Saturday, December 15, 2007

Three Lords A Leaping.....To Conclusions.

Left to right, Lords Coulsfield, Sutherland and MacLean.

It deals only in passing with the defence submissions that the PLFP-Autumn Leaves gang may have been responsible for Lockerbie.

"We accept that there is a great deal of suspicion as to the actings of Abu Talb and his circle, but there is no evidence to indicate they had either the means or intention to destroy a civil aircraft in December 1988". (para 81)

No means, that is, beyond working with a bomb-maker (Khreesat) who specialised in disguising explosive devices in cassette recorders so they could be smuggled onto aircraft. No intention except visits to airports and the studying and hoarding of aircraft schedules, including those of Pan Am.

Where did the bomb suitcase first get on the plane? The judges worked their way carefully through the theory that a bomb suitcase was introduced at Luqa airport. The tight security arrangements at Luqa Airport, they conceded, "seem to make it extremely difficult for an unaccompanied and unidentified bag to be shipped on a flight out of Luqa."

After discussing the evidence of Maltese airport officials that it was impossible or highly unlikely that a bag could be introduced undetected at the check-in desks or in the baggage area or by approaching the loaders", the judges concluded : "If therefore the unaccompanied bag was launched from Luqa, the method by which that was done, is not established by the Crown. The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase might have been placed on board KM180 is a major difficulty for the Crown case." (38)

There was no evidence that an unaccompanied bag went on the plane at Malta - but lo and behold there was, as far as the judges were concerned, plenty of evidence that a bag arrived from Malta at Frankfurt. The judges sailed happily past the defence objections to the accuracy of the documents in this matter.

There was, they agreed, some evidence that the suspect bag might have come from a flight from Damascus, and the records did suggest that an unaccompanied bag from Warsaw may have been coded in the system taking it to Pan Am 103A.
There may have been discrepancies in the times and numbers of bags arriving at the relevant coding stations, but some of these could be accounted for by figures relating to other flights and "the remaining discrepancy might be accounted for as late arrival luggage which, according to some of the evidence, might not go through the automated system."

What about the x-ray system at Frankfurt? Would that not have caught the Toshiba bomb, especially after the evidence of Kurt Maier, the x-ray operator, a careful and conscientious worker who had worked out a drill for spotting electronic equipment containing bombs? The judges thought not : "Mr Maier's description of what he looked for does not suggest that he would necessarily have claimed to be able to detect explosives hidden in a radio cassette player" (34). (Note the use of that useful word "necessarily")

All in all, the conclusion was emphatic : "None of the points made by the defence seems to us to cast doubt on the inference from the documents and other evidence that an unaccompanied bag from KM180 was transferred to and loaded onto PA 103A" (35).

What of the case, so carefully presented, by Mr Taylor that the bomb may have gone onto a plane for the first time at Heathrow, London?

The judges recited the evidence of the loader John Bedford, given to Police so soon after the bombing, that, after coming back from a tea-break, he discovered a "maroony brown Samsonite" case in the luggage container in which the explosion later occurred. He had not put it there himself. He said his colleague Sulkash Kamboj told him he had put the case there - but Kamboj denied it.

The judges fought their way through this contradiction by believing Bedford instead of Kamboj. But how did they deal with the powerful argument that a brown Samsonite case, of the type in which the explosion actually occurred, was put on the plane at Heathrow in a position extremely close to the place where the bomb eventually went off?
This, they reckoned, would have required re-arrangement of the luggage before it was finally loaded. "But if there was such a re-arrangement", they said, "the suitcase described by Mr Bedford might have been placed in some remote corner of the container." Note again the judicial "might" to provide an explanation for which there is no evidence at all.

True, the Samsonite case might have come from Malta via Frankfurt Airport. There is however, no evidence of a Samsonite at either place. But there was evidence of a Samsonite going in curious circumstances onto Pan Am 103 at Heathrow.

Finally, what had the Judges to say about the amazing coincidence that a bomb of the type normally made by the PFLP-GC would have been set of by an ice-cube timer, which would have exploded some 38 minutes after take off - and the bomb went off over Lockerbie exactly 38 minutes after take off? So impressed were the Judges by this coincidence that they did not refer to it at all.

They concluded that the Lockerbie bomb was not set off by an ice-cube timer, but by an MST-13 timer. The evidence for this came from the forensic scientists, Allen Fereday, Thomas Hayes and FBI's Thomas Thurman. In June 1990 a posse of Scottish detectives had been over to Washington to test Mr Thurmans theory that a fragment found from the Lockerbie debris looked like a circuit board of an MST-13.

The Judges noted the various difficulties that had arisen in the finding of the fragment. The overwriting of its label by DC Gilchrist was inexplicable. The policeman's explanation to the court, said the Judges, was "at worst evasive and at best confusing" (13). They noted, too, the re-pagination of notes by Dr Hayes from the moment he started to deal with the fragment, but dismissed this as "of no materiality".
Not material either, apparently, was the second four month delay until Mr Fereday sent the fragment to the Scottish Police. None of these things worried the judges.
"While it is unfortunate," they concluded, "that this particular item which turned out to be of major significance to this enquiry despite it's minuscule size may not initially have been given the same meticulous treatment as most other items, we are nevertheless satisfied that the fragment was extracted by Dr Hayes in May 1989 from the remnant of the Slalom shirt found by DC Gilchrist and DC McColm."

The fragment led to the MST-13 which led to Edwin Bollier, whom the Judges found a most unsatisfactory witness, prone at best to glaring contradictions and at worst delusions, fantasy and lies. Nevertheless the Judges concluded, Bollier had sold timers to the Libyan Military, had tested some of them in the Libyan desert, and had gone to Libya to sell the MST-13 timerS shortly before the Lockerbie bombing.
Mr Bollier, they noted, had also had business dealings with Abdelbasset Megrahi, the first accused, and had rented his firm an office in Zurich - though there was no evidence that he had met Megrahi on his visit to Libya in December 1988, still less that he had conveyed a timer to Megrahi there.
The Judges also conceded that Bollier had sold MST-13 timers to the former East German secret police (the Stasi), but concluded, nevertheless, that the Lockerbie bombing was of "Libyan origin".

The three main witnesses in the trial, the Judges concluded, were the grass Giaka, whose evidence they discounted, Bollier the timer salesman, most of whose evidence they discounted, and the only witness they found reliable, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper.

Despite the dramatic shifts in Mr Gauci's identification of the man who bought the clothes that ended up in the bomb suitcase, the Judges responded warmly to him. They did not see anything significant in thefact that his first identification of Megrahi as the clothes buyer was in February 1991, more than two years after the bombing - during which time he had seen scores of police photographs and part-identified two Palestinians.

The Judges conceded that the difference between Gauci's original description of the man as six feet tall and 50 years of age and Megrahi's actual height and age (five feet eight inches, and 37 years of age) was "a substantial discrepancy" (68). But Gauci's indentification, they concluded, "entirely reliable".
In what must have been a novel interpretation of Scottish Law, they went further. "There are situations", they said, "where a careful witness who will not commit himself beyond saying that there is a close resemblance, can be regarded as more reliable and convincing in his identification than a witness who maintains that his identification is 100 per cent certain" (69).
On what date where the clothes bought from Mr Gauci's shop?
There was much more relaible evidence than that of Mr Gauci. From the outset, he told his
interrogators that it was raining on the day of the sale: that the man who bought the clothes noticed it was raining, and had bought an umbrella.

As he left the shop, he opened the umbrella, and walked down the road to pick-up a taxi. The question of the incidence of rain on various dates at Sliema preoccupied the trial for many hours.
To start with, there was no doubt, and it was not denied, that there was light rain in Sliema on the evening of Wednesday 23 November 1988. Major Mifsud, chief meteorologist ffrom Luqa Airport, told the court, "0.6 millimetres of rain is not that much so the cloud would not have been that thick, but it did give some rain, yes."
So the early recollection of Paul Gauci (Tony's brother and co-owner of the shop, Mary's House), and the evidence about the rain both pointed to 23 November as the day the clothes were bought, and this explained the early media reports, especially the Sunday Times, that the clothes were bought on the 23 November. No doubt this fitted nicely with the Police view that the main suspect, the man who bought the clothes, Abu Talb, was in Malta in late November, but not later.

But this evidence was no use at all to the prosecution of Megrahi, who was certainly not in Malta on 23 November. Was there any other day he was in Malta and could have bought the clothes?
Yes, he was staying in the Holiday Inn in Sliema on 7 December 1988. So the thrust of the prosecution inquiries about the sale of the clothes shifted from the 23 November to 7 December.
But, was it raining on 7 December?
At first glance, it wasn't. The police records for rainfall in Sliema on the 7 December showed a complete blank. The prosecution claimed that this was not decisive since the blank referred to the period from noon on the previous day (6 december) to noon on the 7th.
So it could still have been raining at the time the clothes were sold - at about 6.30pm on the 7th.
But was it?
The witness from Luqa, Major Mifsud, who gave evidence on 5 December 2000 was asked :
Q. Just confirm with me, please, apart from the trace of rain that we discussed that fell or was measured at 9.00am on Wednesday 7December, did any rain fall at Luqa?
A. No, no rain was recorded. No, no rain was recorded.
Q. Up to midnight?
A. Up to midnight.
Mr Mifsud estimated that Luqa is "about 5 kilometres as the crow flies from Sliema". Asked specifically about the 7 December between 6.00pm and 7.00pm, he stated, "We had no rain all right between 6 and 7 at Luqa, but I cannot exclude the possibility that there could have been a drop of rain here and there".
Later he was even more specific, "If you ask for a percentage, if I have to talk about percentage probability, I would say that 90 per cent that there was no rain, and the possibility of a few drops of rain 10 per cent." The "few drops" rather reluctantly conceded, would not be enough to wet the ground.

The records and expert evidence, therefore, were not absolutely conclusive on this important point, but most of them pointed embarrassingly away from the 7 December as to the date the clothes were bought.

"There is no doubt", said the Judges, "that the weather on 23 November would be wholly consistent with a light shower between 6.30pm and 7.00pm. While Major Mifsud's evidence was clear about the position at Luqa, he did not rule out the possibility of a light shower in Sliema.
Mr Gauci's recollection of the weather was that 'it started dripping - not raining heavily', or that there was at least a 'drizzle' and it only appeared to last for the time that the purchaser was away from the shop to get a taxi."

Then there was the conclusion. "Having carefully considered all the factors relating to this aspect we have reached the conclusion that the date of purchase was Wednesday December 7."

Among the factors not very carefully considered was that Major Mifsud had estimated the chances of rain at most at 10 per cent and that there was no rain at Luqa five kilometres away. Perhaps the factor most carefully considered was not meteorological at all - that Megrahi was not even in Malta on 23 November and therefore could not have bought the clothes on that date.

The conclusions followed swiftly.

Megrahi, though he was nothing like six feet and nowhere near fifty years old, had bought clothes and an umbrella to protect him from rain on a day it was most probably not raining. He was a business associate of Bollier, and had never bought any timers from him. There was no evidence at all that he had made the bomb, packed it in a case and put it on a plane at Malta, but he obviously had.

Paragraph 86 of the judgement starts: "We now turn to the case against the first accused", and quickly makes it clear that any evidence against the second accused, Fhimah, cannot apply to the first. There were then four paragraphs left.

The first starts with the observation that on the 15 June 1987, eighteen months before Lockerbie, Megrahi was issued with a false passport, which had been used on visits to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus.

Paragraph 88 of the Judgement deals with the identification of Megrahi by Tony Gauci.
"While recognising that this is not an unequivocal could be inferred that the first accused was the one who bought the clothing which surrounded the explosive device."
Naturally, "if he was the purchaser of this miscellaneous collection of garments, it is not difficult to infer that he too must have been aware of the purpose for which they were being bought".
Add this to the fact that he was "involved with Mr Bollier, albeit not specifically in connection with the MST timers" and had been in Malta on the 20th and 21st December 1988, and "it is possible to infer that this visit under a false name the night before the explosive device was planted at Luqa, followed by his departure for Tripoli the following morning at or about the time the device must have been planted, was a visit connected with the planting of the device."
That paragraph also contained a sound explanation as to why Megrahi had had a false passport: "he was a member of the JSO (Libyan Intelligence) occupying posts of fairly high rank."
Paragraph 89 opened with a curious disclaimer. "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 seems 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."

Quickly abandoning their own precautions about these matters, the Judges concluded, unanimously, that the case against Megrahi "does fit into a real and convincing pattern. There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused and accordingly we find him guilty."

There was, however, nothing remotely real or convincing (let alone any kind of pattern) in the case against Megrahi.

There was no evidence the bomb went on at Malta, still less that Megrahi put it there. All the other evidence against him - including the theory that the Lockerbie bomb was set off by an MST-13 timer, the vague nature of the Gauci identification over a period of ten years and the date the clothes were bought - were plagued by precisely the "uncertainties and qualifications" mentioned by the Judges.

The Judges, moreover, under Scottish law had the option of finding the case against Megrahi "not proven" - though in truth the only proper verdict was "not guilty."

In these circumstances the judgement and the verdict against Megrahi was perverse. The Judges brought shame and disgrace to all those who believed in Scottish Justice, and have added to Scottish law an injustice of the type which has often defaced the law in England. The verdict was a triumph for the CIA, but it did nothing to satisfy the demands of some of the families of those who died at Lockerbie - who still want to know how and why their loved ones were murdered.

In February 1990, a group of British relatives went to the American embassy in London for a meeting with seven members of the President's Commission on aviation security and terrorism. Martin Cadman remembers: "After we'd had our say, the meeting broke up and we moved towards the door. As we got there, I found myself talking to two members of the Commission - I think they were senetors. One of them said: 'Your government and our government know exactly what happened at Lockerbie. But they are not going to tell you'."

Nearly eleven years later, after a prolific waste of many millions of pounds and words, that is still the position.

(C) Paul Foot / Private Eye

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