Sent home to die

2009-08-25 00:00

ABDELBASET Ali al-Megrahi was an intelligence agent. Since he worked for the Libyan government, he probably did some bad things. But he probably did not do the specific bad thing for which he was sentenced to 27 years in prison in Scotland.

He only served eight years. He was released on compassionate grounds last Thursday by the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, and flew home to Libya. He is dying of cancer, but his release outraged the Americans whose relatives died aboard Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988. They believe that Al-

Megrahi is a mass murderer who should die in jail — but that is not necessarily so.

Back in 1988 and 1989, Western intelligence services saw the bombing of Pan Am 103 as an act of revenge. The United States warship Vincennes had shot down an Iranian Airbus five months before, killing all 290 passengers, and the Iranians were getting even. (The U.S. was then secretly backing Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran, and the Vincennes, operating illegally in Iranian territorial waters, shot the airliner down, thinking that it was an Iranian fighter.)

There was some evidence for this “Iranian revenge” theory. In 1989, German police found the same kind of bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 in a house in Frankfurt that was used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC). The PFLP-GC was based in Syria, and Syria and Iran were allies, so

maybe …

But then, in 1990, Saddam

invaded Kuwait. Washington needed Arab countries such as Syria to join the war against Saddam so that the liberation of Kuwait looked like a truly international effort. Syria’s price for sending troops was removal from the U.S.’s most-wanted list. Suddenly Syria was no longer the prime suspect in the Pan Am case — and if Syria was out, so was Iran.

Soon new evidence began to appear. It pointed to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been working as a security officer for

Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta in 1988. A Maltese shopkeeper identified him as the man who bought children’s clothing like that found in the suitcase that contained the bomb that brought down Pan Am 103.

It was pretty flimsy evidence, but Colonel Muammar Gaddaffi, Libya’s ruler, was desperate to end the Western trade embargo against his country. He never admitted blame in the Pan Am affair, but he handed Al-Megrahi and a colleague over for trial in a Western court.

Al-Megrahi’s trial took place in 2001. His colleague was freed, but he was jailed for 27 years (in Scotland, because Pan Am 103 came down in Lockerbie). As time passed, however, the case began to unravel.

The Maltese shopkeeper who had identified Al-Megrahi, Tony Gauci, turned out to be living in Australia, supported by several million dollars that the U.S. had paid him for his evidence.

The allegation that the timer for the bomb had been supplied to Libya by the Swiss manufacturer Mebo turned out to be false. The owner of Mebo, Edwin Bollier, revealed that he had turned down an offer of $4 million from the FBI in 1991 to testify that he had sold his MST-13 timers to Libya.

And this year it was revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area at London’s Heathrow airport was broken into 17 hours before Pan Am 103 took off on its last flight. (The police knew that 12 years ago, but kept it secret at Al-Megrahi’s trial.) The theory that the fatal bag was put on a feeder flight from Malta became even less likely.

All of which explains why the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission announced in 2007 that it would refer Al-Megrahi’s case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh because he “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice”.

The Review Commission’s dec­ision caused a crisis, because a new court hearing would reveal how shoddy the evidence at the first one was. Happily for London and Washington, Al-Megrahi was now dying of cancer, so a deal was possible. He would give up his plea for a retrial, no dirty linen about the original trial would be aired in public and he would be set free.

A miserable story, but hardly a unique one. A man who was probably innocent of the charges against him, a loyal servant of the Libyan state who was framed by the West and hung out to dry by his own government, has been sent home to die.

• Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.