Blog post

Gareth Peirce on the Al-Megrahi case: "A disgrace from the start"

Sarah Shin 7 December 2010

The Guardian reports on the controversy caused by revelations in leaked US cables that the UK government was concerned about "harsh and immediate action" from Libya if it failed to release one of the men convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds.

But as Gareth Peirce, human rights lawyer and author of Dispatches from the Dark Side, points out in an interview with the Irish Independent, the real controversy should be about Al-Megrahi's conviction

Peirce argues that the shadow of the Guildford Four even hangs over the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted (and later controversially released) of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing.

"The same discredited scientists from the Royal Armament Research and Development Laboratories, whose evidence led to the wrongful conviction of Giuseppe Conlon, also provided the forensic evidence for al-Megrahi's trial," she said. "The case was a disgrace from the start, affected by the West's shifting alliances during the Gulf War. That case was all about oil. [Libyan leader] Gaddafi handed over two innocent men to bring himself in from the diplomatic cold."

In the interview Peirce talks about her work on the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, who were all wrongfully convicted for IRA bombings, and the way that Muslims have become the new 'suspect community' after 9/11:

The experiences of Hill [Birmingham Six], as well as the Conlon [Guildford Four] and Maguire families, was clearly on Peirce's mind during the writing of her new book, Dispatches from the Dark Side, about the growth of torture and other human rights abuses post-9/11.

In it, Peirce compares the experiences of Muslim people today, in Britain especially, to those of the Irish in the 1970s and 1980s. "It's that idea of a suspect community," she explained. "Once you've made a community suspect, almost anything goes. It affects the whole psyche of that community for generations.

Visit the Irish Independent to read the interview in full.

For the Times, Alex Wade selects Dispatches from the Dark Side as a stocking filler:

Not a day seems to go by without WikiLeaks making headlines. But if there are many who question the political efficacy, not to mention the moral sense, of its founder, Justin Assange, few would question the need for transparent government.

Timely, then, is Gareth Peirce's coruscating series of essays Dispatches From the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice (Verso, £9.99), in which the few radical lawyer, one of the few deserving of the name, argues that the British Government needs to account for its activities in the same way that the Obama Administration, under pressure from the antiwar lobby, released evidence concerning the use of torture in the War on Terror.

Visit the Times to read the article in full. 

Filed under: articles, interviews, reviews