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Two Libyan men stand accused of planting the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people, in 1988. They are being framed, says James Heartfield

Framing Libya


According to Lester Coleman, a former agent of America's Defence Intelligence Agency, American and British authorities have conspired to blame Libya for the Lockerbie bombing when the evidence points elsewhere. Having written a book exposing the frame-up, Coleman has fled to Sweden, where he has been granted asylum.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah have been charged with planting the bomb by the Western authorities. But Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, the Libyan leader, is the real target of the frame-up. His regime is a convenient whipping-boy for Western powers which want to demonstrate their authority on the world stage. Being seen to push the 'terrorist state' around can make Western leaders look far stronger than they do at home.

Under pressure from the USA, Britain and France, the United Nations has now imposed sanctions against Libya to force Gadaffi to hand over the two accused. Quite apart from the suffering sanctions themselves will cause, the demonisation of Gadaffi's Libya is paving the way towards more Western military strikes in the Middle East.

Drugs smugglers

Furthermore, the Americans, who have pushed the case against the Libyans the hardest, know that it is not true. Indeed, according to Lester Coleman, it was an American government agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), that established the procedure which was used to evade security on Pan Am flight 103.

Coleman's book, Trail of the Octopus, describes in detail how the DEA established a route through which drugs could be smuggled from the Lebanon to the USA. The DEA was trying to infiltrate the Lebanese drugs trade.

The detection-proof route they established for smuggling drugs was later used to plant the bomb on the American airliner flying from Frankfurt to JFK airport, New York. Those responsible were, in all likelihood, militant Islamic supporters of the Iranian regime, active in the Lebanon. They simply used the DEA-established drugs route, substituting a semtex bomb at the last minute.

Something like the Lockerbie affair is inevitably shrouded in intrigue, disinformation and counter-charges, which make the truth elusive. However, Coleman's story does chime with the initial report commissioned by Pan Am from Juval Aviv, an Israeli private investigator. Aviv's report found that the Americans had several warnings of the bombing, both from the Israeli secret services and from Arab sources, but seemed to go out of their way to ensure that the package was not intercepted. Coleman suggests that American intelligence assumed the package was drugs, and wanted to protect their smuggling route.

The bombing was a retaliation for the American attack on an Iranian Airbus, carrying mostly pilgrims from Bandar Abbas to Mecca, in July 1988. The USS Vincennes was patrolling the Persian Gulf in Iranian waters when, claiming that it was under attack from an F-14 fighter, it blew the Airbus out of the sky, killing all 290 passengers. The Vincennes air-warfare coordinator was awarded a Commendation Medal for his 'heroic achievement'.

The truth about who planted the Lockerbie bomb does not suit the requirements of US and British foreign policy. So they have gone to enormous lengths to disguise it. Juval Aviv's report of American involvement in setting up the bomb route, and the congressman who leaked it, James Traficant, were pilloried in the press.

Lester Coleman, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent who stumbled across the story by mistake, was framed by his employers on charges of giving false information on a passport application - as he had been told to do by the DIA. The American authorities are still trying to persuade the Swedes to hand him over.

Pinning the blame for Lockerbie on Gadaffi's Libya fits the stereotype of international terrorist that the West has worked hard to create. Libya was first declared a 'terrorist regime' in 1977. Since then the West has attacked Libya on several occasions, most famously in 1986, when a joint US-British airstrike against Tripoli and Benghazi killed scores of Libyans, including Gadaffi's adopted daughter. The '86 raid was justified as retaliation for the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque used by American servicemen in Berlin. In fact, West German anti-terrorist police chief Manfred Ganscho found all the evidence pointing at Syria instead of Libya. Then the Americans released a translation of a tape purporting to be a coded message from Libya's East Berlin bureau to Tripoli.

According to Ronald Reagan, the message read that 'the attack would be carried out the following morning'. The West German authorities translation was less conclusive, reading only 'something will happen tomorrow when Allah wills it' - hardly damning evidence (Observer, 27 April 1986).

Manufacturing evidence of Libyan responsibility for the Berlin bombing fitted the stereotype of Gadaffi the international terrorist, and allowed the Western powers to look tough by launching a raid against soft targets. By contrast, taking on Syria, a regional power which the Americans were keen to court, would have been more difficult and dangerous.

Similarly, at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, it suited Western purposes to point the finger at Gadaffi's men rather than pro-Islamic Lebanese guerrillas. The Islamic militants in Lebanon were holding American hostages. More importantly, the Reagan government was trying to rebuild its links with Iran through the 'arms-for-hostages' deal set up by Oliver North. Disturbing the delicate web of intrigue in the Lebanon seemed a lot less attractive than pinning the blame on the all-purpose villain, Colonel Gadaffi.

Today's sanctions are in keeping with the vilification of the 'terrorist state'. The assumption of Libya's guilt is built into the UN resolution that imposes sanctions, demanding full compensation for crash victims and the breaking of all ties with international terrorism. This amounts to a demand that Libya not only hands over its citizens for a showtrial in the West, but also pleads guilty to the bombing before sanctions can be lifted.

The photofit of Gadaffi as godfather of international terrorism is a Western invention. While the Libyan leader talks up his opposition to the West among his own people, in practice the Libyan government has been trying to ingratiate itself with Western leaders. Earlier this year the Libyans offered to share their intelligence on Irish republicans with the British authorities.

By playing up the threat of 'international terrorism', the Western powers depict themselves as the victims rather than the aggressors in the third world. The Lockerbie bombing was a response to Western military intervention in the Middle East. But by pinning the blame on Libyan terrorism, the West separates the bombing from the attack on the Iranian Airbus. Consequently, the Lockerbie bombing is seen as the fanatical act of ideologically motivated terrorists, instead of a desperate retaliatory blow in a war between the Western powers and the people of the Middle East.

Once the Libyans are caricatured as terrorists, and sanctions imposed, it is but a short step to further military 'retaliation' by the USA and its allies. Attacking Libya is a virtually risk-free way of demonstrating Western firepower in the Middle East. Libya itself has a population of only 3.5m, most of whom are farmers or herdsmen. Libya is isolated from its more conservative Arab neighbours and vulnerable to attack. Attacking Libya could provide the USA and Britain with the sort of uncomplicated show of military strength that has eluded them of late, as Western forces have become bogged down in Somalia and the Balkans.


Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah stand little chance of a fair trial if they are forced out of Libya to face the charges. The full weight of Western security and diplomatic forces have been brought to bear in order to pin the blame on Libya. They are not likely to let anything as unimportant as proof stand in their way.

And, when the West again frames Gadaffi for involvement in 'international terrorism', the sentence on the Libyan people may well be carried out by the US Air Force and the RAF once more.


Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie, Inside the DIA, Donald Goddard with Lester K Coleman, Bloomsbury, £16.99 hbk


Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 61, November 1993

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