Lockerbie court asks CIA to declassify cables from Libyan double agent

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The Independent Online

Scottish judges hearing the Lockerbie trial called on the U.S. government Tuesday to fully desclassify a batch of CIA cables containing information relayed from a Libyan informant around the time of the 1988 airliner bombing.

Scottish judges hearing the Lockerbie trial called on the U.S. government Tuesday to fully desclassify a batch of CIA cables containing information relayed from a Libyan informant around the time of the 1988 airliner bombing.

The request came as the court reconvened after a three-week summer recess, after lawyers for two Libyan defendants accused of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 and murdering 270 people in the air and on the ground insisted the information was indispensable to their case.

Judge Ranald Sutherland said Scotland's chief prosecutor should "use his best endeavors to ensure that all the material contained in these cables be disclosed."

However, he added: "We appreciate that the original documents are in the hands of the CIA," over which the court has no jurisdiction.

Earlier, prosecutors insisted the information censored from the cables was removed for reasons of U.S. national security and was not relevant to the Lockerbie disaster.

"The United States considers all of this material highly confidential," said Lord Advocate Colin Boyd. He added that Scottish prosecutors were shown the full text of the documents last June "in conditions where copies could not be made and would not be allowed." Boyd said the deleted text referred to CIA agents real and code names, as well as locations and methods of intelligence gathering.

The 25 cables, dated Aug. 10, 1988 to Aug. 31, 1989, were sent to Washington by CIA operatives who interviewed a Libyan spy who has since defected to the United States.

The defector, identified as Abdul Majid Giaka, walked into the U.S. Embassy in Malta in August 1988 ÿ four months before the Lockerbie bombing ÿ and offered his services to the CIA, Boyd said. Giaka is expected to take the stand this week as a key witness regarding the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

The witness has asked to be hidden from the court by screens and electronic voice distortion. Bill Taylor, a Scottish attorney for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, showed the court copies of the documents as provided to the defense.

Large segments of text were blacked out. "It is vital to the securing of a fair trial for these accused that the defense is not disadvantaged vis-a-vis the crown when Giaka is cross-examined," the attorney said. "I emphatically do not accept that what lies behind that blanked out sections is of no interest to a cross-examiner."

Giaka, now under the U.S. federal witness protection program, reportedly saw one of the defendants place the suitcase containing the bomb on an airport conveyor belt in Malta, where all three worked for Libyan Arab Airlines allegedly as cover for their espionage activities.

According to the indictment, the defendants sent the suitcase bomb onto a flight from the Mediterranean island to Frankfurt, Germany, where it was transferred as unaccompanied luggage onto a feeder flight connecting with Flight 103 in London.

Giaka is considered the closest thing the prosecutors have to an eyewitness who can directly link the defendants to the crime.

After the court recessed on July 27, Scottish legal experts said prosecutors had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were guilty of the mass murder. They also said the case had been meticulously assembled from reams of forensic evidence compiled from an 11-year international investigation and did not hinge on one or two eyewitnesses.

Prosecutors expect to wrap up their evidence in September, handing the floor to the defense lawyers, whose case is expected to last several months.

The trial began May 3 at a special Scottish courthouse on this former U.S. air base in the Netherlands.

Al-Megrahi and co-defendant Lamen Khalifa Fhimah face up to life in a Scottish prison if convicted on charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and contravention of the British Aviation Security Act in the downing of Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988.