BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
The Lockerbie trial and the CIA
CIA logo
Further searches of the CIA papers will take place
By Barnaby Mason, diplomatic correspondent

After nearly two weeks of wrangling about secret documents from the CIA, the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands has been adjourned again.

The CIA has agreed to search its archives for further material relating to a key prosecution witness - a Libyan defector, Abdul Majid Giaka.

The Scottish court hearing the case against the two Libyans charged with the bomb attack on a Pan Am airliner in 1988 has been the scene of unprecedented revelations of classified American intelligence documents in a criminal trial.

And the campaign by defence lawyers to gain access to more material has enabled them to cast doubt on Mr Giaka's credibility before he has even given evidence - which is not now expected until late September.

The Scottish Court at Camp Zeist
The trial is being heard under Scottish law
When the trial resumed on 22 August after a summer recess, the defence immediately complained that their copies of CIA cables, sent by an agent in Malta in the late 1980s, had sections blanked out, while the prosecution had the full text.

Lawyers for the accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, said the US Government had upset the balance of fairness in the trial.

The prosecution argued that there was nothing in the deleted material relevant to the defence case - it was a matter of protecting the safety of individuals and American national security.

But the judges ruled that the information might be relevant and ought to be disclosed.

According to the prosecution, Mr Giaka was a member of Libyan intelligence working alongside the two accused in Malta, and was also a CIA double agent at the time that they put a bomb on a plane which was transferred to Pan Am flight 103.

Disclosure promise

As the trial advanced in a halting fashion, the head of the Scottish prosecuting team, the Lord Advocate, conducted negotiations outside court with representatives of the CIA.

Intriguing details emerged - the prosecution had been shown the cables in June, in the American embassy at The Hague; they had not been allowed to write anything down and had had to promise not to disclose the information.

Fuller versions of 25 cables were then given to the defence, who promptly proclaimed that they were highly relevant.

The court
The trail will resume in September
Lawyers for the accused took the opportunity to emphasise that sections previously blanked out in fact showed that the CIA had had doubts about Mr Giaka's usefulness as an agent, had considered stopping his salary of $1,000 a month, and had suspected that his main motive was to maintain his life-style.

But the defence was not satisfied. As the arguments stretched into a second week, it demanded access to additional CIA documents, together with details of meetings and negotiations with Mr Giaka.

Eventually, the prosecution announced that the CIA would search its records for further material, a process that would take two weeks.

The search will cover not only the Libyan witness himself, but also documents relating to Palestinian groups that the defence has blamed for the bomb attack.

Identity protected

This protracted episode has shown the judges making considerable efforts to ensure that the trial is fair.

They have to rely on persuasion and the pressure of a public trial. But they do not have the power to order the CIA to produce documents.

An extra consideration for the court is the effect of the recent incorporation into Scottish law of the European Convention on Human Rights.

When Mr Giaka does at last give evidence, he is likely to do it from behind screens to protect his identity and with his voice disguised.

Quite apart from the drama, he is a key witness. So far, the prosecution has not presented evidence directly linking the two accused with the placing of a bomb on an aircraft in Malta.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

30 Aug 00 | World
Spy's court date on hold
29 Aug 00 | World
Judges reject CIA papers plea
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more World stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more World stories