News at the moment is all about the release of the Lockerbie Bomber Abdel Baset Ali Mohmed Ali Megrahi. One of our club members who works in a rather hush hush government department has often claimed to know more about the Megrahi incident than has ever been told in newspapers. "Of course Megrahi had nothing whatsoever to do with the bombing," he has told us many times. "Our government and the US government know exactly what happened at Lockerbie. But they are not going to tell you."
After plying him with a few brandies he was happy to reveal all, provided we did not reveal his name I can give you a more complete picture.
The story he said started in June 1988 when an Airbus civilian airliner was shot down with the loss of all 290 lives on board. This happened 6 months before Lockerbie.
The fact that the airbus was Iranian, that people on board were Iranian, and they were shot down over the Gulf by a US warship the USS Vincennes, meant that there was no court hearing, that the captain of the Vincennes and to his gunnery crew were awarded medals, and that slaughter was blamed on Iran for not accepting a UN ceasefire in the war with Iraq in which we were backing our old friend Saddam Hussein (yes, the same!).
Iran plotted a tit-for-tat revenge and hired a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Syria to execute the plan. The security services got wind of the plan and on 5 December warnings were sent to the US embassy in Helsinki that a bomb would be planted on a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt in the next two weeks. Eighty percent of the staff in American embassies who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights out of Frankfurt cancelled their bookings. There were 159 empty seats on the plane. The bereaved families are still trying to find out why they never heard about the warning. All they have been told is the warning 'was a hoax' and it was a mistake posting it.
On 21 December 1988 Pan Am flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie. Apparently 270 people died because the UK government didn't make the same mistake. This time there would be no medals.
The bomb in the plane was fitted into a Toshiba radio-cassette player, wrapped in clothing bought in Malta and hidden in a brown Samsonite suitcase.
According to the Washington Post the intelligence services had reported that it was 'beyond doubt' that the Lockerbie bomb had been planted by a Palestinian terrorist group led by Ahmed Jibril. The group had been hired by Iran and had the protection of the Syrian government. The Sunday Times had more detail. Jibril was supported by one Nidal, the leader of the Syrian-backed terrorist outfit. A third man, Talb, was identified as travelling to Malta to buy the clothes to put in the suitcase. The whole thing was a reprisal for the shooting down of the Iran civil airline six months before.
Thatcher and Bush spoke about Lockerbie and agreed to 'low-key' the disaster because neither could do anything about it, nor could they bring the Syrian protected terrorist to trial. And all would have been quietly forgotten had not the political climate changed in 1991 with the outbreak of the Gulf war and the dramatically shifting political scene of the middle east.
It suddenly became expedient to get Syria and Iran on board as allies and to isolate any supporters of Saddam's Iraq. And this included Libya. Quite suddenly and without any previous suggestions to the contrary, the Lockerbie evidence that pointed towards Syria and Iran was quietly abandoned and the US government now claimed that that Libya was responsible for the bombing. The press were happy to switch from one to the other and a political fury was whipped up against Libya. With public backing, the US was able to engage freely in 'revenge air strikes' on Libya. This was now marketed as 'a blow for justice' in retaliation for those killed on Pam Am flight 103, and bought by the public.
Information from US security services now implicated two Libyans, one of whom was Megrahi. They had planted the bomb on a plane in Malta. The bomb had been flown to Frankfurt where it was transferred to a plane for London. The bomb was then tranfered at London to Pan Am flight 103.
What was the evidence for this wholly new story? The CIA had a 'witness'.
Abdul Majid Giaka, a garage mechanic who once claimed to be related to King Idris of Libya, had come forward and implicated Megrahi. He saw them place the bomb and was prepared to testify in court. For this evidence the CIA paid Giaka $4 million - provided there was a conviction.
Without boring you with the tedious trial details, Paul Foot who sat through the full proceedings summed it up by saying that "the entire expensive trial of the Libyans was an intelligence frame-up; and that among the most comprehensively hoodwinked were Lord Sutherland, Lord Coulsfield and Lord Maclean" the presiding judges. The verdict was a triumph for the CIA, but does nothing to satisfy justice. Megrahi was convicted on circumstantial evidence and the hearsay of discredited witnesses. According to John Pilger this is just another case that can be added to the increasing catalogue of cases of British miscarriages of justice.
Of course after the war, the sanctions were lifted against Libya and Gaddafi agreed to pay £1.7 billion out of his oil revenue in compensation. And all was sweetness and light until Megrahi was released last week, to the baying of the press and the anger of outraged Americans.
A recent ICM Research poll for BBC News said 60% of those questioned thought it was wrong to release Megrahi, and such an evil man should have been left to die in jail . Finding myself among the 40% I believe that releasing him to die at home is not about what kind of man he is, but what kind of people we are. And if you though that the UK had released a dying man on grounds of compassion alone, today's Sunday Times headline makes it clear that even that was done as part of a deal for Libyan oil.