Convicted Bomber of Pan Am Flight 103 May Have Been Wrongly Sentenced

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission ruled on June 28 that there may have been a miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basit Ali Megrahi for the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 people on the plane, including 179 Americans, were killed, and 11 people on the ground lost their lives. Megrahi was found guilty on Jan. 31, 2001–on the shakiest of grounds, in this writer’s opinion–by three Scottish judges sitting at a special Scottish court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Bound for New York when the plane took off from London’s Heathrow Airport that fateful day, carrying a bomb set to go off at a certain altitude, the giant Boeing 747 “should” have crashed over the Atlantic, leaving no evidence and no one to tell the tale of who planted the device that brought down the flight. But the fates decreed otherwise. Turbulent winds over London’s Heathrow that day led the pilot to set a more northerly course than usual to try to get above the elements. So Pan Am 103 reached that fatal altitude and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland instead–and the perpetrators of the atrocity had reason to worry.

Dr. Robert Black, professor of criminal law at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and originator of the idea to try the Lockerbie defendants in the Netherlands under Scottish law, told this writer in December 2000 that for nearly three years after the crash of Pan Am 103, the investigation looking for a culprit focused on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Their supposition was that Iran may have commissioned the PFLP-CG to down the American plane in retaliation for the accidental shooting down over the Persian Gulf of a civilian Iranian airliner by the American Navy cruiser the USS Vincennes on July 3, 1988. Suddenly, however, according to Black, the investigation began to center on Libya.

The premise of the prosecution’s case at the Camp Zeist trial was that the bomb which destroyed Pan Am 103 was loaded at Valetta, Malta on an Air Malta flight bound for Frankfurt, Germany, where it was offloaded onto a feeder flight to London, then loaded aboard Pan Am 103 in London, bound for New York. Megrahi supposedly was assisted by Libyan Airlines employee Lamin Khalifa Fahima in sneaking the bomb aboard the plane in Malta, according to the prosecutors. Although Megrahi and Fahima had been indicted together, Fahima, strangely, was acquitted.

The most compelling evidence to undermine the conviction of Megrahi is the questionable testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who on Dec. 7, 1988 supposedly sold Megrahi clothing which was found at the wreckage site of Pan Am 103. Lengthy investigations suggest that while Megrahi was in Malta on Dec. 7, he did not buy clothing at Gauci’s shop on that date.

Dr. Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the Pan Am crash, has always believed that the bomb that destroyed the plane was loaded aboard the plane in London, not at Valetta. An explosives expert in the British Army who resigned his commission to study medicine, Swire became a spokesman for the British relatives of Lockerbie victims. The Glasgow Herald of June 20 contains a sinisterly intriguing quote by Swire, claiming that a U.S. official involved in the case once told him, “Your government and ours know exactly what happened, but we are never going to tell.”

A sensational article in the June 24, 2007 edition of The Scotsman includes allegations by the unnamed “Golfer”–a Scottish police officer who worked at a senior level on the Lockerbie case–in which “Golfer” claims there was a plot to blame Libya for the crash of Pan Am 103. In a damning indictment of Scottish justice, he claims that senior members of the Scottish investigating team agreed to manufacture and manipulate evidence to help secure a suspect and conviction. “Golfer” claims that when the Maltese shopkeeper Gauci was shown photographes of both the accused, Megrahi and Fahima, he had failed to identify either of them.

“Golfer” further alleges that a detective changed the labeling on a bag from “cloth charred” to “cloth with debris.” The bag with the changed label contained a piece of a shirt collar and fragments of material said to have been extracted from it, including tiny pieces of circuit board identified as coming from a timer made by a Swiss firm, MEBO. “Golfer” says the detective who knew he would be questioned about the label change was so nervous about it that he had trouble sleeping the night before he testified. “Golfer” claimed that the detective told him he had not been responsible for changing the label on the bag.

The identity of “Golfer” is a closely guarded secret. He will be seen as having betrayed his former colleagues. But his testimony, if it proves true, could be crucial in providing the relatives of the victims with the truth they have been craving for almost 19 years.

Dr. Black told this writer in a July 5 telephone conversation that the High Court will probably consider Megrahi’s appeal next year. Black believes that he will be freed.

From all the evidence considered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, it appears that Megrahi is innocent. But if Iran and Libya didn’t do it, who did destroy Pan Am Flight 103?