Where is the jus­tice?

James Robert­son, au­thor and mem­ber of Jus­tice for Me­grahi, on Kenny MacAskill’s ac­count of the Lockerbie bomb­ing

The Herald - Arts - - BOOKS - Kenny MacAskill Bite­back Pub­lish­ing £20 Re­view by James Robert­son

IN May 2000, two Libyan ci­ti­zens, Ab­del­baset al-Me­grahi and Lamin Khal­ifa Fhimah, went on trial be­fore a Scot­tish court at Camp Zeist in the Nether­lands. They were ac­cused of act­ing in con­cert to place a suit­case con­tain­ing a bomb on a plane fly­ing from Malta to Frank­furt; it was trans­ferred as un­ac­com­pa­nied lug­gage to another flight go­ing to Lon­don Heathrow, and there trans­ferred again to Pan Am flight 103, the tar­get, which was blown up, en route to New York, over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. All 259 pas­sen­gers and crew, and 11 peo­ple on the ground, were killed.

In Jan­uary 2001, Fhimah was ac­quit­ted, but Me­grahi found guilty and sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment. To many peo­ple, the verdict made no sense. Sub­se­quent rev­e­la­tions have only re­in­forced a wide­spread be­lief that Me­grahi was the vic­tim of a mis­car­riage of jus­tice.

This book is former Cabi­net Sec­re­tary for Jus­tice (and Her­ald columnist) Kenny MacAskill’s ac­count of the crime, in­ves­ti­ga­tion and trial, and his own part in what fol­lowed. In 2009, it was his de­ci­sion to grant Me­grahi, by then suf­fer­ing from ter­mi­nal prostate can­cer, com­pas­sion­ate re­lease from prison. That de­ci­sion forms the cen­tre­piece, but not the most re­veal­ing part, of Mr MacAskill’s nar­ra­tive.

The book suf­fers from Mr MacAskill’s in­flated and syn­tac­ti­cally-chal­lenged writing style: “The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mean­while, marched metic­u­lously on. The dy­nam­ics of both ten­sion and ca­ma­raderie be­tween var­i­ous agen­cies con­tin­ued, though in the main all worked well with each other.” The nar­ra­tive is scat­tered with words like “lit­er­ally” (bod­ies were “lit­er­ally de­stroyed, smashed to smithereens”), and “doubt­less”’ (a prop for as­ser­tions un­sup­ported by any ev­i­dence). Mr MacAskill de­prives many of his sen­tences of verbs, and fat­tens oth­ers with clichés. Read­ers who might rea­son­ably ex­pect a full set of ref­er­ences to back up his ac­count will be dis­ap­pointed: there is no in­dex, no bib­li­og­ra­phy and, of the 93 foot­notes, 67 come from just four sources.

None of this would mat­ter if Mr MacAskill were writing about UFOs or his favourite movies. His sub­ject, how­ever, is the big­gest criminal case in Scot­tish le­gal his­tory. It mat­ters greatly that a trained lawyer should use im­pre­cise and care­less lan­guage to dis­cuss com­pli­cated ques­tions of ev­i­dence.

The most as­ton­ish­ing pas­sages oc­cur when Mr MacAskill of­fers his opin­ion as to who planted the bomb. Syn­tax purists, look away now: “Me­grahi had been to Malta the month be­fore, which was prob­a­bly prepara­tory for the scheme and in­volved dis­cus­sions on the lo­gis­tics of clothes, the suit­case and the bomb equip­ment. He may even have brought the timers in with him.” Here Mr MacAskill ratch­ets up his use of the con­di­tional tense – al­ways a handy tool when in­dulging in pure spec­u­la­tion: “He [Me­grahi] would meet with oth­ers in the [Libyan] em­bassy…he would not be the bomb maker. That would have been pre­pared in the Libyan Peo­ple’s Bureau…” There is no at­tempt to sub­stan­ti­ate th­ese wild sur­mises.

Mr MacAskill pro­ceeds to de­mol­ish the find­ings of the Camp Zeist court. Of the items bought in Tony Gauci’s shop in Malta which were packed in the bomb suit­case, he writes: “The clothes were ac­quired in Malta, though not by Me­grahi.” Cor­rectly de­scrib­ing as “rather im­plau­si­ble” the ev­i­dence pro­duced by the pros­e­cu­tion that Me­grahi was the pur­chaser, MacAskill con­tin­ues, “But, if Me­grahi didn’t buy the clothes, he was cer­tainly in­volved.” Re­ally? How?

Me­grahi’s role, it seems, was to fly from Tripoli into Luqa Air­port in Malta on 20 December 1988 bring­ing with him the brown Sam­sonite suit­case that was to trans­port the bomb. This claim re­lies solely on the tes­ti­mony of a CIA-paid in­former, whom the judges dis­missed as an ut­terly un­re­li­able wit­ness. “There is no ev­i­dence,” they con­cluded, ‘that ei­ther [Me­grahi or Fhimah] had any lug­gage, let alone a brown Sam­sonite suit­case.’

Fur­ther un­der­min­ing the Camp Zeist judge­ment, Mr MacAskill writes that, on the morn­ing of 21 December, Me­grahi took the suit­case (now ap­par­ently loaded with the bomb) to the air­port, but it was Fhimah, as sta­tion man­ager for Libyan Arab Air­lines, who would “get it air­side and beyond se­cu­rity.…Plac­ing a bag be­hind and into the sys­tem was a rel­a­tively sim­ple task given the ac­cred­i­ta­tion and ac­cess Fhimah had.” The trial judges de­ter­mined that this propo­si­tion was, at best, in the realm of spec­u­la­tion. “Fur­ther­more,” they said, “there is the for­mi­da­ble ob­jec­tion that there is no ev­i­dence at all to sug­gest that the sec­ond ac­cused was even at Luqa air­port on 21 December.” Fhimah was con­se­quently ac­quit­ted.

The judges also ob­served that “the ab­sence of any ex­pla­na­tion of the method by which the pri­mary suit­case might have been placed on board KM180 [at Luqa] is a ma­jor dif­fi­culty for the Crown case.” In just a few bold sen­tences, Mr MacAskill has com­pletely over­come this dif­fi­culty.

Mr MacAskill finds it “hard to imag­ine how there could have been any other verdict in the cir­cum­stances”, and con­tin­ues: “In many ways, as with Me­grahi and Fhimah, Scots law and its judges were sim­ply ac­tors in the the­atre that had been cre­ated to cir­cum­vent and solve both a diplo­matic im­passe and po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. Scots law con­vened the trial, and yet found it­self on trial.”

Read those sen­tences care­fully: the former Jus­tice Sec­re­tary is ef­fec­tively say­ing that, at Camp Zeist, diplo­macy and pol­i­tics trumped jus­tice. For how many years have crit­ics of the pro­ceed­ings been say­ing this, while Mr MacAskill, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and the Crown Of­fice have main­tained that jus­tice pre­vailed?

By ‘solv­ing’ the prob­lem of how the bomb was placed on flight KM180 Mr MacAskill re­lieves him­self of the need to ad­dress with any se­ri­ous­ness the post­trial dis­cred­it­ing of the in­fa­mous timer cir­cuit-board frag­ment link­ing Libya to the bomb; the ac­cu­mu­lated mass of ev­i­dence point­ing to the more con­vinc­ing ex­pla­na­tion that the bomb was loaded di­rectly onto Pan Am flight 103 at Heathrow; or the most com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of the Lockerbie

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