On December 21, 1988,
a Pan Am plane mysteriously exploded over Scotland causing the death of 270
people from 21 countries. The tragedy provoked global outrage. In 1991, two
Libyans were charged with the bombing.
In the event, only
Abdulbaset Ali Mohammad Al Megrahi, a Libyan agent, was pronounced guilty by a
panel of three judges, who based their decision on largely circumstantial
evidence. Al Megrahi and the Libyan government have protested their innocence
suffering punitive UN sanctions which froze overseas Libyan bank accounts and
prevented the import of spare parts needed for the country's oil industry,
Tripoli reluctantly agreed to pay $2.7 billion to victims' families ($10
million per family), on condition the pay-out would not be deemed an admission
In February 2004, the
Libyan prime minister told the BBC that his country was innocent but was forced
to pay-up as a "price for peace."
Al Megrahi is
currently serving a life sentence, but earlier this year the Scottish Criminal
Cases Review Commission ruled there may have been a miscarriage of justice on
the basis of lost or destroyed evidence.
Later this month, a
Scottish appeals court is due to revisit the case and is expected to overturn
Al Megrahi's conviction as unsafe.
The Libyan leader's
son Saif Al Islam recently said he is confident Al Megrahi will soon be found
innocent and will be allowed to return home.
On Sunday, an Observer
expose written by Alex Duval Smith reported "a key piece of material
evidence used by prosecutors to implicate Libya in the Lockerbie bombing has
emerged as a probable fake" with allegations of "international
political intrigue and shoddy investigative work" levelled at "the
British government, the FBI and the Scottish police."
The Observer story
maintains Ulrich Lumpert, a Swiss engineer who was "a crucial
witness," has now confessed that he lied about the origins of a timer
gave a sworn declaration to a Swiss court, which read "I stole a prototype
MST-13 timing device" and "gave it without permission on June 22,
1989, to a person who was officially investigating the Lockerbie affair."
The owner of the
company that manufactured the switch -- forced into bankruptcy after being sued
by Pan Am --- says he told police early in the enquiry that the timer switch
was not one his company had ever sold to Libya.
Moreover, he insists
the timer switch shown to the court had been tampered with since he initially
viewed it in Scotland, saying the pieces appeared to have been
"carbonised" in the interim. He also says the court was so determined
to prove Libya's guilt it brushed aside his evidence.
In 2005, a former
Scottish police chief signed a statement alleging the CIA had planted fragments
of a timer circuit board produced at trial, evidence supporting earlier claims
by a former CIA agent to the effect his agency "wrote the script" to
ensure Libya was incriminated.
There are also
allegations that clothing allegedly purchased by the bomber in Malta before it
was wrapped around the bomb, was intact when discovered but by the time it
reached the court it was in shreds.
The shopkeeper who
sold the item made a statement to the effect Al Megrahi had never been a
customer. Instead, he identified an Egyptian-born Palestinian, Mohammad Abu
Talb, now serving a life sentence in Sweden for a synagogue bombing.
Koechler, appointed by the UN to be an observer at the trial, has termed its
outcome "a spectacular miscarriage of justice." Koechler has
repeatedly called for an independent enquiry, which, to date, the British
government has refused to allow.
Oliver Miles, a
former British ambassador to Libya, insists "no court is likely to get to
the truth, now that various intelligence agencies have had the opportunity to
corrupt the evidence."
Jim Swire, the father
of one of the Lockerbie victims, said, "Scottish justice obviously played
a leading part in one of the most disgraceful miscarriages of justice in
Craig Murray, a
former British ambassador, who was earlier second-in-command of Britain's
Aviation and Maritime Department from 1989 to 1992, writes about a strange
incident on his website.
Murray says a
colleague told him "in a deeply worried way" about an intelligence
report indicating Libya was not involved in the Pan Am bombing. When he asked
to see it, his colleague said it was marked for named eyes only, which Murray
describes as "extremely unusual." Earlier, a CIA report that had
reached a similar conclusion had been conveniently buried.
If Al Megrahi walks,
as is likely, Libya will be vindicated and would presumably be able to reclaim
monies paid in compensation along with its reputation.
This would also be a
highly embarrassing turn of events for Britain and the US, not to mention their
respective intelligence agencies, and would leave the question of who bombed
Pan Am Flight 103 unanswered.
In a perfect world,
Libya should also receive an apology from its accusers and should be allowed to
sue for damages for all that it lost as a result of UN sanctions.
But in a world where
political expediency often triumphs, the appeal has no foregone conclusion
despite the exposure of dubious "evidence" and suspect
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.