Friday, November 21, 2008

Libya Completes Lockerbie Payment

Libya has completed it's transfer of payment of compensation for families of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Earlier this week US president George Bush said a "painful chapter" between America and Libya was closing. The completion of payment comes as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam discussed ways to improve US-Libyan ties.

Most of the US victim's families of the tragedy welcomed the news and claimed it to be a "victory in their quest for justice in the case." The payment includes final compensation payments to families of Americans killed on Pan Am 103, those killed and wounded in a 1986 attack on a Berlin disco, and resolve other claims for property and personal damages.

The agreement struck between the US and Libya also calls for $300 million in compensation to be paid for the Libyan victims of U.S. airstrikes that were ordered by former President Reagan in retaliation for the Berlin bombing. The Bush administration says no taxpayer money will be used for those payments but has not said where the money is coming from.

The question of whether the payment has any relevance in terms of justice for the Lockerbie victims or has more to do with international deals to explore Libya oil rich resources is one which casts a cloud over the agreement. This cloud of uncertainty and doubt is further compounded while the current on-going appeal by the one man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing continues through the Scottish courts after the review body in Scotland indicated there may have been a 'miscarriage of justice' at the original trial.

Various sources:

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lockerbie Reflections

Oh East is East and West is West
And never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
At God’s great Judgment Seat.

The Ballad of East and West
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white

With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear : “a Fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East”.

Though I had landed at Teheran airport a few times, and helped administer FAO projects in Iran I did not have an opportunity to visit that great country. The nearest I got to the Iranian border was when travelling to the mountains south of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan.

I had known Iraninan students at workshops and seminars, and once met with diplomatic officers from the government of the late Shah. This was on a tour boat on Moscow river. Their monarch, Mohammed Resa Shah Pahlavi, was visiting the Soviet Premier at the time. His entourage of diplomats and aides exhibited culture, learning and sophistication, and made stimulating conversation with me during the afternoon river cruise.

The Shah ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979. He was briefly ousted in 1953 by the Prime Minister, Dr Mossadegh, but was reinstated with CIA help shortly after. I recall our press making a fool of Dr Mossadegh at the time because he wept in public.

The Shah then abolished the multi-party system and made the country a one-party state. He established and supervised a ruthless organisation, the SAVAK secret police. He was eventually deposed in 1979 despite having a powerful army and an immense arsenal of weapons, and control shifted from the monarchy to the ayatollahs.

There followed a period of difficult relations with the USA, and conflict with Iraq which the USA supported. In fact the United States had armed both of the belligerants in the Iran – Iraq war, and had turned a blind eye to illegal arms to Iran sales engineered by Colonel North. He and his boss, National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ignored the law and lied to Congress over dealings with Iran and support to Contras in Nicaragua. They destroyed evidence in the form of e-mail records but back-up tapes were recovered by the FBI and the Tower Commission.

A dreadful incident occurred on July 3 1988, when an Iranian air liner on a regular flight (IA 655) from Bander Abbas to Dubai, was shot down by a US cruiser, the Vicennes. It was an ordinary civilian flight which our project officers often took, although some of President Reagan’s apologists claimed otherwise. Ultimately the American government paid $ 61 million as an ex gratia compensation, but it never admitted any fault. Vice President George Bush (senior) stated at the time that he would “never apologise for the United States, no matter what the facts were”.

290 passengers and crew perished in the shooting down of the Airbus 300, including over 60 children and 38 non-Iranians. The Captain of the Vicennes, and his commanding officer were both decorated with Legion of Merit medals in 1990 for their part in the attack on the civilian airliner.

Some observers believe that the bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 5½ months later, on December 21, 1988, was a retaliation by Middle Eastern groups, for the shooting down of the Iranian flight IA 655, and that Libya had little to do with it. A telephone warning had been received on December 5th, stating that an American airliner flying from Frankfurt to the USA would be destroyed by a bomb in two weeks time. The caller stated that the bombing would be the work of the Abu Nidal organisation. The warning was distributed to airlines in Frankfurt, but was ignored by the Pan Am office.

President Bush appointed a President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, PCAST, to review and report on aviation security in the light of the downing of PA 103. At a meeting with victims’ relatives in the U.S. Embassy in London on 12 February 1990, a PCAST member told relative Martin Cadman, “Your government and ours know exactly what happened. But they are never going to tell”. Veteran British Member of Parliament, Tam Dalyell, reminded the House of Commons of this statement on 11th July 1990, - a statement that he claimed had never been refuted.

Suspicions over the Pan Am bombing and the subsequent trial and conviction of a single Libyan for the crime, Abdel Besset Al Megrahi, have intensified since the discovery of a strange link with a fingerprint case in Scotland.

Policewoman Shirley McKie was accused by the SCRO (Scottish Criminal Records Office) of leaving a print at a murder scene in Glasgow in 1999 and was subsequently tried for perjury.

She was acquitted, and her father, a former police officer himself, pursued the matter doggedly. Fingerprint experts in England, the USA and Australia testified that the supposed print could not possibly have been hers, and some averred after seeing the subsequent copies, that the original print had been doctored to make it appear to belong to the officer in question.

There was puzzlement in Scotland over the Scottish Executive’s harassment of Miss McKie and its refusal to permit an independent public enquiry to take place. Then the Scotsman newspaper obtained copies of official documents that showed that the head of Police in Tayside who had looked into the matter, concluded that criminal charges should be brought to bear on some officers of the SCRO Scotland’s main fingerprint unit.

It was further disclosed that the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, who had refused to mount a prosecution but who had decided instead to charge McKie with perjury was the official in charge of the Libyan Lockerbie bombing trial. It was also later revealed that the FBI had put considerable pressure on British and Scottish authorities to prevent any public enquiry into the McKie case, which might cast doubts on SCRO competence, and by implication, on the Lockerbie trial.

The father of one of the Pan Am flight victims, Dr Swire, wrote to the press pointing out some parallels between Solicitor General / Lord Advocate Boyd’s handling of both cases. Both the Lockerbie trial and the fingerprint case rested on slender evidence – in the one the charred remains of pieces of a supposed timer, and in the other a much-disputed fingerprint.

In neither case would Boyd allow anyone to view the original piece of evidence. In both cases the SCRO and related investigation offices were involved.

Some concluded that the United States was determined to obtain a conviction for the Lockerbie bombing, both to abate public outcry, and to direct attention away from the true story of the Pan Am bombing.

The real suspects of that bombing could have exposed the dealings of Colonel North, and the hypocrisy of the USA which had armed despots and Bin Laden-type Arabs. Any shadow of doubt thrown against the Scottish SCRO would automatically put the Lockerbie verdict in doubt.

Therefore, the Scottish Executive, including its First Minister and its Minister of Justice, absolutely refused to permit a public enquiry, and the now suspect Attorney General threw his weight behind their decision.

Colonel Oliver North, who was deeply involved in selling arms to Iran to finance Contra mercenaries in Central America, contrary to official US government policy. He went on to play a nefarious role in the Middle East, and may have been partly responsible for setting up Terry Waite for abduction by Arab militants, which may explain Waite’s public expression of forgiveness to North at a televised meeting.

Pan Am 103 / Lockerbie questions
The father of Flora Swire, one of the 270 innocent victims of the Pan Am bombing, Dr Jim Swire, and other concerned persons have raised numerous questions about the downing of flight Pan Am 103 and related incidents, in an endeavour to uncover the truth of the whole matter. They have met largely with a wall of official silence and non-response. One of their conclusions was that the Lockerbie trial failed several basic principles of justice and evidence. Among the many queries were concerns on the involvement of one Vincent Cannistraro who was put in charge of the CIA investigation but who was not required to appear as a witness.

Cannistraro was one of the leaders of the brutal CIA Nicaragua campaign, financed partly by the “arms for Iran” Contra scandal. He was also involved in secretly helping to arm Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in the 1980’s but none of these matters were revealed at the trial. During 1986 – 88 he was responsible for White House disinformation and lies against Libya. During the Lockerbie investigation, his agents removed evidence illegally and reinserted at least one piece after it had been tampered with. The forensic scientists Lockerbie notebook contained a page recording the only fragment of bomb found at the scene. The page had been manually inserted, and all pages subsequently renumbered by hand.

The Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, who provided conflicting identification evidence, had been promised $ 4 million by the USA if Al Megrahi was convicted, but none of that was revealed at the trial. Palestinian terrorist Marwan Khreesat was employed by Ahmed Jibril, Jordanian intelligence and possibly also the CIA to make barometrically triggered bombs for Jibril’s group, targeting Pan Am flights. Why was one stolen just a day before Khreesat’s arrest ? Could it have been the fatal bomb on flight 103 ?

More alarmingly, the UK Government issued two telex warnings days before the bombing. One carried a picture of the Khreesat bomb with instructions to the airline that if such a device was found, it should be “consigned to the hold of the plane”.

Two days after the bombing, Iran admitted paying the Jibril group $ 11 million, and some months later, paying $ 0.5 million to Abu Talb. These allegations all point to the generally believed explanation of the destruction of the Pan Am flight, - that it was a pledged response to the downing of a civilian Iranian jet (flight IA 655 from Bandar Abbas to Dubai) by the USS Vicennes earlier that year, with the loss of 290 innocent passengers. (Though denied at the time, the Vicennes was later admitted to have been inside Iranian territorial waters, and firing on Iranian boats when it shot the airliner).

The US government never admitted liability, but under President Clinton, on 26 February 1966, it agreed to to pay an ex gratia sum of $ 61.8 million to Iran and the flight victims families.

The IA 655 shooting and its aftermath brought out some shameful propaganda and ‘spin’ by American politicians and reporters. Ronald Reagan claimed that the civilian jet was diving towards the U.S. Navy ship, and increasing speed. Larry King demanded to know from the Iranian Ambassador, “why a predominately business flight was carrying so many women and children” !!! This was rubbish. I knew the flight which my FAO colleagues often took.

Captain William C Rogers III of the guided missile cruiser, and his air warfare coordinator, Lt. Com. Lustig, were awarded the Legion of Merit medal by President George H W Bush in 1990, for “excellent meritorious conduct” on the day in question.

But back to Pan Am flight 103, -
Behind or around the Pan Am / Lockerbie crash, and other sinister events like the illegal sale of arms to Iran, the involvement of the CIA in the drug trade, the financing of brutal Contras in Nicaragua, and the abduction and imprisonment of Terry Waite, - lurks the shadow of one Colonel Oliver North. An Australian banker who studied the Lockerbie case in great detail claimed to me that though most American personnel were warned off flight 103, it contained some CIA agents en route the USA to testify against Oliver North over “arms for Iran” and other matters. But this belief and much of the information above has not been endorsed or admitted by U.S. or UK authorities.

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20 years on and Lockerbie victim's father still searches for the truth

WHEN Jim Swire discovered the devastating news that his daughter Flora had died in the Lockerbie air disaster he had one burning aim - to bring her terrorist killers to justice.

But on the 20th anniversary of the outrage the former Midlands GP now finds himself in the extraordinary position of DEFENDING the man convicted of her murder.

Medical student Flora, 23, had been flying out to see her boyfriend in the US when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

All 259 passengers and crew on board died on that cold winter night. A further 11 people on the ground also perished.

For the next 13 years Jim battled to bring chief suspect Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to trial, even risking his life by holding secret meetings with Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.
Yet the dad-of-two became convinced the wrong man was in the dock after the Libyan was eventually convicted in 2001.

Since then he has fought a campaign to clear al-Megrahi - who is now suffering from prostrate cancer - and find the real killers of his daughter.

“I think a lot about whether Flora would have approved of what I am doing but I believe she would have,’’ said Jim, who lives in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire.

‘‘The campaign has grown beyond anything I had ever expected. Twenty years of my life have been concentrated on it and I have had to try to balance it out with living a normal life.’’

The retired GP met al-Megrahi, 56, after he was jailed for life and says he still feels guilt over his part in bringing him to trial.

“I do feel responsible for al-Megrahi as I believe he was ultimately handed over by Gaddafi because of my meetings with him,’’ said Jim, 72.
‘‘But after hearing the evidence at the trial, I believe he isn’t guilty.”

Jim and wife Jane, a retired teacher, have endless fond memories of their beautiful and talented daughter who had wanted to follow her father into the medical profession.

Jane, 69, recalled: “Flora was a very gifted and confident individual. She was lively and creative and was always making something off Blue Peter.
“She began to shine in the sciences as a teenager and wanted to become a doctor.

‘‘Yet she’d seen the downside of a doctor’s life as my husband was a GP. She knew about the late call outs and how it was a tough profession. But she was a strong-minded woman and followed her dream.

“Flora was such a lovely child. I felt privileged to have her.’’

Her proud dad added: ‘‘Flora was a brilliant student and I have no doubt in mind that if she were alive today she would have been at the top of her profession.’’

But those dreams were shattered 20 years ago next month.

Flora had been desperately trying to find a flight to the US to celebrate Christmas with her boyfriend, Hart Lidov, when a late seat became available on the fateful Pan Am plane.

Jane recalled: “She had been trying to book a flight to the US but had no luck. She’d spent the weekend with us and we went to the theatre.

‘‘Two days later she called to tell us she had found a flight and asked if it was OK if she went. I told her we didn’t mind.”

Hours later Jane stumbled upon a terrifying news bulletin.
“Jim and I had just come home from a shopping trip and I turned on the TV and there was a newsflash about a plane crash in Scotland,’’ she recalled.

‘‘I was worried that it was the flight Flora was on, so I alerted Jim.
“We waited for the next news programme which told us that the plane had crashed at 7.05pm. I was praying it wasn’t Flora’s flight as it had taken off at 6pm and I was convinced it would have been way past Scotland by the time of the crash.

‘‘We were desperately trying to get through to the relatives’ hotline but it was constantly engaged.

“And then we realised that it was her plane - and that Flora was dead. We just sat and watched the devastating pictures of the plane. We were horrified yet mesmerised and terrified by it all.
‘‘We were completely beside ourselves.”

Soon afterwards Jim pledged to win justice for his daughter and all those killed on Pan Am Flight 103. Yet over the years he has become convinced the Libyans were not involved.
He said: “The evidence points to the involvement of Iran and Syria, not Libya.

“The case against al-Megrahi, I believe is invalid.”

Jim believes the Lockerbie bombing was a revenge attack against the Americans who had ordered an Iranian Airbus to be shot down months before Lockerbie killing 290 innocent people.

He also believes a Syrian terror group had amassed a cache of bombs designed for infiltration into European airports, explosives would sense the drop of pressure as an aircraft climbed into the skies - and would explode about 40 minutes after take-off.

And the Lockerbie bomb, he claims, may have been handed to and planted by an insider at Heathrow during a break-in the night before the disaster.

But with al-Megrahi serving a life sentence, he fears the true story will never be known unless the conviction is overturned.

Jim added: “I believe that the truth will never come out while I am alive. Justice will not be done in my lifetime.”

Soon after Lockerbie Jim and Jane planted young trees in the grounds of their family home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, which they named Flora’s Wood.

The trees are mature now and still stand there today, despite the couple selling the house in 2002. They were planted in the shape of an F for Flora, a poignant outline that can still be seen from satellite pictures on Google Earth.

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