The Lockerbie bombing in 1988 was perhaps the 9/11 of its time: and today marks 30 years since it happened.
While it didn’t result in the kind of phony Global ‘War on Terror’ that was conducted after 9/11, it did give the US and Britain the platform for beginning a targeted downfall of a particular nation and society, this being Libya.
This was accomplished the same way in Libya as it was accomplished in Iraq: first by years and years of crippling sanctions and forced hardship (via the UN),then by all-out destruction against a nation that is no longer able to defend itself (Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011).
There are essentially two ways to look at Lockerbie.
One, the most important, is as a criminal investigation of an act of mass murder. The other is as a prolonged political or geo-political tool serving multiple purposes. Both are worth revisiting; particularly as the ghost of Lockerbie (and all of its victims) has reappeared in news media in the last few weeks.
Revisiting the subject of Lockerbie is important both as a study of geo-politics and the place of political terrorism within that arena and as a study in history and how it relates to contemporary events.
I want to take a broad overview of the Lockerbie subject here, touching on all of those areas: this article will cover (1) the reasons why the ‘official’ story of Lockerbie is so problematic and disputed, (2) the release of the ‘Lockerbie Bomber’ from prison in Scotland and why it happened, (3) the political and geopolitical motives and consequences of the Lockerbie trial and verdict, and finally (4) the many different theories as to who really did carry out the Lockerbie bombing and why.
The official story remains that the Lockerbie bombing was the doing of the Libyan, Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, who – at the time – had been in charge of security for Libyan airlines.
Abdelbasset al-Megrahi was jailed for 27 years, but died of prostate cancer, aged 60, in 2012. On his deathbed, he continued to claim he was innocent of the bomb that ripped apart Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, killing 270 civilians.
It remains the worst act of terrorism in British history.
Like 9/11, the Lockerbie bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 invited numerous conspiracy theories and claims of a cover up. And with good reason.
There were Scottish investigators questioning the official verdict all along, with claims that the key piece of evidence – the bomb timer – had been planted on the scene by a CIA operative, while the expert who examined the timer admitted to having manufactured it himself and the crucial witness who connected the bomb to the suitcase later admitted to having been paid $2 Million to lie in the trial.
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi sat in a prison cell in Scotland for years for a crime he hadn’t convincingly been proven guilty of; even when the Scottish government decided to send him back to Libya on compassionate grounds (because of his prostate-cancer), Washington and Westminster still both objected and numerous commentators accused Scotland of being ‘soft’.
And when Megrahi was filmed receiving a hero’s welcome by Saif Gaddafi and a large crowd upon returning home, much of Western media was full of condemnation that these people were ‘celebrating a terrorist’.
Jim Swire, the spokesman of UK Families Flight 103, and whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie bombing, has repeatedly expressed grave doubts about the official version of events.
Hans Köchler, the Austrian jurist appointed by the UN to be an independent observer at the Lockerbie trial, expressed concern about the way it was conducted (particularly the suspicious role played by two US Justice Department officials who, according to him, sat next to the Scottish prosecuting counsel throughout the process and appeared to be giving them instructions).
Köchler would later describe al-Megrahi’s conviction as “a spectacular miscarriage of justice”. Jim Swire, who also was present through the trial, then launched the ‘Justice for Megrahi’ campaign, being utterly unconvinced by the official verdict.
Professor Robert Black QC, among others, also maintains that Abdelbasset al-Megrahi was innocent of the Lockerbie bombing, the entire case hinging on the shaky testimony of a single, highly dubious, witness in Malta (a shopkeeper named Tony Gauci, who, years after the trial, was described by Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, as being “an apple short of a picnic”).
This same man, it later emerged, had been paid $2 million by the CIA for his testimony against Megrahi, while his brother – a man entirely unrelated to the case – was also paid $1 million.
Professor Black, upon visiting al-Megrahi in prison in 2007, referred to the “wrongful conviction” of an “innocent man”.
Key evidence presented at the trial (e.g. timer fragment, parts from a specific radio cassette model, clothing bought in Malta, bomb suitcase originating at Luqa Airport) had likely been fabricated for the political purpose of incriminating and then punishing Libya. It was openly known that vital evidence had been tampered with (see here, for example).
A lot of these key problems were covered in the very good Al-Jazeera investigation/documentary ‘Lockerbie: Case Closed’ (see here). American Radio Works also examined the Lockerbie case in 2000, seemingly coming to the conclusion that the case against Libya and al-Megrahi wasn’t convincing.
In a report on the Lockerbie trial, Köchler, a university professor, said “It was a consistent pattern during the whole trial that – as an apparent result of political interests and considerations – efforts were undertaken to withhold substantial information from the Court.”
Hans Köchler was the only international observer to submit comprehensive reports on the Lockerbie trial and appeal proceedings to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In the June 2008 edition of the Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm, Dr Köchler referred to the ‘totalitarian’ nature of the Lockerbie appeal process. Particularly interesting was his statement that it “bears the hallmarks of an intelligence operation”.
Certainly, the dubious elements in the investigation process and the illegitimacy of the trial are more than enough to suggest that US agencies were trying very hard to cover something up.
Calls in Scotland for al-Megrahi’s release began with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2003, particularly after Nelson Mandela had called on Western Churches to intervene in what he called a major “miscarriage of justice”.
Within a few years, even Arab League representatives were referring to al-Megrahi not as a terrorist but as a ‘political hostage’ being held in Scotland. It was calling for al-Megrahi’s release and was even endorsing Gaddafi’s claims for compensation from Britain due to the damage done to Libya’s economy from 1991 to 1999.
Appeals for al-Megrahi’s release or a re-opening of the case were resisted and rejected, however, for several years, leading to al-Megrahi withdrawing his own appeal in August 2009.
At this time, Scottish Minister Christine Grahame (of the SNP) wrote “There are a number of vested interests who have been deeply opposed to this appeal continuing as they know it would go a considerable way towards exposing the truth behind Lockerbie… In the next days, weeks and months new information will be placed in the public domain that will make it clear that Mr Megrahi had nothing to do with the bombing of Pan Am 103.”
When al-Megrahi was eventually released, it was on compassionate grounds and was framed simply as an act that would allow him do die in Libya.
Washington and Westminster – along with much of the media – were furious with the Scottish courts, insisting that al-Megrahi should remain in prison in Scotland.
But the crucial thing about al-Megrahi’s release to Libya was the way it was framed as an act of compassion that had no bearing on the previous trial or on the official verdict concerning his guilt.
Megrahi’s withdrawing of his own appeal just shortly before he was released on compassionate grounds presumably means a deal was made to allow him to go home and die in Tripoli, so long as he remained officially ‘The Lockerbie Bomber’ and the case was not to be re-opened.
The scenes of al-Megrahi landing at Tripoli Airport, being met personally by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and being greeted by hundreds of young Libyans waving Libyan and Scottish flags were played across Western media and presented as ‘proof’ that Scotland had made the wrong choice – and that the Libyans were celebrating the ‘Lockerbie Bomber’. However, al-Megrahi’s return home had also happened to coincide with celebrations of forty years of the Libyan Arab Republic.
At any rate, within two years of this, that same Libyan Arab Republic was in ruins, NATO warplanes were bombing the entire country back into the stone age, and al-Megrahi would die shortly after this, still being regarded by most of the world as ‘The Lockerbie Bomber’.
In late 2011, after she had finished celebrating Gaddafi’s brutal murder in Sirte, Washington psychopath Hillary Clinton was calling for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to be forced to go back to jail in Scotland – a request that was ultimately rejected.
If we consider – as we’re doing here – that the Lockerbie bombing wasn’t carried out by Al-Megrahi or Libya (and evidence suggests it wasn’t), then we have to wonder who *did* carry out Lockerbie.
And whether the intention of that false-flag operation (with 207 civilian deaths) was to create a *reason* to impose the sanctions, a reason to cripple Libya’s growth and economy and to be able to firmly declare Gaddafi’s Libya a ‘terrorist state’: all designed to cripple Gaddafi’s position and to, in international terms, back him and his state into a corner, while also serving to rubber-stamp the perception of Gaddafi as the Great Villain.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s will remember this portrayal of Gaddafi as the Big Bad Villain (or ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’, as Ronald Reagan called him).
In fact, in many ways, Lockerbie and Gaddafi were the dry run for what would later be 9/11 and Bin Laden – a major, terrible terrorist act of mass murder and an iconic caricature of a Big Bad Monster/Villain from the East. By the late 90s, the idea of Gaddafi as the great villainous threat to the West had run out of steam and the focus was shifted instead onto Saddam Hussein and then Osama bin Laden.
Ironically, as I’ve pointed out before, it remains a fact that Gaddafi had actually been the first world leader to issue an arrest warrant for Bin Laden, long before the US or its allies did.
Lockerbie, the Berlin disco bombing and the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher in London (all three of which had serious doubts around them from the beginning – I covered the Yvonne Fletcher shooting somewhat in this post on the 7/7 London Bombings and the Berlin Disco bombing somewhat in the ‘Libya Conspiracy‘ book) can all be argued to have been programs conducted by UK/US intelligence (possibly in concert with agencies from other governments) to permanently vilify Gaddafi’s Libya and thus justify ongoing sanctions and the likelihood of the country’s decline.
This is an extremely important point: the sanctions imposed on Libya (after Lockerbie) were designed to reverse the country’s success and its attainment of self-sufficiency, to cripple the nation with deprivation and incite ill-feeling.
The only way offered to end the sanctions program was for Libya to pay what was reckoned to be the biggest compensation package ever imposed onto any country – Libya would have to pay a total of $10 Billion to the Lockerbie victims’ families.
The other condition was that Gaddafi also had to formally acknowledge responsibility in the UN for his officials’ orchestrating of the Lockerbie bombing. Gaddafi eventually went along with these demands, but to his domestic audience he permanently denied any responsibility or involvement in Lockerbie and told his people that the extortionate reparations Libya was having to pay wasn’t an admission of guilt, but merely the price having to be paid in order for Libya to re-enter the international community.
In other words, he took the official blame for Lockerbie in order to try to end the sanctions, but all the while he insisted it was a lie.
In 2011, he probably found himself wishing he hadn’t bothered; because it was all for nothing.
US whistleblower Susan Lindauer told RT in 2011 that, the summer before the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising, Gadaffi had in fact been pressuring US, British, French and Italian oil companies to reimburse Libya for the cost of those payments to the families of the Lockerbie bombing.
In that context, it’s also hardly surprising that come 2011 and as NATO was bombing Libya and targeting Gaddafi for assassination, the Lockerbie business got dragged out repeatedly in the media to act as a timely reminder of why Gaddafi was so terrible and needed to be killed.
By this point, the suggestion was now even being made that Gaddafi had ordered the Lockerbie bombing personally (which had never been suggested before).
Arguably, however, the destruction of Libya in 2011 was the desired end-point of a geo-political timeline that Lockerbie had been a crucial part of.
That being so, and with Gaddafi dead and Libya in ongoing chaos, it is arguably no longer as important whether the truth about Lockerbie comes out or not. Most of the key figures in the Gaddafi era regime are either dead or in jail.
Abdelbasset al-Megrahi himself died just months after Gaddafi was killed and the old Libyan state was overthrown.
All of that long-term geo-political scheming to overthrow Gaddafi is over – so it is possible that new investigations might be ‘allowed’ to uncover more of the true story behind the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103.
Aside from all of the dubious elements in the Lockerbie trial and the questionable processes, what also strikes me as telling is the commitment of al-Megrahi’s family to clearing his name: especially given that Al-Megrahi is dead and the state accused of planning Lockerbie has long since been overthrown.
Al-Megrahi himself (pictured here in his final days of life, in Tripoli) was continuing to insist on his innocence right up to his dying days and, in fact, had asked Jim Swire to continue to fight to clear his name after he died.
Why would a guilty man bother to do that? Terrorists generally claim their acts of terrorism. Moreover, Megrahi was already free by that point and was in no danger of going back to jail.
If al-Megrahi didn’t carry out Lockerbie, who did?
There have long been plenty of theories.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: General Command (PFLP-GC) was the first suspect, based on a threat it had issued against US and Israeli interests before Lockerbie occurred. Iran was also in the frame very early – and remains a key suspect for some people – with its motive thought to be revenge for the July 1988 shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes. Former British diplomat Patrick Haseldine suggested that the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 had in fact been an assassination operation by South Africa’s apartheid government, targeting UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson.
Here’s a very interesting piece of film on the drug connection to Pan-Am Flight 180.
A renowned terrorist from that time, Abu Nidal, allegedly later confessed to the Lockerbie bombing (unlike al-Megrahi, who, even on his deathbed, insisted he was innocent), while the controversial blogger Joe Vialls later put forward another theory that the bomb was detonated remotely and also attributed the crime to a CIA/Mossad operation. Vialls did a lot of work on tracking the Lockerbie trial, which is worth consulting – whether you agree with his take or not.
On the subject of Abu Nidal, it is worth making note of the claims that the ‘notorious Palestinian mercenary’ was in fact a US spy and a Mossad operative.
Patrick Seale’s book Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire makes a very convincing case that the notorious terrorist was a full Mossad agent, servicing an Israeli agenda (the reality is probably that he was working for various agencies and governments at various times as a ‘freelance terrorist’ or agent of chaos). Nidal was involved in a long line of terrorist atrocities.
The fact that Nidal was reported – even by mainstream newspapers – as having allegedly confessed to Lockerbie is therefore very interesting.
If he was a Mossad agent and US spy, then many of those terrorist acts (including acts of alleged Palestinian terrorism) would’ve presumably been false-flag ops – and that would seem to make him a very solid candidate for Lockerbie.
I am not endorsing any specific theory or conclusion here: merely arguing that it is probably time for Abdelbasset al-Megrahi to be exonerated and for the Lockerbie investigation to be re-opened in a big way.
In 2008, journalist Hugh Miles published a piece in The Independent, in which he further explored the question of who was behind the Lockerbie bombing; ‘all I know,’ he wrote, ‘is that it wasn’t the man in prison’.
In the article, he draws attention to a convicted Palestinian terrorist named Abu Talb and a Jordanian triple-agent named Marwan Abdel Razzaq Khreesat. ‘Both were Iranian agents; Khreesat was also on the CIA payroll,‘ he explained. ‘Abu Talb was given lifelong immunity from prosecution in exchange for his evidence at the Lockerbie trial; Marwan Khreesat was released for lack of evidence by German police even though a barometric timer of the type used to detonate the bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 was found in his car when he was arrested…‘
There is clearly no shortage of theories and avenues for investigation concerning the Lockerbie bombing.
There is also – and has been for decades – a concerted agenda at the governmental level to prevent any further investigation and to, instead, maintain the official story.
Read more: ‘The Libya Conspiracy: A Definitive Guide to the Libya Intervention‘, ‘The Life & Death of Gaddafi’s Libya: A Study of the Libya That No Longer Exists‘, ‘Muammar Gaddafi: A Psychological Profile of Man, Myth & Reality‘, ‘Gaddafi: Odd & Funny Facts – From Picadilly Circus to Secret Penpals‘…