Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The New Rogue State?

The Lockerbie Furore

On August 20th 2009, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, better known as the "Lockerbie Bomber", was released from a Scottish prison and returned to Libya on compassionate grounds. The controversial release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was only matched by the "Welcome Home" party he seemed to receive upon returning to his homeland. In Libya he received, what was perceived as, a hero's welcome from a crowd of Libyans, some waving the Scottish flag, and government officials, most notably Gaddafi's son. In the week after al-Megrahi's release, there was widespread speculation that would be a "guest of honour" at the celebrations of Gaddafi's 40th year in power. The release of such a man convicted of killing 270 people, 189 of them were American, was greeted with outrage and disgust, particularly from the American government.

The British government, specifically Gordon Brown, was criticised for not speaking out against the decision of the devolved Scottish Parliament. In the days since the release of al-Megrahi, rumours surfaced of convenient lucrative deals, involving oil and arms, with the Libyan government. There has been talk of a boycott of Scotland by the Americans. Politicians were soon squirming as the attention turned to them and what role they might have played in al-Megrahi's release. Speculation swirled inevitably, when word of Peter Mandelson's meetings with Saif Gaddafi, "got out". Prime Minister Brown eventually commented that he found the release of al-Megrahi "repulsive" and later denied rumours of doubledealing. But it was later confirmed that an oil deal was signed, at the same time that the decision to release al-Megrahi on "compassionate grounds" was made.

Innocence and Guilt

The obvious question that no one is asking and everyone should be, remains largely in the background of the outrage surrounding his return to Libya. The question: is Abdelbaset al-Megrahi innocent or guilty? The questions asked by British journalists didn't stray far from "What if Megrahi lives longer than three months? What will you say to your constituents, then?" The facts remain that al-Megrahi was convicted because of the testimony of Tony Gauci who claimed that al-Megrahi bought clothing from him, the same clothes that were later discovered in the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103. Gauci's testimony is questionable on the grounds that he gave a false description of him in nearly 20 separate statements and didn't even recognise al-Megrahi in the courtroom. And then there was the key witness, who remains annonymous even to this day, who testified that he saw Khalifa Fahimah, al-Megrahi's acquitted co-accused, loading the bomb onto the plane in Frankfurt. This secret witness was exposed by the defence as an informer for the CIA, who would receive $4 million upon the conviction of the accused. It later became apparent in 2007, that Gauci had received $2 million for his "damning" testimony.

At the time of the bombing, December 21st of 1988, Reagan was in the White House and had been for nearly two full terms with George HW Bush as Vice President
. In August of that same year the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Flight 665 over the Persian Gulf. This act killed 290 civilians including 66 children. It was deemed an accident by the American government and Bush Snr later rewarded the ship's captain with the Legion of Merit in 1990. But the Iranian government still maintain that the accident was a deliberate attack by the United States. So when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie there was speculation that it was revenge. American officials, most of which were working at the US Embassy in Moscow, had reserved seats aboard Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt, but cancelled their bookings at the last minute. According to Paul Foot, the American officials had been warned of the plot by UK intelligence. Foot later added that, Margerat Thatcher killed the inquiry into the terrorist attack before it got up and going.

Thatcher later made a call to the White House in January of 1990, the British Prime Minister promised to keep the disaster low key after an intelligence report came out. The report claimed that the attack had been orchestrated by the Iranian government and carried out by a "free-lance" Palestinian group. The motivation: revenge for the 290 people killed by the USS Vincennes. It's likely that the Bush Administration were aiming to distance themselves from a potential scandal. Bush Snr had previously dodged the Iran-Contra affair - in which the US sold guns to Iran in exchange for hostages - that could've cost him the election. It would make sense that he was looking to avoid opening up old wounds and evoking memories which might turn this "accident" into a terrorist atrocity. The White House later looked to Iran for partial support, as President Bush Snr marched onwards to prevent Saddam Hussein from annexing Kuwait. Interestingly, Libya was the only country that did not back the US in the Gulf War - Gaddafi actually backed Iraq - which ended in February of 1991. The British and American press quickly resorted to a campaign of vilification and jingoistic warmongering against Gaddafi's regime. Then in November 1991, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Khalifa Fahimah were indicted for the Lockerbie Bombing.

The Lockerbie Hypocrisy

Despite this Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted in January of 2001, of participating in the terrorist attack which killed 270 people in 1988. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that the trial was fair and that al-Megrahi is guilty. Would incarcerating the Lockerbie Bomber mean anything if we did not apply the same standards to individuals like Orlando Bosch? Bosch is wanted for committing numerous terrorist attacks across South and Central America, mostly on the watch of the CIA. Bosch was the leader of CORU - which the FBI described as an "anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organisation". CORU was part of Operation Condor which was orchestrated by several right-wing politicians, in South America, who intended to purge the continent of socialist influences and ideas. He was almost convicted of blowing up Cubana Flight 455, killing 73 people, in 1976. Bosch was held in Venezuela for a decade, before being freed in the US after the charges were dropped. For the US government to at least maintain some degree of consistency on the issue of terrorism, they would have extradited Bosch years ago. But no, Orlando Bosch and his friends remain free.

Would an act of compassion, toward a possibly innocent man, really harm the standing of British justice in the world? The people who claim this, so naively assume that the standing of British justice is paramount in today's world and may be a testament to their own ignorance. This is an especially rash assumption after nearly a decade of lies, renditions, detention camp fiascos and revelations about torture. Just as the British media's running commentary on the "special relationship" is based on the naive assumption that Britain still has an important role to play in the world - as Uncle Sam's sidekick. It is as if this assumption acts "compensatory" for the imperial power Britain lost in the last century. What this "debacle" has done is to clearly demonstrate that no authority in the West cares of the opinions coming from the East. If this were not true all the noise about a stained "special relationship" and a desecrated judicial system would have been coming from very different places indeed. Instead we have white westerners complaining that their reputation and values have been trampled on, while the rest of the world is smart enough to see that this reputation is a figment of our narcissistic imagination.


T.S. Ó Ceallaigh said...

Very intriguing stuff Josh! I didn't know about the conspiracy angles in the story! You been doing your research?

Joshua White said...

Yeah, I've been reading articles by several dissidents and verifying as many of their claims as possible. John Pilger's articles were particularly helpful, he's been following this case closely for many years.