I was going to write a piece on the failure of Western governments to pursue information that pertains to the Lockerbie bombing in post-Gaddafi Libya. Then I thought — what’s the point? Is there anybody who believes they have a real interest in the truth of the matter? Dissecting their propaganda and that of the media is a futile task. You think you’re dealing with subtle misinformation and then The Sun prints “THAT’S FOR LOCKERBIE” across a photo of Gaddafi’s bloodied corpse and you realise that it’s hopeless.
Picking over the details of a theory, when most fail to acknowledge its broadest claims, risks reducing it to esoterica. In the spirit of returning to the locus, then, I will recount this sorry story in a more elegant form and wait ’til a fresh chapter has been writen. The striking thing about the argument that the prosecution of Megrahi was unsafe is how obviously true it is. More obviously true than any other alternative theory I have encountered. Consider these points…
- There has been no confession. Megrahi, and members of the Libyan establishment, deny involvement in the bombings.
- The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission – the official body charged with revisiting prosecutions – has decided that the verdict was unreliable.
- The UN observer to the case believes the prosecution was unsafe.
- Experts who’ve scrutinised elements of the investigation believe it was swayed by “bias against the suspect” and “unfair procedures”. Other learned observers have stated that the prosecution was “absurd”, “astonishing” and “unsustainable”.
- The dubiousness of the investigation, and the poverty of its evidence, can be judged by anyone.
- Nobody has given a substantial defence of the prosecution.
Like an uncorked wine, the case has grown worse with age. Here’s one example. The prosecution’s central piece of evidence was the testimony of a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed he’d sold clothes to a man who “resembled [Megrahi] a lot” – clothes which were found wrapped about the bomb. Critics noted that the evidence was flawed in many ways – the man never confidently identified Megrahi, and his statements were inconsistent and implied that he’d sold the clothes a time when the Libyan wasn’t even on the island.
In the past few years we’ve also learned that he identified Megrahi from an old and scratched picture that, frankly, was a poor likeness of the man – in a process experts have said “generat[ed] a serious risk of mistaken identification”. It’s also been revealed that the witness was offered, and accepted, a hefty sum for his testimony. It’s not for me to say who and what he did and didn’t see, but one thing is obvious: it’s not compelling evidence.
Faced with the unravelling of an always thin case, defenders of the verdict have done little to assuage doubts. Richard Marquise, who led the FBI investigation, bluntly insists that there’s “nobody else that [he's] aware of anywhere in the world that has such evidence pointing to their guilt”. Invited to detail this evidence, however, he’s come up with nothing. Frank Duggan, president of Victims of Pan Am 103, has been reduced to sending abusive emails to sceptics of the verdict, detailing the “reprehensible acts” of Gaddafi. Well, yes, the Michael Jackson of the Maghreb was responsible for numerous atrocities, but that needn’t mean that he was guilty of the bombing. Other suspects have included the Iranians, Palestinian terrorists and the CIA. All of them have records that would make for grim reading too, but that needn’t mean they did it.
Knowing all of the above, it’s hard to know how these people live with themselves…
- The Scottish government, who insist they “do not doubt” the prosecution.
- The English government, who are so confident about the verdict that they’ll use the presumption of Libyan guilt as a justification for war.
- The media, who idly refer to Megrahi as “the Lockerbie bomber”.
The irony is that despite this veneer of assurance there’s still a desperation to the vigour with which journalists and politicians leap on any data point that might confirm Megrahi’s guilt.
When Gaddafi’s one-time Justice Minister – and current leader of the National Transitional Council – Mustafa Abdel-Jalil claimed to have evidence that the Colonel ordered the bombings his claims were greeted with enthusiastic headlines such as “Libya’s Gaddafi DID personally order Lockerbie bombing”. As it turned out, he had no such evidence. The papers failed to correct themselves. Later, after the rebels had overthrown Gaddafi, journalists worked themselves into a frenzy over a report that Megrahi had said his role in the attack had been “exaggerated”. As it turned out, he’d said no such thing. The papers failed to correct themselves. With so many claims debunked you’d think they’d question their premises but there we go.
Commentators have been no more enlightening. David Aaronovitch implied that the sceptics were untrustworthy because the eccentric Tom Dalyell was among them. Nick Cohen suggested that the sceptics were probably wrong because the eccentric David Shayler wasn’t among them. This is all ad hominem, of course, but it’s also inconsistent. Is it bad to have eccentrics on your side or not? (And how much do columnists get paid per word?)
I believe in justice for Megrahi inasmuch as I believe the evidence we’ve seen doesn’t justify the verdict. I’m not claiming to possess knowledge that exonerates or indicts anybody, though. The point is not that someone is or isn’t guilty but that no one can be said to be until we’ve seen and reviewed the evidence, and ’til that’s done there won’t be justice for the 270, and all their loved ones. This is what makes the actions of our governments so vile. They’re not even pursuing a false line of inquiry. They’re not inquiring, and they’re not pursuing anyone. They seem to be trying – unless the memories are of use in the services of propaganda – to forget the bombing ever happened.
So, not only have they carefully avoided dealing with the questions of the sceptics, they haven’t even followed their own stated beliefs to their logical conclusions. Having told us the attacks were organised by Libyans, they’ve made no attempt to seek co-conspirators in the post-Gaddafi nation. I think it’s absurd to presume, on the basis of the evidence we’ve seen, that Megrahi is “the Lockerbie bomber” but a crazier idea is that he’s “the Lockerbie bomber” – not just guilty but the man solely responsible. It’s like arresting one man at a murder scene riddled with motorcycle tracks.
Of course, I don’t think Libyan guilt has been established but either way they’ve let the villains free. Again, remember Moussa Koussa, longtime capo to Gaddafi, who was said to be the “mastermind” of the atrocity but was allowed to swan in and out of England like a tourist. All of this is illustrative of a disregard for truth and justice that should make us feel, if we didn’t already, that our governments can’t be trusted to be honest on even the gravest matters or, indeed, protect our welfare in the simplest of ways.