Friday, June 29, 2007

Pan Am 103 Revisited

CBS News reports:

Three days before Christmas in 1988, the biggest mass murder in British history occurred. Pan Am Flight 103, Heathrow to JFK, had been in the air around 35 minutes when a bomb in the luggage hold exploded, sending the jumbo jet and its 259 passengers crashing into Lockerbie, Scotland. Another 11 were killed on the ground by the wreckage that rained down on them.

It took 13 years and a trial costing $160 million to put someone away for that crime. Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali al Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to life in a Scottish prison. Megrahi insists he's innocent. He tried to appeal, but that was turned down.

Now, however, he may get another day in court, after the independent Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission suggested strongly there may have been a miscarriage of justice and said there should be a new trial. Its 800 page report says there is new evidence and that evidence was withheld at the original trial. There were also serious questions raised about the credibility of the prosecution's forensic experts, conflicting forensic evidence, and witness inconsistencies.

Megrahi's lawyers contend Britain and the U.S. tampered with the evidence, disregarded witness statements and deliberately diverted the investigation away from the real culprits, Iran and Palestinian terrorists. They claim the bombing of the Pan Am flight was Iran's revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by the U.S. months earlier.

After Meghahi's conviction, you would have expected the families of those who'd been killed to be relieved, but many weren't. They believed the Libyan was framed.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was a stewardess on the flight, says exactly that: "Framed." He sat in court and came out shaking his head. In Swire's view, "the trial ensured that a politically-desired result was obtained."

Swire asks why the West would want to blame Libya, which insisted its hands were clean. Swire answers his own question this way: The first Gulf War was about to happen, and the coalition didn't want Syrians and Iranians moving against it, "so they picked on Libya."

It was a convenient choice: Libya's Colonel Gaddafi was anti-West and had funded terror in other parts of the world, so why not? Libya was even forced to pay $270 million in compensation, as a condition for the lifting of U.N. sanctions. It did this begrudgingly, admitting no guilt.

If Megrahi gets a new trial, and that's not yet certain, he may still be found guilty, or he may not be. That's what a fair trial is supposed to decide. As still-grieving father Jim Swire says, "It's no good trying to have closure on false foundations. A house built on sand cannot stand."

After the commission's report, Megrahi said, "I wish, like the relatives, the whole truth about Pan Am 103 to be exposed."

There may be others in very high places that do not.