SNP Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill
SNP Justice Minister Kenny MacKaskill’s decision to free convicted Lockerbie bomber Al Megrahi on the grounds of compassionate release has unleashed a tornado of criticism upon both himself and the devolved administration.
He has been attacked by virtually all other opposition parties, tabloid newspapers, and even the current director of the FBI Robert Mueller who said his decision empowered terrorists.
The decision itself opens a can of worms for Socialists – is it possible for a mass murderer to be rehabilitated? Should a justice system keep a dying man in prison, even when he is almost certainly in no position to re offend?
There are powerful arguments for having compassionate release, to provide convicted criminals with the option to spend the last months of their lives with their family and friends.
It’s an act of humanity which they might not have treated their victims with, but it’s something a civilised state can do for people who are in no position to commit crime again.
The Lockerbie Bombing – the worst air disaster in the UK
In Megrahi’s case however there is a far more powerful justification for his release – he is innocent.
Megrahi has spent 8 years locked away from his family, friends, in a foreign country for a crime he did not commit and has been made a scapegoat for.
As part of his compassionate release he has been forced to drop his appeal, meaning he will die as a convicted mass murderer.
While Megrahi may unfortunately never live to see his name cleared, it is important that those who are still living speak out against his politically motivated conviction; not only for the sake of his and his family’s name, but for the victims of Lockerbie as well.
The bombing itself occurred on the 21st of December 1988, when Pan Am 103 was blown up over the skies of Lockerbie. All 259 passengers and crew were killed, along with 11 people on the ground.
The debris from the suitcase that held the bomb
The investigation into the bombing was undertaken by the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary – the smallest force in the UK – alongside international agencies like the FBI.
Megrahi’s conviction was based on evidence obtained from the wreckage of Pan Am 103 – specifically a brown Samsonite suitcase, and a minute timer fragment.
The Samsonite suitcase was identified as the case which contained the bomb, through the use of modern forensic techniques.
The contents of the suitcase were also put together, by identifying items of clothing which must have been in the same case as the bomb due to scorching etc.
These clothes were identified as coming from a shop on Malta owned by the trials key witness, Tony Gauci.
Megrahi was alleged to have used these clothes to pack the suitcase containing the bomb.
This bomb was then supposed to have been loaded on to a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, then from Frankfurt to Heathrow where it was loaded on to Pan Am 103
Gauci made a positive identification of Megrahi as the man who bought the items of clothing from his shop.
Megrahi himself was named as an agent of the Libyan Government by another witness, Abdul Majid Giaka a defector from Libya.
The timer circuitry that had been supplied to Libya
The minute fragment of a timer found at the crash site was identified as being manufactured by Mebo AG, a telecommunications company whose employees identified the fragment and admitted to selling the timers to Libya.
At first glance the case appears to be relatively solid. But on closer examination of the trial, and with some new developments relating to the evidence and witnesses the credibility of the trial falls apart.
The evidence used to convict Megrahi was at best circumstancial and at worst a calculated attempt to frame him.
The star witness of the trial, Tony Gauci was found to have seen pictures of Megrahi a few days before “identifying” him. Contrary to procedure, this information was not turned over to the defence.
Gauci initially described Megrahi as being in his fifties and six feet tall – he is in fact five feet tall and was 36 when the bombing occured.
Gauci was labelled as “not the full shilling” by the Lord Advocate due to his contradictory testimony, and was reported to have received a $2 million dollar reward from the US.
The so-called defector Giaka who accused Megrahi of Libyan intelligence was revealed to be a fantasist, who was milking his CIA handlers for all he could get. His other “revelations” included evidence Gaddafi was involved in Masonic plots with the President of Malta.
The judges themselves were totally unable to account for the movements of the “magic suitcase”.
The case alleged to contain the bomb is supposed to have travelled from Malta to Heathrow unaccompanied.
There was no explanation given as to how this was possible, as the Judges accepted in their verdict below,
“As we have also said, the absence of an explanation as to how the suitcase was taken into the system at Luqa is a major difficulty for the Crown case but after taking full account of that difficulty, we remain of the view that the primary suitcase began its journey at Luqa”
Megrahi’s defence argued that the bomb was probably loaded on Pan Am 103 at Heathrow. A retired security guard gave Megrahi’s defence team a sworn affidavit that there was a break in early on the day of the Lockerbie bombing.
This break in would have allowed access to the baggage at Heathrow. The security guard commented that he was surprised this information was not made known at the trial.
The minute fragment of timer discovered in Lockerbie that was used to identify Libya as the state sponsor of the bombing has also been exposed as misleading.
An official of Mebo has signed a sworn affidavit to Megrahi’s defence, claiming that he was not only asked to lie in the trial regarding identifying the timer fragment but that he also stole a timer on the behalf of “someone investigating the Lockerbie case”.
Megrahi’s defence team also had a sworn statement from a Scottish Police chief, alleging this fragment was planted. The timers themselves were also sold to many other countries, including East Germany who may have provided them to the real Lockerbie bombers.
Newly released memos from the US Defense Intelligence Agency also claim that it was Iran, not Libya that was believed by US intelligence agencies to have carried out the bombing. The memo states,
“The bombing of the Pan Am flight was conceived, authorised and financed by Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, Iran’s former interior minister.
“The execution of the operation was contracted to Ahmad [Jibril], Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command [PFLP-GC] leader, for a sum of $1million [£600,000.
"$100,000 of this money was given to Jibril up front in Damascus by the Iranian ambassador to Sy [Syria], Muhammed Hussan [Akhari] for initial expenses. The remainder of the money was to be paid after successful completion of the mission.”
Iran commemorates the downed Airbus with a series of stamps
All of this evidence is what lead to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission granting Megrahi a second appeal – one that would likely have proved his innocence.
So if it wasn’t Libya or Megrahi, who did bomb Pan Am 103? For once US intelligence was (originally) right. The most likely suspect is Iran, using the a Palestinian militant group the PFLP-GC to do it’s dirty work.
Iran had a clear motive to bomb an American airliner. 5 months before Lockerbie an Iranian Airbus was shot down by the USS Vincennes, an American warship.
The Vincennes mistook the Airbus for an Iranian fighter jet, and killed 250 people on pilgrimage to Mecca.
Both the Airbus and the Vincennes were in Iranian territorial waters at the time of the attack.
Unlike Megrahi, the Captain of the Vincennes, William Rogers was not indicted for murder or even manslaughter. He was given the Legion of Merit for his command of the Vincennes.
Iran clearly had a motivation for revenge.
The Lockerbie bomb itself also points at the PFLP-GC and Iran. 2 months before the bombing a PFLP-GC cell was arrested in Frankfurt.
The improvised explosive device hidden in a Toshiba radio that blew Pan Am 103 out the sky.
They were found to be making bombs disguised as Toshiba radios – exactly the same kind of improvised explosive device used to bring down Pan Am 103.
The evidence linking Iran to the bombing was dropped, and suspicion cast on Libya because the US needed both Iran and Syria to remain neutral during the Gulf War.
The price for that neutrality has meant an innocent man has been jailed for 7 years, his name destroyed and justice for the Lockerbie victims may never be done.
Part of Megrahi’s compassionate release involves dropping his legal appeal. CIA agent Robert Baer wrote that the appeal would be so damaging to Scottish Justice that Kenny MacKaskill had two choices, “to release Megrahi or smother him in his sleep”.
McKaskill chose the more humane option. But it’s still not justice. The truth about Lockerbie cannot be allowed to die with Megrahi, it must be exposed regardless of the shame it causes legal establishments both sides of the Atlantic.