Britain, US back down over Lockerbie
By Dara MacNeil
Britain and the United States have signalled a readiness to back
down over the trial of two Libyans they allege were responsible
for the Lockerbie bombing.
The decision - leaked in advance to British newspapers - should
mean the US and Britain will no longer insist the Libyans can be
tried only in either jurisdiction.
The case centres on the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, on 21
December 1988. The bomb exploded above Lockerbie in Scotland, as
the plane made its way to New York from Frankfurt. All 259 people
on board were killed.
Both governments have insisted since November 1991 that Libya
hand over the alleged culprits. Libya has refused, claiming the
suspects could not expect a fair trial in either jurisdiction.
In November 1995 the Libyans - in conjuction with the Arab League
and the Organisation of African Unity - offered to have the men
tried in a neutral country under Scottish law. Holland was
suggested as a possible venue.
The Libyan refusal to hand over Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Lamin
Khalifah Fhimah resulted in the impostion of UN sanctions on the
country in 1992.
Ironically, the sanctions did not affect Libya's oil exports, or
oil drilling equipment: this `concession' was a result of
European dependence on and involvement in the Libyan oil
Although the precise details of the British-US volte face have
yet to be made public it appears they will concede that the trial
can be held at The Hague, in Holland, under Scottish law.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and US Secretary of State
Madeline Albright will apparently make the decision public within
the next week.
Officially - that is, as detailed in unattributable
off-the-record briefings - the joint British-US initiative will
place huge pressure on Libya to comply. Which is strange, given
that Libya had first raised the option of a third country trial.
It is perhaps more likely that Britain and the US had come to
realise the untenable nature of their position.
Thus, the Flight 103 Association - formed by relatives of the
dead - has consistently expressed frustration at the British/US
refusal to countenance the option of a third country trial.
In addition, many within the Arab world had lost patience with
Anglo-American policy and were calling for an end to the
Last October, Nelson Mandela made a point of stopping off in
Tripoli, on his return from the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh.
Given the South African President's status worldwide, this
represented a snub of the highest order.
(Mandela also ignored severe pressure from US politicians to
leave Cuban president Fidel Castro off his inauguration guest
list. Instead, Mandela publicly made Castro welcome and the Cuban
leader featured prominently on local reports of the ceremony.)
Mandela's Libyan visit paved the way for more concrete signals of
displeasure. Most recently, the Organisation of African Unity
(OAU) announced it would cease to comply with the UN sanctions,
The OAU made continued observance of the sanctions conditional on
a third country trial for the Lockerbie suspects.
Of greater potential embarassment was a ruling from the
International Court of Justice in February. The Court ruled that
it had the power to decide where the Libyan suspects should be
In other words the Court signalled that neither Britain nor the
US had the right to abrogate to themselves the power to decide
where the trial should, or should not be heard.
That decision signalled the effective end for Anglo-American
intransigence on the issue.
Those sceptical of US-British motives believe neither actually
wanted the two Libyans to be brought to trial - their insistence
on a trial in their jurisdiction being based on a belief that
Libya would never hand over its citizens to either power. In
addition, the official version of events is said to be rife with
inconsistencies, while the actual `evidence' against the two
Libyans is adjudged poor.
Thus, there are consistent allegations that a large quantity of
drugs was found among the debris of Pan Am flight 103. There is
also the testimony of volunteers who, while helping to search the
crash site, claim they were warned away from a large object
covered by a red tarpaulin, by armed men standing in the door of
a hovering helicopter.
In addition, the official version has never managed to explain
the two warnings received in advance of the the bombing. Both
correctly identified the timeframe in which the bomb would be
placed. One warning specified a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to
Apparently, these warnings were considered serious enough for the
US embassy in Moscow to post an alert on its staff noticeboard.
Indeed British journalist Paul Foot - who uncovered many of the
anomalies in the official story of flight 103 - has remarked on
the compelling political context surrounding the Lockerbie case.
According to Foot, both the British and German authorities were
satisified quite soon after the bombing that it had been the work
of a group under the protection of Syria. The attack had
allegedly been financed by Iran.
It was ordered in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian
airliner in 1987. The civilian plane was shot down by the US navy
in the Gulf, killing all 290 people on board.
From 1988 to 1990, the authorities concentrated their energies on
the Syrian-Iranian link to Lockerbie. Indeed they were confident
enough to predict that arrests were imminent.
Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The West quietly decreed that
Syria was no longer a `rogue' state. After all, without the
participation of Syria the putative anti-Saddam coalition would
lack `roots' in the region and probably fail to materialise.
In November 1991, with Kuwait restored to, ahem, democracy the US
and British authorities issued indictments against the two
Libya was now the official cuplrit.
Foot remarked on the the ``amazing coincidence'' that had charges
being laid against the ``only Arab country besides Iraq to which
the US and Britain were openly hostile.''
Indeed the tale grew more lurid when a US-based agency alleged
the bomb had resulted from a deal between US intelliengce figures
and Syrian ``narco-terrorists.''
The deal allegedly centred on information regarding US hostages
being provided in exchange for a `route' being made available for
Syrian drugs to be smuggled into the US. The bomb had been
concealed amidst the drug cache.
The allegations were published in November 1991 in a report
compiled by Interfor, a corporate investigative firm hired by
none other than Pan Am to inquire into the Lockerbie bombing. In
essence, their report supported the theory of a joint
It may sound fantasical, but then this was an era when the US was
covertly funding wars in Latin America.
Their Dirty War against Nicaragua was also characterised by
repeated allegations that US intelligence figures faciltated the
`import' of drugs into the US in order to provide funding for the
Picking on the wrong guy
A tale to warm the hearts of decent-minded people everywhere. It
appears that a German skinhead recently took offence at the
presence in a local poolhall of an individual whose skin colour
did not conform to strictest Aryan standards. Such a blatant
display of racial impurity in the Fatherland was more than this
bigot could take. So he proceeded to berate and insult the
Unfortunately our hapless Nazi could not have known that the
target of his hatred was in fact a champion Cuban boxer.
He would not, after all, be expected to be au fait with sports
involving persons of a different skin hue. Precise details of the
ensuing bout remain sketchy, but it is not thought the Cuban
required a points decision to take the fight. Perhaps we could
make this an annual event....