Lockerbie Anomalies

Legal Truths are not the whole truth, whatever the oath people take when giving evidence. For instance, a legal fact is often established in court by applying a limited 'but for' test; 'but for this clause/act/omission or so on, the event in question would not have happened'. It is one of the most notoriously casuistic areas of law.

For that reason, we have no death penalty and a criminal cases review commission which now regularly looks into miscarriages of justice. The State still gives up those whom it has unjustly caught in its nets grudgingly; but at least it does not murder them in the name of society, in this country at least.

In the nineteenth century, there was not even a court of appeal. By some mystical (and officially useful process) twelve good men and true, or fifteen in Scotland, were held to be able to discern factual truth to the point where men and women could be strangled or broken by the state. Truth seems to have been no respecter of jury verdicts, however; even Dr Crippen would get a retrial these days.

The attitude which this certainty gave rise to lived on well into the twentieth century, when Judges drawn from a Bar full of minds that ran on train tracks--often quite well lubricated tracks, but straight lines nevertheless--who were conservative enough in inclination never to distrust the police, kept putting people in gaol and denying them appeal. Lord Denning would spin the law into ecstasies of contradiction to do justice before a verdict. Ask him afterwards to revise it, or one emanating from a brother Judge, even in the case of the most glaring injustices, though, and he would refuse.

I am well aware how we just have to trust verdicts, sometimes. To bend the Americanism, however, in an age of DNA, you don't have to just trust who your daddy is because your momma told you so.

Many of the posts on this blog are about how conspiracists will strain at gnats in official accounts, but swallow elephants of doubt. I find that silly.

Yet the police and intelligence services do sometimes make up evidence. Facts are fitted to crimes. It is almost a barrister's cliche that the police extensively invade mobile telephone conversations without warrant. Tapping anything but skype is easy to do, though police have to know what they are looking for and to correlate any evidence obtained with mobile phone records and preferably a warrant.

Go and sit in a trial in the Old Bailey, as I do regularly, and tell me that the police do not regularly breach hearsay and evidence regulations all over the place. I'd be surprised if they didn't, since in part that is their job (and the intelligence people would be negligent if they didn't do that too). If you still think they don't, go down to the Old Bank of England, or the Devereux, and either get someone drunk or just hang in the shadows and listen.

What makes MI6 any different?

Like David Horowitz in the Jerusalem Post, and The Daily Mail today, I'm not happy that the release of a Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

I'll give Horowitz and the Mail the benefit of the doubt, but I wonder if they are not happy because they obsessively distrust Her Majesty's government and also want to blame Syria and Iran. However, there is on the right a strain of belief in the need for the state to prove its case which they may be demonstrating.

I'm not happy because it means that an otherwise inevitable appeal hearing will now never go ahead. That seems to be a position which I share with the author of this blog.

We will now never know (and I'll list the points for convenience);

--Why the United States Defense Intelligence Agency entertained the idea that the Iranians were behind the bombing of Pan-Am 103, and why they dropped the idea
--why and whether there were four DIA employees or assets on Flight 103
--Why the United States traced money for the bombing to Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
--Why the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission believed that the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi was open to sufficient doubt to ask for an appeal hearing--in 800 pages and 13 volumes
--Why a central witness against Megrahi is alleged to have been paid $2 million dollars, despite what are described as wildly conflicting evidence given in over twenty police interviews (which intelligence officers ought to have been present at)
--How a timing device with no trace of explosive on it could be found in wreckage, tying Libya or an East German supply connection to the bombing
--How a suitcase gots from Malta to Frankfurt to a Pan-Am hold with no passenger attached to it, and why if it could others could not
--Why evidence that Heathrow was broken into was discovered the morning after the Lockerbie bombing but allegedly concealed for twelve years
--Why bombing Colonel Gadaffi and killing his daughter in 1986 did not, allegedly, work
--If UN liaison to the trial Hans Koechler really didn't believe the official account
--Why investigators of the Lockerbie bombing seem to have been convinced that the device used was of a type associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
--Why the FBI allegedly offered a businessman concerned with the manufacture of timing devices for Libya $4 million dollars to agree that he sold a timer identical to one which had been discovered to Libya
--what the precise status of that businessman was.

My list is not exhaustive. Those questions, however, seem serious to me, rather than the usual odds and ends left after a case is proven.

Trials are of their nature confusing things, and sometimes legal facts are a compromise. Juries are told not to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. That's seen as confusing. Instead, they are told to come to a verdict of which they are sure. They can only do so on the basis of the case presented and of the evidence they are allowed to see.

It is still perfectly possible that Mr Al-Megrahi, released last week, is actually (as he is legally) guilty of the Lockerbie bombing. It is possible that the anomalies in the case may have been resolved if an appeal had been allowed to go ahead. Cases like Pan-Am 103 also tend to attract no end of unstable rationalisation and assertion. Memories fade, mistakes are hardened, and liars prosper.

As it is, amidst all the huffing and puffing from the usual suspects in the blogosphere and press, we will now, barring some shock revelation, just never know what happened. At least the oil and gas of North Africa, which will become progessively more vital to Northern Europe as the Nabucco project stalls and others carve up Asia and South America, will flow. I'm not making a shabby point--we need the energy. People will die and lives will be made worse if it is denied to us. But, really, why is the world such a sordid place sometimes?

I am sorry for the victims of this horrible crime, both those who are gone and those who remain. I think, however, everyone should calm down and just ask themselves what is really going on. I hope that the Scottish Government has the guts and the power to ignore the pressure and to set up a full and unlimited commission of Inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing. I also hope that there are no stairs or lift shafts for Mr Megrahi to fall down in Libya, until at least we have his final words of testimony on paper.

UPDATE: In contrast to my post, my friend Martin Kelly thinks that Al-Megrahi's guilt is sure, and in a long but interesting piece rails against those asking questions here. He knows Scots law, I don't, and is worth a read.

UPDATE II: Sweary libertarian blogger The Devil is having none of the American protests, in his inimitable way. Read it here.

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