The media has been full of a lot of cant and rhetoric in the last week or so since the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing back in December 1988, Abdelbasit Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was allowed to go home to Libya to spend his final weeks of life – he has terminal cancer. Scottish law allows a jailed prisoner with a life expectancy of less than three months to be released on compassionate grounds, and the Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, took this line in deciding to free him.
Since then there has been endless speculation about the role of the British Labour Government (as opposed to the Scottish SNP one) meddling in the process to ensure his release in return for trade favours from the Libyans. The Labour Party denies this; the SNP denies it – each for their own reasons. The Tories and Liberal Democrats seek to make mischief over motives and process.
But the bottom line is that al-Megrahi should be free; and should have been freed years ago. In fact, he should never have gone to jail because on any count of a convincing case and a safe conviction, he was not guilty. He did not blow up the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie and the British and American Governments have known this all along – at least one forensic expert who worked for the police on the scene has doubted the official version and Dr Jim Swire, a leader of the British victims’ family group and who lost his daughter, Flora, in the explosion, has concluded al-Megrahi to be not guilty.
Long forgotten is the dreadful prequel to this sad story – the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf in July 1988 by the USS Vincennes. 290 people, all civilians and including 66 children, were killed by a missile fired from the American ship while it was transgressing inside Iranian territorial waters, possibly as part of its not-so-covert support for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq at the time (the long Iran-Iraq war was drawing to an end). The US sought to justify this because it thought the airliner might be on a suicide mission to fly into the ship, though all the records show nothing to justify such an assumption. They refused to apologise or pay compensation to the families of the dead and went on to decorate the two commanders of the ship.
This article by the former Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, one of many respected commentators who have long expressed their scepticism of the official versions of both tragedies, shows how the Libyans had nothing to do with the Lockerbie disaster.
Even at the time there were public suggestions that either Syria and/or elements within the Iranian Government were involved. Dalyell suggests that the Americans knew Pan Am Flight 103 was going to be targeted in reprisal for Iran Air Flight 655 and consequently moved their personnel off the flight – as well as the then South African ambassador, Pik Botha. This released seats to be taken at the last moment by the British and American passengers who were to be among the dead.
And then the following year Saddam invaded Kuwait and Iran and Syria were needed as allies (or at least neutrals) in the George Bush snr Gulf War. Libya suddenly became the culprit and, after £30 billion worth of sanctions against them, Gaddafi sacrificed al-Megrahi without admitting any culpability. The evidence against him was thin – but the conviction stood, as it had to. Of course, some allegedly informed commentators, like John Bolton, G.W. Bush’s UN ambassador, insist there was all sorts of secret evidence against him, some so secret it could not be shown even to the judges in the near unique jury-less trial than convicted al-Megrahi. This of course is precisely the same line Bolton and company spun over the supposed existence of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. Does anyone still trust him?
All these years ago, I vividly remember driving past the village of Lockerbie just four days after the exploding plane dripped its cargo of burning fuel across the dual carriageway, incinerating cars, and its wing ploughed into the village, wiping out a whole street and killing people as they ate their dinners and watched TV. It was a grim sight, the firemen and bulldozers and the piles of rubble, the demolished houses already indiscernible from the winter mud. Somehow grimmer still was the man in the car in front, hanging out his window taking snaps as the cars trickled slowly past the devastation, the four lanes reduced to two. When I headed south from my parents a week later, it was not surprising that the police had erected a high fence round the scene for a combination of road safety and the privacy of the stunned villagers. It was and is a quiet little town, miles from anywhere, in beautiful rolling countryside – making its infamy for this atrocity all the more incongruous.
Al-Megrahi was a pawn in a dirty game of power politics, sordid beyond belief. Bereaved relatives and the public at large have been lied to over and over again. And the perpetrators, of both the murders of the Iranian passengers and the murders of the Lockerbie passengers, have got away with it, I sense for good. This may well be why the British party that was in power at the time of the bombing, the Conservatives, seems so hell-bent on smearing the Labour Government with some sort of prisoner-for-trade deal, when in fact the decision was clearly in the hands of the Scottish Justice Minister – they protest too much, perhaps keen to keep fingers from pointing in their own direction; but perhaps I am hoping too much that the UK Government of 1988’s culpability and collusion is closer to the surface than it is, buried deep by the layers of lies constructed in the two decades since.
Justice Minister MacAskill took the right decision, his only fault being that it was for the wrong reason. Al-Megrahi should not have been released on compassionate grounds. He should have been released because he was and is an innocent man.
Adrian Cruden has been involved in political campaigning, including on human rights and social justice, for over 25 years and is currently Green Party parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury constituency.
A further article on this by the late Paul Foot appears on 2004: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/mar/31/lockerbie.libya
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Adrian Cruden