NYT Admits Lockerbie Case Flaws

Exclusive: Even in death, Libyan Ali al-Megrahi is dubbed “the Lockerbie bomber,” a depiction that proved useful last year in rallying public support for “regime change” in Libya. But the New York Times now concedes, belatedly, that the case against him was riddled with errors and false testimony, as Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

From the Now-They-Tell-Us Department comes the New York Times obit of Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted by a special Scottish court for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. After Megrahi’s death from cancer was announced on Sunday, the Times finally acknowledged that his guilt was in serious doubt.

Last year, when the Times and other major U.S. news outlets were manufacturing public consent for a new war against another Middle East “bad guy,” i.e. Muammar Gaddafi, Megrahi’s guilt was treated as flat fact. Indeed, citation of the Lockerbie bombing became the debate closer, effectively silencing anyone who raised questions about U.S. involvement in another war for “regime change.”

Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi

After all, who would “defend” the monsters involved in blowing Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans? Again and again, the U.S.-backed military intervention to oust Gaddafi in 2011 was justified by Gaddafi’s presumed authorship of the Lockerbie terrorist attack.

Only a few non-mainstream news outlets, like Consortiumnews.com, bothered to actually review the dubious evidence against Megrahi and raise questions about the judgment of the Scottish court that convicted Megrahi in 2001.

By contrast to those few skeptical articles, the New York Times stoked last year’s war fever by suppressing or ignoring those doubts. For instance, one March 2011 article out of Washington began by stating: “There once was no American institution more hostile to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s’s pariah government than the Central Intelligence Agency, which had lost its deputy Beirut station chief when Libyan intelligence operatives blew up Pan Am Flight 103 above Scotland in 1988.”

Note the lack of doubt or even attribution. A similar certainty prevailed in virtually all other mainstream news reports and commentaries, ranging from the right-wing media to the liberal MSNBC, whose foreign policy correspondent Andrea Mitchell would seal the deal by recalling that Libya had accepted “responsibility” for the bombing.

Gaddafi’s eventual defeat, capture and grisly murder brought no fresh doubts about the certainty of the guilt of Megrahi, who was simply called the “Lockerbie bomber.” Few eyebrows were raised even when British authorities released Libya’s former intelligence chief Moussa Koussa after asking him some Lockerbie questions.

Scotland Yard also apparently failed to notice the dog not barking when the new pro-Western Libyan government took power and released no confirmation that Gaddafi’s government indeed had sponsored the 1988 attack. After Gaddafi’s overthrow and death, the Lockerbie issue just disappeared from the news.

A Surprising Obit

So, readers of the New York Times’ obituary page might have been surprised Monday if they read deep into Megrahi’s obit and discovered this summary of the case:

“The enigmatic Mr. Megrahi had been the central figure of the case for decades, reviled as a terrorist but defended by many Libyans, and even some world leaders, as a victim of injustice whose trial, 12 years after the bombing, had been riddled with political overtones, memory gaps and flawed evidence.”

If you read even further, you would find this more detailed examination of the evidence:

“Investigators, while they had no direct proof, believed that the suitcase with the bomb had been fitted with routing tags for baggage handlers, put on a plane at Malta and flown to Frankfurt, where it was loaded onto a Boeing 727 feeder flight that connected to Flight 103 at London, then transferred to the doomed jetliner.

“After a three-year investigation, Mr. Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the Libyan airline station manager in Malta, were indicted on mass murder charges in 1991. Libya refused to extradite them, and the United Nations imposed eight years of sanctions that cost Libya $30 billion.  

“Negotiations led by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa produced a compromise in 1999: the suspects’ surrender, and a trial by Scottish judges in the Netherlands.

“The trial lasted 85 days. None of the witnesses connected the suspects directly to the bomb. But one, Tony Gauci, the Maltese shopkeeper who sold the clothing that forensic experts had linked to the bomb, identified Mr. Megrahi as the buyer, although Mr. Gauci seemed doubtful and had picked others in photo displays.

“The bomb’s timer was traced to a Zurich manufacturer, Mebo, whose owner, Edwin Bollier, testified that such devices had been sold to Libya. A fragment from the crash site was identified by a Mebo employee, Ulrich Lumpert.

“Neither defendant testified. But a turncoat Libyan agent testified that plastic explosives had been stored in Mr. Fhimah’s desk in Malta, that Mr. Megrahi had brought a brown suitcase, and that both men were at the Malta airport on the day the bomb was sent on its way.

“On Jan. 31, 2001, the three-judge court found Mr. Megrahi guilty but acquitted Mr. Fhimah. The court called the case circumstantial, the evidence incomplete and some witnesses unreliable, but concluded that ‘there is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt’ of Mr. Megrahi.

“Much of the evidence was later challenged. It emerged that Mr. Gauci had repeatedly failed to identify Mr. Megrahi before the trial and had selected him only after seeing his photograph in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court. The date of the clothing sale was also in doubt.

“Investigators said Mr. Bollier, whom even the court called ‘untruthful and unreliable,’ had changed his story repeatedly after taking money from Libya, and might have gone to Tripoli just before the attack to fit a timer and bomb into the cassette recorder. The implication that he was a conspirator was never pursued.

“In 2007, Mr. Lumpert admitted that he had lied at the trial, stolen a timer and given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.

“The court’s inference that the bomb had been transferred from the Frankfurt feeder flight was also cast into doubt when a Heathrow security guard revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the bombing, a circumstance never explored.

“Hans Köchler, a United Nations observer, called the trial ‘a spectacular miscarriage of justice,’ words echoed by Mr. Mandela. Many legal experts and investigative journalists challenged the evidence, calling Mr. Megrahi a scapegoat for a Libyan government long identified with terrorism. While denying involvement, Libya paid $2.7 billion to the victims’ families in 2003 in a bid to end years of diplomatic isolation.”

Prosecutorial Misconduct

In other words, the case against Megrahi looks to have been an example of gross prosecutorial misconduct, relying on testimony from perjurers and failing to pursue promising leads (like the possibility that the bomb was introduced at Heathrow, not transferred from plane to plane to plane, an unlikely route for a terrorist attack and made even more dubious by the absence of any evidence of an unaccompanied bag being put on those flights).

Also, objective journalists should have noted that Libya’s much-touted acceptance of “responsibility” was simply an effort to get punishing sanctions lifted and that Libya always continued to assert its innocence.

All of the above facts were known in 2011 when the Times and the rest of the mainstream U.S. press corps presented a dramatically different version to the American people. Last year, all these questions and doubts were suppressed in the name of rallying support for “regime change” in Libya.

On March 18, 2011, I wrote: “As Americans turn to their news media to make sense of the upheavals in the Middle East, it’s worth remembering that the bias of the mainstream U.S. press corps is most powerful when covering a Washington-designated villain, especially if he happens to be Muslim.

“In that case, all uncertainty about some aspect of his villainy is discarded. Evidence in serious dispute is stated as flat fact. Readers are expected to share this unquestioned belief about the story’s frame and that usually helps manufacture consent behind some desired government action or policy.

“At such moments, it’s also hard to contest the conventional wisdom. To do so will guarantee that you’ll be treated as some kook or pariah. It won’t even matter if you’re vindicated in the long run. You’ll still be remembered as some weirdo who was out of step.

“And those who push the misguided consensus will mostly go on to bigger and better things, as people who have proved their worth even if they got it all wrong. Such is the way the national U.S. political/media system now works or some might say doesn’t work.

“Perhaps the most costly recent example of this pattern was the Official Certainty about Iraq’s WMD in 2002-03. With only a few exceptions, the major U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, bought into the Bush administration’s WMD propaganda, partly because Saddam Hussein was so unsavory that no one wanted to be dubbed a ‘Saddam apologist.’

“When Iraq’s WMD turned out to be a mirage, there was almost no accountability at senior levels of the U.S. news media. Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, who repeatedly reported Iraq’s WMD as ‘flat fact,’ is still in the same job eight years later; Bill Keller, who penned an influential article called  ‘The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club,’ got promoted to New York Times executive editor after the Iraq-WMD claims exploded leaving egg on the faces of him and his fellow club members.

“So, now as Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi reprises his old role as ‘mad dog of the Middle East,’ Americans are being prepped for another Middle East conflict by endlessly reading as flat fact that Libyan intelligence agents blew up Pan Am Flight 103 back in 1988.

“These articles never mention that there is strong doubt the Libyans had anything to do with the attack and that the 2001 conviction of Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi was falling apart in 2009 before he was released on humanitarian grounds, suffering from prostate cancer.

“Though it’s true that a Scottish court did convict Megrahi while acquitting a second Libyan the judgment appears to have been more a political compromise than an act of justice. One of the judges told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about ‘enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.’

“After the testimony of a key witness was discredited, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed in 2007 to reconsider Megrahi’s conviction out of a strong concern that it was a miscarriage of justice. However, again due to intense political pressure, that review was proceeding slowly in 2009 when Scottish authorities agreed to release Megrahi on medical grounds.

“Megrahi dropped his appeal in order to gain an early release in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean he was guilty. He has continued to assert his innocence and an objective press corps would reflect the doubts regarding his conviction.”

But today, the United States has anything but an objective press corps. That should be obvious when you contrast the U.S. media’s certitude about Megrahi’s guilt last year when outrage over the Lockerbie bombing was crucial in lining up public acquiescence to another Middle East war against the nuanced doubts noted in Megrahi’s New York Times obit on Monday.

[To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

18 comments for “NYT Admits Lockerbie Case Flaws

  1. May 29, 2012 at 14:49

    Everyone needs to learn that 9/11 was the American regime nuking its own largest city, and it created the China Syndrome which then poisoned thousands of responders and millions of NY residents. Google “China Syndrome Aftermath”

  2. Hillary
    May 22, 2012 at 12:11

    Why are comments blocked on Robert Parry’s

    “NYT Admits Lockerbie Case Flaws” ?

    • Hillary
      May 22, 2012 at 12:28

      Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!

      Where is it and why is it not posted ?

  3. The City is Ours Inc.
    May 22, 2012 at 05:33

    Guess what mate you did it yourself where is the proof Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi is dead?

  4. Robert Marble
    May 22, 2012 at 02:53

    Has anyone heard of Susan Lindauer? She is the author of “Extreme Prejudice” She offers an explanation of the
    Lockerbie bombing and her association with Dr. Richard Fuisz, who knows exactly who the actual “bombers” were.

    Read her account at: http://www.ssmirkingchimp.com 34765 and go to “google” and type in Dr. Richard Fuisz and the Lockerbie bombing”

  5. May 22, 2012 at 00:21

    The selective use of polygraphs by corrupt FBI officials must stop! No one is above the law, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, who conspired to cover up the Pan Am Flight 103 incident. Google “the selective use of polygraphs”

  6. Kenny Fowler
    May 21, 2012 at 19:59

    “Though it’s true that a Scottish court did convict Megrahi – while acquitting a second Libyan – the judgment appears to have been more a political compromise than an act of justice. One of the judges told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about ‘enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.’

    We don’t really know who bombed Pan Am 103 yet. The NYT is in CYA mode in case the real story comes out. Could be tomorrow, could be 30 years, CYA NYT.

  7. Jose Rios
    May 21, 2012 at 19:11

    Before the Iraq war I just presumed when the media said “suspected or alleged@ that meant a person was guilty, over the last few years I’ve been noticing almost everyone in the media labeled a “bad guy” is also “suspected,alleged, or we believe” to be a evil dude who committed unspeakable horrors. Like the USS Cole suspect who got obliteratedthe past week, they still can’t prove he did anything,& all these “suspected” militant being killed, the media doesn’t ever confirm that yes they were militants.

  8. May 21, 2012 at 18:53

    Several days after the bombing of the Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland an article appeared, by pure chance given that the San Diego Union is a reactionary neo-con newspaper, that revealed CIA agents including the Beirut CIA station Chief had boarded the plane carrying a cargo of explosives, ammunition, and weapons. What the San Diego Union did not revealed is that the explosives, ammunition, and weapons were destined for the Contras making war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista Government much hated by the ultra-reactionary Reagan administration at the time. We have to remember that President Reagan was desperate to aid the Contras which he equated to the “founding fathers” and would explore every avenue to acquire weapons for the Contras includning putting at risk the lives of the passengers on that flight. The Iran-Contra scandal is proof of that. In that Iran-Contra operation the Zionist Jewish government serves as a conduit for the acquisition of money and weapons from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and other Middle Eastern countries. Why the Middle Eastern countries? President felt that these Middle Eastern countries owed the United States a favor or favors for having financed the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghnistan. Reagan spent three trillion dollars in this effort, including his demoniacal space war technology which filled the pockets of the military/industrial establishment, during his two terms in office.It took little more than 200 years from the birth of this nation in 1776 to 1980 when Reagan took office to bring the public debt to 1.3 trillion dollars, but it took gunslinger Ronald Reagan 8 years and three trillion dollars to raised the public debt to 4.3 trillion dollars. But it took only 30 years from 1988 to 2008 when the war criminal of George W. Bush left office to bring the public debt to an unconscionable figure of 14 trillion dollars. Nearly 10 trillion dollars was added to the public debtm thanks to the multi trillion dollars “bailout” of the banking bandits of Wall Street. Karl Marx was very right when he said that capitalism digs it own grave and the workers will be there to cover it up. We are witnessing that very act right now. The Lockerbie incident is just one more episode of malfeasant, just like the 9/11 incident that the U.S government with its infamous CIA assisted by th Mossad, Scotland Yard, Pakistani and Saudi intelligence hetched up, to fulfil the conspiratoral designs of an evil Yankee empire that will stop at nothing to accomplish its ill designs to conquer and control the world’s markets for the profitable good of its transnational corporations. The Zionist State of Isreal is enticing it big bully Yankee imperialist master to go after those Middle Eastern governments (Saddam, Khadafy, Al-Assad, the libral and formerly the much hated independent and nationalist Gamal Abdel Nassar of Eqypt because he nationalized the Suez much to the chagrin of Great Britain,France, and the United States who enticed Isreal to go to war agaisnt Egypt to recover the canal. The much hated Maomar Khadafy, a muslim nationlist who nationalized the oil reserves in his country, much to the dismay of the giant oil corporations, was always on the hit list of the imperailist powers headed by the U.S. who controls the United Nations lock, stock, and barrel as the saying goes. Sooner or later the Yankee master believes it will get its man. The first thing to do is to demonized a government leader, put economic and trade sanction on his government, then if all fails organized a military invasion with the help of its lackeys through its NATO forces to topple its man jsut like the Yankees did agaisnt Guatemala in 1953,Iran in 1954,the marine invasion of Lebanon in 1958 ordered by President Eisenhower who was afriad that the commuinist boogeyman would take over the Middle East the real reason, of course, was the threat of the nationalization of oil by Arab nationalist governments, Indonesia in 1964, Santo Domingo in 1965,Grenada in 1983,and Panama in 1991 all under the false pretext of defending democracy whatever animal that happens to be.
    The Lackerbie incident was only a ploy and very good excuse for the imperialist powers to go after Khadafy. The real reason was, of course, the Libyan oil reserves and the fact that Khadafy, like Sadamm, supported the Palestinian cause and rightly so because the illegal State of Israel has not only stolen lands for the Palestinians but has set up a Nazi type aparhied system for the oppressed people of Palestine.
    At this very moment these same imperialist power are organizing an opposition (there is an opposition to every thing and everybody even Jesus Christ had an opposition organized by the Jewish neo-con wealthy rightwing to put him on the cross for arousing the poor)to Chavez of Nicaragua, Cuba -so far has defied this imperialist Yankee demon and becuase the heroic Cuban government has the entire Cuban people behind it.
    What else has this imperialsit empire in its bag of dirty tricks? who is the be next victim of this world serial killer? Heney Lee Lucas, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahlmer, the Green River Killer, John Wayne Gacy, and other serial killers had nothing on the U.S. governemnt for its serial killing rampages of countrie of the world. The recent Iraqi war has cost more than two million lives based on lies and false excuses. The senseless dropping of the atomic bomb on Heroshima and Negasaki cost more than 200,00o0 lives and hafl million maimed and injured for life. The CIA overthrow of nationalist Indonesian Sukarno government cost more than a million lives torrured and executed under the watchful eye of Uncle Sam. Said serial killer Richard Ramirez, ” I have killed a handful of individualsm for psychological satisfaction but the government has killed millions for psychological and economic satisfaction.” Apparently,Mr. Ramirez was influence by a Vietnam veteran who showed him photos of Vietnamese people he had killed and behided while serving in the Vietnam war.
    Power to the People!

  9. elmerfudzie
    May 21, 2012 at 17:42

    As I’ve stated somewhere(s) before, the whole of the incident where the USS Vincennes downed an Iranian commercial airliner became the reason for retaliation, the raison d’ etat for the Lockerbie crash. Iran’s intel probably told the US government that the only real compensation for, and to preserve the dignity of Iran, was to permit their sleeper cells to down a western commercial flight over water….terror for terror-you know. Well, the bomb aboard flight 103 went off a bit too soon but soon enough to close the matter. Our side must have calculated that an active CIA participation would ensure that Iranian vengeance would not include a plane crash into mid-Manhattan, so both sides worked together. In return, our intel got rid of some out-of-control US agents who happened to aboard flight 103 and involved with heroin smuggling (the surface areas adjacent to Lockerbie were littered with heroin). Further, there were other disturbing and contradictory findings in the completed Lockerbie investigation. For example; Three different governments were involved in performing separate investigations, yet why did the description (log) concerning a shirt where an important timer fragment was found to be lodged change size? color? sometime during case file exchanges between governments?. Why was this specific fragment of the bomb timer discovered, marked and identified, on two separate dates?! and why did photographic evidence show changes to the shirt pocket while under lock and key and most importantly without a written explanation of the cause of this alteration?. We can now assume that Gaddafi was just the proverbial fall guy in all this and blaming him was beneficial for the political aspirations of both Iran and the US. But lastly, be advised world, in any future entanglement with Iran, that the method of crucifixion was originated in Persia, which is now mostly Iran.

    • elmerfudzie
      May 24, 2012 at 14:47

      Rehmat, Israel had nothing what-ever to do with Lockerbie or statements made in my commentary! If you have specific objection to any portion of those case file findings, details that I paraphrased from the George Thomson Lockerbie investigation, please itemize and explain. I never listen to CNN or Fox programs and have no connection with the CIA in any way. I don’t particularly like Michael Scheuer’s demeanor and have a undefined distrust of him. Be more dispassionate in your rebuttal(s) and I thank you.

  10. rosemerry
    May 21, 2012 at 16:58

    I noted with disgust David Cameron’s comments on the death of “the bomber”, when even he must know that the conviction was false.

  11. whowouldjesusbomb
    May 21, 2012 at 16:08

    Perhaps NYT is preparing the ground for shifting the blame for Lockerbie to the Iranians, to prepare the way for THAT war….

  12. incontinent reader
    May 21, 2012 at 15:48

    Apart from typos my the last comment (sorry), I forgot to add, Ray, that your report was absolutely outstanding.

  13. incontinent reader
    May 21, 2012 at 15:44

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Times sat on this one just like it did with James Risen’s report about NSA domestic wiretaps that had never been judicially authorized until Congress changed the law to legalize them and insulate the telephone providers from liability. After all, many investigators and the UN rapporteur came to the conclusion early on that the cas against Megrahi and Libya was weak to non-existent.

    Maybe after Syria is bombed to smithereens the Times will find a similar mea culpa story to print to show that Syria was framed with the present “rebellion”, and that regime change had always been part of the neocon plan remake of the Middle East, Central Asia, and all of the rest of the world, regardless of the facts on the ground. Not to have gotten to the bottom of that case and corrected what was a deeply flawed investigation and prosecution, not only allowed the Lockerbie bombing to be used as one more pretext to destroy Libya, but was, like the Pat Tillman case, a form of “theft” in conjunction with a blatant show of contempt and disregard for the surviving families who desperately needed closure and assurance that justice had been done.

    What is does reveal is yet one more layer of sleaze in which the Ties and its fellow MSM were complicit.

    There is now an unrelenting move forward to reopen the 9/11 investigation, which families of those victims are behind, and when that happens much more will be revealed, Congressional and 9/11 Commission coverups exposed, and more whistles blown, whether or not the Government tries to suppress it. One has the sense that inappropriately classified information should be now revealed, just as Wikileaks has already done, so that, as the layers begin to be peeled away, the policies which have been destroying our country from within can be halted and replaced by something that will truly benefit and strengthen our country and the rest of the world.

  14. Ojkelly
    May 21, 2012 at 15:37

    They left out how Daffy raised the money: he told the oil companies to come up with it, or so I read. The clothing ID was. Particularly weak. The captain of the Vincennes may have PA 103 blood on his hands as well as the dead Iranians.

  15. Charles Norrie
    May 21, 2012 at 15:18

    “Though it’s true that a Scottish court did convict Megrahi – while acquitting a second Libyan – the judgment appears to have been more a political compromise than an act of justice. One of the judges told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about ‘enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.’

    Now which judge was that. Some suggest that it was the sole judge at Zeist who hadn’t signed his Privy Council oat.

    Who wa that? I know but I’m sorry I can’t disclose Lord —.

  16. Charles Norrie
    May 21, 2012 at 15:14

    This is a bit of a curate’s egg a reference to Du Maurier grandpere in a cartoon by him of a curate saying of a bad egg he has been given at breakfast that”itis good in parts”, as he does ni want to offend his host, the bishop.

    For with the xception of Majid Giaka’s views on the dtructure of the ESO/Jso of Linya, his evidence wa rejected in totality by the Zeist court.

    Charles Norrie

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