Another dubious conspiracy theory that won't die: Lockerbie bombing

A longtime advocate for the families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie bomber, takes aim at an element of persistent conspiracy theories around the event.

Amr Nabil
Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence agent convicted in the Lockerbie bombing that claimed 270 lives, was given a hero's welcome home by Muammar al-Qaddafi after his release on compassionate grounds in Aug. 2009.

Lawyer Frank Duggan has devoted much time and energy to getting to the bottom of what happened over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21 1988, when 270 people were murdered when a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103, bound for New York.

In 1989 Mr. Duggan was named liaison to the families of the American victims on President George H.W. Bush's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism and since the work of the commission wrapped he's stayed on as an unpaid legal adviser to the families and as a spokesman for the American victims.

I got to know him a bit in 2009, when the UK decided to release former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted in the attack, on "compassionate" grounds, and we've stayed in touch off and on since. Duggan and many of the victims' families were furious at Megrahi's release (he has since died) for a crime they believe was carried out on the orders of former Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. Qaddafi's government eventually agreed to pay over $2 billion in reparations for the families.

Like many sudden, tragic events (the murder of President Kennedy comes to mind today) Lockerbie spawned a cottage industry of conspiracy theories that trundles along to this day. You know, Megrahi was a fall guy, the Libyan's weren't involved, dark murmurs that the killings were some kind of false-flag operation by the US or other states.

Earlier this month New York Magazine ran a quote (in a listsicle on conspiracy theories) that has long been popular among the conspiracy crowd:

"Your government and ours know exactly what happened, but they’re never going to tell.” —An unidentified member of George H.W. Bush’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, to a relative of a victim, according to that relative of that victim.

The problem, Duggan says, is that this never happened. He writes:

This never happened and the story has been peddled for 25 years. I served on the Commission (President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism 1989-90) and was at the meetings held in London and Scotland where the statement was allegedly made by one of us to the father of one of the flight attendants in 1989. We were charged with investigating how it was done, not who did it. Everyone had suspicions, but there was a criminal investigation, at that time the largest ever, that had this responsibility. No one really knew who did it in 1989, since the timer that turned the investigation toward Libyan terrorists was not found until a year later. A father of one of the American victims tried repeatedly to demonstrate that this statement was never made, and offered to show photographs of everyone on the trip to the person who claimed he heard this. The proponents of this fable are not interested in the truth and would rather repeat it to UK tabloids, self promoting bloggers, dubious experts in the case, and assorted nutcases. The story is a lie.

The quote appears in various places on the Internet and appears to originate with Martin Cadman, a British man whose son Bill (a passenger, not a flight attendant) was killed in the bombing. Mr. Cadman has been among the minority of victims' loved ones who say they believe that the attack didn't originate with Libya and that the US was involved in some kind of coverup. When Megrahi died in 2012, Mr. Cadman said: "The only thing I am interested in is getting to the truth. The Americans know far more than they have said.”

But he's never identified who said it to him – or why.

Three years ago Richard Marquise, a retired FBI official was was the lead investigator into the bombing, told me how maddening the conspiracy theories that Megrahi was set up were.

In his 31 years at the FBI, Mr. Marquise said he's rarely seen a "stronger circumstantial case" than the one against Megrahi, who was also caught repeatedly lying to investigators and reporters. "There's nobody else that I'm aware of anywhere in the world that has such evidence pointing to their guilt," he says.

Marquise says that "there were other people that we strongly believed were involved in terms of the planning process and ordering process.... Megrahi was the guy who was assigned to get it done. We think at least six were probably involved if you only had to make an intelligence case, but in terms of making a criminal case, we didn't have strong enough evidence."

Cadman disagrees. But with Megrahi now dead and Qaddafi dead – murdered at the end of the civil war that overthrew his dictatorship in 2011 – those who doubt the preponderance of evidence that pointed towards Qaddafi's regime are unlikely to find the different answer that they're looking for.

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