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The Pan Am 103 Verdict

The Pan Am 103 Verdict

by William Blum*

Feb 3 2001

Posted with the kind permission of :

M I D - E A S T R E A L I T I E S - Making Sense of the Middle http://www.MiddleEast.Org

The papers are filled with pictures of happy relatives of the victims of the 1988 bombing of PanAm 103. A Libyan, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, was just found guilty of the bombing by a Scottish court in the Hague, his co-defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, being acquitted. At long last there's going to be some kind of closure for the families. What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is that the evidence against Megrahi is thin to the point of transparency. The court verdict might be dubbed Supreme Court II, another instance of non-judicial factors clouding judicial reasoning. The three Scottish judges can not have relished returning to the UK after finding both defendants innocent of the murder of 270 people, largely from the UK and the US. Not to mention having to directly face dozens of hysterical victims' family members in the courtroom. And with the full knowledge of the desires of Washington and Downing Street as to the outcome. I have now read the entire 26,000-word Opinion of the Court which accompanied the verdict. One has to do that, as well as being very familiar with the history of the case, as I am, to appreciate what the judges did. I can only offer here a few examples of the many questionable aspects of the decision. The key charge against Megrahi -- the sine qua non -- is that he caused a suitcase with explosives to be loaded at Malta airport and tagged it so it would pass through Malta, Frankfurt and London airports without an accompanying passenger and without being inspected. That by itself would have been a major feat and so unlikely to happen that any terrorist with any common sense would have found a better way. But aside from anything else, we have this -- as to the first step, loading the suitcase at Malta: there is no witness, no video, no document, no fingerprints, no nothing, no evidence of any kind. And the court admits it: "The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 [Air Malta] is a major difficulty for the Crown case." The court places great -- nay, paramount -- weight upon the supposed identification of Megrahi by a storekeeper in Malta as the purchaser of the clothing found in the bomb suitcase. But this storekeeper had earlier identified several other people as the culprit, including one who was a CIA agent. When he finally identified Megrahi from a photo, it was after Megrahi's photo had been in the world news for years. Again, the court acknowledges the possible danger inherent in such a decision:

These identifications were criticised inter alia on the ground that photographs of the accused have featured many times over the years in the media and accordingly purported identifications more than ten years after the event are of little if any value.

The Opinion of the Court places considerable weight as well on the suspicious behavior of Megrahi prior to the fatal day, making much of his comings and goings abroad, phone calls to unknown parties for unknown reasons, the use of a pseudonym, etc. The three judges try to squeeze as much mileage out of these events as they can, as if they had no better case to make. But Megrahi was seemingly a member of Libyan intelligence, and last we all knew, Libya is entitled to have an intelligence service, and intelligence agents have been known to act ... well, in mysterious ways, for whatever assignment they're on. The court had no idea what assignment, if any, Megrahi was working on. There is much more that is known about the case that makes the court verdict and written opinion questionable, although credit must be given the court for its frankness about what it was doing, even while it was doing it. "We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified." Let's hope that Megrahi is really guilty. It would be a terrible shame if he spends the rest of his life in prison because back in 1990, as the United States was preparing for war against Iraq and needed Syria and Iran as allies, Washington suddenly dropped those two countries as the prime suspects in the plane bombing and -- seemingly from nowhere -- discovered Libya, the Arab state least supportive of the US buildup to the Gulf War.

* William Blum is the author of "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" and "Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2"

--- Comments About the book: "Killing Hope"

"Far and away the best book on the topic." Noam Chomsky

"I enjoyed it immensely." Gore Vidal

"I bought several more copies to circulate to friends with the hope of shedding new light and understanding on their political outlooks." Oliver Stone

"A very valuable book. The research and organization are extremely impressive." A. J. Langguth, author and former NY Times Bureau Chief

"A very useful piece of work, daunting in scope, important." Thomas Powers, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

"Each chapter I read made me more and more angry." Dr. Helen Caldicott, international leader of the environmental movement --------------------------------------------


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