had lied in his testimony and that the timer debris produced in court was from one he had stolen from the company and given to investigators of the Lockerbie trial.

The second leg of the prosecution’s case was a charred piece of material allegedly from the crime scene which had been classified ”debris” by the Defence Constable Gilchrist but which was cancelled and relabelled “clothing (charred)”. Although the judges concluded that the new label was an afterthought, they accepted it as exhibit.

The prosecution then produced its principal witness, Tony Gauci of Mary’s House, Sliema, Malta who identified the  debris as “clothe” he had sold to Megrahi on December 7, 1988.

Four years later  the Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie who had presented Gauci as a witness of truth and the basis on which Megrahi had been convicted  said in The Sunday Times of October 23, 2005  that he doubted Gauci’s reliability and that the main witness was not truthful.  In summary, there had been a miscarriage of justice.

But at the trial itself not everybody was fooled. Professor Hans Kochler, a United Nations observer appointed by the Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his report said the trial had been politically influenced. He later told the BBC that the judgement was a “spectacular miscarriage of justice”. He said  the appeal process “bears the hallmarks of an intelligence operation”.

It later turned out that the American CIA documents  on the bombing which were made available to the prosecution were hidden from the defence and that the British government was stalling the appeal.

When this was protested against, the Appeal Court in Edinburg in September 2008 decided that a special defence counsel who will be vetted by security be appointed  to examine the CIA documents. In other words, Megrahi was not allowed a free choice of lawyers.

Given this reality and the fact that doctors had given him a few months to live whereas the appeal would last at least one year, he withdrew his appeal on August 18, 2009 and was freed two days later. An obviously innocent man had been released to go home and die.


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