A key witness in the Lockerbie bombing trial – a former Libyan double agent with alleged ties to one of the defendants – is expected to testify today.
Abdul Majid Giaka worked as a CIA agent in Malta Airport, where a Samsonite leather suitcase containing a plastic explosive was allegedly loaded onto an airliner. That suitcase allegedly made its way to Frankfurt and then London, where prosecutors say it was placed aboard the Pan Am jumbo jet.
Giaka is expected to provide the clearest evidence against the two alleged Libyan intelligence agents charged with the December 21, 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people. Thirty-five victims were Syracuse University students returning home after a semester abroad.
Two Libyan agents, Abdel Bassett Ali al Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, have pleaded innocent to murder, conspiracy and endangering a commercial airliner. Three Scottish judges are presiding over their trial in Camp Zeist, Netherlands, the result of a 1998 agreement between the United Nations and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Giaka, has been in hiding under the U.S. witness protection program since he defected in 1991. When he testifies today, he will do so behind a screen with his voice scrambled. Although it is not clear what Giaka will testify to, media reports have speculated he could connect the bombing with the defendants.
Because Giaka's testimony is one of the most highly anticipated of the trial, many American family members of the victims are expected to view the trial via satellite at two East Coast uplink sites. Nearly 30 people in Washington, and as many as 50 people in New York City, can view the trial via satellite on two 37-inch monitors, said Kathryn Turman, director of the Department of Justice's Office of Victims of Crime which reserves seating at the remote sites for family members. OVC also pays for airfare and week-long hotel accommodations for the families to the trial or a remote site.
Although it depends on the day's testimony and on family members' schedules, not many family members take advantage of the uplink sites. With some family members living thousands of miles away from the remote sites, it's often the families that live the closest who take advantage of it the most. But there a few “regulars” are some families have rented apartments near the remote sites. Other families try to time visits to the remote sites with the testimony of important prosecution witnesses. This week, however, at least 10 families are expected to watch the trial in Washington. Eighteen families have reserved seating in New York. Forty-seven families are in Camp Zeist, nearly double the usual audience.
Susan and Daniel Cohens' daughter Theo – an SU drama student – died in the bombing. They have been to the Washington remote site three times and plan to go for Giaka's testimony. But because of the trial's unpredictability – there have been several delays – the trip has not always been worth it. The last time Giaka was scheduled to testify, in August, the Cohens drove four hours from their home in Cape May Courthouse, N.J. to the uplink site. When they arrived, the Cohens said they found the doors locked.
“We got down there and the place was closed,” said Daniel Cohen, 64. “To say it mildly we were a little bit upset.”
The Cohens usually follow the trial by reading transcripts or summaries on the Internet. But for Giaka's testimony, Cohen is driving down to Washington.
“It's the unknown part of it that makes us go,” he said.
Unlike American trials, where it's easier to predict the order and content of witnesses' testimony, the Lockerbie trial has often been unpredictable.
“We haven't been told any more than you have,” said Bob Monetti, president of the Victims of Pan Am 103, the largest victims group. “Everything about the trial is secret until presented.”
Like other families who live near New York City and Washington, Monetti, 57, of Cherry Hill, N.J. and his wife, Eileen, will drive to Washington this week for Giaka's testimony.
“Before the trial, we didn't know most of the evidence,” said Monetti, who's son Richard, an SU student, died in the bombing. “We want to see what the evidence is.”