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 Inconvenient Truths

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PostSubject: Inconvenient Truths   Wed Sep 03, 2008 6:10 pm

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n12/mile01_.html

Hugh Miles

On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was 38 minutes into its journey when it was blown up at 31,000 feet. The explosion was so powerful that the nose of the aircraft was torn clean off. Within three seconds of the bomb detonating, the cockpit, fuselage and No. 3 engine were falling separately out of the sky. It happened so quickly that no distress call was sent out and no oxygen masks deployed. With the cockpit gone, the fuselage depressurised instantly and the passengers in the rear section of the aircraft found themselves staring out into the Scottish night air. Anyone or anything not strapped down was whipped out of the plane; the change in air pressure made the passengers’ lungs expand to four times their normal volume and everyone lost consciousness. As the fuselage plummeted and the air pressure began to return to normal, some passengers came round, including the captain. A few survived all the way down, until they hit the ground. Rescuers found them clutching crucifixes, or holding hands, still strapped into their seats.

The fuselage of the plane landed on a row of family houses in the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. The impact was so powerful that the British Geological Survey registered a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale. The wing section of the Boeing 747, loaded with enough fuel for a transatlantic flight, hit the ground at more than 500 miles an hour and exploded in a fireball that lit the sky. The cockpit, with the first-class section still attached, landed beside a church in the village of Tundergarth.

Over the next few days rescuers made a fingertip search of the crash site: 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground had been killed. Bodies and debris were strewn along an 81-mile corridor of Scottish countryside. Ten thousand pieces of debris were retrieved; each was meticulously logged. Among the items recovered were the remains of a Samsonite suitcase, which investigators later established had been used to transport the bomb. The suitcase had contained clothes, clothes that were subsequently traced to the shop of a Maltese man called Tony Gauci. Gauci later became a key prosecution witness. Fragments of a circuit board and a Toshiba radio were also recovered and identified as parts of the bomb.

Twelve years later, on 31 January 2001, a panel of three Scottish judges convicted a former Libyan intelligence officer for mass murder at Lockerbie. Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was tried at a specially convened court on a former US air force base near the Dutch town of Zeist. Under a special international arrangement, the court, which sat without a jury, was temporarily declared sovereign territory of the United Kingdom, under the jurisdiction of Scottish law.

Al-Megrahi is still the only person to have been found guilty in connection with the attack. He was sentenced to 27 years in jail. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, a fellow Libyan intelligence officer, was acquitted. Al-Megrahi was initially told that he would spend at least twenty years in prison, but the Crown, which was prosecuting, protested that this sentence was unduly lenient and petitioned the judges for a longer one. In 2003 the judges reconvened to rule that he must serve no less than 27 years before the parole board would consider his eligibility for release. Al-Megrahi’s defence team had already lodged an appeal against the conviction, but in March 2002 the guilty verdict was upheld.
ve in Scottish legal history. The appeal hearing was the first Scottish trial to be broadcast live on both television and the internet.

Lawyers, politicians, diplomats and relatives of Lockerbie victims now believe that the former Libyan intelligence officer is innocent. Robert Black QC, an emeritus professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University, was one of the architects of the original trial in Holland. He has closely followed developments since the disaster happened and in 2000 devised the non-jury trial system for the al-Megrahi case.

Even before the trial he was so sure the evidence against al-Megrahi would not stand up in court that he is on record as saying that a conviction would be impossible. When I asked how he feels about this remark now, Black replied: ‘I am still absolutely convinced that I am right. No reasonable tribunal, on the evidence heard at the original trial, should or could have convicted him and it is an absolute disgrace and outrage what the Scottish court did.’

Read the rest of this article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n12/mile01_.html
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