Looking through the bullet proof glass towards Baset in the dock he seemed timid, never venturing to speak out for himself. Later we learned that his defence team had told him that he was not to speak in court, but to let them do all the talking on his behalf.
We were totally unprepared for the comment from another observer in the gallery:- "How could you sit so near to the filth?" he said.
This was presumably naked racism, coupled to a profound a priori presumption of guilt unencumbered by the inconvenience of having to prove it. Similar hatred has festered for some, and contributed to the blinding of many ever since.
Separation from his family was the cruellest consequence of Baset’s conviction. He loved them dearly, as they did him. His wife the gentle Aisha was almost always present whenever I met her husband once he was out of prison, and on licence in Tripoli, though unlike her husband, she had no English, any more than I had any Arabic. Her demeanour revealed her love for him and her trust towards me an outsider who had seen through the miscarriage of justice. Only near the very end did she leave us alone together, holding hands, for speech was difficult.
On my first actually meeting Baset in Greenock prison, he was calm but determined to clear his name. He must have known that we had campaigned for years to have him tried under Scots law. Yet there was not a word of complaint, though his cancer, already giving him pain on sitting, was then in evidence.
A devout Muslim, he had a Christmas card from the prison shop ready for me, on it he had written ‘Dr Swire and family, please pray for me and my family’.
I treasure it. It resoundingly trumps the arrogance of the comment from Zeist, quoted above. It drains the poison from it.
Baset’s excellent mastery of English, and his good natured but wholehearted support for certain Scottish football teams, made him popular with the other prisoners almost all who met him, both at Greenock and at Barlinnie, came to believe him innocent. Meeting him, with his calm and intelligent summing up of his predicament spoke of determination to ensure that the world should learn that the verdict was unjust.
At least before he died we learned what he already knew: that the whole story that a Libyan bomb using a long running timer had started its journey from Malta was not a fable, but a myth*. The famed timer fragment ‘PT35b’ could never have been part of one of the Libyan timers allegedly used. There is now no valid evidence left from the court that either Malta, her flag carrier airline, or Baset’s own country were involved. Baset has a valid alibi: he was in Malta that day! He died knowing that in the end the truth will emerge.
On release from prison, his valedictory letter to Scotland made clear that he attached no blame to her people for what had happened to him. This from a man wrongly segregated from his family for years, and in the grip of a terrible disease, tells us much about the nature of Baset al-Megrahi. No one can be sure how much the stress of his terrible predicament affected his immune system and thus contributed to the development of his fatal disease.
Later, when I met him in Tripoli he was concerned that I as a victim’s father should get access, on his death, to all the information that had been amassed to fight his abandoned appeal. He knew that I still grieved for my daughter and sought the truth as to who had really murdered her. On the brink of his own death, he found the spirit to empathise with me. That was a measure of this man.
It is a tragedy that we have failed to overturn the verdict while he was still alive. But we must clear his name posthumously for the sake of truth and justice and for the future peace of Baset’s family. If we do nothing then a great evil will have triumphed. Perhaps those few Westerners who came to know him much better than I did will speak up for him now.
Baset was an intelligent member of an alien culture who I came to respect for his dignity, humanity and frankness. I am proud to have known him.
In our culture there are also those who, blinding themselves to the profound failure of the evidence against Baset, have deliberately tried to suppress the truth, and even to deny that Baset was mortally sick. Some of them have clearly done it knowing what they were doing. Some seem actually to have been paid to do it. One can only pray for them.
Others, understandably consumed by hatred against a man they genuinely believed had murdered their relatives advocated the withholding of treatment, even of painkillers so that he might die as quickly as possible and in the utmost agony.
I believe that such personal reactions are profoundly destructive to those who hold them. Unwittingly they have allowed themselves to become victims of the very terrorism which they rightly loathe; as such they will need help when the truth does come out.
Therein will lie a number of individual further tragedies.
(20th May 2012),
*Shorter Oxford dictionary (1933)
Fable: A narrative or statement not founded on fact.
Myth: A purely fictitious narrative.