The Case for A Law Suit Against AlJazeera

Friday, March 14, 2014

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

On the eve of a new round of multilateral nuclear talks due to begin on March 17th in Vienna, Iran has been subjected to a whole new, and completely vicious, disinformation campaign aimed at smearing and labeling Iran and thus to torpedo the talks and maintain the sanctions regime, which is slated for removal by the terms of the Geneva agreement reached last November.

Case in point is a much-publicized documentary on the PAN AM crash in Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, which resulted in one of the most extensive investigations in aviation history and the eventual conviction of a Libyan government agent, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, by a three panel judge in January 2001 after a lengthy 36 week-trial featuring more than 270 witnesses. This ruling was subsequently upheld by a five-judge appeals court, Moammer Ghadafi then agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the family of victims, who received $10 million each, case closed.

Not so according to the documentary, titled Lockerbie: What Really Happened?, which was aired on March 11th and received news headlines around the world with the typical caption, "Iran was behind Lockerbie, new report says." Going full force in promoting it, the network issued a press release ahead of time that claimed there is substantial "new evidence" proving that it was not Libya but Iran behind the PAN AM tragedy, referring to new classified documents from the US intelligence agencies as well as a secret government -commissioned "Bird" report backing this conclusion. 

By all indication, the real aim of this documentary is to act as a catalyst for re-opening the case and a "second appeal." Al-Megrahi, who is now dead, was afforded such an appeal a decade ago and opted to decline, for good reason, namely, the compelling evidence against him that led the judges concluded "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he was guilty. A few families of the victims are recruited for this purpose and two of them appeared in an AlJazeera special program on the documentary, along with the producers of the program, a defense "investigator", a former top FBI agent, who strongly trashed the new claims as completely unfounded, and this author.

Interestingly, AlJazeera has engaged in an act of self-censorship by deleting all traces of the special program on its popular "Consider This" and as a result there is no web link for it. Clearly, the blatant lies in the documentary were competently exposed by this author and FBI agent, Richard Marquise, and the network opted to self-censorship instead of admitting its huge error in becoming an accomplice of a vicious smear campaign against Iran. 

The Documentary's Lies and Distortions: Waiting for my turn to do the interview at Aljazeera's studio in New York, I was shocked when I heard Bill Cran, the documentary's producer tell the host that the "Bird" report had been compiled by someone hired by the defense team, contrary to their false impression that it had been secretly issued by the British government. So it turns out that Al-Megrahi defense had hired a former New York prosecutor, Jessica di Grazia, to prepare a report on Lockerbie and, obviously, it is seriously biased in favor of her client.  Not only that, the program heavily relies on another hired hand by the defense, a "professional investigator," who is relied on to knock down the court's finding and claim "new scientific evidence" that exonerates Libya. Compare this with FBI agent Marquise, who headed FBI's anti-terrorism center at the time and had access to all the information on Lockerbie and stated unequivocally that all the "physical evidence" pointed at Libya. 

So, basically two employees of the Lockerbie defense were cunningly used to promote the new lie by pointing fingers at Iran, by giving the false impression that they had access to secret cables from the US Defense Intelligence Agency, etc. Yet, not one specific cable is cited in the entire program. Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg and the documentary contains so many other holes that as I said in the interview “one can drive a truck through it." Consider this:

1. The documentary also features an interview with one Abloghasem Mesbahi, introduced as a former senior intelligence officer who defected to the west in late 1990s. Mesbahi claims that Iran ordered the PAN AM terrorism as retaliation for the downed Iranian passenger plane by US navy. Mesbahi has made this claim in the past repeatedly claiming that Iran approached Libya and Abu Nidal to do this mission. Yet, this part of his claim is no longer shown by AlJazeera - for good reason: the documentary completely exonerates Libya and points the finger at Syria as Iran's accomplice. In other words, the "defector" actually contradicts not supports the program's finding and that explains the limited yet strategic use of him by the producers, who knew or should have known that Mesbahi is long-discredited as a self-promoting unreliable individual who exaggerated about his role in Iran, which is why Marquise and other US law enforcement agents never  took him seriously and Marquise in an interview with a Canadian reporter in 2008 openly wonders why the defense never raised the issue of his testimony before? 

2. The documentary has a curious gap with respect to one Marwan Khreesat. To elaborate, I had been provided a transcript of the program and I was curious why the segment on interview with Khreesat is missing. The transcript refers to sitting down with him and the cameras ready and then nothing. This is followed by a statement from "source close to Khreesat" who claims Iran was behind the PAN AM bombing.

Naturally this raised my curiosity and I then pored over the 82 pages court opinion in the Lockerbie case and in the section on a Palestinian terrorist group, PFLP-GC, found this: "It is also to be noted that the cell's principal bomb-maker was one Marwan Khreesat who was in fact an agent who infiltrated the cell on behalf of the Jordanian Intelligence Service. His instructions from them was that any bomb he made must not be primed…"

In my interview, I read from the court transcript and asked why the documentary does not mention that their star witness Khreesat was an agent of the Jordanian government?  A fair question that was dismissed by the interviewer on the ground that there is only so much that can be covered in a program.

3. The case against the Libyan Al-Megrahi rested on the fact that he had arrived in Malta on December 7, 1988 and had gone to a clothing store and made several purchases of items later found at the Lockerbie crash site. A day later, on December 8th, according to the investigation, Al-Megrahi had returned to Libya with another Libyan accused of being the bomb-maker. Another evidence is that the bombing device had been traced to a Swiss company that had sold 20 such devices to Libya.

Yet, the documentary blatantly says: "Defense investigator proved that Al-Megrahi proved he was never in the cloths shop." This is standing truth on its head and there is no such proof.  This intelligence officer of the Libyan government "closely resembled" the man who had made the purchases, according to the shopkeeper, who is now accused of lying.  But, the court's opinion credits him for being careful and never making one hundred percent identification and so on. As Marquise explained, throughout the time the shopkeeper Mr. Cauci was under questioning there was never any indication that he had been paid off by anyone and, yet, he is now accused of being bribed by the British government. According to the court ruling, "Unlike many witnesses who express confidence in their identification when there is little justification for it, he was always careful to express any reservations he had and gave reasons why he thought there was a  resemblance." Among the items purchased by Al-Megrahi were "Yorkie trousers" that according to the court documents had order numbers attached to them and were traced to delivery to the Malta shop in November 1988. No mention of this is made in the documentary.

4. The documentary falsely claims that during the investigation, when the focus was on Libya the case against Iran "was hardening." This too is another blatant lie.  The documentary gives the false impression that the court never seriously examined the issue of PFLP-GC and the theory that it may have played a role. Quite the opposite. After thorough investigation, it was determined that this group did not have the material and capability to do the PAN AM bombing. "There was no evidence that the PFLP-GC cell had the materials necessary to manufacture an explosive device of the type that destroyed PA 103. In particular there was no evidence that they had an MST-13 timer."  Again, this crucial finding by the court is completely overlooked by this biased and Iranophobic documentary. 

5. The documentary points the finger at one known as Abo Talb, without bothering to mention that the Lockerbie investigators did a thorough investigation of him and did not find "anything of significance." The court found that "there is no evidence to indicate" that Abo Talb and his circle "had the means or the intention to destroy a civil aircraft."  

6. The documentary claims that the suitcase containing the bomb did not originate in Malta but rather at (the much more secure) Heathrow airport. They claim that a baggage handler had noticed that particular suit case after returning from his break.  First, the fact that such a person noticed the Samsonite suitcase says nothing about its point of origins. Second, the documentary fails to mention that in 1988 the Heathrow authorities had taken steps to prevent items of baggage travelling on an aircraft unaccompanied by a passenger who had checked them in." It is worth recalling that the Lockebie court found "we are satisfied that it has been proved that the primary suitcase containing the explosive device was dispatched from Malta." Not so according to the British filmmakers whose pseudo-documentary is made with the sole aim of giving the false impression that all these  proven facts are wrong and Iran masterminded the plot that killed so many innocent civilians as a revenge. In my interview I pointed out that just as Ian did not retaliate against Iraq's extensive chemical attacks on Iran, it is wrong to assume that Iran would target innocent civilians for an evil act perpetrated by the US military back then. Iran's ethical standards throughout the Iran-Iraq war are all too known even by the United Nations to require further proof.

In conclusion, the above-mentioned do not by any means exhaust the long list of numerous factual flaws, contradictions, and evidence of strong anti-Iran bias of the Aljazeera documentary. My purpose of mentioning them has been to expose the latest sinister conspiracy against Iran that has brought shame to AlJazeera. I strongly urge the Iranian government to immediately file a billion dollar law suit against AlJazeera for its complicity in the anti-Iran propaganda and smearing Iran's revolutionary leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini. A full apology by the network to the Iranian people is therefore necessary. 

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown's Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

Key Words: Law Suit, AlJazeera, PAN AM Crash, Lockerbie, Basset al-Megrahi, Moammer Ghadafi, Richard Marquise, Abloghasem Mesbahi, Marwan Khreesat, Malta, Afrasiabi

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*Photo Credit: AlJazeera America

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