As news came though yesterday that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted at a special court in the Netherlands in 2001 for the 1988 bombing of flight Pan Am 103 which killed all 259 on board as well as eleven in the town of Lockerbie, opinion was predictably polarised. The reaction Stateside, even among liberal leaning commentators, was to restate that he should never have been released.
He also lost a loved one at Lockerbie
Fortunately, Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was on the plane when it was blown out of the sky, has also been making news, and he long ago concluded that Megrahi didn’t do it. Swire has maintained his position despite the welter of abuse and mockery, including the accusation that he has become a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome. Why this might be is not hard to see.
By January 1990, just over a year after the event, it had been established that the bombing was the work of a Palestinian group led by one Abu Jibril, who was sufficiently batshit to have no qualms about killing everyone aboard a 747. His client was connected to the regime in Tehran, and the attack was ordered as retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus over the Strait of Hormuz.
That attack was the result of rogue behaviour by the warship USS Vincennes: more than 290 died as a result. So why was no effort made to bring Abu Jibril and his gang to justice? Ah well. The thought had entered that this might upset the then fragile Middle East peace process, especially the normalisation of relations between Israel and its neighbours. The investigation was scaled back.
Behold a flatulent fall guy
Then came the first Gulf War, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Iran condemned this act, but this was not difficult for them to do, given they had been in their own long and bloody war with the Ba’athist regime in Baghdad for some years. The only Middle Eastern leader to back Saddam Hussein was Muammar Gaddafi. This was, for the Libyans, A Very Bad Move Indeed.
Gaddafi had been implicated in acts of terrorism previously. Therefore he could more easily be linked to Lockerbie. Here was the ideal pantomime villain, a man who lived in a tent, had an all-female personal bodyguard, routinely abused the human rights of his subjects, and above all was regularly and loudly flatulent. Two officers in his service were duly identified and their trial demanded.
The opinion of the trail judges was described later by Paul Foot as “a remarkable document that claims an honoured place in the history of British miscarriages of justice”. Megrahi was released before his second appeal, which would have meant a large amount of seriously inconvenient new evidence being brought into the public domain. It was all very neatly and tidily concluded.
Fortunately, Jim Swire maintains his stance. Others would do well to listen to him.