If you need more proof that we are living in a masquerade, in a world of sham, show and deceit, in a veritable -- dare we say it? -- empire burlesque, look no further than the recent manufactured "scandal" over the release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.
Al-Megrahi, who is dying, was released on "compassionate grounds" by the Scottish government last week, and returned to a hero's welcome in his native land of Libya. As soon as he was freed, we heard howls of outrage from Washington: how could such a heinous killer be allowed to walk free? There were stern words from the UK government in London, which pretended that it had nothing to do with the Scots' decision. There was ponderous talk from various punditti about a breach in the "special relationship," even of boycotts of British goods.
All of this -- every bit of it -- was just shoddy theatrics, a puppet show for the rubes. You can bet that every single official trumpeting their moral outrage at al-Megrahi's release knew the truth of the matter: he was not released because he was dying, but because the slow-turning wheels of his appeals process was about to force the release of hundreds of pages of damning documents that would confirm, yet again, that he had been, as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission put it, the victim of a "miscarriage of justice" -- a frame job by the US and UK governments which has been covered up, in admirable bipartisan fashion, for years.
John Pilger and William Blum lay out the details. First Pilger:
No one in authority has had the guts to state the truth about the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above the Scottish village of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 in which 270 people were killed. The governments in England and Scotland in effect blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release. Of course there were oil and arms deals under way with Libya; but had Megrahi proceeded with his appeal, some 600 pages of new and deliberately suppressed evidence would have set the seal on his innocence and given us more than a glimpse of how and why he was stitched up for the benefit of "strategic interests."
"The endgame came down to damage limitation," said the former CIA officer Robert Baer, who took part in the original investigation, "because the evidence amassed by [Megrahi's] appeal is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice." New witnesses would show that it was impossible for Megrahi to have bought clothes that were found in the wreckage of the Pan Am aircraft -- he was convicted on the word of a Maltese shopowner who claimed to have sold him the clothes, then gave a false description of him in 19 separate statements and even failed to recognize him in the courtroom....
Megrahi was convicted by three Scottish judges sitting in a courtroom in "neutral" Holland. There was no jury. One of the few reporters to sit through the long and often farcical proceedings was the late Paul Foot, whose landmark investigation in Private Eye exposed it as a cacophony of blunders, deceptions and lies: a whitewash.
...Foot reported that most of the staff of the US embassy in Moscow who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights from Frankfurt canceled their bookings when they were alerted by US intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned. He named Margaret Thatcher the "architect" of the cover-up after revealing that she killed the independent inquiry her transport secretary Cecil Parkinson had promised the Lockerbie families; and in a phone call to President George Bush Sr. on 11 January 1990, she agreed to "low-key" the disaster after their intelligence services had reported "beyond doubt" that the Lockerbie bomb had been placed by a Palestinian group contracted by Tehran as a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a US warship in Iranian territorial waters. Among the 290 dead were 66 children. In 1990, the ship's captain was awarded the Legion of Merit by Bush Sr. "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer."
Perversely, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Bush needed Iran's support as he built a "coalition" to expel his wayward client from an American oil colony. The only country that defied Bush and backed Iraq was Libya. "Like lazy and overfed fish," wrote Foot, "the British media jumped to the bait. In almost unanimous chorus, they engaged in furious vilification and op-ed warmongering against Libya." The framing of Libya for the Lockerbie crime was inevitable. Since then, a US defense intelligence agency report, obtained under Freedom of Information, has confirmed these truths and identified the likely bomber; it was to be centerpiece of Megrahi's defense.
And that is the crux of the matter, and the reason for the release. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission had referred the case for appeal. The intelligence agency reports would have been forced into the open by a new hearing. No one wanted that. The sacred "continuity" of the militarist oligarchies in America and Britain would have been shaken if the truth of how they really operate -- regardless of which party is in office -- came out.
President Obama said that the jubilant welcome Megrahi received was "highly objectionable". His White House spokesman Robert Gibbs added that the welcoming scenes in Libya were "outrageous and disgusting". British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "angry and repulsed", while his foreign secretary, David Miliband, termed the celebratory images "deeply upsetting." Miliband warned: "How the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days will be very significant in the way the world views Libya's reentry into the civilized community of nations."
Ah yes, "the civilized community of nations", that place we so often hear about but so seldom get to actually see. American officials, British officials, and Scottish officials know that Megrahi is innocent. They know that Iran financed the PFLP-GC, a Palestinian group, to carry out the bombing with the cooperation of Syria, in retaliation for the American naval ship, the Vincennes, shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in July of the same year, which took the lives of more people than did the 103 bombing. And it should be pointed out that the Vincennes captain, plus the officer in command of air warfare, and the crew were all awarded medals or ribbons afterward. No one in the US government or media found this objectionable or outrageous, or disgusting or repulsive. The United States has always insisted that the shooting down of the Iranian plane was an "accident". Why then give awards to those responsible?