The PanAm 103 Verdict

William Blum


papers are filled with pictures of happy relatives of the victims of the 1988

bombing of PanAm 103. A Libyan, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, was just found

guilty of the bombing by a Scottish court in the Hague, his co-defendant, Al

Amin Khalifa Fhimah, being acquitted. At long last there’s going to be some kind

of closure for the families.


wrong with this picture?


wrong is that the evidence against Megrahi is thin to the point of transparency.

The court verdict might be dubbed Supreme Court II, another instance of

non-judicial factors clouding judicial reasoning. The three Scottish judges can

not have relished returning to the UK after finding both defendants innocent of

the murder of 270 people, largely from the UK and the US. Not to mention having

to directly face dozens of hysterical victims’ family members in the courtroom.

And with the full knowledge of the desires of Washington and Downing Street as

to the outcome.


have now read the entire 26,000-word Opinion of the Court which accompanied the

verdict. One has to do that, as well as being very familiar with the history of

the case, as I am, to appreciate what the judges did. I can only offer here a

few examples of the many questionable aspects of the decision.


key charge against Megrahi — the sine qua non — is that he caused a suitcase

with explosives to be loaded at Malta airport and tagged it so it would pass

through Malta, Frankfurt and London airports without an accompanying passenger

and without being inspected. That by itself would have been a major feat and so

unlikely to happen that any terrorist with any common sense would have found a

better way. But aside from anything else, we have this — as to the first step,

loading the suitcase at Malta: there is no witness, no video, no document, no

fingerprints, no nothing, no evidence of any kind. And the court admits it:

"The absence of any explanation of the method by which the primary suitcase

might have been placed on board KM180 [Air Malta] is a major difficulty for the

Crown case."


court places great — nay, paramount — weight upon the supposed identification

of Megrahi by a storekeeper in Malta as the purchaser of the clothing found in

the bomb suitcase. But this storekeeper had earlier identified several other

people as the culprit, including one who was a CIA agent. When he finally

identified Megrahi from a photo, it was after Megrahi’s photo had been in the

world news for years. Again, the court acknowledges the possible danger inherent

in such a decision:


identifications were criticised inter alia on the ground that photographs of the

accused have featured many times over the years in the media and accordingly

purported identifications more than ten years after the event are of little if

any value.


Opinion of the Court places considerable weight as well on the suspicious

behavior of Megrahi prior to the fatal day, making much of his comings and

goings abroad, phone calls to unknown parties for unknown reasons, the use of a

pseudonym, etc. The three judges try to squeeze as much mileage out of these

events as they can, as if they had no better case to make. But Megrahi was

seemingly a member of Libyan intelligence, and last we all knew, Libya is

entitled to have an intelligence service, and intelligence agents have been

known to act … well, in mysterious ways, for whatever assignment they’re on.

The court had no idea what assignment, if any, Megrahi was working on.


is much more that is known about the case that makes the court verdict and

written opinion questionable, although credit must be given the court for its

frankness about what it was doing, even while it was doing it. "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." Let’s hope that

Megrahi is really guilty. It would be a terrible shame if he spends the rest of

his life in prison because back in 1990, as the United States was preparing for

war against Iraq and needed Syria and Iran as allies, Washington suddenly

dropped those two countries as the prime suspects in the plane bombing and —

seemingly from nowhere — discovered Libya, the Arab state least supportive of

the US buildup to the Gulf War. Judges should always be judged guilty until they

are proven innocent.


Blum is the author of "Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only

Superpower" and "Killing Hope:US Military and CIA Interventions Since

World War 2"


detailed article on the PanAm 103 case by William Blum can be found at


full text of the Opinion of the Court can be found at



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