The PanAm 103 Verdict
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.
wrong with this picture?
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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. Judges should always be judged guilty until they
are proven innocent.
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"
detailed article on the PanAm 103 case by William Blum can be found at http://members.aol.com/bblum6/panam.htm
full text of the Opinion of the Court can be found at http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/html/lockerbie.htm