Lockerbie Lies

UPDATE: 20 May 2012: Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is reported to have died in hospital in Libya.

UPDATE August 2011: With the collapse of the Libyan regime of Gadaffi, some American families have called on the new rebel government to extradite Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, infamously known as the "Lockerbie Bomber", to the United States, apparently for some sort of second trial and conviction for the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. Although he was released under licence in 2009 by the Scottish Government, many Americans and rightwing British politicians decried the move, which was taken on grounds that he was terminally ill with as little as three months left to live. He has survived much longer, but a photograph this week shows him in a poor state and his family have said he is in a coma. The new Libyan Government has said it will not extradite him, though fears for his safety from a US-funded "snatch squad" or assassins remains. 

Originally published two years ago, the article below, however, queries whether he was rightfully convicted in the first place; and, if not, who the real culprits are, including those who have actively covered up the fact for decades.

UPDATE 2010: A little over a year ago, in September 2009, the Scottish Government released the Libyan, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of the exploding of an American airliner over the Scottish village of Lockerbie in 1988. He was released on compassionate grounds as he had been assessed as terminally ill with just weeks left to live. A year on, much to the chagrin of the rightwing media, he is still alive and there are rumours of his having been released to secure a trade deal between the UK and Libya under the last Labour Government. This article, written at the time, appeared in the London Progressive Journal and gave a different view of the issue and of why al-Megrahi's release was not merely the humane thing to do, but the just one too. 

The media has been full of a lot of cant and rhetoric in the last week or so since the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing back in December 1988, Al-Megrahi, was allowed to go home to Libya to spend his final weeks of life - he has terminal cancer. Scottish law allows a jailed prisoner with a life expectancy of less than three months to be released on compassionate grounds, and the Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, took this line in deciding to free him.

Since then there has been endless speculation about the role of the British Labour Government (as opposed to the Scottish SNP one) meddling in the process to ensure his release in return for trade favours from the Libyans. The Labour Party denies this; the SNP denies it - both for different reasons. The Tories and Lib Dems seek to make mischief over motives and process.

But the bottom line is that Megrahi should be free; and should have been freed years ago. In fact, he should never have gone to jail because on any count of a convincing case and a safe conviction, he was not guilty. He did not blow up the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie and the British and American Governments have known this all along - at least one forensic expert who worked for the police on the scene has doubted the official version and Dr Jim Swire, a leader of the British victims’ family group and who lost his daughter, Flora, in the explosion, has concluded al-Megrahi to be not guilty.

Long forgotten is the prequel to this sad story - the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf in July 1988 by the USS Vincennes. 290 people, all civilians and including 66 children, were killed by a missile fired from the American ship while it was transgressing inside Iranian territorial waters, possibly as part of its not-so-covert support for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq at the time (the long Iran-Iraq war was drawing to an end). The US sought to justify this because, it claimed, the ship's captain thought the airliner might be on a suicide mission to fly into the ship, though all the records show absolutely nothing to justify such an assumption. They refused to apologise or pay compensation to the families of the dead and went on to decorate the two commanders of the ship.

An article by the former Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, one of many respected commentators who have long expressed their scepticism of the official versions of both tragedies, shows how the Libyans had nothing to do with the Lockerbie disaster.

Even at the time there were public suggestions that either Syria and/or elements within the Iranian Government were involved. Dalyell suggests that the Americans knew Pan Am Flight 103 was going to be targetted in reprisal for Iran Air Flight 655 and consequently moved their personnel off the flight - as well as the then South African ambassador, Pik Botha. This released seats to be taken at the last moment by the British and American passengers who were to be among the dead.

And then the following year Saddam invaded Kuwait. Now Iran and Syria were needed as allies (or at least neutrals) in the George Bush snr Gulf War. Libya suddenly became the culprit and, after £30 billions worth of sanctions against them, Gaddafi sacrificed Al-Megrahi without admitting any culpability. The evidence against him was thin - but the conviction stood, as it had to. Of course, some allegedly informed commentators, like John Bolton, G.W. Bush's UN ambassador, insist there was all sorts of secret evidence against him, some so secret it could not be shown even to the judges in the near unique jury-less trial than convicted Megrahi. This of course is precisely the same line Bolton and co spun over the supposed existence of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. Does anyone still trust him?

All these years ago, I vividly remember driving past the village of Lockerbie just four days after the exploding plane dripped its cargo of burning fuel across the dual carriageway, incinerating cars, and its wing ploughed into the village, wiping out a whole street and killing people as they ate their dinners and watched TV. It was a grim sight, the firemen and bulldozers and the piles of rubble, the demolished houses already indiscernible from the winter mud. Grimmer still was the man in the car in front, hanging out his window taking snaps as the cars trickled slowly past the devastation, the four lanes reduced to two. When I headed south from my parents a week later, it was not surprising that the police had erected a high fence round the scene for a combination of road safety and the privacy of the stunned villagers. It was and is a quiet little town, miles from anywhere, in beautiful rolling countryside - making its infamy for this atrocity all the more incongruous.

Al-Megrahi was a pawn in a dirty game of power politics, sordid beyond belief. Bereaved relatives and the public at large have been lied to over and over again. And the perpetrators, of both the murders of the Iranian passengers and the murders of the Lockerbie passengers, have got away with it, I sense for good. This may well be why the British party that was in power at the time of the bombing, the Conservatives, seems so hell-bent on smearing the Labour Government with some sort of prisoner-for-trade deal, when in fact the decision was clearly in the hands of the Scottish Justice Minister. They protest too much, perhaps keen to keep fingers from pointing in their own direction; but perhaps I am hoping too much that the UK Government of 1988's culpability and collusion is closer to the surface than it is, buried deep by the layers of lies constructed in the two decades since.

And the Scottish Justice Minister, MacAskill, took the right decision, his only fault being that it was for the wrong reason. Al-Megrahi should not have been released on compassionate grounds. He should have been released because he was and is an innocent man.

Further article on this by the late Paul Foot from 2004:

Iranians remember the dead of Flight 655, long forgotten
 in the West, where the men who blew it up
were awarded medals by the US Government.