Dispatch From the Shadowlands

Wise man William Blum has more on "The Case That is Still Not Dead" in his latest "Anti-Empire Report." Check out more of Blum's work at Killing Hope.

BLUM: I have closely followed and often written about the case of PanAm Flight 103, blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, taking the lives of 270 people. For well over a year afterward, the US and the UK insisted that Iran, Syria, and a Palestinian group had been behind the bombing, until the buildup to the Gulf War came along in 1990 and the support of Iran and Syria was desired for the operation. Suddenly, in October 1990, the US declared that it was Libya -- the Arab state least supportive of the US build-up to the Gulf War and the sanctions imposed against Iraq -- that was behind the bombing after all.

Eventually, in 2001, a Libyan, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, was sentenced to life in prison for the crime, although his Libyan co-defendant, charged with the same crime and with the same evidence, was acquitted. The trial was the proverbial travesty of justice, which I've discussed in detail elsewhere. ("I am absolutely astounded, astonished," said the Scottish law professor who was the architect of the trial. "I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence.") The prosecution's star witness, Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, groomed and presented by the CIA, was a thoroughly dubious character who didn't know much or have access to much, and who pretended to be otherwise just to get more CIA payments. And the CIA knew it. The Agency refused to fully declassify documents about him, using their standard excuse -- that it would reveal confidential sources and methods. It turned out they were reluctant because the documents showed that the CIA thought him unreliable.

Then, in 2005, we learned [from the Glasgow Herald] that a key piece of evidence linking Libya to the crime had been planted by the CIA.  Just like in movie thrillers. Just like in conspiracy theories.

For anyone still in doubt about the farcical nature of the trial, now comes along Michael Scharf, an attorney who worked on the 103 case at the State Department and was the counsel to the counter-terrorism bureau when the two Libyans were indicted for the bombing. In the past year he trained judges and prosecutors in Iraq in the case that led to the conviction and death sentence of Saddam Hussein. Scharf recently [told the Glasgow Sunday Herald] that the Panam case "was largely based on this inside guy [Giaka]. It wasn't until the trial that I learned this guy was a nut-job and that the CIA had absolutely no confidence in him and that they knew he was a liar. It was a case that was so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese." He says that the case had a "diplomatic rather than a purely legal goal".

Victor Ostrovsky, formerly with the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, has written of Mossad what one could just as correctly say of the CIA: "This feeling that you can do anything you want to whomever you want for as long as you want because you have the power."

So, let's hope that Abdelbaset al Megrahi is really guilty. It would be a terrible shame if he spends the rest of his life in prison simply because back in 1990 Washington's hegemonic plans for the Middle East needed a convenient scapegoat, which just happened to be his country. However, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is to report in the coming months on whether it believes there was a miscarriage of justice in the case.

And by the way, my usual reminder, Libya has never confessed to having carried out the act. They've only taken "responsibility", in the hope of getting various sanctions against them lifted.