Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 24, 78

Special Report

Prosecution Stumbles in “Lockerbie Trial” of Pan Am Flight 103

By Andrew I. Killgore

“I wonder who killed our relatives?”—A middle-aged American man on a BBC-TV program about the Lockerbie trial.

Pan American Flight 103 was destroyed by an on-board explosive device over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988. All 259 persons on board, most of them Americans, and 11 people on the ground were killed.

Two Libyans, Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, are on trial for the crime. The trial is being conducted, by Scottish judges under Scottish law, at Camp Zeist, a former U.S. military base near Amsterdam, the Netherlands. According to Scottish law, the three judges may reach a finding of guilty, not guilty or not proven.

The prosecution’s operating theory is that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Tripoli in 1986, which itself was in retaliation for Libyan involvement in the bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by American servicemen. As often seems to be the case, however, the U.S. and Libya were not the only countries involved in the ever-ratcheting rounds of retaliation.

In February 1986, Israel’s secret intelligence service, the Mossad, installed a communications device called the “Trojan” in an apartment building in Tripoli, Libya. The Trojan could receive messages broadcast by Mossad on one frequency and automatically relay the broadcasts on a different frequency, one used by the Libyan government.

Trojan’s broadcasts, picked up by the U.S., France and Spain, made it seem that a series of terrorist orders were being sent to Libyan embassies around the world. Suspecting a trick, France and Spain dismissed the broadcasts as fake. The U.S., encouraged by its Israeli “ally,” accepted them as real.

Shortly after the Trojan started broadcasting, the La Belle Discothèque in West Berlin was bombed, killing two American soldiers and a Turkish woman.

Falling for the Trojan-induced deception that made Libya appear to be the guilty party, the United States in April 1996, sent planes from England and from U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean to bomb Tripoli and Benghazi, killing and maiming many Libyans, including Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s adopted infant daughter.

These background details are spelled out in The Other Side of Deception , by former Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, executive editor Richard Curtiss delved deeper into the ramifications of the Israeli deception that ultimately lead to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in the October/November 1999 issue of this magazine.

The trial of the two accused Libyans has taken some bizarre turns. The most astonishing development is that the prosecution’s highly touted key witness, the pseudonymous Libyan intelligence service defector Abdul Majid Giaka, proved on the witness stand to lack any credibility. Moreover, CIA cables reluctantly made available to the Court depicted Giaka as an unsavory character whom CIA personnel themselves had distrusted.

A BBC television broadcast showed a group of people leaving the courtroom on the day Giaka performed so badly on the witness stand. Many in the group were relatives of Pan Am 103’s victims attending the trial at the expense of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Victim Services. The quote at the beginning of this article, by a member of the group who appeared to be an American, reflected a puzzled doubt of the Libya-did-it scenario.

Even more puzzling, if that is possible, is that CIA agent Harold M. Hendershot, brought to the stand to buttress Giaka’s shaky testimony, himself turned out to be vague and not very credible. In view of the fact that Hendershot had been deeply involved in the case from the time of the crash in December 1988, one is left with a growing sense of confusion, rather than answers, about Lockerbie .

The Lockerbie trial recessed at the end of October for several days while the Court considered how to handle a mass of new material on Lockerbie presented by an “unnamed country.” Whether the material in this weird new turn in the trial is helpful to the prosecution or defense is unknown, although University of Edinburgh criminal law professor Robert Black speculates that it must help the defense.

The twists and turns of Lockerbie raise intriguing questions, some of them troubling. If Libya did not bomb Pan Am 103, who did? Why would the United States present a case that didn’t hold up? Was the case ever expected to be brought to trial? Or was it basically a device for keeping Qaddafi in the doghouse with unproven charges?

Perhaps these twists and turns should not be unexpected, however—for the most significant surprise occurred on the day of the crash itself. According to its normal flight plan, Pan Am 103 “should” have blown up over the sea, where evidence of criminality never would have been found. Instead, unusually strong gale force winds that day led the pilot to fly north to get “above” the tempests—and thus to be over Scotland when the bomb exploded. Are the real criminals who blew up Pan Am 103 trembling in fear lest a fluke of nature that left evidence on the ground eventually will point to them?

SIDEBAR

The Libyan “Hit Squad” Hoax

By Andrew I. Killgore

Soon after President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, breathless articles about Libyan “hit [assassination] squads” began to occupy the front page of The Washington Post . For three weeks, Post readers—and the U.S. government—were obsessed with these squads, which reportedly originated in the Middle East, had reached Europe, and were currently in Canada, where they were poised to cross into the United States like a swarm of northern killer bees.

Just how a group of supposed assassins could be so easily tracked made the hit squad story ridiculous on its face. Suddenly, however, heavy concrete barriers surrounded the White House, Capitol Hill and the Department of State—where they remain today.

The hoax began to collapse when The Post assigned names to police-style composite drawings of the “assassins.” Arabic-language specialists recognized the names as those generally used by Shi’i Muslims. As this religious group had reason to dislike Qaddafi at the time, a chorus of doubts arose that the Libyan leader could ever have induced them to work for him.

Suddenly the hit squads disappeared from The Post, never to return. Five years later, a two-line item in The Post told the truth. The item appeared in a story, not about the hit squads, but about the Iran-Contra scandal, the worst foreign policy scandal in U.S. history.

Manucher Ghorbanifar, a small-time Iranian exile working in Washington for Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence service, confessed in 1986 that he had dreamed up the hit squads. Why? “To hurt Libya, an enemy of Israel.” 


Andrew I. Killgore is the publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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