The Other Side of Lockerbie

September 9, 2009

The uproar over the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Megrahi – the Libyan government agent convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland – keeps growing. The Lockerbie bombing killed 180 Americans and 90 others, including several people on the ground in Scotland.

A predominant meme in the media coverage has been “weak politicians don’t have the guts to punish terrorists.”

An editorial in Forbes warns that this is just an indication that Brits are growing soft on terrorism:

The Megrahi story reflects a national weariness in Britain about terrorism, a feeling that agents of violence, in the end, have to be talked to and that even when the most bitter anguish has been suffered the wise politician never says “never.”

FP Passport calls Brown spineless. [Edit: see comments below.] And Fox News’ opinion headlines speak for themselves: “The Ominous Message of the Lockerbie Bomber’s Release” and “Did the White House Green Light Lockerbie Bomber’s Release?” The latter article has a helpful subtitle, “The recent events in Scotland show the futility of treating a war as a criminal justice issue.”

The technical term for all of this is, of course, bullshit.

Yes, there’s economics and politics and oil involved – plenty of reasons the release is convenient to many involved. But given the international (and especially American) furor over the release, there’s very little chance Megrahi would ever have been let go, even on compassionate grounds, if it weren’t for one crucial fact: he might not have done it.

I started this post as a way to share a wonderful piece of long-form journalism by Hugh Miles: “Inconvenient Truths” in the London Review of Books. Miles presents a fairly convincing case that the actual culprit was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC).

Some telling excerpts:

The case against Jibril [of the PFLP-GC] and his gang is well established. It runs like this: in July 1988, five months before the Lockerbie bombing, a US naval commander aboard USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian airbus, apparently mistaking it for an attacker. On board Iran Air Flight 655 were 270 pilgrims en route to Mecca. Ayatollah Khomeini vowed the skies would ‘rain blood’ in revenge and offered a $10 million reward to anyone who ‘obtained justice’ for Iran. The suggestion is that the PFLP-GC was commissioned to undertake a retaliatory bombing.

We know at least that two months before Lockerbie, a PFLP-GC cell was active in the Frankfurt and Neuss areas of West Germany. On 26 October 1998, German police arrested 17 terrorist suspects who, surveillance showed, had cased Frankfurt airport and browsed Pan Am flight timetables. Four Semtex-based explosive devices were confiscated; a fifth is known to have gone missing. They were concealed inside Toshiba radios very similar to the one found at Lockerbie a few weeks later. One of the gang, a Palestinian known as Abu Talb, was later found to have a calendar in his flat in Sweden with the date of 21 December circled…During Megrahi’s trial Abu Talb had a strange role… At the time he was serving a life sentence in Sweden for the bombing of a synagogue… He ended up testifying as a prosecution witness, denying that he had anything to do with Lockerbie. In exchange for his testimony, he received lifelong immunity from prosecution.

…Most significantly, German federal police have provided financial records showing that on 23 December 1988, two days after the bombing, the Iranian government deposited £5.9 million into a Swiss bank account that belonged to the arrested members of the PFLP-GC.

The decision to steer the investigation away from the PFLP-GC and in the direction of Libya came in the run-up to the first Gulf War, as America was looking to rally a coalition to liberate Kuwait and was calling for support from Iran and Syria. Syria subsequently joined the UN forces. Quietly, the evidence incriminating Jibril, so painstakingly sifted from the debris, was binned.

Since Megrahi’s last appeal, many thousands of pages of reports, detailing freight and baggage movements in and out of Frankfurt airport, have been handed over to the defence. Largely in German and many handwritten, the papers were translated by the Crown at the taxpayer’s expense, but the Crown refused to share the translations with the defence and left it no time to commission its own.

Hans Köchler, the UN observer at Camp Zeist, reported at the time that the trial was politically charged and the verdict ‘totally incomprehensible’. In his report Köchler wrote that he found the presence of US Justice Department representatives in the court ‘highly problematic’, because it gave the impression that they were ‘”supervisors” handling vital matters of the prosecution strategy and deciding . . . which documents . . . were to be released in open court and what parts of information contained in a certain document were to be withheld.’

As stated above, this post was prompted by Miles’ piece. In writing however, I was struck by the thought that Miles’ theory – elaborately and methodically presented – reminded me of other conspiracy theories. Not that conspiracy theories can’t be right. (In fact, it seems that conspiracy is at least in some cases a pejorative descriptor for what might really just be a legitimate theory.) But there does seem to be enough evidence to the contrary to make me doubt Miles’ theory as well.

What is important, regardless of Megrahi’s guilt, is that a large number of people in the UK believe Megrahi to be innocent. And the appeals process was still going on. Notably, Megrahi’s release voided his appeal, so the Scottish justice system will never have to judge whether or not it erred.

The various politicians with influence over the decision – Scots, Brits (including Brown), Americans (including Obama), and others – evidently calculated that the risk of the whole thing being revealed as a sham was worse than the political risks invited by releasing Megrahi. The extent of the furor, prompted by his raucous reception in Libya, probably surprised them, but there’s no going back now.

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Obama’s Inauguration in Kenya

January 25, 2009

My friends Bobby and Candice evidently couldn’t score purple tickets of their own (they live in Uganda) so they roadtripped to Obama’s father’s home village in Kenya and witnessed the celebrations there:


Wikipedia Wars

January 25, 2009

While I was watching the swearing-in from the Chipotle in DC’s Chinatown (thrilling, I know) others were doing something much more worthwhile with their time: fighting over the specific time of Obama’s succession to the throne presidency.


Obama McCain Dance-Off

January 25, 2009

How did I miss this when it came out in late October?


Inauguration Frustration

January 20, 2009

Update: Many are calling this the “Purple Gate Conspiracy”. In the tradition of political controversies in the US, I’d prefer if we could all just call it PurpleGate.

I just posted this as a comment over at Prince of Petworth

The scene from the narrow part of the 395 tunnel, where thousands of ticket holders were stuck for hours--most never got in.

The scene from the narrow part of the 395 tunnel, where thousands of ticket holders were stuck for hours--most never got in.

, but thought I’d post it here instead of writing it out again:

My girlfriend and I were unexpectedly given purple tickets on Saturday night and were absolutely thrilled! Turns out we would have been much better off without them. While two groups of friends without tickets departing Petworth at 4 am and 7 am go to the Mall and joined the celebratory crowds, we weren’t so lucky. We left Petworth at 6 am, took the 70 bus down to Chinatown and were in line at the Purple Gate before 7 am. The line snaked all the way back into the 395 tunnel–it ran the entire length of the tunnel–and we were about halfway down. We were inside the tunnel with the line mostly not moving until we inched our way out after 10:40 am. That’s over 3 1/2 hours underground. Disturbingly, there were no police visibly present in the tunnel. It was *packed*, and the crowd yelling and chanting at people cutting in line was almost frightening at times–I think the lack of crowd control and lack of barriers to separate those in line and those just coming into the tunnel was an unpardonable failure in planning. Can you imagine thousands of people (I’d estimate at least five, probably more) stuck in a cold tunnel underground for 3+ hours with no law enforcement? It’s really lucky nothing happened.

When the crowd finally started moving out of the tunnel, it was apparent that there had been no crowd control outside the tunnel either, as the group from inside the tunnel–that had been waiting for hours–merged with people just arriving on the scene. This made us furious of course, because we could have started hours later and ended up at the same spot. Evidently they had been letting these latecomers through the gates for hours while those in line were stuck in the tunnel, because by the time we got to the Purple Gate (around 11:30 am) the gates were closed, people were being turned back, and there were thousands of (sometimes chanting) people with purple tickets left outside the gate. The crowd trying to get in through the Purple Gate was actually the largest single grouping of people I saw all day–more people and more crowded than we were in the tunnel. That means there were a ton more people with tickets than they had space.

Now, I can understand (sort of) if they gave slightly more tickets than there was space, accounting for people not showing up. But the satellite photos on CNN show the crowd at the purple crowd to be as big and as dense as the area we were supposed to fit into. Did they really give twice as many tickets out, and not think that would lead to crowd control problems? Also, if they’re going to plan an event where you don’t plan to let everyone in, it would be nice if they let those who were in line the longest in.

Eventually some of us we were routed around to one of the general admission gates that was still letting people into the Mall. But once we got in we found we weren’t really on the Mall–we were still north of Constitution, and there were no screens or speakers set up so this overflow crowd had gone through security to get to an area where nothing could be seen or heard. We ended up leaving before the oath was take and watched the swearing-in from the Chipotle in Chinatown. Talk about disappointing.

I can’t believe that with all the planning that went into this event, nobody thought to have barriers and/or officers assigned to crowd control at intersections were the line merged with other groups. And if they were planning on warehousing thousands and thousands in the 395 tunnel, they should have planned a way to separate incoming and outgoing crowds. The situation as it played out was frustrating (we missed a once in a lifetime opportunity), unfair, and potentially very unsafe. And just plain stupid.

At least we have one positive note: Barack Obama is now President of the United States!!!

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2009/44.president/inauguration/mall.satellite/


British Perspective on Washington, DC

January 17, 2009

From the BBC.


Seven Reasons Barack Obama Is Not a Christian

January 10, 2009

That’s right, it’s all a diabolical plot.

Reason #1: Obama Believes There Are Many Paths to Heaven
Reason #2: Obama Denies the Authority of the Bible
Reason #3: Obama Supports Homosexuality (rather hilariously, the still shot excerpted from the video on this page, directly under this Reason, is a picture of Obama with his arm around Rev. Jeremiah Wright)
Reason #4: Obama Supports Abortion
Reason #5: Obama Affirms Muslim Prayer
Reason #6: Obama is Associated with Black Liberation Theology
Reason #7: Obama Has No Bona Fide Christian Testimony

Tolerance of other religions, skepticism about the Bible, outrage at injustice, support for equal rights and individual rights… good grief, Obama sounds like a Christian Humanist or something.

h/t Hemant