Lockerbie: cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit

Issue section: 
(339)

Britain secures privileged access to Libya's oil riches; Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi claims a diplomatic victory on the eve of celebrations to mark his 40 years in power; Scotland's nationalist politicians get to strut on the international stage. That was the plan and it has gone wrong.

The release on compassionate grounds of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, has led to an outbreak of claim and counter-claim.

But Megrahi is innocent. Evidence produced over the years by journalists, including Paul Foot, and victims' families have demolished the case against him.

His trial was farcical. Vital evidence was not heard and compromised evidence was allowed to stand. Several witnesses, it transpired, had been paid millions of dollars by the US. But his conviction was convenient for Western governments. The line followed by British and US police and intelligence investigators immediately after the bombing was that the Lockerbie disaster was probably carried out by a Syrian group hired by Iran to avenge the 1988 shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner by a US warship.

But in 1989 Margaret Thatcher and George Bush agreed to downplay the investigation. The interests of imperialism in the Middle East were changing. Iraq went from ally to enemy, and Syria and Iran needed neutralising. The first Gulf War saw Syria become a Western ally, and the blame shifted to Libya.

Since then the sands have once again shifted. Libya has returned to the Western fold. The Lockerbie bombing became yet again the plaything of imperial games. For instance, Libya sent Megrahi for trial to get sanctions lifted. Now, as the multinationals circle around trying to get lucrative contracts, a deal has been struck for Megrahi's release.

Along the way Megrahi was blackmailed into dropping his upcoming appeal. This means important new evidence would not be heard in court, and the embarrassment of an enormous miscarriage of justice is avoided.

Preparations for the second appeal saw secret documents excluded, without explanation, by foreign secretary David Miliband. Retired CIA officer Robert Baer, who was involved in the initial investigation, said, "The [Scottish] justice secretary had two choices - sneak into Megrahi's cell and smother him with his pillow or release him."

The whole sorry story is an indictment of the cynicism, hypocrisy and deceit of the British and US governments.