A Tale of Three Atrocities

A Decidedly Different Take
20 August 2010 (incomplete)
last edits 27 August

A tale of three atrocities is the name of an unusual little book written by an interesting acquaintance, Mr. Charles Norrie, as of recently available in an on-line form. Mr. Norie is an English family member of an alleged Libyan atrocity, having lost his brother to the 1989 bombing of UTA 772 over Niger.

While he does accept Libyan guilt in that attack, Norrie has taken a major interest in the lack of a case for Libyan guilt in a second atrocity, the Lockerbie bombing. His unusual position has brought him to sign, along with myself and others, the most recent petition of the Justice For Megrahi campaign.

First, I’m one of the few people Charles has blessed with a hard copy of the mythic "green ATOTA," and I think I’ve read all of it by now, but never all at once. It's a neat little book, slick design, size and shape like a small company's annual report. The layout is tasteful, with full color photographs and glossy finish. (see image at left, atop my small Lockerbie library).

That's what you can't see in the Blogspot posting, but the text is the same (I presume) and can finally be seen by a wider audience. The writing is decent, with spots of genius and others of just cleverness. The actual ideas, the methodology and presumptions behind them, are more problematic for me. I’ll attempt to summarize a bit clumsily from my half-understanding.

Much of what’s in ATOTA is well-reasoned - especially when it comes to spotting problems with the official story against Megrahi, or with linking the 103 bombing to the third "atrocity" of the title. Along with myself and many others, Norrie believes the cause of Lockerbie to have been the 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655. While he suspects the associated PFLP-GC clues were just as fake as the Libyan ones (they were the original "scapegoat"), his concept of the “Qesas” revenge code is compelling. This would mean an Iranian hand was required to “pull the trigger,” perhaps a family member of an IA 655 victim.

London is the place this was done, apparently for operational security reasons. Would terrorists be so daft as to introduce their bomb two airports away and trust fate to pass it through each screening? I happen to agree on London introduction, in part for the same reason, and Iran Air’s terminal was in Terminal three at Heathrow, not far from where the bomb was finally loaded, via container AVE 4041.

The technical details ATOTA proposes are what get confusing. It  seems he’s saying the bomb was not inside of luggage at all, but rather attached/built into the luggage container to resemble a repair patch. To not stand out, he agrees it would have to be, at most, one inch thick, this explosive device with an ice cube timer, and faced in rough aluminum. He reasons "if the bomb was in a suitcase it would have been spotted on the morning of 21st December by Heathrow baggage handlers." Well, it was, apparently as part of a  matching set.

It almost seems Norrie is adding a shape-charge aspect to the 1/2” thick bomb notion. As he explains:
The official explanation for Lockerbie is that a bomb was concealed in a suitcase. Yet a bomb in a suitcase would explode in all directions. In contrast, the hole in the side of the plane seemed to indicate a unidirectional explosion. This makes sense if a bomb was attached to the side of a luggage container, slightly above the bottom.
Actually, the blast that’s alleged would be fairly uni-directional, relative to the nearest hull metal - inside pointing out. In fact, being inside the container and a bit lower than shown (at left, from AAIB report) could explain the low cut-off of damage (red hatching). It could be cut off by the layer of bags above.

This supporting passage has me scratching my head still:
Peter Claydon told the court the bomb created an 8-inch square hole in AVE4041 PA and a 20-inch square hole in the skin of the aircraft.
I’ve read Mr. Claiden’s testimony and found no such statement. This would have to be a very unidirectional explosive device to leave a square hole after detonating, and the same size as the 8” square repair patch he shows in a photo on page 13. In fact, the damage to the outboard panels was measured in feet.

The closest thing I can see to an 8-inch hole is the opposite - a chunk of metal about that size that Claiden felt was from the middle of a huge span of completely missing metal (labeled "e" at right, from AAIB report). This was at almost exactly the bomb position, and his hunch that this intact metal is from there remains bizarre and inexplicable.

Norrie’s theory also goes deeper than Iranian involvement, suggesting the Americans were involved in the plot as well - to ensure its success. The primary evidence he cites for this is the second explosion, at the other end of the plane and triggered 14 seconds later, it had to be an independent device that proves "Megrahi cannot be guilty."
I now believe the cause of the additional blast was a CIA 'insurance bomb'. Its purpose was to guarantee no one survived the bombing, ensuring the Iranians would be completely satisfied with the operation, and the Qesas condition fulfilled.
I think this was to deflect wider promised attacks.

To support the second bomb theory, he cites an unsupported statement from apparently loon John Parkes that "a minimum of two high explosive events took place inboard Pan Am 103." And he points to the twin debris fields, north and south, as pre and post-second bomb. I'm not certain of the right answer to there being two fields, but I should think it could have many explanations in a complex breakup like that of Flight 103, even without a second detonation. 

For the location of the second bomb, Norrie cites a missing section near the rear cargo area which must have been all vaporized by a "brisant explosion." See the image at left (new window for larger view), of the AAIB's painted model. Those sections coded in white were never recovered. Charles would be referring to the section on the lower rear of the craft (seen in view 3). But many other sections at random spots were missing as well, in at least seven apparent "brisant explosions" all over the plane. For whole panels of aluminum to disappear in Scotland might seem odd, but there are a lot of lochs that maybe weren't fully dredged, etc...

more perhaps forthcoming ...

I give Charles Norrie the comments section below to help us grasp what he’s got here.

Note 3 Sept. - he opted not to use that much, but took it to the JREF and, at Rolfe's invitation, proceded to ...  well to fail, for one.

Note 19 September: I've decided to breach e-mail confidentiality to confirm that  Charles'  ridiculous behavior at the JREF was part of a strategy to accrue yet more"suppression"of the the ype he's encountered at Wikipedia and now at Prof.Black's blog (first ever banning there I know of).

Monitoring the Monitor

25 August 2010
last edits 17 September

Contrasting an excellent analysis recently published on Time's website, a crappy little article just appeared on the Christian Science Monitor's site. The author, Dan Murphy, reads to me like an old-time pro on the Lockerbie misinformation circuit, dusted off and put to work to counter the spreading "conspiracy theories." Here I will attempt to address every error I find in the piece, while trying not to pick a fight with Marquise and Chonyak's vapid, self-serving comments. I'm looking for Mr. Murphy's errors (aside from numerous grammatical ones).

Last week Abdelbasat al-Megrahi, the convicted murderer of 280 people in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, celebrated the first anniversary of his release on "compassionate" grounds by the Scottish government at his lavish home near Tripoli.
270, not 280. Celebrations were muted to nonexistent, depending on your source. Compassion shouldn't have quotes here; that is the legal basis of the rule. I thought a Christian might understand.
The fact that the former Libyan intelligence agent has now lived nine months longer than doctors predicted has rekindled conspiracy theories of Megrahi's innocence. The thinking goes that "compassion" for Megrahi was merely a pretext to release a man secretly known to be innocent without having to make embarrassing admissions of error.
Well, "error" might not be the right word for what might've been exposed with no intervention; that's part of the thinking. The other part left out, that strongly suggests that interpretation, is Megrahi's 12 August decision to abandon his appeal, following on actions by MacAskill and his advisers that all but necessitated that outcome, and apparently being the deciding factor in his release.
Another Libyan agent tried along with Megrahi was acquitted. Megrahi was found guilty of planting the explosive device in a suitcase that was placed on an Air Malta flight...
And the placing on the plane was allegedly done by accomplice Fhimah, with his airside pass. Fhimah was never found to have any links that would class him as an "agent" of Libya - at trial the prosecution even refrained from stating it as fact. There was also never any evidence found Fhimah was at the airport that day, and it's certain that they looked for any. This part is necessary to the alleged plot, and also pure speculation. Nearly all the evidence against Fhimah in general was from "star witness" Giaka, and dismissed after the judges decided Giaka was a liar after nothing but US "Justice" money and a new life there.

So the necessary accomplice was found absolutely not guilty, leaving one wondering who did help Megrahi get the bomb onto that flight while he was busy boarding another one. It must've happened somehow is the best the judges could muster.
Libya later said it was responsible for the bombing ... Recently, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi said that the country accepted guilt to get out from under UN sanctions, and had not been truthful when it said it was responsible.
Wrong. There's no disconnect. As Saif Gaddafi confessed, they "played with the words" to get out from under UN sanctions. They accepted, in 2003, "responsibility" for the "actions" of their citizens, without specifying - then or ever - that the bombing was one of those actions. No one in Libya has "admitted" their involvement. That's all American wishful thinking.
... there's no evidence to support any of a myriad of alternative theories about his guilt.
Wrong. Is it really so hard to say "proof" instead of "evidence?" There is very much evidence - all fitting together nicely into a suppressed body of clues suggesting a PFLP-GC bomb originating in London. Iran did get its revenge for IA655 after all.
The Herald writes that the "Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is understood to have uncovered new evidence that strengthens the case against Talb" without actually explaining how this is "understood" or what additional evidence, if any, exists to tie him to the murders.

Wrong. It's not 100% convincing, but the Herald specified:
The SCCRC report refers to the recovery of official records from various organisations in Italy. These are thought to relate to Talb, who travelled between Cyprus, Rome, Malta, and Frankfurt in the run-up to the bombing.
While Megrahi was proven to have traveled to Malta on a false passport (which he had originally lied about), and to ahve [sic] been there on the date that the explosive was placed on the plane, Talb was in Sweden at the time.

And the bomb was in London. Neither once-official suspect was involved.

The key piece of evidence against Megrahi was a fragment of the timer used for the bomb at Lockerbie

That's not evidence against Megrahi, but it does strongly suggest Libyan authorship. It was also obviously planted.

Another theory floating about is that the British government squashed possibly exculpatory evidence about Megrahi at the time of his trial and has been hiding it ever since.

Not theory. Fact. In 2008 David Miliband ordered sealed a document the defense wanted, under the vague Public Interest Immunity exemption. (Explained by him here)

Again, it isn't clear who believes this or how they could possibly know such the contents of a "secret" document.

Its contents are indeed unkown, as it remains supressed. So why the qoutes on "secret"? Personally I suspect the rumors of its contents are based on a credible report to begin with, from someone who's seen it, and it does deal with the timer. But I for one admit I don't know what's in it and I doubt we'll ever be allowed to see. In fact, no one has openly claimed to know what's in it. They've heard and suspect what they say, and Mr.Murphy has nothing better to counter it.

... the Libyan abandoned his appeal because of his terminal cancer.

Mr. Murphy would be hard-pressed to explain how cancer leads to a dropped appeal all on its own. There probably is a valid link between the two, but one he'd rather not explore. The innocent convict was bullied into surrendering his appeal, and cheap, given his going-out-of-life clearance sale. Looks like he might've even been bamboozled into selling out a bit early.

Abu Talb: Practice Megrahi?

25 August 2010

The early suspicion that Mohammed Abu Talb was involved in the PA103 bombing was based on bomb-blasted clothes allegedly bought on Malta in late 1988, ties to one or another force capable of such grand terrorism, and circumstantial clues pointing to something important happening on December 21, 1988. The same and similar clues would later point to Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. It’s quite curious, in fact, how these two very different suspects wound up fitting the same clues.

For what it's worth, Abu Talb wound up being exonerated for Lockerbie but found guilty of other bombings, and like Megrahi protests his innocence of all charges. This blogger for one is half-inclined to believe him, at least on the larger charge.

A Week of Sundays in '89
Writing for the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times and working from insider police reports, David Leppard wrote a widely-read series of six articles on the Lockerbie investigation, leading up to the one-year anniversary in December 1989. Paul Foot summarized these for his 2001 book Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice.

The first installment from 29 October announced “Disaster Trail Leads to Malta,” based on the Frankfurt printout and Maltese clothes found at the scene. The trail still led to a PFLP-GC cell there, working with Dalkamouni’s German cell acting out Iran’s vengeance for IA 655. It would be a week before Talb’s role was introduced in the second article of November 5. As Foot summarizes:
"Dalkamoni and “another Palestinian terrorist” called Abu Talb. then went to Malta and “instructed the cell to plant the bomb on an Air Malta flight bound for Frankfurt.” This second article ended with some criticism of the German police for the bungling of the investigation, and especially for the release of the bomb-maker Khreesat. In a huge, rather repetitive, article Khreesat was said to be suspected of being “a triple agent” who intended to bomb Flight PA 103. The chief suspects, therefore, were Dalkamoni, Khreesat, Talb and a Libyan explosives expert known as The Professor."
November 12 saw the third part, informing its readers that the indomitable Scottish police were planning to visit Abu Talb in his jail cell in Sweden, where he was charged for an unrelated string of pointless bombings. "The detail of the story was shifting all the time," Foot noted, "probably because of new information available to Leppard’s security sources."
The fifth article (on 5 December 1989) was finally certain about one of the main suspects. LOCKERBIE TRIAL FOR ‘BOMB MAN’ was the headline over a Leppard article from Uppsala, Sweden, which stated boldly that Abu Talb was about to be extradited from Sweden to Britain to stand charges over the Lockerbie bombing: “The Sunday Times which first named Talb as a suspect last month, can reveal that he has been positively identified as the person who bought the clothes from a shop in Malta which have been linked by British forensic scientists to the suitcase bomb.

Leppard, who was presumably present outside the court, then reported: “During a 90-minute closed court session Ulf Forsberg the Uppsala district prosecutor told the presiding magistrate that the owner of a boutique in Sliema, Malta, had identified Talb as the man to whom he sold the clothes.”
As explained in a separate post, such an identification either didn't happen or was entertained only briefly. On 5 December Leppard was reporting a positive ID by the shopkeeper, but it was established later at Camp Zeist that "Mr Gauci had been shown on 6 December 1989 a selection of photographs which included a photograph of Abo Talb, but he made no identification of anyone from these photographs."

And behind the scenes, we can now see, it was the Times' own prior reporting that would only later give the shopkeeper the idea that the "BOMBER" Abu Talb might have been the man. The Zeist Judges noted "at about the end of 1989 or the beginning of 1990 [Gauci's] brother showed him an article in a newspaper ... there was a photograph of a man with the word “Bomber” also across it," which Tony thought might be "the man who had bought the [clothing] articles from him." With some help from irresponsible investigators and Swedish prosecutors, it would seem, Leppard's reportage would keep trying to come full-circle as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Birthday Suspect
Just as this series was wrapping up the dramatic finale of Abu Talb's imminent indictment, a Swedish paper also revealed some damning clues. The New York Times reported from Uppsala Sweden, on the anniversary of the bombing, that Talb was “convicted today along with three co-defendants,” all convicted for three alleged attacks in the region in the mid-80s, and all four “acquitted in a fourth incident in Stockholm in 1986.”

Abu Talb was sentenced to life in prison, expected as 20 years followed by expulsion. “ The verdicts were delivered on the first anniversary of the bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie,” and a Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, “said today that new evidence had come to light linking Mr. Abu Talb to the attack, including a calendar found in his apartment with the date Dec. 21 circled.”

Well what kind of timing is that, getting the ‘guilty of terrorism’ seal plus Lockerbie clues right on the red-circled anniversary? It was later reported this was the date his sister was due to deliver a baby, and the Zeist Judges decided the actual delivery happened just past midnight on the 22nd, in Sweden. This gives Mohammed a tentative approximate alibi (watching the kids as his wife helped the delivery) for the planting of the bomb at Malta, or London. But thanks to this curious timing, Abu Talb was bound to stick in our minds as the certain villain.

The date emphasis certainly does seem a nice coincidence, on top of the Maltese clothes, much like the ones that would later link Megrahi to the bombing. The article explained the garments seized in Sweden were flown to Malta for analysis, but apparently “Scottish detectives were disappointed with the results of the examination in Malta,” a faint suggestion that this line would not last.

However, the Times added:
“[Dagens Nyheter reported] Mr. Abu Talb's wife also was recorded in a wiretapped telephone call warning another Palestinian, who was not identified, to "get rid of the clothes immediately." The police later seized a suitcase from the family she had called, the paper added.”  
Apparently nothing further came of this supposed warning. And apparently no one warned the wife to get rid of the clothes in her own home that would be found right there to incriminate her husband. It seems just as likely that she was urging an acquaintance to help them sell (get rid of) these clothes Mohammed had burdened them with.  But someone else on the Swedish end of things was clearly trying hard at that point to make it all come together.

The One Leads to the Other
Ultimately Mr. Abu Talb’s alleged central role faded from view, and he was replaced with the Libyan al-Megrahi. It was the shift of attention to Malta - enabled by the scorched clothes, the Frankfurt printout, and Abu Talb – that finally “led” to Megrahi. Or was it the other way around?

The clothes traced to that Maltese shop were only much later decided to be bought by Megrahi. That was the nail in the coffin, which was itself built much earlier, mostly in 1989. Libyan defector A.M. Giaka was already on file, with his assignment to Malta’s Luqa airport. He made his knowledge of Megrahi and his supposed accomplice Fhimah known to the CIA even before the bombing of PA103. Megrahi was soon after that found to be at Luqa, under a pseudonym, on the morning of the bombing. Later, in August 1989, the Frankfurt printout emerged, suggesting an apparent unaccompanied bag destined for PA103, and coming off a flight that left Luqa during Megrahi’s clandestine presence there.

It’s entirely possible, given the mysteries surrounding the printout, that it was custom-made to point at Megrahi. Eventually Giaka and Gauci would be compelled (perhaps by the promised multi-million dollar reward) to add details fleshing out Megrahi as the main actor in the plot. He was seen with the suitcase and with the clothes that went in it!

My study of this case reveals or at least suggests duplicity, cover-up, and misdirection, at every turn. The real perpetrators were to be ignored in favor of the cover-up, and this went back to the beginning, as the clues of Heathrow origin were denied, skewing the whole investigation horribly and necessitating a false narrative sooner or later.

Given this, it stands to reason that any "primary suspect" in this case the CIA/FBI/Scottish/Swedish police ever publicly pointed to is suspect in a different way. Given the intensive denial of truth in operation, investigators would not want to point, even then, at someone they genuinely believed was involved.

They pointed at Abu Talb, and the main effect was that it helped them get closer to Megrahi.

Time Magazine - seriously - addresses five serious questions

23 August 2010

An amazing and heartening article on the Time website, marking the one year anniversary of Megrahi's controversial release, has taken an insanely intelligent stance for such a prominent mainstream American publication. Penned by Vivienne Walt, this article I missed all weekend (props to Professor Black for noting it first) poses "five questions about the Lockerbie bomber's release." These are listed below, and may be quite surprising, so be sure to sit down.

1) Where's the document proving a BP-Libya deal?
"Still missing, however, is written proof of a freedom-for-business deal..."
The lack of direct proof is not much of a counter-argument, so Walt Seems open to the circumstantial clues, in a way I'm inclined to consider a bigger factor than I had before.

2) Did Scotland distort Al-Megrahi's medical report?
"...how that prognosis whittled down to three months remains a mystery."
While it's possible the lone three month "reasonable" low-end estimate is entirely in good faith, its elevation to the forefront is suspect. The more interesting part is the why behind such a possible distortion - aside from trade nterests as mentioned above, there's another factor I;m more interested in.

3) Did Scottish officials persuade Al-Megrahi to drop his legal appeal before going home?
With no explanation, Al-Megrahi dropped his appeal against his conviction shortly before he was freed. Some relatives of Lockerbie victims suspect Scottish officials might have persuaded Al-Megrahi to end his appeal — possibly in exchange for a smoother release [...]
Two British family members of PA103 victims were interviewed: John Mosey and Jim Swire.
"Most of us here feel that there is something extremely murky, which the U.S. and British governments don't want to come out," John Mosey, a British pastor whose 19-year-old daughter died aboard the Pan Am plane, tells TIME. Jim Swire, whose 24-year-old daughter was killed in the Lockerbie attack, says Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill did something "very unwise. He went to see Al-Megrahi in prison ... then Al-Megrahi dropped his appeal, and then MacAskill decided to send him home." Swire, who has fought a long campaign to reveal the truth behind the Lockerbie attack, says that suggests possible persuasion. But, so far, there's no proof of any.
Again, no proof is a pretty weak counter-point to the neat appearance and logic of appeal-for-release - perhaps in addition to release-for-oil.

4) Could Al-Megrahi have been innocent?
This follows logically off question three, and both are routinely ignored by the American media.
U.S. Senators are not aiming for a retrial, but they might focus on the controversies surrounding Al-Megrahi's imprisonment. Swire, Mosey, and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's envoy to the Lockerbie trial, Austrian law professor Hans Köchler, are among those who have long argued that the trial leading to Al-Megrahi's conviction was deeply flawed. In 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, a publicly funded body that investigates possible wrongful convictions, issued an 800-page report listing several grounds for an appeal by Al-Megrahi, including inconsistencies in the testimony of the key prosecution witness and the existence of CIA documents about the Swiss-made timer for the bomb, which defense lawyers had not seen. So far, the full report has not been released publicly.

5) How is Al-Megrahi still alive?
This sort of points back to the issues raised in question 2 - was he just misdiagnosed a year ago? It allows the piece to close on a different note, with Dr. Swire ignoring this obvious possibility to speak glowingly of "some new technology" that might be behind the "hopeless" Libyan's continued survival.

Yes, the all-American news magazine founded by Henry Luce, has seen fit to allow the view that's swelling towards unanimity in thee UK and it still ruthlessly denied here in the states. Megrahi could be innocent, and that may help explain the mystery of his release. Walt is spot-on in just about every point, and unfortunately that usually dooms an article in many American minds as some conspiracy theorist nonsense, probably paid for by Libya. But with its accession (in the first points) to existing American suspicions, and closing on a gentle jab at Dr. Swire, it becomes palatable - part of a continuum of cynicism and (apparent) naiveté. Cleverly formulated as they are, and still grasping the humming livewire of hidden truth, and these five questions should give serious pause to anyone not excessively gripped by cognitive dissonance.

Evidence Reconsidered: Abu Talb

Abu Talb: Unindicted Co-conspirator, or Practice Megrahi?
23 August 2010

Note 23 August: This post was originally put up months ago but left undated and incomplete. Previously it had a bunch of incomplete, semi-organized text, which I've copied into a word doc to sort out better and update. I will split this into a few sub-posts that I'll link to here when they're up.

Breifly, Mohammed Abu Talb is an Egyptian-born struggler/terrorist with a long rap sheet of fighting and bombings. He claims he foreswore violence and fled from the fray to Sweden with his wife in the early 1980s, and opened a store. But he was jailed there in May 1989, on suspicion of a mini-string of pointless terror bombings in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1985 that killed, I believe, one. By the time he was convicted for his part in these - on December 21 1989 - he was also widely suspected of involvement in the the Pan Am 103 bombing exactly one year earlier, and he was soon named as the primary suspect.

Abu Talb wound up being exonerated for the Lockerbie incident, but found guilty of the other bombings, and like Megrahi protests his innocence of all charges. He was later called as a prosecution witness, apparently to clear him of suspicion. To read the Zeist judges' summation, he deserved it. However, and again like Megrahi, Mr. Abu Talb does have a body of circumstantial clues, assembled back when he was the prime suspect.

Most recently, on Saturday (20 August 2010), Swedish authorities for the first time acknowledged that Abu Talb had been freed from custody and had slipped from view and the reach of investigators. The allegation of just that was first aired by the obviously well-connected Scottish Law magazine/site The Firm almost a year ago.
The Firm understands Talb was quietly released in early September, only weeks after Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was released from jail in Scotland and returned to Libya.

As noted by Lucy Adams (first link above) in the Herald (Scotland):
The Herald has previously revealed that Talb could be tried if Megrahi were to be formally cleared. An appeal against Megrahi’s conviction could still be mounted even after the death of the Libyan, who is terminally ill with prostate cancer.
This apparent, possible, contingency planning is highly interesting, and sure to attract more scrutiny in the coming days. Therefore I'll seek to quickly bring what I can into a more organized discussion.

The posts:
Abu Talb and Tony Gauci

Abu Talb: Practice Megrahi?

Evidence Reconsidered: The Bag from Malta

The Basics and Prosecution’s Case
The prosecution (Crown) case regarding the bomb bag was fully accepted by the Judges ruling in the 2000 trial. Their summary, paragraph 17 of their final "opinion of the Court," reads:
"[T]he primary suitcase was carried on an Air Malta flight KM180 from Luqa Airport in Malta to Frankfurt, that at Frankfurt it was transferred to PanAm flight PA103A, a feeder flight for PA103, which carried it to London Heathrow Airport, and that there, in turn, it was transferred to PA103. This case is largely dependent on oral and documentary evidence relating to the three airports. From this evidence, it is alleged, an inference can be drawn that an unidentified and unaccompanied item of baggage was carried on KM180 and transferred to PA103A at Frankfurt and PA103 at Heathrow." [Opinion of the Court, para 17]
The judges do acknowledge that "The Malta documentation for KM180 does not record that any unaccompanied baggage was carried," [para 31] and that Luqa Airport's security measures "seem to make it extremely difficult for an unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight out of Luqa." [para 38] They had also dismissed as fabrication witness Giaka's tale of seeing the accused with the exact model suitcase the day of the bombing. [OoC para 44]
"[T]he 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. The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin." [para 82]
In the end, the Court was swayed by the compelling evidentiary narrative presented by the Crown. As we've seen, the story is a bit weak in the beginning, with the introduction to KM180 being unsubstantiated and in fact directly contradicted by the relevant evidence. The final alleged transfer, to Maid of the Seas at Heathrow, was not clearly documented; luggage from Frankfurt was considered good-to-go but late, and hastily loaded with no further securiy or scrutiny. The only brown Samsonite suitcase reported in the primary luggage container was seen by handler John Bedford, and it was loaded before the Frankfurt feeder had arrived.

Otherwise the case that such a suitcase made the journey does look reasonably good on paper, and it's at the middle link of Frankfurt where the item is glimpsed briefly. Off-loading records for KM180 were not available to give a number for comparison with Air Malta's records, and the loading papers for PA103A seem to have gone missing as well, along with the entire central luggage system's computer data. (Another page explains the missing computer data more fully) With the middle and outer parts of the middle link equally blank about this bag, it was only some alleged luck that an employee, Bogomira Erac, and no one else, had printed a copy of just the data investigators needed, luggage destined for 103A, as a personal souvenir. Apparently she realized police had never gotten a copy, and then surrendered hers at the end of January 1989. (Another post yet deals in more detail with the circumstances of this save) [Trial Transcripts, Day 47, 30 August 2000, pages 6659-6671 - see also Erac testimony]

What this unusual and unsubstantiated record showed was a luggage item "coded" into container no. 8849, at coding station 206, 13:07 local time. Station 206 was logged as processing KM180's luggage from 1304-1310 local, suggesting the bag was from that flight. Item 8849 was then logged through storage and up to the correct loading gate to go on PA103A. (For more detail on the actual records, and lack thereof, and what they say or don't, see the post Primary Evidence: Frankfurt Airport Records.)

Also, the public indoctrination about this item on the printout is quite interesting. Well before it was decided libyans were responsible, a year or so was spent telling the world via David Leppard, a Granada/HBO TV movie, and other sources, that the Palestinians working for Iran in Germany had taken their altimeter bomb to Malta and sent it through three ups and downs before it blew up over Lockerbie. Only later did they realize they had a piece of the timer ...

Problems with the Evidence
- Contradicted by Air Malta's records
Stand-alone Post: Primary Evidence: Air Malta's Records for KM180
In terms of air security, an unaccompanied bag being waved through the system was considered a major and embarrassing breach. When the notion of such a bomb was visualized in a Granada/HBO movie, released December 1990, Paul Foot explains:
"This was too much for Air Malta, who sued Granada for libel. Norton Rose, the London commercial solicitors, compiled a huge dossier detailing almost everything about the flight from Malta to Frankfurt on the day of the Lockerbie bombing and proving that all 55 bags checked in on the flight could be ascribed to passengers, none of whom travelled on to London. The evidence was so powerful that Granada settled the action before it got to court. They paid Air Malta £15,000 damages and all the costs of the case. The only time these matters had been tested in a legal action, the Maltese connection to the bomb suitcase was comprehensively demolished." [Foot p 7]

- Supported by nothing else
Stand-alone Post: Frankfurt Airport's Missing Computer Records

- Ambiguity of its Evidence
Stand-alone Post: Coding Station Reliability
Station 206 at 1307 does not actually mean that an item from KM180 really entered the system tagged for PA103A. While this blogger accepts that's the single most likely thing indicated, such a conclusion runs up against both the Air Malta records having no 56th bag to fill the slot. It's quite possible, as widely argued, that another item altogether, from somewhere else, could have been piggy-backed in on KM180's load.

- Questionable Authenticity

- Operational Security (circumstantial)
Three airports circumvented ...
Frankfurt Airport had been put on alert,and vigilant against radio units that might have bombs inside.

See also: Randi forum (JREF0 discussion thread, started by me but taken over to amazing effect by Rolfe. Unaccompanied bag from Malta - evidence?

Yet another Red Flag From Heathrow

The Evidence of Peter Walker
June 8 2010

Previously at this site, the various accounts of two Pan Am employees, John Bedford and Sulkash Kamboj, have been laid out. While Bedford's statements offer an invaluable clue, collectively their testimonies were riddled with inconsistencies. Both insisted they always told the truth before, even when two truths conflicted, and their memory is too hazy now to help. Recounting the events in the interline shed of terminal three - on the afternoon before Pan Am 103 fell apart upon leaving there - should have been of immense importance. But with attention drawn to points east, these and other Heathrow clues were left hanging and clouded.

Yet another red flag appears just down the way from their workplace, with Mr. Peter Walker, who ran the “baggage build-up area” at terminal three. Here baggage from Heathrow-originating passengers was consolidated into containers, and occasionally a container from interline would be topped off or await an incoming flight here. Walker was mentioned previously as Bedford’s supervisor and casual friend. By Bedford’s story, the two had tea together in the late afternoon of December 21, and Walker gave Bedford leave to go home around 5pm, telling him to bring near-empty container AVE4041 to build-up on his way out.

The main thing about this is the container just sitting there, in the open, not visible inside the build-up office, but accessible to any terrorist who could blend in. Bedford's clues point to the bomb getting in the tin back at interline, but the extra opportunity of this long unattended span (perhaps 45 minutes) must be considered by those thinking about London origin.

But my point here is an inconsistency in Walker’s testimony that eerily recalls Beford and Kamboj. JREF forum member “Buncrana” tipped me off that in this case, Walker first swore he made no such arrangement with Bedford and had no clue a container (“tin”) had been left at build-up at all. And yet a year and a half later casually claimed to recall just what Bedford had said.

[Source throughout: Camp Zeist trial transcripts. Day 43, August 24 2000.
pp 6246-6292]

(from) Production 1227; statement of Peter Walker to DC Adrian Dixon. January 10, 1988 [sic] Original reference number S2206
I have been asked about an AVE tin that came from interline to baggage build-up. I understand that a tin was brought round from interline, but I have no knowledge of who brought it round or what time this would have been. I can't recall seeing it in baggage build-up.

Earlier that afternoon, I think about 3.30 p.m., John Bedford, the loader working in interline, came to my office. This is a quiet period in interline, and he came for a cup of tea. I did not make any arrangements with John about him bringing the tin across from interline.

I again saw John Bedford at about 5.00 p.m.. He was on his way home.
I have been informed * that an AVE tin came from interline to luggage build-up and then to Kilo 16, where it was filled with Frankfurt to New York baggage. I have no knowledge of this and do not recall seeing this AVE tin.
* Q Then part of the next sentence appears to be deleted:
I have been told ... And then it goes on instead: I have been informed -- do you see that? --
A Yes.

(from) Production 1221
Transcript of the Fatal Accident Inquiry, 1990
Peter Walker testimony, page 4170

Q Did you see Mr. Bedford at any time in the course of that afternoon?
A Yes, I did.
Q What time was that at?
A Approximately 3.30, 3.45.
Q And was there any particular reason for his visit at that point?
A We had a cup of tea together.
Q It was simply a social call?
A A social call, yes.

Q Did you see him again in the course of that afternoon?
A Yes, I did.
Q And what time was that at?
A Somewhere between 5.00 and 5.15.
Q And what was the reason for his visit then?
A He brought some bags round that he had at the interline, and then he went home.
Q Were these bags which were simply lying individually, or were they in a container?
A They were in a container. 
Q Did you see the container that Mr. Bedford brought round?
A Yes, I did.
Q Where did he leave that container?
A Outside my office.
Q Did you have a clear view?
A Not clearly entirely, no.
Q Did you see how many bags were in the container?
A I was told; I didn't see them personally. I was told there was approximately six.
Q Was that information Mr. Bedford gave you?
A Yes, he did.
Camp Zeist Trial, Cross-examination by Mr. Davidson for the accused, following police statement
Q Now, did you say that to the police?
A Yes.
Q And that was the truth?
A Yes.
Q And to remind ourselves, this was on the 10th of January 1989, I think we can safely assume?
A Yes.
Q So as of that date, Mr. Bedford [sic], you are effectively saying to the police that you didn't know anything from your own knowledge about any such tin, or through any conversation with John Bedford?
A Yes.

Mr. Davidson, following FAI testimony
Q Now, do you accept that you made all these answers to these questions, Mr. Bedford [sic]?
A Yes, sir.
Q Do you accept, then, Mr. Bedford [sic], that that represents quite a significant departure from the position that you adopted when first interviewed by the police on the date already quoted -- I think it was the 10th of January 1989.
A Yes.
Q Are you able to explain for the Court's benefit, please, Mr. Walker, what it was that caused such a change of position on your part?
A I can't answer that.
Q You've already told us that you didn't have any discussion with Mr. Bedford of any significant nature about this disaster; is that correct?
A Yes.
Q And, I take it, it follows from that answer that you didn't have any discussion with him about what he could recollect about that day in relation to containers from the interline shed and when he brought it and what number of bags he told you, none of that --
A Yeah.
Q -- occurred by way of conversation with Mr. Bedford; is that so?
A Yes.
Q But, apart from that, you are not able to assist us, explain this apparent change of position?
A I can't explain it.
Q You can't. Would you accept, on the face of it, it seems a bit unusual?
A Yes.

Q So is the position this, Mr. Walker: That you did not see any container that afternoon brought around from interline shed destined for the New York flight by Mr. Bedford?
A I can't honestly remember, sir.
Q You see, when you were interviewed by the police, and you effectively told them that, you said that that was the truth that you told the police?
A Yes.
Q A matter of three weeks, perhaps, approximately, after the incident?
A Yes.
Q Is that correct? And for some unexplained reason your position changed quite radically by the time you came to give evidence --
A I can't explain that. I'm sorry, I don't know why that happened.
Q All right, Mr. Walker. Thank you.
By all accounts, Walker would have to approve Bedford going home, and even in the first, most distanced version, he admits seeing Bedford going home. He would have been aware of timetables, and that flight 103A hadn’t arrived yet, so whatever Bedford had been loading at interline wouldn’t be out on the tarmac meeting it yet and it wouldn't be left alone at interline. He swore he knew nothing of a container at build-up, but simple deduction should have left Walker suspecting one was sitting out there.

And besides the logic of his police statement, there’s Walker telling a different story, one consistent with Bedford’s, to the FAI in 1990. He says he told the truth both times, but can’t explain how that’s possible, and can’t now remember what happened at all. So we’re left on our own.

Early ’89 and late 1990 are two quite different times, and I’m inclined to favor the latter statement as more truthful. One salient difference is that in January, Walker wouldn’t know that a Heathrow origin for the bomb would be ruled out. By the later testimony, everyone knew it came in from Frankfurt with its abysmal security. So there was less pressure to disavow anything you had thought might have to do with the bomb.

We know that when he talked to the cops, Peter Walker knew more about AVE4041 and its contents than he told them. The pertinent question now is how much more did he know?

19 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: part 9/10
Repentance and Decision
19 August 2010

small edits 2 Sept.

Note: The posts in this series are not conclusive, but rather what I was able to learn before the anniversary arrived, sporadically updated later. Any suggestions from knowledgeable readers to improve the content will be gladly appreciated.

<< Previous: 18 August
Next: 20 August >>

Both Tracks Come to an End
After months of confusing pursuit of two separate repatriation routes for the “Lockerbie bomber,” one year ago today, Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill made his final decision on al Megrahi’s fate. It was a private process for the minister, though he did alert family members that he'd decided on something, and would tell them - along with the world - what it was the following day. [BBC, 19 August]

Again, the twin options, which MacAskill had opted to consider and decide on at the same time, were a prisoner transfer (PTA) worked out between the UK and Libya, and release on compassion grounds due to advanced prostate cancer. His judgment, as announced the following day (see 20 August), was to reject the former and grant the latter.

The only reason he would give for denying the PTA option was the ”understanding,” held by the U.S. government and American family members, that al Megrahi would serve his sentence in Scotland. On the latter, effectively ending the sentence and sending him back to Libya on medical grounds, he cited the 10 August report of Dr. Andrew Fraser that included an arrant three-month prognosis anchoring the low end of the life expectancy range.

One can only wonder just why the decision could only happen on the 19th and not before. The American families’ understanding was communicated clearly to him back on July 9 (see representations PDF), and the US government’s similar view, calling on this understanding, came a month later, on file now for a week.

Further, the appeal situation was still unsatisfactory, as Mr. Burgess’ advice had pointed out. The Crown’s appeal for longer sentence still stood, even as Megrahi’s was closing down. This had been the main legal reason given to reject the PTA, but MacAskill neglected to mention it on the 20th as a factor in his thinking.

The 18 August ruling that the appeal of conviction was no more might just explain why MacAskill finally decided the following day. The strange fact is that only once this key term of the PTA was fulfilled was it finally ruled out. And this segues perfectly with the notion that the PTA’s continued pursuit served but one purpose for Scottish Justice – to kill the appeal. If so, it was appropriately tossed aside once its job was complete.

Signaling Repentance
From the little we can know, the crudest construct, a direct and spoken trade of appeal for release, seems to be unfounded. The secret meeting where this was thought to be laid out did mention dropping the appeal. But this was recorded as only for the improbable PTA, not as a condition on medical release (see 5 August). But things line up so one might still expect some more subtle or circuitous set-up. For an unusual insight, consider the following:

The 6 August release of famous criminal Ronnie Biggs on compassion grounds has been suggested as a possible signal regarding Megrahi. To start with, this release date was set well ahead of time, back in early 2009, and one could well question the reliability of any such signal; Labor’s government at Westminster could not usually count on the devolved Scottish one at Hollyrood to follow its cues. But there is much we cannot clearly see, and the possibility can’t be ruled out. Let us consider it as a hypothetical.

The obvious overall message that some have seen is approval of compassionate release for high-profile criminals, like the ailing Megrahi. And keeping the shackles on Biggs - a debilitated and fading folk-hero who was never supposed to die in jail - while a “mass-murdering terrorist” walked would be, well, a bit awkward. The Englishman’s release thus made it (somewhat) more plausible to do the same with the Libyan two weeks later.

In addition to smoothing the way, there might be additional information “encoded” in this possible signal. Biggs had a period where he seemed to qualify for compassionate release, even if he wasn’t quite at death’s door. After a series of strokes in January 2009, he had his walk date scheduled for 6 August –two days prior to his 80th birthday. Yet U.K. Justice Secretary Jack Straw, given a chance to let him out just a month early as the parole board was recommending, refused on 1 July, as the prisoner had evaded justice for decades and still remained “wholly unrepentant.”

This was a startling and unusual move in itself; many could see a cheap ”tough on crime” stance and chasing headlines. But the headlines were mostly negative and he was seen as just mean. Was this a badly planned PR maneuver? Or did he have another motive altogether?

A month later his scheduled release date called and Biggs was wheeled out to hospital, perhaps having established his contrition, perhaps not. Straw only cited that he was quite sick, specifying pneumonia. Biggs’ son called his father a “political prisoner” during this last month, and the phrase could be more apt than he realized. Whether intended or not, the notion was inserted, and starkly, that a lack of remorse or of respect for the judgment imposed was suitable grounds for rejecting compassionate release.

Mr. Al-Megrahi too was unrepentant in his way, in fact as  of 6 August brazenly insisting his innocence and trying to establish that as legal truth with his second appeal. It’s not much further from there to wonder if Mr. MacAskill managed to construe it this way, equating the appeal with Biggs' globe-trotting defiance. He might call on Straw’s message for a temporary philosophy: Megrahi had to be broken and made subservient by surrendering that appeal, as some equivalent to showing repentance for his sins.

This is a rather nebulous thought, and it's hard to imagine MacAskill spelling it out openly. But it might have worked its way into his own internal dialogs and those considered rationalizations that politicians have to become so adept with. Or were these signals directed at Megrahi? It’s an interesting parallel to consider, at any rate, since we’re already on the lookout for some unseen but palpable link by which Megrahi’s release consumed his appeal’s rightful place in the courts.
Blether with Brian, Brian Taylor, BBC NEws Scotland Correspondent, 19 August 2009:
"It would seem that, in one respect at least, the interests of the United Kingdom government and security services have already been served by the ending of the Megrahi appeal. London does not want the disclosure of further documents relating to the case, as demanded by Megrahi's legal team.

How about the United States? Just as with London, it is conceivable that there are interests in Washington who welcome the final closure of the case, the ending of the appeal.


Remember that Scottish ministers are adamant that there has been no deal, there will be no deal. They insist that the issues of Megrahi's fate and the abandonment of his appeals against conviction and sentence are entirely separate.

Plus they argue that the Scottish Government - by contrast with others - has no interest in securing the abandonment of the appeals.

If we accept that at face value, then that means that the Scottish Government does not seek to claim any gain from the ending of the Megrahi appeal. No governmental interest is served."

18 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: Part 8/10
18 August 2010 

Note: The posts in this series are not conclusive, but rather what I was able to learn before the anniversary arrived, sporadically updated later. Any suggestions from knowledgeable readers to improve the content will be gladly appreciated.

<< Previous: 13/14 August
Next: 19 August >>

One year ago today, Kenny MacAskill still hadn't decided whether or how how to send Megrahi home - as a dying but essentially free man, or as a prisoner under terms of the Libya-UK PTA. These two options vied for his attention, and he had amassed reams of information and opinions for and against different versions of each.

The families of UK victims had weighed in, largely concerned with Megrahi's appeal, opposing the PTA which would cost the world that chance at truth. American families were interviewed, and opposed any release, transfer, or any relenting in the extraction of justice. The US government sided with the families but were pragmmatic enough to entertain compassionate release. However, under no conditions would they support his return to Libya (see 9 August). The UK position was that the prisoner swap should go ahead and there was no reason not to send Megrahi back to Libya.

Medical experts weighed in with a picture of advancing cancer, set to kill him within months. The estimates ran as short as three months, but tended more like eight under cirumstances as they stood - the return home they proposed was sure to lengthen that (10 August). MacAskill also received legal opinions from W. George Burgess (14 August). These saw no barrier to compassionate release straight out to Libya. Shockingly, Burgess also said the Crown's outstanding appeal for longer sentence was enough to bolock the PTA despite Megrahi's own surrendered appeal. Precisely the sharpest danger that faced him in the surrender process was recognized and suggested in this strategy paper.

The most recent known pieces to fill in MacAskill's puzzle had been Burgess' twin documents on the PTA and compassion angles. By 18 August, the Justice secretary had four days to consider this in light of everything else on file.

And still he hadn't quite made up his mind as one final piece fell into place one year ago today; a panel of three judges ruled that Megrahi's appeal should be closed. He had applied for this six days earlier, for somewhat mysterious reasons related to getting home quicker. A Canadian news story, among many others, seemed to think about the same thing: "A British court will allow convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to drop an appeal, taking him a step closer to being released." CBC, 18 August

Structurally and by normal rules, this could only assist in the Prisoner transfer, not compassionate release. MacAskill had been advised by Burgess that this was still a closed option, due now to the Crown's outstanding appeal for longer sentence. But whatever the prisoner's reasoning and the effects on his repatriation, the formal loss of the appeal had peculiar side effects, vis-a-vis the truth. As British families leader Pamela Dix told the Guardian the following day:
"This is the worst possible decision for the relatives. ... There now seems little chance of this evidence [in the appeal] being heard and scrutinised in public." 
[Source: Guardian, 19 August]
Could it be that was exactly the point of the exercise?

13/14 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: Part 8/10
14 August 2010

Note: The posts in this series are not conclusive, but rather what I was able to learn before the anniversary arrived, sporadically updated later. Any suggestions from knowledgeable readers to improve the content will be gladly appreciated.

<< Previous: 12/13 August
Next: 18 August >>

The previous post left off on 13 August with responses the day after Megrahi filed to drop his appeal. The same day, a BBC article suddenly expressed as fact that the convict was going to be released. The core information, included in the sidebar, was this short dispatch from Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political correspondent
I understand preparations for Mr Megrahi's release are being made in time for him to be home with his family in Libya by Ramadan, which starts next Friday. The Parole Board for Scotland has been asked to give its opinion on compassionate release. The Libyan authorities - who have held high level talks with the Scottish justice secretary in recent days - have also been advised to make plans to fly Mr Megrahi back to Tripoli. The Scottish Government is right to say "no decision has been taken" - but that should change in the next few days and the likelihood is Mr Megrahi will return to Libya by next weekend.

Elsewhere in the article it was said these talks were "over Megrahi's appeal against his conviction." This could mean the meeting of the day before where the Libyans were reportedly told Megrahi would have to surrender it before being released. (see 12 August) Any direct connection between the appeal and the imminent decision remained unstated in the article. But comparing two sections, the language reflects the kind of confusion Megrahi may have been experiencing at the very moment:

The Libyan man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is likely to be freed on compassionate grounds next week, the BBC understands. [...] A prisoner transfer cannot take place if criminal proceedings are active, meaning Megrahi would have to drop his latest appeal against his conviction in order to be sent home.

And the whole article's premise was that someone with inside info he couldn't explain was sure that Megrahi would be sent home on compassion grounds - just as the appeal was surrendered.

One year ago today, on the afternoon of 14 August 2009, Kenny MacAskill received his “final advice from my officials” on the legal options for release/transfer. This came as two documents, one on prisoner transfer advice and one on Compassionate Release (CR), both penned by W. George Burgess of the Criminal Law and Licensing Division.

Both documents set out “mechanical criteria” and a longer section on legal, structural, and public relations considerations. All discussions with U.S. government counterparts and some points from the UK foreign Office are redacted. Both say for “timing: Urgent. This advice should be considered alongside advice on the Libyan Government’s application under the PTA.” The PTA advice document added between the sentences "the 90 day guideline in the Prisoner Transfer Agreement finished on 3 August 2009." The was reportedly extended (see 3 August) and if so, proved no barrier.

The CR document explains requests are usually passed through a ”prison governor” who considers all facts and then applies for the prisoner. But in this case Megrahi was allowed to lobby straight to the top, with Prison Services only consulted after. All were in agreement, however - the Governor, Medical Officer, and Prison Social Work Unit. All in all, Burgess found no reason to deny the request or even to keep Megrahi on Great Britain. Paragrahph 17 reasons he would not be allowed to travel freely outside the country, but Libya, instead of the UK, could be the country he'd have to stay in.

All the mechanical criteria for PTA had been met "bar the criterion of 'finality of judgment.'" Both appeals were in force, but "we understand that Mr Al-Megrahi has lodged a notice of abandonment." And yet, an incomplete sentence explains "the fact that this criterion on finality of judgment, in itself, is reason to refuse the transfer." The heinousness of the crime he was accepted as guilty of - extremely heinous - was itself reasoned to be no obstacle to a transfer. But his appeal surrender not being finished yet, and/or the Crown's appeal for longer sentence (due to heinousness), were sufficient. Bizarre.

Shockingly, Burgess also said the Crown's outstanding appeal for longer sentence was enough to bolock the PTA despite Megrahi's own surrendered appeal. Precisely the sharpest danger that faced the prisoner in the surrender process was recognized and suggested in this strategy paper.

The PTA advice section "public confidence in the justice system" is highly interesting. Its two points (paragraphs 15 and 16) address a “perception that the appeal and the PTA application are linked,” and pursuing the PTA “could be seen as influencing Mr. Al-Megrahi’s decision on whether to continue his appeal.” Burgess was happy with macAskill’s solution so far; “to avoid this, you have been at pains throughout the process to avoid discussion or consideration of the appeal,” while proceeding on a course that seems to have silently destroyed it. “Finality of judgment” is all that was ever mentioned, a phrase meaning all proceedings - including appeals – must be closed.

MacAskill's ongoing refusal or inability to decide against the transfer - when he would have to rule against it eventually - might constitute actual influence on Megrahi's decision-making, if managing to avoid the perception of it. Even after 12-14 August, Mr. MacAskill continued to put off the inevitable decision, as if he were waiting for some final piece to fall into place.

12/13 August 2009

Megrahi Files to Drop his Appeal
12 August 2010
last edits 13 August

<< previous: 10 August
Next: 13/14 August >>

On this day one year ago, al-Megrahi and his legal team filed to drop the hard-won second appeal of conviction. The convicted terrorist had been pursuing this as swiftly as the court would allow (which was slowly) since mid-2007. Its scope had been expanded beyond the initial six grounds of possible miscarriage of justice, and was thus ripe with potential.

But Megrahi had just learned, on 3 August, that he was likely to die well before the appeal's end - in fact maybe before the second of three phases even began in November. But whatever his own life span, surrendering this fight was anathema to al-Megrahi's known wishes. Compassionate release, which was now all-but ensured (or so it seems in retrospect), would allow the appeal to live on under a successor to clear his family's name. And here he was surrendering it for no clear reason, unless...

Scottish law magazine / website The Firm stepped in during this process on 12 August with an editorial publicly asking Kenny MacAskill's Justice Department the following:
“Before this decision is made, reassurance must be provided to the Scottish people and the world that Megrahi’s return home is not being made conditional upon his dropping his appeal. Justice must be done, though the heavens may fall. That time, surely, is now.”
The following day, a governmant spokesman responded “In answer to the simple question posed by The Firm, the answer is “No."" [source]

But a meeting of 12 August between Libyan delegates and "the Minister" offered a clue, according to “sources within the Scottish Government Justice Department” that spoke with The Firm. The Libyan attendees were told “if Megrahi is to be granted compassionate release he must first drop his appeal […] This was the rammed home to the Libyans at their meeting with the Minister yesterday,” the source said in a follow-up article of 13 August (see above link).

For that they also spoke with Dr. Hans Köchler, one of the UN's international observers at the Zeist trial. He said “certain quarters confronted [Megrahi] with the alternative of either giving up his appeal in order to be sent back to Libya" under the PTA's terms, "or die in a Scottish jail.” Köchler further urged MacAskill to “act without further delay” to simply grant compassionate release and so “allow the appeal to continue and avoid the circumstances of emotional blackmail" inherent in the existing, and confusing, arrangement.

The overall tone of the 13 August article suggests the PTA's provisions would have to be met before the compassion appeal would be considered on its own merits; the final decision would be medically based, but only after a clearly non-medical decision was made. This would probably be illegal, and was of course denied by the Justice Department. But something clearly happened here, and one year ago today Megrahi applied to surrender his appeal. That is just a mysterious move that still cries out for an explanation.

The appeal was not yet dead, and neither was it alone in blocking the exit via PTA. He had only applied, or requested, to have appeal nullified. Officials would have to review and grant this request for permanent legal guilt before it would be effective. It's not certain whether Megrahi any longer had the power to cancel the application once filed, but the fact is he never did. And even after  this decision, an additional legal proceeding - the Scottish Crown's appeal of sentence, seeking to lengthen Megrahi's stay - remained in force. 12 August and after was, therefore, a period of great vulnerability for for the dying Libyan.

And finally, the same day, 12 August, U.S. ambassador LeBaron handed over the letter relating his government's position on the release issue (see 9 August). They urged no release if possible, but if he left jail, it should be no more than three months and nowhere but Scotland. This missive arrived on the same day as Megrahi's filing, but offered no guidance about Washington's view on either appeal. If pressed, they'd probably have advised the following:
- accept the application to surrender the appeal of conviction
- deny the request for compassionate release
- deny the prisoner transfer arrangement
- hear out the appeal of sentence, and let the guilty bastard die wherever in that process he does.

We Americans, after all, are always about the justice. And it comes down hard.

10 August 2009

10 August 2010

<< previous: 9 August
next: 12 August >>

One year ago today a pivotal report on Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's health was signed and handed over to Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. The relevant section 3, progress record, was later released [PDF download page]. This is a three-page summary of separate medical reports, attached in a sealed envelope (not released). It was prepared and signed by Dr. Andrew Fraser, "Head of Health" for Scottish Prison Sevices at the time. His name is redacted in the online letter, but mentioned by Mr. MacAskill the same day in Scottish parliament.

Dr. Fraser's report dealt with Megrahi's advanced prostate cancer, mentioned the recent general consensus on its hormone resistance, and the resultant lowered life expectancy. This gave him a duration measured in months, generally around eight. But there was the one mention, on 3 August, of three months being "reasonable." Regardless of estimates, all relevant parties - prison social and health workers - stated they felt the "patient" was eligible for release on compassionate grounds. Dr. Fraser concurred and endorsed the idea.

Some of the language in the report would surely appall American family of the dead or the United States government, opposed to his going home any way but dead. (see 9 August). Doctors felt a return home to the bosom of his family "would benefit the patient," who was otherwise known as the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Such a repatriation would counter his "feeling of isolation," and they even consider Megrahi's belief that mood effects health. It was also noted his loving family would benefit from having the convict near at hand again.

All these things are doubtless true, and factors in his improved health and prolonged lingering. The report reflected a medical decision, not a political or even legal one. Mr. MacAskill would be the one to make the legal decision. And the one he finally made would appear, on the face of it, to be apolitical or politically damaging, by virtue of upsetting the Americans. As of 10 August he still had the power to say no to the recommendation, but was now armed with the advice that would allow him to say yes to sending Megrahi home.

9 August 2009

9 August 2010
last edits 8/10

<< previous: 6 August
Next: 10 August >>

One year ago today the US government (unspecified) weighed in on the UK's moves to send the "Lockerbie bomber" back home, either under a Prisoner Transfer Agreement or on compassion grounds. The 9 August letter was passed to US ambassador in London, Richard LeBaron, who passed it on three days later in a letter recently declassified. [1]

Addressed to the Scottish Justice ministry, it first mentions Megrahi's potential "transfer," and then acknowledges Scotland's rules on compassionate release, noting "as a matter of practice such release is not granted unless the prisoner has a life expectancy of less than three months." It's not clear if the writer was aware just such a prognosis had come in six days earlier (see 3 August). While acknowledging the decision was Scotland's to make, the letter passed on these concerns:
"The United States is not prepared to support Megrahi's release on compassionate release or bail. [...] it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain imprisoned for the entirety of his sentence. This was the understanding and expectation at the time arrangements were made for his trial in Scottish Court in the Netherlands, were he or his confederate to be convicted and their appeals upheld."

The part that got the Obama administration in trouble with conservatives was entertaining the "if" of a release despite these pleas:
"Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the U.S. position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose."

This was quickly portrayed and repeated as American "double-talk" - they decried the "compassionate" release, yet had said they approved it, thus in some minds allowing the decision that followed. It's clearly a ludicrous line to take, and has since faded to the background.

The letter then listed two conditions which "would be very important to the United States and would partially mitigate the concerns of the American victims' families." One was a clear medical consensus that three months really means that or less, with exam results "made available to the United States and the families of the victims of Pan Am 103." And secondly, he was not to leave Scotland. "We believe that the welcoming reception that Megrahi might receive if he is permitted to travel abroad would be extremely inappropriate..."

So in short, the US government poisition was that Megrahi should not leave jail if at all possible, and any "freedom" should be for no longer than the last three months. He should leave Scotland under no circumstances, aside from burial. Any return to Libya, as a swapped prisoner or as a free man, would be a black eye for Washington.

Megrahi's own hope had always been to return home in a third and unstated way - a free man declared innocent, after a fair hearing of his second appeal. That would be less a black eye than a broken arm to the United States' reputation, but the choice for that officially was in the hands of one man - Megrahi himself. He could surrender the appeal he was granted, as required for the PTA, or keep it open to be carried on after his death. And he was given no clear sign whether either of these ways home would be permitted.

Debate Call: Brian Flynn

August 8 2010

Yesterday a unique article appeared at a news site I’m unfamiliar with – The Daily Beast – with the story of Brian Flynn’s educated rage that “the Lockerbie bomber” was set free by a corrupt Scottish system and then "recovered." Mr. Flynn’s brother, John Patrick, was killed on PA103. I’ve observed a moment’s silence to reflect on that, and realizing it’s futile to even try and grasp the loss and moving on, I’d like to address to Mr. Flynn directly.

Mr. Flynn, you mention your early work helping your mother with research, and that she "served on both presidential commissions that investigated the causes of the bombing and improved airline security." And with your help, she “lobbied Congress to enact the Iran Libya Sanctions Act, which ultimately put enough pressure on Libya to hand over the indicted Libyan agents...” I can admire this channeling of grief into action, and I’m sure you all did so in good faith and with the best intentions, based on what you knew, to ensure John did not die in vain.

As you may know, the sanctions placed on Libya did hurt and sent a message – some sources say 20,000 or more died from these, but I’m sure it was more than 270 anyway. You might realize that the original American demand – a trial in the US – was never met and could never be. It was only reluctantly that Washington agreed to the only trial that could happen – a compromise one, in a third country, under Scots law.

What was your position during that debate? Did you side with those trying for any trial that could work, or with those demanding full Libyan compliance even at the cost of no trial? The sanctions were not lifted until after the surrender of the suspects, after nearly a decade in place. Even some official sources acknowledge the US government did not actually desire a trial at all - just a reason for sanctions against Libya.

“Eventually, Abdel Baset al Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. And although he would be the only man to pay for the atrocity, we felt in a small way that some justice had been served. [...] When Megrahi was released ... this blatant act of betrayal robbed us of that one shred of justice.”
I can understand why it’s upsetting if one believes in Megrahi’s guilt, or even just in the integrity of court decisions, to have a convicted murderer go free. But the Scottish system does that, irrespective of guilt. And I really am sorry to have to say this, but I believe you were badly misled on the guilt part.

I gather you desire to have no doubts about this at all, and that is your right. But you say you’ve done the research, while I and many, many others remain less than convinced, even after some study. Maybe we’re just not looking deep enough? What do you think accounts for the difference?

“Like many of our Irish ancestors,” you point out, “we Flynns like a fight.” I see you have stepped into the ring again with some pretty bold words. You even took the time to address a critical comment beneath your article. As your compatriot Bunntamas points out elsewhere (comments), you're highly evolved in the facts domain, studying in-depth for decades, whereas I've just been skimming fringe info for a year. So you should easily wipe the floor with me and score a victory for truth and against the “conspiracy theorists.” Or you could take some cop-out reason to turn down the offer - something about “waste of time” is standard.

We could debate here via comments, at the anti-Conspiracy Theory JREF forum (forums.randi,org) or wherever else you feel more comfortable, like e-mails. I would like to publish the results of course as I don't want to be accused of hushing up any loss I may suffer. Whether you agree or not, I’ll start off in the comments, springing off of points made in your article and one detailed response. Feel free to pick any points to respond to.

Thanks for any consideration
- Adam Larson
aka Caustic Logic
to whom you owe nothing
but shouldn't ignore anyway

(commenting tips in sidebar - if you show an interest I'll turn off comment moderation to speed it up.)

6 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: part 3/10
Ronnie Biggs
6 August 2010

Note: The posts in this series are not conclusive, but rather what I was able to learn before the anniversary arrived, sporadically updated later. Any suggestions from knowledgeable readers to improve the content will be gladly appreciated.

<< previous: 5 August
next: 9 August >>

One year ago today infamous English criminal Ronnie Biggs was released from prison on compassionate grounds. Way back in 1963 he and a small gang had waylaid a mail train and made off with several million pounds in cash. One man, conductor Jack Mills, was quite severely beaten in the process, but no one was actually killed. Biggs was caught for this audacious venture, the famous Great Train Robbery, and jailed for 30 years. But only a year in he escaped prison in 1965, fled overseas and changed his face. He continued his globetrotting exile for decades, becoming something of a folk hero and cutting records with punk bands to flaunt his continued freedom. [source on Biggs throughout: Wikipedia]

As he aged, Biggs finally changed his tune and, hoping to return home one way or another, voluntarily surrendered in mid-2001. Coincidentally, this was just a few months after al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced for his apparently solo "role"in the bombing of Pan Am 103. Their parallel imprisonment is interesting. In reality, neither man killed anyone, though one nearly did, and the others' conviction was for killing scores of innocents. As they started out in 2001, the Libyan had a light 27 years to life, and Biggs had 28 remaining of an original 30-year sentence. Both had turned themselves over to authorities, one expecting to continue his sentence, one expecting to be acquitted of the false charges.

Unlike Megrahi, Biggs had health problems from the beginning - circulatory issues and heart attacks. He began serious lobbying for release on compassion grounds in 2007, two years before Megrahi did. In January 2009 he suffered a series of strokes, and it was announced he would be released later that year, in August. A parole board tried to shift this up to 4 July, but UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw vetoed it - Biggs was still "wholly unrepentant." He was only released on 6 August, just before his 80th birthday. Mr. Straw stood down that time - repentance or another month would suffice it seems.

As Biggs was wheeled out of the jail, Megrahi was awaiting the same decision. Just three days earlier he'd gotten the magical 3-month ticket to bolster his two-week old application. Unlike Biggs, Megrahi had an appeal full of terrifying promise - bribed witnesses, flawed evidence, unsound judgments. Under compassionate release, this could stand and be pursued by a successor after Megrahi's death, unless voluntarily surrendered, and that was not to be hoped for. He wanted to go home sick if necessary, but innocent and free if at all possible. But that was not to be.

The final parallels are the two men's unexpected early release on compassionate grounds at remarkably similar times - Megrahi would walk out only two weeks after the train robber - and their failure to die soon afterwards. Biggs had no specific 3-month prognosis, but his health improved on release and he's still alive now a year afterwards. Megrahi is nearing his own one-year mark and seems likely to match it - and that dire August prognosis can be considered seriously challenged.

As for the relevance of these two stories unfolding jointly like this, I cite "Rolfe" on an intriguing potential subtext:
[W]e released a notorious criminal (coincidentally not called Barabbas) who had been refused compassionate release, just to smooth the path for Megrahi's possibly cruelly-premature release. Biggs was refused compassionate release on 1st July 2009. Might have been difficult to release Megrahi if Biggs was still banged up. The Scottish government was known to be resistant to the prisoner transfer deal. So Biggs was released on 6th August, so Megrahi's release on 20th August could go ahead. [source]
Addendum: a little deeper on the Biggs story:
Jack Straw's 1 July refusal to allow the man his early freedom was a startling and unusual move in itself. Recalling that he had voluntarily turned himself in to "face the music," had suffered a series of strokes, was unable to speak or walk, had broken his hip, and had pneumonia. He had an ambiguous folk-hero status, for the most famous robbery in recent history. He was never intended to die in jail. Yet he wasn't quite sorry enough for his actions which, again, never ended a single life.

The Daily Mail, which reported “shock” at the news in its (original) headline quoted a Tory MP in disbelief “'The prisons are bursting at the seams … but one fairly doddery and very frail old man is being kept in prison.” Biggs’ lawyer called the ruling “perverse,” and his son called him a “political prisoner.” Many more could see a cheap ”tough on crime” stance and chasing headlines, but the headlines were mostly bad and he was seen as just mean. A badly planned attempt at toughness? Or another motive altogether? (see 19 August)

Despite the toughness, ironically, the scheduled release date of 6 August had the strange advantage of coming out as a birthday gift to Biggs – two days shy of his 80th, and of 46th anniversary of the robbery itself, Biggs’ 34th birthday gift to himself.

5 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: part 2/10
MacAskill-Megrahi Meeting
5 August 2010

Note: The posts in this series are not conclusive, but rather what I was able to learn before the anniversary arrived, sporadically updated later. Any suggestions from knowledgeable readers to improve the content will be gladly appreciated.

<< Previous: 3 August
Next: 6 August >>

One year ago today, Wednesday 5 August 2009, a much-speculated meeting occurred between "bomber" al-Megrahi and Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Held in Megrahi's cell at Greenock prison, it's been often described as a "secret meeting" - unprecedented, off-the-record and highly suspect. It was preceded, by mere days, with the prisoner's application for release on compassion grounds and the nearly-instant 3-month prognosis that made it more doable. And the meeting was followed a week later by the Megrahi filing to surrender his appeal, and another week on by his return home to Libya, on compassionate grounds.

It's been wondered if MacAskill used the unusual visit to set out the deal to the prisoner - drop the appeal or die in jail. It is a bit heavy and crude, but I more than half-believed just about that until shortly after hearing Magnus Linklater, publishing magnate, speak about it. He said on a radio show recently that he'd read the transcript of this meeting it said something like "there is no question of you being released while there is still an appeal outstanding. The decsion as to whether you pursue that appeal is for you and your legal team." [1]

I soon learned why Mr. Linklater was wrong, and that the transcript is not secret but freely available. The meeting was to solicit Megrahi's "representation," as part of the ongoing PTA process Mr. MacAskill had been unable to stop. The minutes are on pages 14 and 15 of a PDF of collected representations from all interested parties. [2] So the meeting dealt with transfer, not release, and that distinction changes the meaning of Linklater's recollection.

To start with, the date on the minutes is wrong – Wednesday Aug 6 2009 does not exist. It was either Wednesday the 5th, as scheduled [3], or else changed to Thursday the 6th and written wrong. Besides Megrahi and MacAskill, present at the meeting were two players from the Scottish Justice side and Mr. Megrahi's lawyer, Tony Kelly.

Regarding the PTA application, “Mr.MacAskill stressed that he could not give any indication as to his likely decision.” Mr. MacAskill explained that he was looking at compassionate release as well, and "was considering this application in parallel and he would aim to make both decisions at the same time." And the secretary stressed that “he can only grant a transfer if there are no court proceedings ongoing. Mr. MacAskill stressed that this was a decision for Mr. Al-Megrahi and his legal team alone.” [3]

Megrahi knew what this last meant, despite the indirect reference. Procedings means his appeal of conviction, granted by the SCCRC over two years prior. He complained about the "unduly" stalled process, which was slated to resume about as he was just slated to die - early November. But he followed this by affirming that he qualified for the PTA, suggesting he was open to dropping the fight.

There was also another appeal that was definitely not "a decision for Mr. Al-Megrahi and his legal team alone.” The Crown's standing appeal of sentence, demanding a longer term than the 27 years established, would also have to be withdrawn for the transfer to happen. If Megrahi dropped his own appeal, he faced a risk the Crown's would remain and bar his release anyway - guilty with no appeal and locked up for even longer, all while dying innocent and far from home.

Besides offering no tip as to whether he would grant a transfer, MacAskill was also unclear if he would choose compassion. It could have one or the other or perhaps neither. This unnecessary confusion may have led Megrahi to drop his appeal in preparation, when MacAskill already knew the reason the PTA could not be implemented.

When announcing the release just two weeks later, the Justice Secretary explained why he felt he must reject Libya/UK transfer option. "the American families and Government either had an expectation, or were led to believe, that there would be no prisoner transfer and the sentence would be served in Scotland." [4] This had been established for him at a meeting with American relatives on 9 July (see [3] pp 10-13), a month before this meeting where he misled Megrahi into believing it was a viable option and perhaps his ticket home.

But for his part, the prisoner's 3-page handwritten note (pages 16-18 in the PDF) insisted he was wrongly convicted, was hated by the victims but didn't hate them back, was dying, felt "desolation," wanted to see his family, and was ready to go under PTA or compassion. Mr. Megrahi's thinking is important to understanding what came next. The most important decisions weren't his, but he and his team were left with one ball in their court - would they keep the appeal open and block one possible way home, or surrender the fight to overturn that unjust verdict?

Having said and heard what he needed to, Mr. MacAskill thanked the prisoner for his own thoughts, and they parted ways again to consider what move to make next.

[1] http://lockerbiecase.blogspot.com/2010/07/macaskills-meeting-with-megrahi.html
[2] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/925/0085963.pdf
[3] http://www.scribd.com/doc/34616433/Megrahi-Correspondence-US-DID-Know
[4] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/This-Week/Speeches/Safer-and-stronger/lockerbiedecision