Re-examining the Lockerbie Evidence
April 11, 2012 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Lockerbie: Case Closed is a badly-titled* documentary following former police detective George Thompson and legal investigator John Ashton as they investigate and uncover new evidence in the Lockerbie bombing. Thompson was hired by Abdelbasset al-Magrahi's legal team to investigate the case. Another film "Pan Am: The Lockerbie bomber"covers similar ground, but uncovers some other issues. Both have been aired on Al-Jazeera. This evidence is the same evidence re-examined by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. Five years ago the SCCRC produced a still unreleased report saying there were 6 grounds for Magrahi to appeal his conviction, which he was planning to do before he was released on compassionate grounds. The report is so secret that even the Scottish Justice secretary has not been allowed to see the it.

Some of the new evidence relates to the clothes bought from Tony Gauci's shop, Mary's House in Sliema, Malta.

Among Gauci's varying statements were:

- It was raining on the day the clothes were bought.
- The Christmas lights were not on.
- The date was 28th November; he could remember it because he had argued with his girlfriend.
- No shirt listed in his original statement. (He even stated the amount the clothes cost and how the man paid).
- Originally Gauci stated that the man did not buy a shirt "for sure".
- In his statement where he mentions the shirt, Gauci described the shirt as Biege.

Other problems with Gauci's statements:

- Gauci's original description of the man does not match Magrahi
- Gauci had seen a picture of Magrahi in a magazine article linking him to the bombing. He had the magazine in his possession for several months before the police organised an ID parade at which he picked out Magrahi.

Further doubts include:

- the prosecutions claim that the lead on the timer fragment evaporated in the explosion.
- The shirt: 2 Maltese clothing manufacturers state that the shirt is a boys shirt, due to the size of the pocket/placket (the bit the buttons/buttonholes are on.)
- The forensic evidence log appears to have had a page inserted.
- Majid Giaka's evidence and his relationship as a paid CIA informant.
- Redacted Security documents not made fully availabale to the defence team.

An overview of the prosecution case and some of the problems can be found here.

A blog by Robert Black QC FRSE, who is often referred to as the architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands is here.

Jim Swire's blog is here.

Magahi dropped his appeal and was released on Commpassionate grounds.

* - I say "badly titled" as it doesn't actually solve the case, it presents evidence to support a miscarriage of justice.
posted by marienbad (2 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I honestly think Magrahi's conviction was flawed, and that the given evidence should have, at worst, resulted in a Not Proven verdict.


The questions about the timer in the "found here" link don't resonate with me. It was well known that El Al, amongst others, would occasionally throw suspected suitcases into an armored chamber and drop the pressure, to see if there was a pressure triggered bomb.

The obvious solution to this is a timer in concert -- you wait until the listed takeoff time, then close a relay. The pressure switch is still open. When the flight finally takes off and reaches altitude -- either on time or late -- then the pressure switch closes and the circuit completes.

So, the discussion about timers isn't very convincing. Indeed, nowadays, with basically every passenger carrying multiple electronic devices being common, they don't even bother to look for the triggers anymore -- they're looking for the explosives.

The reason I point that out is an argument Carl Sagan made about Velikovskys' Worlds in Collision. Sagan saw that the scientific aspects of the argument were basically inane. However, the religious and historical arguments he did find interesting. In talking to a Jesuit, he found that the Jesuit saw that the religious arguments were complete nonsense, but the science was interesting.

Thus, I call this the Sagan Test. If the parts of the argument concern subjects that I am well versed in, and those parts prove to be weak, I assume that the parts of the argument that I am not well versed in are just as week, unless very convincing proof is given otherwise.

So, I see the "timer" argument, and I go "but that's easy..." and start to worry about the rest of the arguments. The point is this -- make your arguments ironclad. If you're making an argument about electronic circuits, engage the services of a solid EE. If you're making an argument about the laws of the Catholic Church, engage them.

Make all of your arguments solid. If you can't, don't include them. Don't give an expert in subject X ground to argue against a point you've made, and cast doubts on your other points.

And, in this case, the arguments that the circuit itself was planted and people were paid to testify that it was present are far more compelling -- you assume that yes, the component could have done the job, but it wasn't there, so it didn't, and any link to Magrahi is meaningless.
posted by eriko at 9:13 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

The SCCRC report has, in fact, just been published. The Herald/Sunday Herald published it last month. The report is here (warning, 800-page pdf), with the newspaper's justification here. (I think the Herald operates an NYT-style free quota, but I guess it should not be a problem for most people).

I think it's clear that there was insufficient evidence to convict Megrahi, and yet there was sufficient political pressure from the UK and US governments to get him convicted anyway, by hook or by crook. The more disturbing aspect for me is that, even if you accept Megrahi's guilt, he clearly did not do it alone. The glaring lack of follow-up on this point by the authorities indicates to me some severe governmental failure, ranging in possible scale from "tawdry cover-up of shitty investigation and sham trial" all the way up to "tin-foil-hat government complicity in plot gone wrong". It's a pretty sordid affair all round.
posted by Jakey at 7:04 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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