The trial that debased western justice
When in 2009, Scotland’s devolved government allowed the terminally ill Megrahi to return to Libya on grounds of compassion, public outrage on both sides of the Atlantic was extreme. Millions believed that Scotland was covering itself in infamy by releasing an unrepentant mass murderer. Yet there are compelling grounds for believing that the Scottish authorities were already mired in infamy — the infamy of conniving at one of the most monstrous miscarriages of injustice in modern history. In a cogent new book, Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie still matters, John Ashton reinforces the case made in his magisterial study, Megrahi: You are My Jury (2012) — that Megrahi’s conviction by three Scottish judges at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in January 2001 — had no credibility. Another book, Adequately Explained by Stupidity? by Morag G. Kerr makes similarly short work of the official Lockerbie story.
It is true that Megrahi was in Malta in December 1988 when, according to the prosecution case, the suitcase containing the bomb that blew up Flight 103 was loaded onto a flight bound for Frankfurt. But the key prosecution claim — that the timing device on the Lockerbie bomb belonged to a Swiss batch of such devices sold to Col. Qaddafi’s Libya — has been shown to have no foundation. It is also clear that the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, whose evidence was scarcely less vital to the prosecution case, was anything but a reliable witness. Witheringly judged by Scotland’s sometime chief prosecutor, Lord Fraser, to be “one apple short of a picnic,” Gauci — after years of being groomed by the Scottish police and the FBI — testified that Megrahi bought clothes from him in Malta that were wrapped round the bomb. He was later lavishly rewarded for his services by the US Department of Justice.
As John Ashton and Morag G. Kerr make plain, Megrahi’s defense was systematically denied access to much crucial information — not least the fact that that a major breach of security took place at London’s Heathrow Airport in the hours before Flight 103 took off. Though reported in the British press at the time, this sinister circumstance — which raised the possibility that Megrahi’s presence in Malta in December 1988 was irrelevant — went unmentioned at his trial. But for the handicaps under which they were laboring, Megrahi’s defense would have had little difficulty in demonstrating that the charge against him came nowhere near to satisfying the basic requirement of a western court of law: that a verdict of guilt must be “beyond reasonable doubt.” Believers in Megrahi’s culpability have maintained that definitive proof that he was the Lockerbie bomber would emerge from post-Qaddafi Libya. Two years on from the Qaddafi’s downfall, the smoking gun in question remains as elusive as Saddam Hussein’s mooted weapons of mass destruction.
That Megrahi was a hapless pawn in a cynical international power game can scarcely be doubted. All the indications are that the Lockerbie bomb was a reprisal by Iran, sub-contracted to a Palestinian splinter group, for the shooting down of an Iranian airbus by a US warship in July 1988. What appears no less certain is that the US, anxious to secure the release of US hostages held in Lebanon at the behest of Iran, orchestrated a subterfuge designed to impart to the world another story altogether. Mindful that later this year Scottish people will vote in an historic referendum on whether or not they wish Scotland to declare itself independent of the UK, John Ashton believes that Lockerbie is a stain on Scotland’s vaunted justice system that is crying out to be purged. In truth, the conviction of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi was a miscarriage of justice that dishonors not just Scotland but western morality itself.
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