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Friday, August 14, 2009 

The Maltese double cross?

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's decision to drop his appeal against his conviction for the Lockerbie bombing appears to be just the latest stitch-up in the now over 20-year-long search for both justice and the truth in what remains one of the most murky and unexplained terrorist attacks of recent times. In what seems to be an attempt to keep all sides reasonably happy, including the American relatives of the dead who seem to be far more convinced of al-Megrahi's guilt than many of the British relatives, it now appears likely that rather than being released on compassionate grounds, as first thought, al-Megrahi will take advantage of a prisoner transfer agreement signed by Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi. While al-Megrahi could continue with his appeal if he was released due to his terminal illness, the transfer treaty is not applicable while criminal proceedings are still under way. This presumably is aimed at tempering American criticism that someone convicted of mass murder should be freed on compassionate grounds, having shown none whatsoever to his victims.

There are however multiple factors at work here, as there have been from the beginning. Going from being the Mad Dog to being one of those dictators which we can quite literally do business with, Gaddafi's Libya is a key emerging market, especially for the likes of BP, having invested $1bn in the country, prompting the Americans in particular to wonder whether the oil industry which their own government so heavily supports is influencing policy over here also. Most critical however is that none of those involved, apart from al-Megrahi, want the case to be reopened and examined in anything approaching precise detail again. Certainly not the UK or US governments, both of which moved from being almost certain that the perpetrators were not Libyan but rather Palestinians based in Syria, quite possibly funded by Iran, around the time that both countries were needed over more pressing matters concerning Operation Desert Storm, and certainly not the Libyans, who although continuing to cast doubt on their involvement, gritted their teeth and paid an obscene amount of compensation in return for both UN and US sanctions being lifted. These numbers are expected to be earned back in reasonably short order: Libya's Mahmud al-Ftise, the privatisation and investment secretary, says the country has "very big potential".

Al-Megrahi however has just months to live, and with his death it also seems likely that any chance of revisiting the evidence will also perish. This is especially depressing when new information suggests that he suffered what Hans Köchler, the UN's nominated observer of the Scottish trial and appeal in the Netherlands described as a "spectacular miscarriage of justice". Al-Megrahi's lawyers had demanded access to a US government document which cast doubt on the origin of a digital timer which was integral to his conviction, as well as obtaining information that suggested that the key prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, the owner of the Maltese clothes shop where al-Megrahi was supposed to have bought the items which were packed in the suitcase around the bomb, was paid more than $2 million for giving evidence against him. It seems that as a member of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, the body set up by the US after the bombing allegedly told Martin Cadman, one of the relatives of the dead:

Your government and ours know exactly what happened. But they're never going to tell.

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It's a bit of a pity, if not exactly a surprise, that he's going to die rather than actually get to reveal the obvious truth of his innocence.

Meh, even if it mattered, the number of innocent Yanks and Brits that died over Lockerbie is approx (1 / 10,000) the number of civilians we've had slaughtered in Iraq.

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