By SUSAN BRYCE
It was the evening of 21
December 1988, when Pan Am flight 103 exploded in mid air overhead
Dean’s Cross in the English Lake District and crashed at Lockerbie in
Scotland. All 259 passengers and crew on the plane were killed instantly,
and a total of eleven local people also died in the crash.
Initially, Syria, and then Iran
was blamed for the tragedy. It was only during the Gulf War that Libya
was falsely linked to the Lockerbie disaster. A potent and vitriolic
attack upon Libya began as the Arab state was doggedly pursued in a
trial by media, conducted by the British and American establishment.
Historically, both British and US intelligence agencies had engineered
attempts to undermine Libya, including plots to assassinate Colonel
Muammar Qadhafi. The attempts culminated in the April 1986 bombing of
the capital Tripoli ordered by the Reagan administration. Dozens of
Libyans were killed in the bombing raid including Colonel Qadhafi’s
adopted daughter, Hanna.
During the Gulf War, the Anglo-Americans needed Syrian support for its
attacks on Baghdad, and so the blame for the Lockerbie disaster was
conveniently shifted to Libya. Libya’s involvement in the Lockerbie
disaster was fabricated and a stringent regime of crippling
international sanctions were imposed against the feisty Arab state. The
establishment media ensured that the words “Libya” and “Qadhafi”
became synonymous with terrorist activity throughout the world and these
dangerously distorted portrayals of Libya have continued to the present
The trial of the two Libyan suspects at Camp Zeist in Holland presented
a significant problem for Britain and particularly the US. When Libya
gave up its citizens for international trial, the onus was on the US to
publicly present its evidence of Libya’s guilt. Because there was no
evidence, America had to manufacture evidence against Libya, and the
outcome of the trial was a compromise of convenience, in which judges
yielded to political pressure from the United States.
Historical Information and Background
It took eleven years for the two Libyan nationals accused of placing an
explosive device on Pan Am Flight 103 to be bought to trial. Until
August 1998, Libya, the UK and the USA were deadlocked over where the
trial would take place. Libya had no legal obligation to surrender the
suspects, and its accusers argued that any criminal trial should take
place either in Scotland or the US. The stalemate was broken only by a
compromise whereby the Libyans would be tried in a neutral venue, the
Netherlands, before a panel of Scottish judges (with no jury) under
Scots criminal law and procedure.
A major police investigation, involving law enforcement officers from
around the world, including the FBI, ensued in the wake of the Lockerbie
disaster. Investigators concluded that “the detonation of an
improvised explosive device led directly to the destruction of the
aircraft with the loss of all 259 persons on board and eleven of the
residents of the town of Lockerbie.” The Semtex-type plastic explosive
was contained in a Toshiba radio-cassette player in a Samsonite suitcase.
The investigation found that the explosive device had been carried by
Pan Am from Frankfurt to London Heathrow and then transferred to Flight
103. Mechanical failure and pilot error were ruled out.
On 27 November 1991, the Lord Advocate obtained a warrant for the arrest
of two Libyans, Abdelbasset Ali Ahmed al-Megrahi and Ali Amin Khalifa
Fhimah, on charges of conspiracy to murder and breaches of the Aircraft
Security Act of 1982. An indictment in similar terms was handed down by
the US District Court of the District of Columbia on the same day.
British and American governments demanded that the two Libyans be
surrendered so that they could stand trial in either Scotland or the
United States. Libya refused to surrender the suspects because it had no
extradition treaties with either the UK or the US and that, in any case,
Libyan law prohibited the extradition of its own nationals.
The two governments then went to the UN Security Council, forcing
through Resolution 731 of 21 January 1992 requesting the surrender for
trial of the suspects. After that request was refused, the Security
Council adopted Resolution 748 on 31 March 1992, this time in the form
of a demand that Libya renounce terrorism and surrender Al-Megrahi and
Fhimah for trial. The resolution gave just over two weeks to comply
after which a range of sanctions would be – and in the event were –
imposed on Libya. When the two Libyans were still not handed over after
a further 18 months, the sanctions were extended and tightened by the
Security Council Resolution 883 of 11 November 1993.
In the meantime, Libya applied to the International Court of Justice
against the UK and US, stating that the matter was governed by an
international agreement, the Montreal Convention of 1971. Libya claimed
that it had fulfilled all its obligations under the Convention by
detaining the suspects and investigating the matter. The UK and US
countered by arguing that the Security Council resolutions overrode the
The Court decided in October 1992 that the matter was not of sufficient
urgency to grant Libya provisional measures of protection. In February
1998 the Court ruled on a number of preliminary objections made by the
two governments and declared that it had jurisdiction to deal with the
merits of the dispute between Libya and the UK and US.
It was thought that a breakthrough had been made in early 1994, when
Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University and Dr. Ibrahim Legwell,
the head of the Libyan defence team, agreed on a trial in a neutral
venue before a panel of international judges. Britain and America
refused to accept this compromise, demanding a trial in either Scotland
or the United States.
It became clear at the beginning of 1998 that, despite sanctions, the
two Libyans would not be surrendered for trial. On 24 August, the two
governments went back to the Security Council proposing that the trial
should be held in the Netherlands before a panel of three Scottish
judges and with no jury. This offer was broadly accepted by Libya, which
reiterated its stance that it was for the two suspects and their legal
advisers to decide whether they would appear in the Netherlands for
On 5 April 1999, after some months of discussions on concerns from the
accused and their lawyers, Al-Megrahi and Fhimah surrendered for trial
in the Netherlands at the Dutch military airbase of Valkenburg, just
outside The Hague. They were swiftly extradited to Scottish jurisdiction
at Camp Zeist, near Utrecht. Camp Zeist, a former American airbase, had
been agreed between the British and Dutch governments as the most
suitable site for the trial. On the second of two appearances before
Sheriff Principal Graham Cox Q.C., sitting at Camp Zeist, they were
committed for trial on 14 April 1999. The trial proper began in 2000 and
ended in February 2001. Al-Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah innocent.
The verdict that
Abdelbasset al-Megrahi was guilty, and his co-accused Ali Amin Khalifa
Fhimah innocent, was not unexpected. The verdict was the outcome of a
political show trial. Its aim was to continue to demonise and pressure
Libya and to show the power of the US and British governments to
punish whatever ‘enemy’ they choose, regardless of evidence.
The Scottish law professor, Robert Black, who devised the trial,
called the evidence “very, very weak” and was astonished by the
verdict. He had expected both Libyan nationals to be declared innocent.
The British families whose relatives were killed in the disaster were
also dismayed. They say the trial has not answered the questions that
lie at the dark heart of Lockerbie and are demanding a public inquiry.
The sensationalistic reporting surrounding the verdict leaves pressing
questions unanswered: why did Al-Megrahi do it? On whose orders did he
act? How much was known about the plot to blow up Pan Am 103? None of
these questions were answered by the verdict.
The Helsinki Warning
A series of intelligence reports warning of a planned
'Islamic' terrorist attack on a Western passenger plane were passed to
Western governments in the months and weeks before the bombing. The
so-called “Helsinki warning” was so specific that it said a Pan Am
flight travelling from Frankfurt to New York would be targeted. The US
took the threat seriously enough to post the warning in its Moscow
embassy. The public, however, was never told.
There were also intelligence warnings that claimed a suitcase bomb
containing explosives hidden in a Toshiba radio would be the method of
getting the device on board the target plane. The Lockerbie bomb
matched the reports.
Rescheduling of Flights for Top Brass
There are claims that a series of high-ranking political figures and
their relatives were scheduled to get on board Pan Am flight 103 but
never did. These include the former South African foreign minister Pik
Botha and the son of one of the FBI’s highest ranking investigators,
Oliver Ravel. The staff of the American embassy in Moscow had the
luxury of not getting on board Flight 103. The public did not.
The trial dismissed as ‘coincidence’ the
activities of the organisation known as the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The Popular Front, operating
in Germany, was found with bombs almost identical to the one which
went on board the Pan Am plane. All devices were accounted for, apart
from one – possibly the Lockerbie bomb. The PFLP-GC was supported by
both Iran and Syria. Although early investigations pointed at the
state’s involvement in the bombing, Syria was rehabilitated when it
became key to Western foreign policy during the Gulf War. It was
initially thought that Syria and Iran plotted the bombing in revenge
for a US naval vessel shooting down of an Iranian airbus with massive
loss of civilian life.
Intelligence Agency Black Ops
The US government used routes such as Pan Am 103 to run controlled
deliveries of drugs from the Middle East into America. This was said
to enable agents to follow the route of the drugs and arrest criminals.
However, there have been claims from whistleblowers within the US
intelligence services that this was actually part of a complicated
black operation intended to fund the extreme right-wing Contra rebels
in Nicaragua and send ransom money to Beirut to free American hostages.
The timer that was said at the trial to have caused
the explosion could have been set for detonation at any time –
anything, in fact, up to 999 hours in advance, ensuring that the plane
was downed at sea and all forensic evidence sunk to the bottom. It
calls into question what type of timer was used, and who was using it.
Why would Libya – the supposed home of international terrorism –
use low-grade timers that would expose it to detection? An expert on
timers told the trial that the ice-cube timer would have began its
countdown seven minutes after take-off. That gives a time before
detonation of 37 minutes. Pan Am Flight 103 took off at 6.25pm and
exploded 38 minutes later.
The fact that the United States issued a public,
rather than a sealed, indictment indicates that US authorities never
expected that the accused would ever actually be brought to trial.
Instead, US officials saw the indictment itself as a diplomatic tool
that would help them persuade members of the UN Security Council to
impose sanctions on Libya, thereby furthering their goal of isolating
the enemy of the day. UN sanctions were imposed on Libya in 1992 as a
result of its “refusal” to comply with the investigations into the
bombing over Lockerbie in 1988.
The so-called money bomb ended up costing Libya more than $25 billion
in lost revenue from 1992 to the present day. The sanctions isolated
Libya and the human anguish and distress that they caused cannot be
A special UN report, circulated to members of the Security Council in
1998, revealed the extent of suffering caused by sanctions. In
addition to an embargo on international flights, as well as on
aircraft and aircraft parts, the sanctions included a ban on arms
imports, the downgrading of diplomatic ties with Libya, a freeze on
some Libyan assets abroad and a ban on some equipment used at oil
transportation terminals and refineries. The sanctions deliberately
targeted Libya’s economy and transport infrastructure, and were
designed to cause maximum discomfort to children, the elderly, the
sick and disabled.
The air blockade of Libya was particularly destructive. Due to the
embargo on airline spare parts, a Libyan civilian airliner in 1992
crashed killing all 170 people aboard who were of different
nationalities. More than 9,000 medical patients were affected by the
air blockade, preventing them from receiving urgent attention overseas.
At least 350 patients died en route by road transport to specialist
medical care. On many occasions, Western countries were refused
permission to export vital medical equipment to Libya.
The Lockerbie verdict of convenience proves that the trial did not
achieve either justice or truth. After the verdict was announced, the
US continued to pursue Libya, and its leader Colonel Qadhafi.
Americans now want law suits against Libya, sanctions against the
country continued and criminal charges brought against the Libyan
US Secretary of State Colin Powell held a secret meeting with the
American families after the trial. Powell suggested that the US wanted
leading Libyans prosecuted and hinted that this meant Colonel Qadhafi.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher followed up with an
official news briefing stating that “the United States government
position, which we’ve reiterated here again and again, which the
Secretary conveyed to the families when he talked to them, is that we
will follow the evidence wherever it leads…that remains our position.”
Some ten UN Security Council members are said to agree that the
sanctions against Libya should be lifted. Other powerful and
influential organisations are in agreement that the sanctions should
be lifted. They include the Arab League, the Organisation of African
Unity and the Non-Aligned movement.
Despite pressure to lift sanctions against Libya, the United States
and Britain have applied political and economic pressure to UN
Security Council members so that action can be delayed. So far,
sanctions have only been suspended, not lifted. The United States and
Britain have boiled down a series of UN Security Council resolutions
to two demands before the sanctions can be lifted entirely – an
acceptance of responsibility by Libya for the bombing and the payment
of “appropriate” compensation to the victims’ families. The US
also continues its own separate sanction regime on all commercial and
financial transactions between Tripoli and the United States.
Meanwhile, former South African president Nelson Mandela continues to
pursue diplomatic channels on behalf of Libya. Mandela accused the
West of shifting the goalposts regarding sanctions in the wake of the
Lockerbie trial verdict. He has most recently met with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair where he pointed out that Britain had reneged on
its undertaking to press for the final lifting of sanctions against
An appeal against conviction has been lodged by
Al-Megrahi. His chances of winning an appeal are slim, given that only
legal errors and inconsistencies of the Court within the scope of the
verdict can be considered for a successful appeal. Chances for the
introduction of possible new evidence are strictly limited and in the
Lockerbie case virtually impossible. A decision on his appeal is
expected by September.
However, Professor Robert Black says there are several basic errors
and mistakes that are contained in the verdict that should be able to
serve as a vehicle for a successful appeal. Professor Black, who has
supported the defense case, said he believed the appeal would
“centre on whether the judges were justified in their findings of
He expects lawyers to maintain the evidence did not prove that an
unaccompanied suitcase was dispatched on the morning of the bombing on
an Air Malta flight. During the trial, prosecutors presented baggage
check-in records and summoned passengers from the flight to show that
one bag was not claimed. The bag was alleged to have contained the
explosive device. Professor Black also said the appeal would probably
challenge a Maltese shopkeeper’s identification of Al-Megrahi as the
man he believed purchased the clothing found in the suitcase
containing the explosive.
Al-Megrahi’s lawyers had until April to lodge the grounds for appeal.
A decision on his appeal is expected by September, and then a date
will then be set for the hearing before five Scottish judges. The
appeal is expected to be heard at Camp Zeist, and Al-Megrahi will
remain in his specially constructed prison at the site until then. If
his appeal fails he will be transferred to a Scottish prison – most
likely Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.
In the latest development, Al-Megrahi has announced
that he is willing to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence.
He says he wants to take the test live, in front of world television
cameras, to be beamed around the world via satellite, to prove his
innocence of the charges brought against him. His lawyer in Tripoli
has asked that the necessary measures be taken to conduct the test.
The lie detector test would prove that Al-Megrahi is an innocent man
who was not offered a fair trial and was convicted in isolation from
the rules of justice. It would demonstrate that the rules of justice
were badly applied to the point that those who pursued Libya as the
guilty party in the Lockerbie disaster should be legally and morally
accountable to the world.
Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi condemned the verdict of the Lockerbie
bombing trial as an “injustice.” The Libyan leader said the United
States and Britain had blamed his country for political reasons and
that the investigation before the trial had not been neutral.
The Lockerbie case has now become a racist pretext to prolong nine
years of sanctions against Libya, and Al-Megrahi has become a
scapegoat to satisfy the families of the victims and justify
prolonging the embargo.
Al-Megrahi’s sentence gives the United States a perfect pretext to
carry out political and economic blackmail on Libya. The credibility
of Western justice, that burned at the altar of Camp Zeist, is now at
stake – not Libya’s innocence.
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