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    I remember the night in 1988 well. It was my end-of-term school dance in my 5th year at high school in Cumbernauld, Scotland. I got home that Wednesday night, quite late, to find the TV news filled with a plane crash. It had come down on the town of Lockerbie in southern Scotland, killing people on the ground as well as all the passengers and crew on the transatlantic flight. It was big news, a real disaster.

    Eventually, a Libyan called al Megrahi was convicted of the bombing. His co-accused was acquitted and many questions ramianed unanswered.

    A good place to start is here: Wikipedia on Pan Am 103

    Also the Guardian newspaper has a section (still!) on it, with up-to-date news items on it, since the legal case is still ongoing:

    Detail of the trial, held under Scottish Legal jurisdiction at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands can be found here: Wikipedia on the trial

    A bit about the various theories: Wikipedia on the Alternative Theories (i.e. that Al Megrahi is innocent)

    There is an excellent booklet ("The Flight From Justice") that was published by the magazine Private Eye in the UK, written by the journalist, the late, Paul Foot. Here is an article by Foot from 2004, which I pretty much agree with:

    It seems strange that Libya would agree to take the wrap for this one if they didn't do it, but in doing so they have avoided invasion by the US and are being rehabilitated into World Affairs. Syria, themselves, got off the hook by helping out Bush Snr of course.

    So, why was Libya a good fall guy? Well, the death of PC Yvonne Fletcher in the 1980s (she was shot by someone inside the Libyan Embassy in London) had the UK media well-disposed to buying the line that it was Libya. And also it looks like al Megrahi's trial and conviction are part of a dance to get Fletcher's killer sent to the UK in return?

    What is bizarre in all of this is that evidence is still being actively suppressed by judges, and the establishment seems keen that the affair is left "resolved as is", when it looks like a serious miscarriage of .

    I don't know much about the CIA men on the flight, though, but it seems too co-incidental that they were on that flight:

    • CommentAuthorRon Edwards
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2008 edited

    Thanks for posting this, Gregor. I have found so many references to "what everyone knows" across so many different books on other things, that it's clear that no one knows a damned thing. I remember the event well myself, especially since it was a cultural given in the U.S. that Gaddafi was this mad-dog character (I'm using the Wikipedia spelling). For years, I remember trying to bring perspective to concerns over Palestine or Iran, also with the proviso "Not like Libya, of course," or similar. Now, on the other hand, I'm a little ashamed of having bought the line that was obvious only because it was so often repeated.

    I think that the U.S. bombing of Tripoli serves as a key example of the notion that a U.S. president can stretch out his arm and point to a target anywhere on the globe, and the jet fighters can demolish it - and it's OK. Just when that notion got started is hard to say - it's not characteristic of the early Cold War, as far as I can tell (which is one of the reasons the CIA was what it was then and less so later, perhaps).

    Foot's analysis jibes with my understanding of other matters, especially because Bush Sr.'s interesting variation on the U.S. policy toward the Gulf and related areas. Basically, the Reagan administration's effectively pro-Likud stance (the "Reagan-Begin" effect as it's called), and here I speak of the mosaic of his appointees less than a single directed decree or policy, didn't match well with the Bush and other connections and general political support for ruling interests in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. So the next administration (1988-1992) saw a kind of quiet wrestling match between the newly-powerful AIPAC (allegedly pro-Israel, really pro-Likud) lobby and the already-powerful foreign-lobbying presence of Bandar bin Sultan, as the two nations effectively re-established and re-negotiated their relationships to the golden goose.

    Nasserism, or pan-Arabism, was essentially dead by then, arguably in the ruins of Lebanon, and the northern support from the GDR and the USSR had dried up, as they were struggling in penury. Operations like the Munich Massacre were disastrous for their causes, as stated outright by many in the PLO. I don't know whether Libya really did fund or support that event, but if it supported any such activity, the responses were very low yield.* Anyway, what I'm saying is that Libya was an orphan from the movements and alliances of the 1960s, and the real Middle East power-players (among whom Syria must be acknowledged; everyone always overlooks Syria) squished it like a grape.

    Unfortunately, Foot offers no positive support for his claim in that article, so it remains plausible rather than powerful. Maybe he's presented more in previous writings. Considering the key role that this event played in the understanding (or "understanding") of terrorism in the UK and the USA, the degree of blacking-out seems intolerable. I wonder what Seymour Hersh has investigated about this, if anything?

    Best, Ron

    * Interestingly, in the book Dying to Win, a top researcher on suicide attacks points out that pound for pound, they achieve far, far higher success in terms of negotiations and strategy than 1970s-style terrorism. Reluctantly, he makes the case that the vast majority of such actions are notably rational in those terms.


    Oh, more on this again... as .the BBC reveals that the police withheld evidence from the "bomber's" defence lawyers


    The impact of "national security" on a nation's justice system is probably one of the most profound topics of modern history. Evidence can be heard but not publicized, but that is possibly understandable. However, more drastically, evidence can be included or suppressed on a judge's say-so, after a consultation with an intelligence agency's representatives. Very often this either damages a case so badly that one side (the one challenging the agency) looks idiotic, or destroys it entirely so that the case does not proceed.

    The justification is always the same: that information might be made public which would threaten the safety of the nation's citizens.

    To my knowledge, not one single instance of this happening has ever occurred, either in England or the U.S. It's a bogeyman and I am mystified as to why any court, let alone the U.S. Supreme Court, would ever comply.

    I think it's instructive to examine the case of Peter Wright's book, Spycatcher. Wright rather sensibly published it in Australia, and faced an injunction from the U.K. The Australian courts laughed the injunction out, basically, or more accurately, his lawyer Malcolm Turnbull presented the case as what it was, a laughable attempt at covering embarassment and nothing to do with national security. The results of the trial even called into question the very legitimacy of the Official Secrets Act (which I am convinced would not survive a single full-scale, no-holds-barred legal challenge). However, unless I'm mistaken, no English court has ever done anything but roll over obediently to this tactic.

    Gregor, you mentioned in another thread that Scotland is perhaps no longer the subordinate that it once was. Could the revival of this case be an example of Scotland perhaps becoming a bit more Australian?

    Best, Ron