No tongues please. I’m British!
I wrote this in April 2011. Things have moved on since.
“In a democracy, the government is the people,” Milo explained. “We’re people, aren’t we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”
Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer in Catch-22 is the personification of capitalism. He has no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him. Milo doesn’t see himself as corrupt or evil. He claims to live by a strict moral code. The one country he will not deal with is the Soviet Union (although they are supposed to be allies in the war) out of respect for private property and disdain for socialism.
Milo organizes the bombing of his own base because he has a contract with the Germans. The Germans may be the enemy but they are good payers.
Milo was a neo-liberal avant la lettre. When markets fail to deliver, the capitalist is quick to turn to the government for help. Milo depends on governments for his riches.
His moral code allows for price inflation and betraying one’s country for the sake of profit. Everyone has a “share” in the Syndicate, a fact which Minderbinder uses to defend his actions- what is good for the company is good for all. He secretly replaces the CO2 cartridges in the emergency life vests with certificates for shares in M & M, on the assumption that the future person who may need that vest will be instantly compensated for its absence. He steals the silk out of parachutes, the morphine out of first aid kits, all in the name of making a few bucks, honest or otherwise. His most interesting attributes are his complete immorality without self-awareness, and his circular logicality in running his Syndicate. Minderbinder decides that he can trust Yossarian because “anyone who would not steal from the country he loved would not steal from anyone.”
This fellow is a bit more cautious on a first date.
Libya and the IRA
During the period 1969–1971, the Provisional IRA was very poorly armed. By 1972, the IRA had large quantities of modern small arms, particularly Armalites, made and bought in the USA. The IRA’s main gun runner in the USA was George Harrison (no relation) an IRA veteran, who had lived in New York since 1938. Harrison bought guns for the IRA from a Corsican arms dealer named George de Meo who had connections with organized crime. Harrison was funded by NORAID -“Irish Northern Aid Committee”.
The IRA used the QE2 to smuggle arms from the USA.
Quadaffi first donated arms to the IRA in 1972–1973, following visits by veteran IRA man Joe Cahill to Libya. In early 1973, the Irish navy seized an arms shipment on the Claudia. Five tonnes of Libyan arms and ammunition were found on board. The weapons seized included 250 Soviet-made small arms, 240 rifles, anti-tank mines and other explosives. Cahill was arrested on board. It is believed that three shipments of weapons of similar size did get through to the IRA around the same time. The early Libyan arms shipments provided the IRA with its first RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Qaddafi also donated three to five million US dollars to the IRA at this time.
IRA contact with Libya was broken off in 1976 but was restored after the 1981 IRA hunger strikes. In this period, Libya provided enough arms to equip at least two infantry battalions. Qaddafi is thought to have decided to support the IRA to get back at the British government for its support for Reagan’s bombing of Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986. US planes had been allowed to take off from British bases. Sixty Libyans died in the attacks, including Qaddafi’s adopted baby daughter Hanna. This second major Libyan contribution to the IRA came in 1986–1987. In 1987, the French navy intercepted the Eksund in the Bay of Biscay. She was carrying 120 tonnes of weapons, including HMGs, 36 RPGs, 1000 detonators, 20 SAMs, Semtex and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition from Libya. There were four shipments before the Eksund incident which were not intercepted. There had been a huge intelligence failure of both Irish and British agencies author Brendan O’Brien described as ‘calamitous’. O’Brien claims that, thanks to Libya, there was an “oversupply” of arms in the hands of the IRA by 1992. It is also estimated that the Libyan government gave the IRA the equivalent of £2 million cash along with the 1980s shipments.
On 31 October 2009, a cross-party delegation of Northern Irish politicians travelled to the Tripoli for the first face-to-face meeting with Libyan government ministers to discuss compensation claims for victims of IRA violence.
Shootout at the Libyan Embassy
On 17 April 1984, there was a demonstration by anti-Quadaffi dissidents outside the Libya embassy in St James’s Square, London . Thirty police officers were sent to control the situation. Shots were fired and eleven people were hit. WPC Yvonne Fletcher died from her wounds. An inquest ruled that she died as a result of a stomach wound caused by bullets from two Sterling sub-machine guns fired from the embassy. Following the shooting, the embassy was surrounded by armed police for eleven days, after which the staff were allowed to leave and then deported. The UK broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.
Joe Vialls, conspiracy theorist or self-proclaimed private investigator dedicated to “exposing media disinformation,”, concluded that the fatal shots had come not from within the embassy but from a penthouse flat next-door-but-one to the Libyan embassy, and were fired by CIA/Mossad agents. Vialls may have been a crank but more respectable people were also sceptical about the official line on the shooting. These included George Styles, a top army ballistics expert, Hugh Thomas, expert on bullet wounds from his experiences as consultant surgeon of the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, and veteran Home Office pathologist, Professor Bernard Knight.
A report from April 2007 concluded that two men, who were later senior members of the Libyan regime, played an “instrumental role” in the killing. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph in 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service had been told by an independent prosecutor that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute two Libyans.
The Foreign Office eventually bowed to Libyan pressure and agreed that Britain would abandon any attempt to try the murderer of WPC Fletcher. Anthony Layden, Britain’s former ambassador to Libya, said he had signed an agreement with the Libyan government when Jack Straw was foreign secretary. At the time Britain was negotiating trade deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds with Libya. The deal followed a visit by Tony Blair, then prime minister, to meet Colonel Qaddafi in March 2004 after Libya announced that it was ending its nuclear weapons programme. The Foreign Office said the deal had been sealed in an exchange of ambassadors’ letters in 2006: “The Fletcher family know all this and have not considered it to be a big issue.” Queenie Fletcher’s MP questioned this interpretation.
On Friday, 25 March 2011, Kim Sengupta wrote in The Independent about a meeting with Omar Ahmed Sodani, the chief suspect in the killing of WPC Fletcher. Sodani, now 59, was head of the Al Ejanalghoria, Muammar Qaddafi’s militia in Benghazi. He has been questioned by his captors in the rebel movement, not only about the shooting, but for allegedly providing reports on Libyan students in London which led to their persecution back home, as well as complicity in human rights abuses. “They have interrogated me about the shooting all those years ago,” he said. “I have explained to them that I did not do it.”
Sengupta wrote: “After talking for a little more than an hour, Mr Sodani was led away. As he departed, he made one final pronouncement: ‘I have full confidence in the fairness of the revolution and the revolution’s judges. This country would be a far better place in the future than it was in the past.’ There was no mistaking the fear in his voice.”
On Wednesday 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie, a town in southern Scotland, were killed as large sections of the plane destroyed several houses. Total fatalities were 270. Libya did not formally admit responsibility until 16 August 2003. In a letter to the UN Security Council it “accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials” but expressed no remorse.
The motive that is generally attributed to Libya can be traced back to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s. Libyan planes were shot down and ships sunk. Libya was accused of retaliating by ordering the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin in 1986.
Even in February 2004, Libya did not accept guilt. Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem told the BBC that his country had paid compensation as the “price for peace” and to secure the lifting of sanctions. He also denied that Libya was responsible for killing Yvonne Fletcher. Qaddafi later retracted Ghanem’s comments, under pressure from Washington and London.
There are many conspiracy theories about the Lockerbie case. I will not go into them in detail here but those interested in following this up will be guided by:
Campaigning journalists, John Pilger and the late Paul Foot have written extensively about Lockerbie.
Iran was initially the prime suspect for the Lockerbie bombing and had the most obvious motive. Five months earlier, an Iranian civilian aircraft had been shot down by the US warship USS Vincennes and Ayatollah Khomeini had called for revenge. The theory is that Iran paid the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) to carry out the attack on its behalf. Ahmad Behbahani, a former Iranian intelligence official, later claimed that he personally conveyed the message to the PFLP-GC.
A recurring theory is that the CIA, or rogue elements within it, it had cleared a drugs smuggling route from Europe to America involving Pan Am flights in return for intelligence about militant groups.
Saif al-Qaddafi said that Libya had admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing simply to get trade sanctions removed. He went on to describe the families of the Lockerbie victims as very greedy: “They were asking for more money and more money and more money”. Several of the victims’ families refused to accept compensation because they did not believe that Libya was responsible. On 23 February 2011, Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, former Justice Secretary of Libya, claimed to have evidence that Qaddafi personally ordered the bombing.
Indictments for murder were issued on 13 November 1991 against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, Libyan airlines station manager in Malta. (Don’t forget that Milo was Mayor of Valetta). UN sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader secured the handover of the accused on 5 April 1999 to Scottish police. Both accused chose not to give evidence in court. On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges in a courtroom in “neutral” Holland. There was no jury. Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment but Fhimah was acquitted.
Megrahi served eight and a half years of his sentence, throughout which time he maintained that he was innocent. Some argue that the governments in England and Scotland in effect blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release.
He was released from prison on compassionate grounds on 20 August 2009 as he was suffering from cancer. Allegations have been made that the UK government and British Petroleum sought Al-Megrahi’s release as part of a trade deal with Libya. In 2008, the British government “decided to do all it could to help the Libyans get Al-Megrahi home … and explained the legal procedure for compassionate release to the Libyans”.
Some argue that key evidence presented at the trial (for example, timer fragment, parts from a specific radio cassette model, clothing bought in Malta, a suitcase originating at Luqua, could have been fabricated by the U.S. and Britain for the “political” purpose of incriminating Libya. Paul Foot wrote that when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Bush Sr 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 open warmongering against Libya.”
Former CIA officer Robert Baer, who took part in the original investigation, said ” the evidence amassed by [Megrahi’s] appeal is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice.” A “key secret witness” at the original trial, who claimed to have seen Megrahi, 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. 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 planted.
Paul Foot, wrote that the Scottish judges, while admitting a “mass of conflicting evidence” and rejecting the fantasies of the CIA informer, found Megrahi guilty on hearsay. Their 90-page “opinion”, wrote Foot, “is a remarkable document that claims an honored place in the history of British miscarriages of justice”. (His report, Lockerbie – the Flight from Justice, can be downloaded from http://www.private-eye.co.uk 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 cancelled their bookings when they were alerted by US intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned.
Britain’s strange constitutional arrangements allowed Gordon Brown, who, although a Scotsman representing a Scottish constituency, was PM of the UK, to express ersatz outrage at the decision by the Scottish government to allow the release. Not only was this hypocritical because a release was being negotiated for a long time by the Blair and Brown administrations because of oil and arms sales, but there were doubts about Megrahi’s guilt and the fairness of his trial.
John Pilger was incensed at the hypocrisy of the reaction to Megrahi’s release. “No one in authority has had the guts to state the truth about the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103”.
Tony Minderbinder Blair
Whether Libya was guilty over Lockerbie or not, there have, no doubt, been dirty deals. Tony Blair first announced a “new relationship” with Libya in 2004. The Duke of York visited Libya several times, meeting Qaddafi and his son Saif. Minderbinder Blair, now peace envoy in the Middle East, recognized that peace and friendship with Libya was good for UK plc. British Aerospace could provide employment for British workers by selling arms to Libya. Blair stopped the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE bribery charges.
And, of course, there is the oil.
David Cameron is the new Minderbinder in Downing Street. Having sold arms to Quadaffi, the UK is now entertaining the Libyan rats deserting the ship. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference about the defector, Moussa Koussa, Cameron said: “The decision by the former Libyan minister to come to London to resign his position is a decision by someone at the very top. It tells a compelling story of the desperation and the fear right at the very top of the crumbling and rotten Qaddafi regime.”
However, Lockerbie won’t go away. It was made clear that Koussa’s defection will raise uncomfortable questions about atrocities which happened when he was a senior figure in Libya’s foreign intelligence service. Scottish prosecutors told the Foreign Office they want to interview Koussa about Pan Am flight 103. He could also face questioning about the murder of Yvonne Fletcher.