Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Thoughts on the Benghazi Six Verdict

As promised, here's my take on the Benghazi Six case. Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to ascertain the Libyan side of the story. All news agencies (including, perhaps surprisingly, Al Jazeera) seem more interested in interviewing EU and Bulgarian government officials and the relatives of the 5 Bulgarian nurses. I saw no mention of the Palestinian doctor's relatives or the 11 Libyans who had been charged alongside the nurses. No interviews of Libyan officials, no analysis of the rules and procedures of the Libyan justice system. Based on the skewed coverage, it seems that there is a media consensus that the Libyans are either wholly incompetent or that the outcome was a foregone conclusion based on political considerations and not on evidence.

Now, on the face of it, the verdict does seem suspect. After all many pre-eminent scientists, including the co-discoverers of the AIDS virus, have trashed the state's evidence. One of the world's most prestigious science publications, Nature, claims to have acquired a copy of a document written by five Libyan physicians in 2003 that is the cornerstone of the prosecution's case, had it translated into English and presented to independent experts for assessment. All agreed that its accusations were unsupported by fact and riddled with suppositions. The trial has been lampooned by Amnesty International, Lawyers Without Borders, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the EU, Germany, the US and Bulgaria. However, without hearing from the Libyans, I am unable to come to a definitive conclusion. I have to rely on the credibility of the media, scientists, the governments of the West, international NGOs and the UN.

The scientists are, to my mind, the most believable of the lot. Their consensus points to the innocence of the accused. However, the scientific evidence has to be subjected to the rules and procedures of the court (remember the OJ Simpson case?) and I am ignorant of those.

How about the governments and international NGOs? The Benghazi case mirrors the trial and conviction of alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. That trial too was denounced by Professor Hans Köchler, who was appointed as UN observer by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as a politically motivated "show trial" and "a spectacular miscarriage of justice". None other than Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, who drew up the 1991 indictment against the two accused Libyans and issued warrants for their arrest, has cast doubt upon the reliability of the main prosecution witness, Tony Gauci. Lord Fraser criticised the Maltese shopkeeper for being "not quite the full shilling" and an "apple short of a picnic".

In fact, evidence points to the framing of Libya as a scapegoat in that incident where 270 people lost their lives after a bomb exploded on board Pan Am Flight 103 as it overflew the Scottish town of Lockerbie. In 2005, a retired senior Scottish police chief gave defence lawyers a signed statement, which confirmed the claims made in 2003 by a former CIA agent that his CIA bosses actually wrote the script to incriminate Libya. He accused American intelligence agents of planting a circuit board fragment, identified as part of a sophisticated explosive timing device made by Swiss firm Mebo and only supplied to Libya and the East German Stasi. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP who played a crucial role in organising the trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, declared that Libya had nothing to do with the bombing. He accuses Iran of contracting the Popoular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) to carry out the atrocity, in retaliation for the downing of an Iranian civilian airliner by a US Navy warship. On July 3, 1998 Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by the U.S.S. Vincennes killing all 290 passengers and crew as the plane flew over the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. In spite of the fact that the US ship was at the time of the shooting operating illegally in Iranian territorial waters, the plane was flying within an internationally recognised air corridor, and the US military issuing a statement holding the crew accountable for the shooting, the US refused to apologize and to accept responsibility and liability for the incident. At a news conference on 2 August 1988, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush declared, "I will never apologize for the United States of America — I don't care what the facts are". There was nothing in the way of punishment for the crew of the Vincennes. On the contrary, they were awarded combat-action ribbons. The air warfare coordinator on board, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Lustig, received a commendation medal for his ability to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure"--the same firing procedure that shot down Flight 655. In February 1996 the US agreed to pay Iran US$ 61.8 million in compensation ($300,000 per wage-earning victim, $150,000 per non-wage-earner) for the 248 Iranians killed in the shootdown in a successful bid to discontinue a case brought by Iran in 1989 before in the International Court of Justice. This pales in comparison with the US$10 million per family compensation paid out by Libya over the Lockerbie incident.

Why do I bring up these two cases? First, to counter the impression that the Western courts are more reliable than their Libyan counterparts in dispensing justice. The Lockerbie verdict demonstrates that they are just as prone to political pressure as are the Libyans. Therefore holding the Benghazi Six trial in Western capitals, as has been suggested, is no guarantee of a fair verdict. Secondly, to demonstrate that the West has a history of shielding it's nationals from the legal consequences of crimes committed in other countries. Bulgaria is in line to join the EU and I don't expect the EU to uphold justice when it is their potential citizens in the dock.

And thirdly, to show that the value the West places on the lives of citizens of other countries is much lower than that they place on the lives of their own citizens. This is best demonstrated by comparing the compensation paid by the US in the Iran Air Flight 655 case, with that demanded of Libya in the Pan Am Flight 103 case. Effectively the family of each adult victim on board Pan Am 103 would receive 33 times the equivalent sum of the family of each victim on Flight 655, whilst each child or senior citizen on Flight 103 would receive 66 times the amount received by the families of their counterparts on Flight 655. It is thus unlikely that the West would lose much sleep over the lives of 426 Libyan kids who may or may not have been deliberately infected with AIDS.

In the same way, the deafening silence of the media, Amnesty International and Lawyers without Borders on Al Megrahi's plight is a telling indictment of their credibility. Apart from a few dissenting voices, there has been no press coverage of the scale we are witnessing now. Lawyers without Borders have not sent anyone to assist with Al Megrahi's defence and I couldn't find a single statement on Amnesty International's website condemning the conduct of the case. He continues to rot in a Scottish jail, serving out his life sentence (parole is at least 20 years away), awaiting the results of a review of his case by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which has been looking into his case since 2004.

The UN though has been consistent in condemning both verdicts and so I choose to take their word. Combined with the consensus of the scientific community, it leads me conclude that it is most likely there has been a miscarriage of justice in Benghazi. I will await the results of an appeal to the Libyan Supreme Court to see whether the Libyan Judges agree with me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very telling that Amnesty International and Lawyers Without Borders wouldn't support Megrahi's case. HE's GUILTY.
And the only people from the U.N. who have voiced support for Megrahi are Hans Koechler, Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela - NOT the entire U.N.; as you lead readers to believe.