Thursday, August 13, 2009

Truth and justice not on offer, humanity must do

REMEMBERING another airliner destroyed. Iranian stamp commemorates Iran Air Flight 655, shot down by missiles from USS Vincennes, with loss of 290 passengers and crew on July 3, 1988. The US captain was decorated.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, sentenced to a minimum life term of 25 years in 2001 for his alleged part in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, could be released on compassionate grounds and home to his family before Ramadan. Megrahi, who has always insisted on his innocence, has terminal prostate cancer.

This news - as yet unconfirmed - comes after earlier reports that the prisoner, currently in a prison hospital bed, might be transferred to serve out his sentence in Libya. The Scottish Justice Secretary visited Megrahi last week.

Some 270 people lost their lives in the Lockerbie bombing, and the media are quoting US relatives outraged that the man they call a "mass murderer" should be considered worthy of compassion. It's a different story in Scotland where many people, including relatives, who have followed the case clearly, are not convinced Megrahi was even guilty as charged.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission last year re-examined the evidence - or lack of it - in this case, ruled that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and thus gave Megrahi the go-ahead for a second appeal. This could be delayed by a transfer, but a release on compassionate grounds need not prevent it continuing, . On the other hand we wonder what chance a seriously ill and dying man would have of conducting his case, which seems to have waited so long.

Talks have reportedly been held between British and Libyan officials over what would happen if Megrahi was allowed to go home.

While some people say the Libyan only played a small part in the bombing, for which no one else has been convicted, others believe that not only was he not responsible for the bombing, but Libya was not involved.

For two years after the Lockerbie bombing the widespread view was that a Syrian-based group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command-GC , had arranged the attack on the US airliner on behalf of the Iranian government, and its Syrian allies. The PFLP-GC, formed by a Syrian officer, Ahmed Jibreel, had a reputation for high-profile technically proficient operations. According to Scottish former MP Tam Dalziel there is evidence that the PFLP-GC received £10 million from the Iranians. The attack was seen as revenge for the shooting down by the US navy's missile cruiser Vincennes of an Iranian airbus, in which 290 people were killed.

But by 1990, with Iraqi tanks about to enter Kuwait, the US and British governments had to set their sights on Iraq, and needed Syria and Iran on side. So looking around for someone else to blame for Lockerbie, they found it convenient to make Libya the culprit.

It would be embarrassing for both governments, and their intelligence services, if a succesful appeal by Megrahi was to re-open the question of responsibility for the bombing. For the British government on the other hand the matter is complicated by the relative autonomy of the Scottish justice system and executive, which is not after all responsible for foreign policy. For the United States, ironically, Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, are back among the 'bad boys', though Obama may be more willing to try and improve relations than George Dubya was.

  • Meanwhile, to those Americans whom the BBC is deferentially broadcasting talking about "mass murder", one can sympathise with their feelings over lost relatives, but in their moral indignation against any compassion, might they consider what was handed out to the captain and crew of the USS Vincennes, after IR655 was brought down within Iranian airspace, by the US ship within Iranian waters? Some 290 people, mostly pilgrims going to Mecca, were killed, including 66 children. The American navy men were awarded Combat Action Ribbons, air warfare co-ordinator Lustig received the Navy Commendation Medal, citing his ability to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure."and Captain Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989."

  • If the Lockerbie case is re-opened, or even if people are only asking questions again, there is another case for compassion - and justice - that.I would like to make. Two young Palestinians, Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh, were sentenced and jailed for their alleged part in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London. They were nowhere near the embassy at the time, but were charged with "conspiracy", on circumstantial evidence, much of it heard in secret. No fellow conspirators were produced, a third person named by the accused was not pursued by the authorities, nor did British police try to interview an Iranian diplomatic defector who had predicted the London bombings. Former MI5 man David Shayler and others say the security services knew an attack on the embassy was planned..
It would seem that where Middle East-related terror investigations cross the path of secret diplomacy, neither truth nor justice can be expected. If that is the case, humanity and compassion is the least we can demand.

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