Thursday, July 29, 2010

Israel linked to exiled sheikh's bid for 'coup' in Gulf emirate of RAK

Israel is aiding an exiled Arab sheikh who is vying to seize control of a strategically important Gulf emirate only 40 miles from Iran.

The Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, has met Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi, the exiled crown prince of Ras al-Khaimeh (RAK), who asked him to help with his campaign to oust the leadership of the northernmost state in the United Arab Emirates.

The meeting took place in London in March and has been followed by phone calls and wider assistance and advice, according to records of the relationship seen by the Guardian.

Khalid, who has been based in London and has hired a solicitor from Ickenham as his agent, is bidding to replace his ailing father, Sheikh Saqr, and half brother, Sheikh Saud, to take control of RAK.

Israel's involvement in what would be a bloodless coup in one of the most sensitive regions in the world, would be "extremely uncomfortable", according to Dr Christopher Davidson, an expert on the politics of the UAE at Durham University.
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Khalid, who was sent into exile in 2003, claims RAK is now acting as a trafficking hub for nuclear arms parts to Iran and has spent more than £4m on an international public relations and lobbying campaign to persuade American politicians and the pro-Israel lobby in the US that it would be safer if he were in charge.

The alliance with Israel is the latest twist in the already extraordinary saga of Khalid's bid to return to power. In June the Guardian revealed that his fighting fund was being channelled through Peter Cathcart, a 59-year-old miniature steam railway enthusiast and parish council chairman who runs a family firm of solicitors in Ickenham, west London.

He in turn was spending it on top Washington lobbyists, Californian PR consultants and military experts to draw up dossiers damning the regime in RAK.

Prosor has pressed his contacts in the US government on behalf of Khalid whose aides asked for help setting up meetings in Washington with anyone interested in their claims about RAK's alleged sanctions busting, particularly concerning parts for the Iranian nuclear programme, plot records seen by this newspaper show.

An email from Cathcart to the ambassador's office reports that "His Highness … very much enjoyed his meeting with the ambassador".

In April Cathcart arranged for the two men to speak on the phone when the sheikh was in Oman and a note of the conversation recorded by Cathcart shows the ambassador "is working with certain people from his side" and "promised that the matter will be solved in his [the sheikh's] favour".

Sheikh Saqr is understood to be dying in hospital in Abu Dhabi and his son, Sheikh Saud, 54, the sitting crown prince, has been told to begin preparations for his wake, a significant event in emirates politics, which is likely to be attended by Abu Dhabi's rulers, who will have a large influence over which of the sons will succeed him.

"By meeting with the Israeli ambassador, he is sending out signals to Abu Dhabi and Washington DC that he will be hawkish on Iran if it comes to war," said Davidson. "This is a new kind of coup. It doesn't involve slitting throats, but instead spending large sums of money on global communications. It is the first of its kind and I am betting on it being successful. I think by the end of the summer we will have a verdict."

Asked about Israel's involvement, Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Khalid, said: "There is significant interest in the current RAK regime's relationship to Iran, particularly in the context of trying to stop the flow of arms, goods and technology from going through RAK to the Islamic Republic. Sheikh Khalid and representatives from his team meet with elected officials, high-ranking government officials and media representatives of various countries all the time. In fact, this week Sheikh Khalid's representatives are in Washington DC meeting representatives of the US foreign policy/national security establishment who are very concerned about the activity in RAK."

Odelia Englander, a spokeswoman at the Israeli embassy in London, declined to comment.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lockerbie: Megrahi Was Framed

The hysteria over the release of the so-called Lockerbie bomber reveals much about the political and media class on both sides of the Atlantic, especially Britain. From Gordon Brown’s "repulsion" to Barack Obama’s "outrage," the theater of lies and hypocrisy is dutifully attended by those who call themselves journalists. "But what if Megrahi lives longer than three months?" whined a BBC reporter to the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond. "What will you say to your constituents, then?"

Horror of horrors that a dying man should live longer than prescribed before he "pays" for his "heinous crime": the description of the Scottish justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, whose "compassion" allowed Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to go home to Libya to "face justice from a higher power." Amen.

The American satirist Larry David once addressed a voluble crony as "a babbling brook of bullsh*t." Such eloquence summarizes the circus of Megrahi’s release.
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No one in authority has had the guts to state the truth about the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above the Scottish village of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 in which 270 people were killed. The governments in England and Scotland in effect blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release. Of course there were oil and arms deals under way with Libya; but had Megrahi proceeded with his appeal, some 600 pages of new and deliberately suppressed evidence would have set the seal on his innocence and given us more than a glimpse of how and why he was stitched up for the benefit of "strategic interests."

"The endgame came down to damage limitation," said the former CIA officer Robert Baer, who took part in the original investigation, "because the evidence amassed by [Megrahi's] appeal is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice." New witnesses would show that it was impossible for Megrahi to have bought clothes that were found in the wreckage of the Pan Am aircraft – he was convicted on the word of a Maltese shopowner who claimed to have sold him the clothes, then gave a false description of him in 19 separate statements and even failed to recognize him in the courtroom.

The new evidence would have shown that a fragment of a circuit board and bomb timer, "discovered" in the Scottish countryside and said to have been in Megrahi’s suitcase, was probably a plant. A forensic scientist found no trace of an explosion on it. The new evidence would demonstrate the impossibility of the bomb beginning its journey in Malta before it was "transferred" through two airports undetected to Flight 103.

A "key secret witness" at the original trial, who claimed to have seen Megrahi and his co-accused al-Alim Khalifa Fahimah (who was acquitted) loading the bomb on to the plane at Frankfurt, was bribed by the US authorities holding him as a "protected witness." The defense exposed him as a CIA informer who stood to collect, on the Libyans’ conviction, up to $4m as a reward.

Megrahi was convicted by three Scottish judges sitting in a courtroom in "neutral" Holland. There was no jury. One of the few reporters to sit through the long and often farcical proceedings was the late Paul Foot, whose landmark investigation in Private Eye exposed it as a cacophony of blunders, deceptions and lies: a whitewash. The Scottish judges, while admitting a "mass of conflicting evidence" and rejecting the fantasies of the CIA informer, found Megrahi guilty on hearsay and unproven circumstance. Their 90-page "opinion," wrote Foot, "is a remarkable document that claims an honored place in the history of British miscarriages of justice." (Lockerbie – the Flight from Justice by Paul Foot can be downloaded from the Private Eye website for £5).

Foot reported that most of the staff of the US embassy in Moscow who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights from Frankfurt canceled their bookings when they were alerted by US intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned. He named Margaret Thatcher the "architect" of the cover-up after revealing that she killed the independent inquiry her transport secretary Cecil Parkinson had promised the Lockerbie families; and in a phone call to President George Bush Sr. on 11 January 1990, she agreed to "low-key" the disaster after their intelligence services had reported "beyond doubt" that the Lockerbie bomb had been placed by a Palestinian group contracted by Tehran as a reprisal for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a US warship in Iranian territorial waters. Among the 290 dead were 66 children. In 1990, the ship’s captain was awarded the Legion of Merit by Bush Sr. "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer."

Perversely, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Bush needed Iran’s support as he built a "coalition" to expel his wayward client from an American oil colony. The only country that defied Bush and backed Iraq was Libya. "Like lazy and overfed fish," wrote Foot, "the British media jumped to the bait. In almost unanimous chorus, they engaged in furious vilification and op-ed warmongering against Libya." The framing of Libya for the Lockerbie crime was inevitable. Since then, a US defense intelligence agency report, obtained under Freedom of Information, has confirmed these truths and identified the likely bomber; it was to be centerpiece of Megrahi’s defense.

In 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission referred Megrahi’s case for appeal. "The commission is of the view," said its chairman, Dr. Graham Forbes, "that based upon our lengthy investigations, the new evidence we have found and other evidence which was not before the trial court, that the applicant may have suffered a miscarriage of justice."

The words "miscarriage of justice" are missing entirely from the current furor, with Kenny MacAskill reassuring the baying mob that the scapegoat will soon face justice from that "higher power." What a disgrace.

By John Pilger