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A fisherman’s Reflections on a beautiful but troubled world
Chapter 13 - The Middle East

                                    Oh East is East and West is West
                                   And never the twain shall meet,
                                   Till Earth and Sky stand presently
                                   At God’s great Judgment Seat.

                                    Kipling            The Ballad of East and West

                                    And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
                                    With the name of the late deceased,
                                    And the epitaph drear : “a Fool lies here
                                    Who tried to hustle the East”.

                                    Kipling            Naulahka

[Quoted by John Le Carre (David J.M. Cornwall) on a BBC television interview, with reference to the invasion of Iraq.  The famous spy story writer had no illusions about the consequences of that illegal act of war to obtain control of the second-largest source of petroleum in the world. 

I doubt if Rudyard Kipling had much direct experience of the Arab world, but certainly the culture of the Orient and its people is well expressed in his ballads, two of which are quoted from above.  I have always enjoyed Kipling, and never found him to be the poet of imperialism as some describe him, though they probably studied his life and works more deeply than I.  He described the empire period but also challenged much of the empire attitude.  He spent much of his early years in what is now Pakistan where he was born in Lahore, though his initial education was in England.  He later traveled around the sub-continent, but spent little time in the Middle East or Africa, - regions he was to write about with eloquence and insight.  Kipling spent more time in Burma, China, Japan and the USA, than he did in Arabia or Africa. 

The Middle East

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam has long been a a favourite poem of mine.  How much Edward Fitzgerald’s translation really expresses the Persian philosopher’s ideas has been a matter of debate, but no other translation of the Rubaiyat inspires me like his.  It reads in parts like Ecclesiastes, the profound wisdom book of the aged King Solomon.  My own radical instincts, and my life-long frustration from seeking to rectify or improve matters in situations where the basic structures were very imperfect, find an eloquent echo in the verse :

                        “Ah love, couldst thou and I with fate conspire
                        To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
                        Would we not shatter it to bits, - and then
                        Remould it nearer to the heart’s desire”

A soldier of the British Empire who served in the Middle East and North Africa whose exploits I enjoyed reading was General C.G. Gordon of Khartoum.  He was only 52 when killed by the army of the Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmed.  I knew one of his descendants, a Gioia Gordon, resident in Italy, and there is a house I used to visit in our home town that had connections with his family, but precisely what they were I could not ascertain.

General Charles G. Gordon of Khartoum fame.  He explored much around Yemen and Palestine, discovering “Gordon’s Calvary”, the skull rock and the garden tomb in Jerusalem.  He also discovered the massive rock-hewn water reservoirs in Aden, Yemen. 

Ancient Mesopotamia

The ancient land between the two rivers has a cultural heritage that goes back thousands of years. In the fragile remains of a pioneer of human civilisation in the "Fertile Crescent".  Contemporary with Egyptian civilisation, probably even earlier, there sprang up in Western Asia, in the river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, the region which came to be called Mesopotamia ("between the rivers" in Greek). It was peopled by the Sumerians. Both countries, Egypt and Mesopotamia, had ideal conditions for development: adequate water resources, food and building materials. Both learned how to control water with dikes, distribute it through irrigation ditches, reap abundant harvests, and raise cattle, sheep and goats. Each knew the hoe and the plough. But in Nippur on the Euphrates, donkeys pulled wheeled carts and chariots -- a device that was invented there. There, too, cuneiform writing was developed, inscribed on an almost imperishable pottery tablet. There is evidence of a city community in Mesopotamia even as early as 6000 BC, and the first accounting methods can be traced to the ancient city of Babylon.  The Sumerian city-states continually warred against one another. Soldiers used spears and shields and fought in close formation. In every city officials and priests formed the aristocracy and free landowners the middle class, while slaves were at the lower end of the social strata. The Sumerians built a great tower to their chief god Enil at the ancient city of Nippur. Other towns did the same thing, and the tower of Babylon may well have been based on the one referred to in the Genesis story of the tower of Babel.  The Sumerian empire was founded by the high priest of the god of the city of Erech and extended -- according to an inscription at Nippur -- "from the upper to the lower sea".   That is to say, from the Persian Gulf, west to the Mediterranean or the Red Sea.

These ancestors of the Iraqis ruled a powerful state, which came to an end in 2750 BC when a tribe, the Akkadians who lived in the desert adjoining Sumer, conquered it. Sargon I's Sumerian-Akkadian empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and endured for another two hundred years.  As the kingdom declined, other tribes appeared. The Elamites conquered some of the southern cities, while the Amorites settled in the north and, about 2200 BC, established themselves in the as yet small village of Babylon. There the state built by the great king Hammurabi reached its peak from about 2100 BC. The city of Babylon (which has perished completely), surrounded by its famous walls, developed under his rule. Even more famous were the Hanging Gardens, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.  With his eye upon every corner of the land, the great and powerful Hammurabi saw how necessary it was to bring into uniformity all the various and sometimes conflicting laws and business customs of the land.  He therefore collected them, arranged them systematically, added new and improved laws, and issued his celebrated code for the management of his empire. It was engraved on a piece of stone more than two metres high, at the top of which is a sculptured scene representing Hammurabi receiving the law from the sun-god.

The code, one of the earliest of ancient law, which was set up in the temple of the great god Marduk in Babylon, survived. Copies of it were written on clay tablets and used by the local courts. The law stipulated justice to the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Marriage required a legal agreement between man and wife, and the position of women in the early Babylonian world was a high one. They engaged in business on their own account, and were even professional scribes. Especially prominent in the law was the principle that punishment for an injury should require the infliction of the same injury on the culprit. Even should a house collapse and the son of the householder be killed, it was the guilty builder who must suffer the loss of his own son. The law was understood and adhered to. And, thus regulated, Babylonian communities prospered as never before. 

There was a standing army that kept the frontiers safe and quiet, trade was active, Babylonian merchants used temples as storehouses, loaned money like banks, and dealt in merchandise. Hammurabi's commercial influence was widely felt. To train the future generation and furnish clerks for business and government, schools were established. Clay tablets with the exercises of youths 4,000 years ago have been found.  This was the first chapter of early human progress along the "twin rivers". It was swept away by the horse-breeders (Babylonians called them "animals of the mountain") in the 20th century BC. 

The second chapter of the history of the "twin rivers" occurs in the north-east corner of the desert bay overlooking the Tigris on the east and the desert on the west and south. At Assur, the Assyrian civilisation developed, rising to a peak from about 750 to 612 BC. Nineveh, to the north of Assur, became the capital. The lofty and massive walls of this city, built by the powerful Sennacherib, stretched along the banks of the Tigris. Here, from a lavish palace, he ruled the western Asiatic world with an iron hand, collecting tribute from all the subject peoples and maintaining a system of royal messengers to transmit royal business. It was the beginning of a postal system, and there are indications that it was already in existence in Asia under Egyptian rule, as far back as 2000 BC. [From the Cradle of Civilisation, Al Ahram, Cairo]

Among my many Arab acquaintances, two stand out for very different reasons.  Fahry Shehab was a former financial adviser to the government of Kuwait.  He was also an Oxford Don, and a frustrated mechanic to boot.  His lifelong hobby interest was motor cars, and he longed to become proficient in their maintenance and repair.  But when he attempted to enter a course on motor vehicle mechanics, he was refused admittance on the grounds that he was a University don (though why that should be, neither he nor we could fathom!).  Fahry lived for a period in Bridge of Weir in the west of Scotland, which was where I first made his acquaintance with a few friends.  He was the soul of politeness and courtesy, and for many years, advised us on contacts with the Middle East, and on conducting business in the Arab world. 

Another Arab friend at that time was a young Iraqi, Nabil Orow who had applied for asylum in the west during the dreadful rule of Saddam Hussein.  Nabil wanted the freedom to express his real political and religious beliefs which was not then possible in Iraq, and he was reconsidering his future.  We met in Rome Italy, and for a period I tried to assist him in his applications for acceptance in a western country.  We spent several evenings and weekends together and planned and worked on renewed applications for his acceptance in Britain, America, and Australia.

I wrote to my local MP in Scotland, - Malcolm Rifkind (later UK Foreign Minister, and who was knighted by the Queen).  Mr Rifkind was, as ever, attentive and considerate, but was unable to move the British bureaucracy on the matter.  No one in official position then appeared to take Orow’s case seriously.  However we persevered, and eventually Nabil was accepted by Australia.  There he married a lovely girl and raised a small family.  Then he went on to study law, obtaining a Ph.D in an Australian university. He now practises as a barrister in Victoria.    After all these years we are still able to keep in touch.

In 1978 I was asked to go to North Yemen for a month, by the Indian Ocean Programme which was then headed by a fine Newfoundlander, Harry Winsor, one of the original team of fisheries specialists in the Food and Agriculture Organisation.  North and South Yemen were then separate states.  One was the Yemen Arab Rebublic, and the other was PDRY, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen which was beginning its brief flirtation with Marxism.  (As a comedian once remarked, “any country with democratic in its name, usually is’nt”)!  I found the capital Sanaa and its culture to be quite medieval.  Women were completely veiled; - not an inch of skin visible anywhere.  Even the eyes were hidden behind a lattice in the veil.  The men, mostly bearded, wore turbans and had ornate curved knives stuck in the sash belt around their waist.  Many also carried guns slung over their backs or shoulders; - old fire-pieces they were, that appeared to belong more in a museum than in actual use during the later 20th century.  The food in the quasi-Western restaurants in hotels in Sanaa and Hodeidah, was pretty awful.  The menus were the same in each, and even contained the same mis-prints.  I found the local food in the roadside eating places away from the city much better.  They served mutton soup, and a kind of spicy potato stew that one dipped into with pieces of bread torn of a large flat round loaf.  The girls in those places were not veiled like their city counterparts.  Instead, they had a gypsy look to them, with countless bangles on their arms and ankles.

Map of the Republic of Yemen.  For many years divided into north and south Yemeni states, the country is once more united.   Right : Sanaa, ancient city and capital of Yemen.

The country was fascinating to me for several reasons.  This was the land of the Queen of Sheba.  Her capital was at Marib, east of Sanaa where she had built enormous dams and cut huge water tanks in the rock, amazingly engineered to catch the rain water that ran along the wadis parallel to the coast during the brief periods of heavy rain that occurred every few years.  General Gordon (of Khartoum fame) discovered similar water storage tanks in Aden where they can be seen to this day.  The Arabs called her Bilqis, but to the Israelis she is She’va, though some identify her with Makeda.  Her name is not mentioned in the Bible.  In the first century AD, the historian Josephus referred to her as Nikaulis.  She is reputed to have borne a son to Solomon, who was later sent to Jerusalem for education, and returned to Sheba with 70 nobles to help him run the country. He was Menelek, or Ibn al-Hakim (son of the wise). His descendents ruled the Sheba region for centuries, and the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selasse, claimed to be his direct descendant which is why he took the royal Jewish title, “Lion of the tribe of Judah”.   

Yemen, called “Arabia Felix” by the Romans, was renowned for its wars and feuds, and the period of my visit was no exception.  President Ali Saleh quarreled with the head of the army commando unit who stormed out of Sanaa and took 600 of the troops south across the border.  While I was driving up from Al Mocca on the coast to Taiz in the mountains, jet aircraft buzzed overhead, strafing the commando positions across the border. 

The trip from Sanaa to Hodeidah was an experience.  I had to negotiate with a taxi driver for a fee which he insisted included “qat money”.  Qat is a narcotic leaf the men chew there, much as South Sea Islanders drink kava.  We headed off down the desert road which had sheer drops on one side, and cliffs on the other, past strips of green in tiny streamlet basins, and little villages perched on pinnacles (no invader could ever really conquer that country).  The driver gulped what I hoped was water from a Johnny Walker whiskey bottle, and chewed qat till his cheeks bulged and his eyes dilated.  When we reached the coastal plain it was getting dark and we had to beware of camels which could be difficult to see in the fading light.  They make quite a mess when hit by a speeding car. 

I was to visit Aden, South Yemen twice later.  This was still before the unification of the territories in 1994.  There had been a civil war in 1986, and the royal yacht Britannia had taken numbers of expats out of the port to safety in Djibouti.  While I was there the Britannia was invited back so the Yemenis could thank her for that act of assistance.  I went through the local museum which was like a record of local warfare the past 300 to 400 years.  It also had a large number of gory colour photographs of the recent civil war.  At the airport one could spend the waiting time counting bullet holes in the large plate glass windows.  I believe these scars of the conflict have all since been repaired. 

The British had occupied Aden in 1839, and made it a crown colony in 1957.  In 1967 the territory became the People’s Republic of South Yemen, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1967.  Aden, to me resembled the Khyber Pass, - a region of almost perpetual conflict of one sort or another.   Yet its people, the Yemenis themselves were great company.  They had a forthrightness, a friendliness, and a sense of humour that I found rather Scottish.   The Arab propensity for hospitality, for argument, for honesty and for shrewdly assessing character, used to make me think they must be related to the Scots or the Celts in the dim and distant past. 

North and south Yemen have since been re-united, and remain a maverick part of the Arab world.  The Yemenis take a pride in making their own decisions, regardless of the views or influence of their rich neighbour to the north, Saudi Arabia, and regardless of the positions adopted by Oman, and the Emirate states to the east.  Osama Bin Laden’s family hailed from Yemen, (or part of it), and this may shed some light on how he came to his strong, independent and radical views.

Though I had landed at Teheran airport a few times, and helped administer FAO projects in Iran, I did not have an opportunity to visit that great country.  The nearest I got to the Iranian border was when travelling to the mountains south of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan.  I had known Iraninan students at workshops and seminars, and once met with diplomatic officers from the government of the late Shah.  This was on a tour boat on Moscow river.  Their monarch, Mohammed Resa Shah Pahlavi, was visiting the Soviet Premier at the time.  His entourage of diplomats and aides exhibited culture, learning and sophistication, and made stimulating conversation with me during the afternoon river cruise.  The Shah ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979.  He was briefly ousted in 1953 by the Prime Minister, Dr Mossadegh, but was reinstated with CIA help shortly after.  I recall our press making a fool of Dr Mossadegh at the time because he wept in public.  The Shah then abolished the multi-party system and made the country a one-party state.  He established and supervised a ruthless organisation, the SAVAK secret police.  He was eventually deposed in 1979 despite having a powerful army and an immense arsenal of weapons, and control shifted from the monarchy to the ayatollahs.  There followed a period of difficult relations with the USA, and conflict with Iraq which the USA supported.  In fact the United States had armed both of the belligerants in the Iran – Iraq war, and had turned a blind eye to illegal arms to Iran sales engineered by Colonel North.  He and his boss, National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ignored the law and lied to Congress over dealings with Iran and support to Contras in Nicaragua.  They destroyed evidence in the form of e-mail records but back-up tapes were recovered by the FBI and the Tower Commission.

Dr Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran who was deposed in a CIA engineered coup in 1953.  The United States Government apologized publicly for that interference in 2000.  Mossadegh was a popular Premier who sought to keep Iranian oil out of foreign hands.  The British and American press ridiculed him after he broke down in tears following his overthrow and arrest.

On the right : Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran who replaced Mossadegh..  He ruled from 1941 to 1979. 

I met his entourage on the Shah’s official visit to Moscow in 1965.

A dreadful incident occurred on July 3 1988, when an Iranian air liner on a regular flight (IA 655) from Bander Abbas to Dubai, was shot down by a US cruiser, the Vicennes.  It was an ordinary civilian flight which our project officers often took, although some of President Reagan’s apologists claimed otherwise.  Ultimately the American government paid $ 61 million as an ex gratia compensation, but it never admitted any fault.  Vice President George Bush (senior) stated at the time that he would “never apologise for the United States, no matter what the facts were”.  290 passengers and crew perished in the shooting down of the Airbus 300, including over 60 children and 38 non-Iranians.  The Captain of the Vicennes, and his commanding officer were both decorated with Legion of Merit medals in 1990 for their part in the attack on the civilian airliner.

An Iranian Air passenger jet of the type shot down by the US Navy on 3 July 1988 with the loss of 290 passengers and crew.  It was on a regular flight from Bandar Abbas to Dubai. 

The US warship Vicennes that fired the missile which destroyed the Iranian passenger plane during the Iran / Iraq war.  The Commander was decorated and commended for his action. 

Some observers believe that the bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 5½ months later, on December 21, 1988, was a retaliation by Middle Eastern groups, for the shooting down of the Iranian flight IA 655, and that Libya had little to do with it.  A telephone warning had been received on December 5th, stating that an American airliner flying from Frankfurt to the USA would be destroyed by a bomb in two weeks time.  The caller stated that the bombing would be the work of the Abu Nidal organisation.  The warning was distributed to airlines in Frankfurt, but was ignored by the Pan Am office.    

President Bush appointed a President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, PCAST, to review and report on aviation security in the light of the downing of PA 103.  At a meeting with victims’ relatives in the U.S. Embassy in London on 12 February 1990, a PCAST member told relative Martin Cadman, “Your government and ours know exactly what happened.  But they are never going to tell”.  Veteran British Member of Parliament, Tam Dalyell, reminded the House of Commons of this statement on 11th July 1990, - a statement that he claimed had never been refuted. 

Wreckage of the Pan Am flight at Lockerbie Scotland, December 21, 1988.  It was believed

that a Middle East group had it bombed in retaliation for the Iran Air plane shooting by the United States.   However the US decided to prosecute 2 Libyans for the bombing.  Many now belive they were not guilty.

Veteran Labour Member of Parliament,           Above : Shirley McKie, the Scottish policewoman at
Tam Dalyell who persistently questioned         the centre of a scandal about the operations of the SCRO
the British and US governments’ version         the Scottish Criminal Records Organisation. She was
of the Pan Am bombing, and defects in            falsely accused then freed with £ 750,000 compensation
the subsequent trial.                                    but the UK government and the Scottish Executive would
                                                                          not reveal why or investigate the SCRO.  Then Lord
                                                                          Advocate Colin Boyd resigned.  He had handled the
                                                                         Lockerbie trial in the Hague and was believed to have
                                                                         covered up CIA tampering of evidence at that trial.

Suspicions over the Pan Am bombing and the subsequent trial and conviction of a single Libyan for the crime, Abdel Besset Al Megrahi, have intensified since the discovery of a strange link with a fingerprint case in Scotland.  Policewoman Shirley McKie was accused by the SCRO (Scottish Criminal Records Office) of leaving a print at a murder scene in Glasgow in 1999 and was subsequently tried for perjury.  She was acquitted, and her father, a former police officer himself, pursued the matter doggedly.  Fingerprint experts in England, the USA and Australia testified that the supposed print could not possibly have been hers, and some averred after seeing the subsequent copies, that the original print had been doctored to make it appear to belong to the officer in question.  There was puzzlement in Scotland over the Scottish Executive’s harassment of Miss McKie and its refusal to permit an independent public enquiry to take place.  Then the Scotsman newspaper obtained copies of official documents that showed that the head of Police in Tayside who had looked into the matter, concluded that criminal charges should be brought to bear on some officers of the SCRO Scotland’s main fingerprint unit.  It was further disclosed that the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, who had refused to mount a prosecution but who had decided instead to charge McKie with perjury was the official in charge of the Libyan Lockerbie bombing trial.  It was also later revealed that the FBI had put considerable pressure on British and Scottish authorities to prevent any public enquiry into the McKie case, that might reflect on SCRO competence, and on the integrity of the Lockerbie trial.     

The father of one of the Pan Am flight victims, Dr Swire, wrote to the press pointing out some parallels between Solicitor General / Lord Advocate Boyd’s handling of both cases.  Both the Lockerbie trial and the fingerprint case rested on slender evidence – in the one the charred remains of pieces of a supposed timer, and in the other a much-disputed fingerprint.  In neither case would Boyd allow anyone to view the original piece of evidence.  In both cases the SCRO and related investigation offices were involved.

Some concluded that the United States was determined to obtain a conviction for the Lockerbie bombing, both to abate public outcry, and to direct attention away from the true story of the Pan Am bombing.  The real suspects of that bombing could have exposed the dealings of Colonel North, and the hypocrisy of the USA which had armed despots and Bin Laden-type Arabs.  Any shadow of doubt thrown against the Scottish SCRO would automatically put the Lockerbie verdict in doubt.  Therefore, the Scottish Executive, including its First Minister and its Minister of Justice, absolutely refused to permit a public enquiry, and the now suspect Attorney General threw his weight behind their decision. 

Colonel Oliver North, who was deeply involved in selling arms to Iran to finance Contra mercenaries in Central America, contrary to official US government policy.  He went on to play a nefarious role in the Middle East, and may have been partly responsible for setting up Terry Waite for abduction by Arab militants, which may explain Waite’s public expression of forgiveness to North at a televised meeting.

Pan Am 103 / Lockerbie questions

The father of Flora Swire, one of the 270 innocent victims of the Pan Am bombing, Dr Jim Swire, and other concerned persons have raised numerous questions about the downing of flight Pan Am 103 and related incidents, in an endeavour to uncover the truth of the whole matter.  They have met largely with a wall of official silence and non-response.  One of their conclusions was that the Lockerbie trial failed several basic principles of justice and evidence.  Among the many queries were concerns on the involvement of one Vincent Cannistraro who was put in charge of the CIA investigation but who was not required to appear as a witness.  Cannistraro was one of the leaders of the brutal CIA Nicaragua campaign, financed partly by the “arms for Iran” Contra scandal.  He was also involved in secretly helping to arm Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in the 1980’s but none of these matters were revealed at the trial.  During 1986 – 88 he was responsible for White House disinformation and lies against Libya.  During the Lockerbie investigation, his agents removed evidence illegally and reinserted at least one piece after it had been tampered with.   The forensic scientists Lockerbie notebook contained a page recording the only fragment of bomb found at the scene. The page had been manually inserted, and all pages subsequently renumbered by hand.

The Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, who provided conflicting identification evidence, had been promised $ 4 million by the USA if Al Megrahi was convicted, but none of that was revealed at the trial.  Palestinian terrorist Marwan Khreesat was employed by Ahmed Jibril, Jordanian intelligence and possibly also the CIA to make barometrically triggered bombs for Jibril’s group, targeting Pan Am flights.  Why was one stolen just a day before Khreesat’s arrest ?  Could it have been the fatal bomb on flight 103 ?   More alarmingly, the UK Government issued two telex warnings days before the bombing.  One carried a picture of the Khreesat bomb with instructions to the airline that if such a device was found, it should be “consigned to the hold of the plane”.  Two days after the bombing, Iran admitted paying the Jibril group $ 11 million, and some months later, paying $ 0.5 million to Abu Talb.  These allegations all point to the generally believed explanation of the destruction of the Pan Am flight, - that it was a pledged response to the downing of a civilian Iranian jet (flight IA 655 from Bandar Abbas to Dubai) by the USS Vicennes earlier that year, with the loss of 290 innocent passengers.  (Though denied at the time, the Vicennes was later admitted to have been inside Iranian territorial waters, and firing on Iranian boats when it shot the airliner). The US government never admitted liability, but under President Clinton, on 26 February 1966, it agreed to to pay an ex gratia sum of $ 61.8 million to Iran and the flight victims families.   

The IA 655 shooting and its aftermath brought out some shameful propaganda and ‘spin’ by American politicians and reporters.  Ronald Reagan claimed that the civilian jet was diving towards the U.S. Navy ship, and increasing speed.  Larry King demanded to know from the Iranian Ambassador, “why a predominately business flight was carrying so many women and children” !!! This was rubbish.  I knew the flight which my FAO colleagues often took.  Captain William C Rogers III of the guided missile cruiser, and his air warfare coordinator, Lt. Com. Lustig, were awarded the Legion of Merit medal by President George H W Bush in 1990, for “excellent meritorious conduct” on the day in question.      But back to Pan Am flight 103, -

Behind or around the Pan Am / Lockerbie crash, and other sinister events like the illegal sale of arms to Iran, the involvement of the CIA in the drug trade, the financing of brutal Contras in Nicaragua, and the abduction and imprisonment of Terry Waite, - lurks the shadow of one Colonel Oliver North.  Several who studied the Lockerbie case in great detail claim that  most American personnel were warned off flight 103, yet it did contain some CIA agents en route the USA to testify against Oliver North over “arms for Iran” and other matters.  But this belief and much of the information above has not been endorsed or admitted by U.S. or UK authorities.

Map of the theatre of the Iran-Iraq war 1980 to 1988.

The city of Teheran, capital of Iran

Other questions

The more one looks into the details of the Pan Am flight bombing, the more questions are raised.  I mention some here, and readers can peruse the blogs at leisure on the internet.  One of the troubling issues concerns the individuals who cancelled their reservations on PA 103, and others one would have expected to be pulled out (if official warnings were issued), yet who did travel on the flight, and so perished with the 259 victims. 

Pick Botha, (former South African Foreign Minister) was to travel on 103 en route to the UN New York to sign the Accords granting independence to Namibia.  Not so fortunate was the UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bengt Carlsson, also headed for the UN meeting.  He was to die on flight 103. The United States Ambassador to Lebanon at that time John McCarthy, is believed to have withdrawn from the flight as was Steven Greene of the Office of Intelligence of the U.S. Drug enforcement Agency, and a son of Oliver Revell of the FBI. 

If as appears to be the case, certain U.S. and diplomatic figures were warned or advised not to go on flight 103, why was a party of CIA officers not aware of this or not directed to another airline ?   Among those killed were at least 4, and perhaps 5 or more, agents from the U.S. intelligence services.   Their names were, Matthew Gannon and Major Chuck McKee of the Agency’s Beirut office.  Accompanying them (possibly as bodyguards), Ronald Lariviere, also from Beirut, and Daniel O’Connor from the American embassy in Nicosia.  All four had flown from Cyprus that morning, and McKee is believed to have been trying to locate and secure the release of American hostages being held by Hezbollah.  Some students of the event and the CIA operations believe that McKee and his colleagues had uncovered sinister connections between Oliver North and drug dealers in the Middle East, and were to report on this back in the USA.  Certainly the CIA showed great interest in McKee’s luggage.  They are understood to have taken his suitcase from the crash site, and returned it later devoid of contents. 

McKee’s mother, Beulah, strongly suspected collusion of intelligence authorities in her son’s death, and has badgered the government in vain for years, to get at the truth, and obtain answers to her questions.  Interviewed by Time magazine, Beulah McKee, then 75, said she thought that her son’s death was the result of a government operation gone horribly awry. She was never satisfied with what Washington officials told her.

Pan Am’s insurers hired a security company, Interfor, to investigate.  They supported the suspicion of U.S. involvement with a Middle East heroin smuggling operation, and the switch of the bomb suitcase with the drugs one.  The heroin operation may have been part of a drugs for hostages deal, organised by a rogue CIA unit in Frankfurt and somehow linked to Oliver North’s arms for Iran to finance Contras, scandal.

Parents of Lockerbie victims, Paul Hudson, a New York lawyer, and Dr Jim Swire of England, wrote jointly to President George HW Bush, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, accusing them and their administrations of downplaying evidence and stringing out the investigation till the case could be dismissed as ancient history. 

Probably the most distinguished commentator on the Lockerbie / Pan Am case is Professor Robert Black, a distinguished academic lawyer who is held in high regard internationally. The following brief on him is from the Edinburgh University web site:

“Robert Black has been Professor of Scots Law in the University since January 1981, having previously been in practice at the Bar. For various periods between 1983 and 1999 he served as Head of the Department of Scots (later Private) Law. He has been an Advocate since 1972, a QC since 1987 and a member of every Dean's Council from 1984 to 2003. From 1987 to 1996 he was General Editor of The Laws of Scotland: Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia (25 volumes), having previously acted for six years as deputy to the late Sir Thomas Smith QC. From 1981 to 1994 he served as a temporary sheriff. Over the years Robert Black has acted as the Law Society of Scotland's examiner in Evidence and as the examiner in Civil and Criminal Procedure and Pleading for solicitors seeking extended rights of audience, and as the Faculty of Advocates' examiner in Private Law. He has taken a close interest in the Lockerbie affair since 1993, not least because he was born and brought up in the town, and has published a substantial number of articles on the topic in the United Kingdom and overseas. Professor Robert Black is often referred to as the architect of the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands: see and  “

Interested readers should consult the web sites above.  The following is an extract from Professor Black’s papers on the Lockerbie trial, reproduced with his kind permission :



On 31 January 2001, after just over one hundred and thirty court days of a trial that had started on 3 May 2000, the three judges in the Lockerbie trial (Lords Sutherland, Coulsfield and MacLean) returned a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder in respect of the first accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, and a unanimous verdict of not guilty of murder in respect of the second accused, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima1.  Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least twenty years. 


The prosecution in their closing submissions conceded that the case against the accused was entirely circumstantial.  That, of course, is no bar to a verdict of guilty.  Circumstantial evidence can be just as persuasive and just as damning as the direct evidence of eyewitnesses to the commission of a crime.  But to many observers, including me, it seemed that the case presented by the prosecution was a very weak circumstantial one, and was further undermined by the additional prosecution concession that they had not been able to prove how the bomb that destroyed Pan Am 103 got into the interline baggage system and onto the aircraft.


The trial court’s crucial findings and were they justified?

From the 90 paragraph written judgement produced by the trial court (available on the Scottish Courts website it is clear that the court convicted Megrahi on the basis of the following nine factors.


1.  The bomb was detonated through the mechanism of a MST-13 digital electronic timer manufactured by a Swiss company (MeBo) and supplied principally (but not exclusively) to Libya.


Commentary.   The judges accepted prosecution evidence that a fragment of circuit board found among the wreckage of Pan Am 103 came from a MeBo MST-13 timer.  The managing director of MeBo had denied this in his evidence, but his credibility was, unsurprisingly, assessed as being very low.  The evidence established that timers of this model were supplied predominantly to Libya (though a few did go elsewhere, such as to the East German Stasi).  This fragment is also important since it was the only piece of evidence that indicated that the Lockerbie bomb was detonated by a stand-alone, long-running timing mechanism, as distinct from a short-term timer triggered by a barometric device when the aircraft reached a pre-determined altitude (a method known to be favoured by certain Palestinian terrorist cells operating in Europe in 1988).  The provenance of this vitally important piece of evidence was challenged by the defence and, in their written Opinion, the judges accept that in a substantial number of respects this fragment, for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained, was not dealt with by the investigators and forensic scientists in the same way as other pieces of electronic circuit board (of which there were a multitude).  The judges say that they are satisfied that there was no sinister reason for the differential treatment.  But regrettably they do not find it at all necessary to enlighten us regarding the reasons for their satisfaction.


2.  A company of which a member of the Libyan intelligence services (Badri Hassan) was a principal for a time had office accommodation in the premises of the Swiss manufacturer, MeBo.


3.  Megrahi was a member of the Libyan intelligence service.


Commentary.  The only evidence to this effect came from a Libyan defector and CIA asset, Abdul Majid Giaka, now living in the United States under a witness protection programme.  He gave evidence highly incriminating of both Megrahi and the co-accused Fhima.  However, the trial judges rejected his evidence as wholly and utterly unworthy of credit, with the sole exception of his evidence regarding the Libyan intelligence service and Megrahi’s position therein.  The court provides no reasons for accepting Giaka’s evidence on this issue while comprehensively rejecting it on every other matter.


4.  The suitcase which contained the bomb also contained clothes and an umbrella bought in a particular shop, Mary’s House, in Sliema, Malta.


5.  Megrahi was identified by the Maltese shopkeeper as the person who bought the clothes and umbrella.


Commentary.  The most that the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, would say (either in his evidence in court or at an identification parade before the trial or in a series of nineteen police statements over the years) was that Megrahi “resembled a lot” the purchaser, a phrase which he equally used with reference to Abu Talb, one of those mentioned in the special defence of incrimination lodged on behalf of Megrahi.  Gauci had also described his customer to the police as being six feet [183 cms] tall and over fifty years of age.  The evidence at the trial established (i) that Megrahi is five feet eight inches [173 cms] tall and (ii) that in late 1988 he was thirty-six years of age.  On this material, the judges found in fact that Megrahi was the purchaser.


6.  The purchases were made on 7 December 1988, a date when Megrahi was proved to be on Malta and not on 23 November 1988 when he was not.


Commentary.  By reference to the dates on which international football matches were broadcast on television on Malta, Tony Gauci was able to narrow down the date of purchase of the items in question to either 23 November or 7 December.  In an attempt to establish just which, the weather conditions in Sliema on these two days were explored. Gauci’s evidence was that when the purchaser left his shop it was raining to such an extent that his customer thought it advisable to buy an umbrella to protect himself while he went in search of a taxi.  The unchallenged meteorological evidence led by the defence established that while it had rained on 23 November at the relevant time, it was unlikely that it had rained at all on 7 December; and if there had been any rain, it would have been at most a few drops, insufficient to wet the ground.  On this material, the judges found in fact that the clothes were purchased on 7 December.


7.  The suitcase containing the bomb was sent as unaccompanied baggage from Luqa Airport in Malta, via Frankfurt, on the morning of 21 December 1988 on an Air Malta flight, KM 180.


Commentary.  The trial judges held it proved that the bomb was contained in a piece of unaccompanied baggage which was transported on Air Malta flight KM 180 from Luqa to Frankfurt on 21 December 1988, and was then carried on a feeder flight to Heathrow where Pan Am flight 103 was loaded from empty.  The evidence supporting the finding that there was such a piece of unaccompanied baggage was a computer printout which could be interpreted to indicate that a piece of baggage went through the particular luggage coding station at Frankfurt Airport used for baggage from KM 180, and was routed towards the feeder flight to Heathrow, at a time consistent with its having been offloaded from KM 180.  Against this, the evidence from Luqa Airport in Malta (whose baggage reconciliation and security systems were proven to be, by international standards, very effective) was to the effect that there was no unaccompanied bag on that flight to Frankfurt. All luggage on that flight was accounted for.  The number of bags loaded into the hold matched the number of bags checked in (and subsequently collected) by the passengers on the aircraft.  The court nevertheless held it proved that there had been a piece of unaccompanied baggage on flight KM 180.


8.  Megrahi was in Malta on the night of 20/21 December 1988 and left for Tripoli from Luqa Airport on the morning of 21 December.


9.  On this visit Megrahi had been travelling on a passport (in a name other than his own) which was never subsequently used.


Commentary.  Megrahi (inexplicably, in the view of many) was not called by his lawyers to give evidence on his own behalf at the trial; so no explanation of his use of this passport was ever supplied to the court.  There is an innocent (ie non-Lockerbie related) explanation (involving his role in seeking to circumvent US trade sanctions against Libya and obtain Boeing aircraft spare parts on behalf of his employers, Libyan Arab Airlines) which could have been provided.


It is my firm view that the crucial incriminating findings made by the judges were unwarranted by the evidence led in court and were in many cases entirely contrary to the weight of that evidence.  I am convinced that no Scottish jury, following the instructions traditionally given by judges regarding the assessment of evidence and the meaning and application of the concept of reasonable doubt, would or could have convicted Megrahi.


So how did it come about that the three distinguished and experienced judges who concurred in the verdict felt able to convict him?


In paragraph 89 of the Opinion of the Court it is stated: “We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications.  We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified.”    Regrettably, in my submission, the judges’ intellectual recognition of the danger does not appear to have enabled them to avoid it. [In John Lawton’s excellent novel A Little White Death (Orion Books Ltd, London, 1998) a fictionalised account of the Profumo affair and the Stephen Ward trial, the hero (p501 of the 1999 paperback edition) describes the presiding judge in the trial (Mr Justice Mirkeyn) as follows: “Everyone doing what they think is expected of them.  Mirkeyn did the same.  It’s probably never crossed Mirkeyn’s mind that he’s a bad judge or a bent judge.  He simply did what was expected.  Didn’t even need a nod or a wink.”]


Below: Robert Black  Professor Emeritus of Scots Law, Edinburgh, Scotland





Before the verdicts in the original trial were delivered, I publicly expressed the view that for the judges to return verdicts of guilty they would require (i) to accept every incriminating inference that the Crown invited them to draw from evidence that was on the face of it neutral and capable of supporting quite innocent inferences, (ii) to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, positively identified Megrahi as the person who bought from his shop in Sliema the clothes and umbrella contained in the suitcase that held the bomb and (iii) to accept that the date of purchase of these items was proved to be 7 December 1988 (as distinct from 23 November 1988 when Megrahi was not present on Malta).  I went on rashly to express the opinion that, for the judges to be satisfied of all these matters on the evidence led at the trial, they would require to adopt the posture of the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, when she informed Alice "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  In convicting Megrahi, it is submitted that this is precisely what the trial judges did.


As far as the outcome of the appeal is concerned, some commentators confidently opined that, in dismissing Megrahi’s appeal, the Appeal Court endorsed the findings of the trial court.  This is not so.  The Appeal Court repeatedly stresses that it is not its function to approve or disapprove of the trial court’s findings-in-fact, given that it was not contended on behalf of the appellant that there was insufficient evidence to warrant them or that no reasonable court could have made them.  These findings-in-fact accordingly continue, as before the appeal, to have the authority only of the court which, and the three judges who, made them. 

On 28 June 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Megrahi’s conviction of the Lockerbie bombing back to the High Court of Justiciary for a further appeal. The case had been under consideration by the SCCRC since September 2003 and its statement of reasons (available only to Megrahi, to the Crown and to the High Court) extends to over 800 pages, accompanied by thirteen volumes of appendices.  The Commission, in the published summary of its findings. [To be found at] Rejected submissions on behalf of Megrahi to the effect that evidence led at the trial had been fabricated and that he had been inadequately represented by his then legal team, but went on to indicate that there were six grounds upon which it had concluded that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred.  Strangely enough, however, only four of these grounds are enumerated in the summary.  They are as follows:


“A number of the submissions made on behalf of the applicant challenged the reasonableness of the trial court's verdict, based on the legal test contained in section 106(3)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. The Commission rejected the vast majority of those submissions. However, in examining one of the grounds, the Commission formed the view that there is no reasonable basis in the trial court's judgment for its conclusion that the purchase of the items from Mary's House, took place on 7 December 1988. Although it was proved that the applicant was in Malta on several occasions in December 1988, in terms of the evidence 7 December was the only date on which he would have had the opportunity to purchase the items. The finding as to the date of purchase was therefore important to the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser. Likewise, the trial court's conclusion that the applicant was the purchaser was important to the verdict against him. Because of these factors the Commission has reached the view that the requirements of the legal test may be satisfied in the applicant's case.


“New evidence not heard at the trial concerned the date on which the Christmas lights were illuminated in thearea of Sliema in which Mary's House is situated. In the Commission's view, taken together with Mr Gauci's evidence at trial and the contents of his police statements, this additional evidence indicates that the purchase of the items took place prior to 6 December 1988. In other words, it indicates that the purchase took place at a time when there was no evidence at trial that the applicant was in Malta.

“Additional evidence, not made available to the defence, which indicates that four days prior to the identification parade at which Mr Gauci picked out the applicant, he saw a photograph of the applicant in a magazine article linking him to the bombing. In the Commission's view evidence of Mr Gauci's exposure to this photograph in such close proximity to the parade undermines the reliability of his identification of the applicant at that time and at the trial itself.

“Other evidence, not made available to the defence, which the Commission believes may further undermine Mr Gauci's identification of the applicant as the purchaser and the trial court's finding as to the date of purchase.”


This new appeal will, at the very least, address the fundamental issues of (i) whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant the trial court’s incriminating findings and (ii) whether any reasonable court could have made those findings (and could have been satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of Megrahi) on the evidence led at Camp Zeist.  Until this is done, I will continue to maintain that a shameful miscarriage of justice has been perpetrated and that the Scottish criminal justice system has been gravely sullied.


Note :  The powers that be ensured that the Magrahi appeal would never be held in a court of law.  There are facts and issues about the Pan Am flight destruction that the USA would want to suppress and keep the public unaware of.  Nevertheless, Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Jusrice Minister.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAR, each of which I visited only when in transit through the region, together with Iraq and Iran, are the world’s richest oil states.  The whole region, and Saudi in particular, sits upon a sea of petroleum deposits under the desert sands.  The black liquid gold has financed the enormous development of the area over the past 40 years.  It has become the world’s greatest supplier of fossil fuel energy, supplying a major part of the energy needs of the USA, Europe, and much of the Far East.  The enormous surplus wealth has financed the opulent lifestyles of oil sheikhs, the growth of petro-dollar banks, and also to some degree, the activities of extremist groups like Al Qaida.   The huge petroleum corporations, mainly American, have also waxed rich and powerful from its oil business.  A mere 60 years ago the region was still medieval in character, a hostile desert environment peopled by bedouin tribes and quarreling sheiks, producing little of note but dates and camels, and conducting a limited trade in gold, coffee, perfumes and gems. Today its produce powers the world’s industries and transport systems, and finances a major part of the global economy.

Arab fishing boats

However, we must leave Arabia and continue east to the countries of Pakistan, and India.

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