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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Interesting Times

By Robert Forrester, secretary, Justice for Megrahi campaign
Posted April 28 2011

Originally published, in shorter form, at The Firm, April 14
(bolding by Caustic Logic)

Even though the current unrest in North Africa and the Middle East is far from over, it has still managed to throw up some fascinating developments. We’ve seen presidents throwing in the towel, prime ministers being sacked or resigning, and given the potential for carnage, there seems to have been remarkably little bloodshed on the whole. Some regimes may have been decapitated, however, where that has happened, the basic power structures have remained in place. In the case of Egypt, the demonstrators told Blair exactly where he could get off, Mubarak eventually caved in, and the way became clear to getting back to business as usual. So much so that the UK’s gaffe plagued David Cameron was out of his starting blocks like Harry the Hare to perform his duty as the nation’s arms industry envoy to Cairo. Well, Tony always used to say that if we didn’t do it, somebody else would. And it’s not as if we make much else in Britain anymore.

Libya has been a slightly different kettle of fish though, and, in many ways even more intriguing. The Western powers have been waiting for a viable opportunity for decades to oust Gaddafi. All nations have their contingency plans after all. And everything seemed to be going so swimmingly well for the coalition, led by the US with the UK France and Italy etc chipping in to see what crumbs might fall their way, until recently. Countless cruise missiles and bombing sorties later, with Gaddafi’s air force removed from the equation, along with munitions dumps and artillery, and the rebel forces of the Benghazi based National Transitional Council (also known as the Interim National Council or the Libyan National Council) seemingly heading inexorably towards the gates of Tripoli, Obama decides to hand the whole operation over to NATO in an apparent effort to sidestep the need to send US ground troops in. Probably not precisely what the UK and the other hangers on were hoping for, less still the leaders of the National Transitional Council in Benghazi. No sooner then do the bombing raids stop than all the ground that the rebels gained with the support of the foreign offensive is immediately lost as the rebels hightail it back to whence they had come.

It is hard now to predict just how this fiasco will eventually pan out, especially as it seems that the rebels no longer have control over any oil bearing territory worth writing home about. The US is not going to entertain the thought of committing ground troops for very good reason, the UK hasn’t got any and is being defeated in Afghanistan, yet again, and the others, France and Italy etc, probably never intended to in the first instance. Meanwhile, Libyan assets have been frozen and the shambolic rabble that represents the alternative to Gaddafi has run out of ammo and is probably going to be running out of other more basic essentials very soon too. The only good development to have emerged thus far is that despite all the quite justified support for the conspiracy theory of history over the years, this particular event definitely gives a major boost to adherents of the cock up persuasion.

Given that the coalition partners had been doing so much lucrative business with Libya of late and they didn’t have the advantages availed to George and Tony by the World Trade centre attack in order to stitch Gaddafi up the way they did with Saddam, they had to be more circumspect when it came to flouting inconveniences like the UN. The disturbing question then is: what intelligence did they have to convince themselves of success? Surely they weren’t swayed by the claims of Gaddafi’s ex justice minister, Mustafa Adbel-Jalil, and newsreels of the smiling rebel ‘army’ confidently waving peace signs and firing off rounds with their AKs from the backs of pick-up trucks prematurely celebrating victory. Now that their ordinance is running low, they may be reminded of the sage words of one of the most celebrated military figures in recent history to have toured Libya, Erwin Rommel, when he said: “The victor is he who has the last round in his magazine.”

Perhaps it really is that bad though. Perhaps in their enthusiasm to thump Gaddafi, the coalition’s judgement has ultimately been clouded by the confidence of Abdel-Jalil and the rebels. And perhaps they aren’t the only ones to have been taken in.

No matter how painful the events may be to many, clearly there are more pressing matters at hand in Libya at the moment than an atrocity dating back almost a quarter of a century and a conviction now some ten years old. Nevertheless, as all good carpetbaggers know, where there is war, there is opportunity. And while the news is largely dominated by the military conflict, HMG and the British Crown seem to have seen fit to try to exploit what leverage they can to bolster the official line in the UK that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was justly convicted in Kamp van Zeist in 2001 of bombing PA103 over Lockerbie on the back of this current turmoil. Three main elements to theses shenanigans have thus far emerged into the public domain: Abdel-Jalil’s ‘evidence’ of Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, what Mr Koussa may know about it, and finally, the recent attempts of a British lawyer to persuade the rebel leaders to incriminate Libya for involvement in a range of terrorist activities.

From the earliest days of the Libyan rebellion, Abdel-Jalil claimed that he had incontrovertible proof that Mr al-Megrahi had done the deed and that Colonel Gaddafi had been behind it. This, of course, generated much enthusiasm in Westminster as it provided a moral platform for the military action. Then on April Fools Day no less, we were treated to the stunning revelation from Abdel-Jalil that his proof amounted to no more than the fact that he knew that Colonel Gaddafi had supported Mr al-Megrahi throughout his incarceration. Oh dear. If the Champagne corks had already been popped in anticipation at 25 Chambers Street, not to worry. As Napol√©on used to say: “In victory, you deserve it, in defeat, you need it.” Before Abdel-Jalil had finished though, he pointed out that Moussa Koussa, the Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs and former head of the Libyan Intelligence Agency, who had recently defected to the UK, would be able to provide more details. End of round one then.

Mr Koussa is well-known to political circles in London and has been for many years. Most recently, he was key to the negotiations which brought Libya back into the international fold, and in those surrounding Mr al-Megrahi’s release, meeting with both UK and Scottish political figures in that regard in 2008 and 2009. When he arrived in the UK on the 30th of March, politicians and the media claimed that he had defected. Indeed, there was much bluster for public consumption about his not being immune from prosecution. Despite the fact that some media outlets portrayed Mr Koussa’s arrival in the UK as being comparable to that of Rudolf Hess’s in 1941, nothing could be further from the truth. Moussa Koussa is probably closer to being an √©minence grise in Libyan politics than Hess ever was in the Third Reich. He prefers to maintain a low profile, rather in keeping with his choice of suits; for his 2008 UK visit for example, he travelled under the guise of an interpreter. It is highly likely, therefore, that his most recent trip was not quite so unexpected as it came over in the press at the time, and furthermore, he may have come as a negotiator, with all the necessary diplomatic protection well in place before the trip was made. This appears to be confirmed as he has now departed the UK for a conference in Qatar completely unhindered. The UK authorities say that he is welcome to return when ever he wishes.

Where then does this leave the talk of interviewing him on the subject of Lockerbie by the Crown and Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary? It is all looking very embarrassing. It is extremely unlikely that anything was learned in the interview that wasn’t already known, namely: that Libya didn’t do it. Nevertheless, representatives of the Crown and Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary were put up in a hotel in London for a week before eventually meeting Mr Koussa. Having concluded their interview they refused to divulge its content since to do so might compromise their on-going investigation. One must bear in mind here that, despite Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini’s persistent abuse of the word ‘team’ to describe the number of officers working on the on-going Lockerbie case, until the arrival of Mr Koussa, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary had allocated an entire ‘team’ to the job consisting of just one officer. So, what happens now? Yet more on-going file management by the sole officer, the Crown will maintain that to talk publicly about the interview could damage the ‘investigation’, and the great unwashed will be kept in their usual mushroom culture. The long and the short of it is that if they had had any road to Damascus experience in London, they’d have been singing it from the roof tops. Not that they would have revealed any details, however, one might have expected comments along the lines of: ‘highly productive … most informative … new leads … confirms our evidence and the verdict … etc’. At least they probably knew not to bother taking any Champagne with them for this particular little wheeze.

Meanwhile, back in Libya, there is the question of British lawyer to the celebs, Jason McCue [An illuminating profile of Mr McCue]. Prospects are not looking good for the Libyan rebels at the moment: they have lost all the territorial gains they made during the coalition bombing raids, they are rapidly running out of ordinance, and now, they cannot gain access to money to pay civil service salaries or buy basic essentials due to the fact that Libyan assets abroad have been frozen. But help, it appears, may be at hand. According to officials of Abdel-Jalil’s Benghazi based National Transitional Council, the council came under pressure to invite Mr McCue to talks with them. They understood that Mr McCue was representing a group of British diplomats led by the UK’s ambassador to Rome, Christopher Prentice. It appears that McCue is heading up something called the Libya Victims Initiative, which he says is seeking an unequivocal apology from Libya for international crimes carried out by the Gaddafi regime including Lockerbie and deaths resultant from IRA activities where Libyan supplied Semtex was employed. For the IRA victims he claims to be asking for $10,000,000 in compensation for every fatality. The National Transitional Council says that it has in fact signed such a document, however, from a statement by their spokesman, Essam Gheriani, this appears to have been done under duress and in the hope of alleviating their dire circumstances. Since Lockerbie was mentioned in connection with this initiative, Justice for Megrahi (JFM) investigated whether or not any of the UK families had sanctioned Mr McCue’s adventure and drew a blank. On the other side of The Pond, Mr Frank Duggan, who frequently represents the main body of the US Lockerbie victims, claims that Mr McCue has no backing from them. This then leaves the rebels contention that Mr McCue seems to be representing HMG’s interests as feasible. Ambassador Prentice has declined to comment.

If The National Transitional Council and the reports in the press are to be believed, the story seems to be the following. Abdel-Jalil reveals that his proof of Gaddafi’s involvement in Lockerbie turns out to be nothing more than an embarrassing joke. It is also likely that Moussa Koussa has added little or nothing to bolster the Zeist conviction of Mr al-Megrahi, something which was doubtless known all along. So, what to do? The National Transitional Council rebels have presented the UK and others with the best opportunity in years to give Gaddafi a bloody nose and get their hands on the Libyan mineral wealth, unfortunately however, they are in a desperate situation. Solution: kill two birds with one stone. Send in McCue to promise them that we will do everything we can to free up Libyan assets abroad thus allowing them to get hold of much needed essentials just so long as they sign a document admitting that Libya was responsible for Lockerbie and other sins. And the person doing the signing, of course, is the very man who has just recently demonstrated publicly that he has no actual proof that Gaddafi or al-Megrahi were in fact behind Lockerbie.

If there is any truth behind the suggestion that HMG has sanctioned McCue to go to Libya to do a spot of ambulance chasing, this must constitute one of the most revolting developments of the conflict thus far.

Never mind for now the circus that was Zeist: the fact that Luqa comes out with a clean bill of health, as does flight KM180; the Heathrow break in; the Bedford suitcase; the dubious print out from Frankfurt Airport; the fairy tale story of how a suitcase managed to get from Malta to Heathrow unaccompanied and undetected; the financial ‘inducements’ provided to Crown witnesses; the multitude of discrepancies in Tony Gauci’s testimony; forensic testimony for the Crown by discredited witnesses; the bizarre circumstances surrounding the fragment of printed circuit board; the Lumpert affidavit; the conduct of US representatives in the well of the court; and, the fact that the Crown played the roles of prosecutor, judge and jury. Put all that to one side for a moment and instead consider the amount of effort that has gone into obfuscation and the blocking of any moves to have Mr al-Megrahi’s conviction independently investigated. Justice for Megrahi was founded around the back end of 2008 precisely because it was felt that it was no longer sufficient to depend solely on applying judicial pressure in the hope of addressing this problem, particularly given the way in which the Crown had planned to hear Mr al-Megrahi’s second appeal. In short, it was time to become more political. Since JFM’s founding some two and a half years ago, we have had: the dropping of the second appeal in highly questionable circumstances; the Scottish government claiming that it didn’t have the power to open an inquiry, then after a year of correspondence, having to back down and admit that it does; HMG’s Foreign Secretary claiming that an inquiry would not be in the public interest; the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, apparently feeding erroneous advice to the Scottish Government regarding the status of the case; the passing of emergency legislation, more akin to that found under fascist regimes, handing unprecedented new powers to the Crown regarding which cases to accept and reject for appeal hearings; the publication of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission’s (SCCRC) Statement of Reasons being blocked; the government claiming that entirely unnecessary and time consuming legislation will be required to enable it to publish the SCCRC’s Statement of reasons; a standard of polemic being employed by the Lord Advocate which is more consistent with that which one expects from a child at kindergarten; claims that one police officer constitutes a team; and now, if the reports are accurate, HMG seems to be employing someone to go ambulance chasing in Libya to get some signatures confessing to crimes it is highly doubtful that the Libyans had either anything to do with or know anything about. All in all, it beggars belief. It has clearly escaped the attention of the authorities that there is one rather simple way of avoiding all this complicated subterfuge and endless embarrassment: open an independent inquiry.

There is an ancient Chinese curse which goes along the lines of: ‘May you live in interesting times’. The Chinese, of course, know all about British ‘diplomacy’ for when the UK failed to obtain the trade concessions it wanted from China in the 19th century, the Victorians promptly attempted to get the Chinese hooked on Opium. This resulted in war. If it is true that Mr McCue is doing some carpet-bagging at the behest of HMG, it is not hard to imagine Colonel Gaddafi, or even Abdel-Jalil now, casting an Arabic version of the same curse in the direction of Whitehall. We live in most interesting times indeed.

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