The Pan Am 103 Verdict (Part 2) (fwd from marxism-international)

David Welch david.welch at SPAMst-edmund-hall.oxford.ac.uk
Sat Feb 3 08:30:36 MST 2001



Background Article written early 1999:

               PANAM 103, THE CHANGE AGAINST LIBYA:
                 CASE CLOSED?  OR DISINFORMATION?
                         by Bill Blum

     PanAm Flight 103? ... Oh yeah, Christmas time 1988, those
two Libyans did it, but Gaddafy has refused to allow them to be
tried in an American or British court.  He knows they'll be found
guilty and the whole world will condemn him.
     He does indeed.  But not necessarily because the two men are
guilty.  The acquittal of the Los Angeles police in the Rodney
King beating was sufficient to disabuse the Libyan leader of any
illusions about the workings of the American justice system he
may have entertained.{1}  The verdict in the O.J. Simpson case may
well have reinforced that view, while "The Guildford Four", the
"Birmingham Six" and other infamous miscarriage-of-justice cases
in Britain have reportedly imparted to Gaddafy a similar lesson
about the UK.{2}
     Now, with December 21 marking the tenth anniversary of the
tragedy that took 270 lives in Lockerbie, Scotland, the United
States, the UK, and Libya have agreed, at least in principle, to
try the two Libyan suspects in the Netherlands, before Scottish
judges and under Scottish law.
     In actuality, the evidence against the Libyans -- Abdel
Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, who worked for
Libyan Arab Airlines at the Malta airport -- is thin to the point
of transparency.  There is no forensic evidence to support the
charge that they placed a suitcase containing the fatal bomb in
an Air Malta plane in Malta, tagging it so it would eventually be
transferred to Flight 103 in London.  No witnesses, no
fingerprints.  Nothing to tie them to that particular brown
Samsonite suitcase.  No past history of terrorism.
     Amongst the reported pieces of evidence casting suspicion on
the two Libyans or on the Libyan government is an entry on
December 15, 1988 in a diary kept by Fhimah, which, according to
the U.S. indictment, says: "Abdel Basset is coming from Zurich
with Salvu ... take taggs from Air Malta."  It's all in Arabic
except for the misspelled "taggs".  "Salvu" is not explained.{3}
     However, the indictment further states that "Air Malta ...
was the handling agent for Libyan Arab Airlines" for flights to
and from Malta, "and as such utilized Air Malta luggage tags on
luggage destined for Libyan Arab Airline flights."  It therefore
seems rather unsurprising that Fhimah might have had some normal
business reason to be using such tags.  More importantly, if he
were actually planning a murderous covert operation using the
tags, why would he commit any mention of them to paper?  And then
leave the diary in his office where it could be taken.
     Another piece of evidence presented by US/UK investigators,
out of which they derived much mileage, is that the type of
timing device used in the bomb was sold only to Libya.  It was
later revealed that, in fact, the investigators were told in 1990
by the Swiss manufacturer that he had also sold the same timers
to East German intelligence, which had close contact with the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command
(PFLP-GC) and numerous other "terrorist" groups.{4}
     The investigators' failure to disclose this information can
best be described by the word "coverup".  And in any event,
there's no reason to assume that Libya could not have given one
of their timers to another party.
     Malta became a focus for investigators, even before serious
Libyan involvement was presumed, when tests indicated that the
suitcase which contained the bomb also contained several items of
clothing manufactured in Malta and supposedly sold in a
particular clothing shop on the island.  The present US/UK
version of events would have the world believe that Megrahi has
been identified by the shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, as the purchaser
of the clothing.  But there is no such evidence.  Megrahi has
never been presented to Gauci in person, and there has been no
report that Gauci has even been shown his photo.  Moreover, the
Maltese shopkeeper has already made several erroneous "positive"
identifications, including one of a CIA asset.{5}
     Before the indictment of the two Libyans, the press reported
police findings that the clothing had been purchased on November
23.{6}  But the indictment of Megrahi states that he made the
purchase on December 7.  Can this be because the investigators
can document Megrahi being in Malta on that date but cannot do so
for November 23?
     The identification of Megrahi is even more questionable than
the above indicates.{7}  The fact that the investigative authorities
do not make clear exactly how Megrahi was identified by Gauci is
indicative of the weakness of their case.
     Furthermore, after the world was assured that these items of
clothing were sold only on Malta, it was learned that at least
one of the items was actually "sold at dozens of outlets
throughout Europe, and it was impossible to trace the purchaser."{8}
     Once Malta became a focus due to the clothing, it appears
that the next "logical" conclusion for the investigators was that
the suitcase containing the bomb and the Maltese clothing was put
together there; and thus the suitcase was somehow put aboard Air
Malta flight KM180 to Frankfurt without an accompanying passenger
on the first leg in its fateful journey.  News reports presenting
the latter as a certainty have alternated with reports like the
following: The Lockerbie investigating team "discovered [that]
the list of luggage checked into the hold against passengers'
names on Air Malta KM180 to Frankfurt bore no resemblance to what
the passengers had checked in.  The Air Malta list was a
shambles, one officer said."{9}
     Air Malta itself is on record as having made an exhaustive
study of this matter and has categorically denied that there was
any unaccompanied baggage on KM180 or that any of the passengers
transferred to the Frankfurt-to-London flight.{10}  And a report
sent by the FBI from Germany to Washington in October 1989 reveals
profound doubt about this thesis.  The report concludes: "There
remains the possibility that no luggage was transferred from Air
Malta 180 to Pan Am 103."{11}
     In January 1995, more than three years after the indictment
of the Libyans, the FBI was still of the same mind.  A
confidential Bureau report stated: "There is no concrete
indication that any piece of luggage was unloaded from Air Malta
180, sent through the luggage routing system at Frankfurt
airport, and then loaded on board Pan Am 103."  The report added
that the baggage records are "misleading" and that the bomb
suitcase could have come from another flight or was simply a
"rogue bag inserted into the system".{12}
     To accept the Malta scenario is to believe that the suitcase
itself led the following charmed life: 1)loaded aboard the Air
Malta flight to Frankfurt without an accompanying passenger;
2)transferred in Frankfurt to the PanAm 103A flight to London
without an accompanying passenger; 3)transferred in London to the
PanAm 103 flight to New York without an accompanying passenger.
     To the magic bullet of the JFK assassination, can we now add
the magic suitcase?
     Under international airline rules, bags unaccompanied by
passengers should not be allowed onto aircraft without being
searched or X-rayed.  Actual practice is of course more lax, but
how could serious professional terrorists count on this laxness
taking place three times in a row for the same suitcase?  Regular
airline passengers wouldn't make such an assumption.  Moreover,
since the perpetrators in all likelihood wanted to time the
explosion to occur over the ocean, adding Malta as an extra step
could only add much more uncertainty.
     In any event, the Pan Am X-ray operator at Frankfurt on
December 21 testified in court that he had been told look for a
radio in such baggage, but found none.{13}
     A passenger could conceivably have accompanied the suitcase
on the first, and/or second leg, but this would carry with it the
sizeable risk of subsequent identification.
     We must also ask why Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,
writing in her 1993 memoirs about the US bombing of Libya in
1986, with which Britain had cooperated, stated: "But the much
vaunted Libyan counter-attack did not and could not take place.
Gaddafy had not been destroyed but he had been humbled.  There
was a marked decline in Libyan-sponsored terrorism in succeeding
years."{14}
     Finally, it should be pointed out that even if the two
Libyans were involved, there is no reason to assume that they
knew that the suitcase contained a bomb, and not drugs, or some
other contraband.

                    Alternative theory
     There is, moreover, an alternative scenario, laying the
blame on Iran and Syria, which is much better documented and
makes a lot more sense, logistically, politically, and
technically.  Indeed, this was the Original Official Version,
delivered with Olympian rectitude by the U.S. government --
guaranteed, sworn to, scout's honor, case closed -- until the
Gulf War came along and the support of Iran and Syria was needed,
and Washington was anxious as well to achieve the release of
American hostages held in Lebanon by groups close to Iran.  The
distinctive scurrying sound of backtracking then became audible
in the corridors of the White House.  Suddenly -- or so it seemed
-- in October 1990, there was a New Official Version: It was
Libya -- the Arab state least supportive of the US buildup to the
Gulf War and the sanctions imposed against Iraq -- that was
behind the bombing after all, declared Washington.
     The two Libyans were formally indicted in the U.S. and
Scotland on November 14, 1991.  "This was a Libyan government
operation from start to finish," declared the State Department
spokesman.{15}  "The Syrians took a bum rap on this," said President
Bush.{16}  Within the next 20 days, the remaining four American
hostages were released along with the most prominent British
hostage, Terry Waite.
     The Original Official Version accused the PFLP-GC, a 1968
breakaway from a component of the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO), of making the bomb and somehow placing it
aboard the flight in Frankfurt.  The PFLP-GC was led by Ahmed
Jabril, one of the world's leading terrorists, and was
headquartered in, financed by, and closely supported by, Syria.
The bombing was done at the behest of Iran as revenge for the
U.S. shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian
Gulf on July 3, 1988, which claimed 290 lives.
     The support for this scenario was, and remains, impressive,
as the following sample indicates:
     In April 1989, the FBI -- in response to criticism that it
was bungling the investigation -- leaked to CBS the news that it
had tentatively identified the person who unwittingly carried the
bomb aboard.  His name was Khalid Jaafar, a 21-year-old Lebanese-
American.  The report said that the bomb had been planted in
Jaafar's suitcase by a member of the PFLP-GC, whose name was not
revealed.{17}
     In May, the State Department stated that the CIA was
"confident" of the Iran-Syria-PFLP-GC account of events.{18}
     On September 20, The Times of London reported that "Security
officials from Britain, the United States and West Germany are
 totally satisfied' that it was the PFLP-GC" behind the crime.
     In December, Scottish investigators announced that they had
"hard evidence" of the involvement of the PFLP-GC in the bombing.{19}
     A National Security Agency (NSA) electronic intercept
disclosed that Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Iranian interior minister,
had paid Palestinian terrorists $10 million dollars to gain
revenge for the downed Iranian airplane.{20}
     Israeli intelligence also intercepted a communication
between Mohtashemi and the Iranian embassy in Beirut "indicating
that Iran paid for the Lockerbie bombing."{21}
     Even after the Libyans had been indicted, Israeli officials
declared that their intelligence analysts remained convinced that
the PFLP-GC bore primary responsibility for the bombing.{22}
     In 1992, Abu Sharif, a political adviser to PLO chairman
Yasser Arafat, stated that the PLO had compiled a secret report
which concluded that the bombing of 103 was the work of a "Middle
Eastern country" other than Libya.{23}
     In February 1995, former Scottish Office minister, Alan
Stewart, wrote to the British Foreign Secretary and the Lord
Advocate, questioning the reliability of evidence which had led
to the accusations against the two Libyans.  This move, wrote The
Guardian, reflected the concern of the Scottish legal profession,
reaching into the Crown Office (Scotland's equivalent of the
Attorney General's Office), that the bombing may not have been
the work of Libya, but of Syrians, Palestinians and Iranians.{24}

                         Key Question
     A key question in the PFLP-GC version has always been: How
did the bomb get aboard the plane in Frankfurt, or at some other
point?  One widely disseminated explanation was in a report,
completed during the summer of 1989 and leaked in the fall, which
had been prepared by a New York investigating firm called
Interfor.  Headed by a former Israeli intelligence agent,
Interfor -- whose other clients included Fortune 500 companies,
the FBI, IRS and Secret Service{25} -- was hired by the law firm
representing Pan Am's insurance carrier.
     The Interfor Report said that in the mid-1980s, a drug and
arms smuggling operation was set up in various European cities,
with Frankfurt airport as the site of one of the drug routes.
The Frankfurt operation was run by Manzer Al-Kassar, a Syrian,
the same man from whom Oliver North's shadowy network purchased
large quantities of arms for the contras.  At the airport,
according to the report, a courier would board a flight with
checked luggage containing innocent items; after the luggage had
passed all security checks, one or another accomplice Turkish
baggage handler for Pan Am would substitute an identical suitcase
containing contraband; the passenger then picked up this suitcase
upon arrival at the destination.
     The only courier named by Interfor is Khalid Jaafar,
although this may well have derived from the many news reports
already citing Jaafar as a prime suspect.
     The report spins a web much too complex and lengthy to go
into here.  The short version is that the CIA in Germany
discovered the drug operation at the airport and learned also
that Kassar had the contacts to gain the release of American
hostages in Lebanon.  He had already done the same for French
hostages.  Thus it was, that the CIA and the German
Bundeskriminalamt (BKA, Federal Criminal Office) allowed the drug
operation to continue in hopes of effecting the release of
American hostages.
     According to the report, this same smuggling ring and its
method of switching suitcases at the Frankfurt airport were used
to smuggle the fatal bomb aboard flight 103, under the eyes of
the CIA and BKA.  Because of several warnings, these same
officials had reason to suspect that a bomb might be aboard
flight 103, possibly in the drug suitcase.  But the CIA, for
various reasons, including not wanting to risk the hostage-
release operation, told the BKA to do nothing.
     Interfor gave three of the baggage handlers polygraphs and
two of them were judged as being deceitful when denying any
involvement in baggage switching.  However, neither the U.S., UK
or German investigators showed any interest in the results, or in
questioning the baggage handlers.  Instead, the polygrapher,
James Keefe, was hauled before a Washington grand jury, and, as
he puts it, "they were bent on destroying my credibility -- not
theirs [the baggage handlers]."  To Interfor, this attempt at
intimidation was the strongest evidence of a cover-up.{26}
     Critics claimed that the report had been inspired by Pan
Am's interest in proving that it was impossible for normal
airline security to have prevented the loading of the bomb, thus
removing the basis for accusing the airline of negligence.
     The Interfor report was likely the principal reason Pan Am's
attorneys subpoenaed the FBI, CIA, DEA, State Department,
National Security Council, and NSA, as well as, reportedly, the
Defense Intelligence Agency and FAA, to turn over all documents
relating to the crash of 103 or to a drug operation preceding the
crash.  The government moved to quash the subpoenas on grounds of
"national security", and refused to turn over a single document
in open court, although it gave some to a judge to view
privately.
     The judge later commented that he was "troubled about
certain parts" of what he'd read, that he didn't "know quite what
to do because I think some of the material may be significant."{27}








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