“Al-Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 and sent back to Libya on compassionate grounds because of advancing cancer. Public outrage was sparked. Al-Megrahi lived with his cancer for a few years (…) One cannot help but wonder whether the outrage over his release might be tempered if those angry individuals were to seriously examine the suspicious eyewitness testimony that led to Al-Megrahi’s conviction in the first place. My examination has led me to seriously wonder: Is the Lockerbie bomber still out here?”
Professor Elizabeth F. Loftus — Memory (2013)
Elizabeth F. Loftus is a Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology and Professor of Law and Cognitive Science at University of California, Irvine. Her research has demonstrated that people can be led to develop rich false memories for events that never happened.
These false memories look very much like true ones. Indeed, they can be confidently told, detailed, and expressed with emotion.
Today, I post the conclusions of Professor Loftus’ expert opinion on the testimony of the main witness Tony Gauci against Megrahi at the Lockerbie trial.
And I have a very special gift for the readers of Intel Today! Professor Loftus has kindly agreed to answer your questions regarding her understanding of Tony Gauci’s testimony and statements. Please send me your questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will post her answers as soon as possible. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
The human brain generates false recollections. Psychologists defined ‘false memory‘ as a phenomenon where a person recalls something that did not happen.
In 1974, Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer conducted a study to investigate the effects of language on the development of false memory. They concluded that the words used to phrase a question can heavily influence the response given.
“Even the smallest adjustment in a question, such as the article preceding the supposed memory, could alter the responses.
For example, having asked someone if they had seen ‘the’ stop sign, rather than ‘a’ stop sign, provided the respondent with a presupposition that there was a stop sign in the scene.
This presupposition increased the number of people responding that they had indeed seen the stop sign.”
Given that Tony Gauci’s recovered memories — obtained in more than a dozen interviews spread over almost two years — may be genuine, false, or a combination of the two, it is legitimate to question how much of what he remembered is real and how much is illusion.
In 2013, Professor Loftus published an article regarding her scientific analysis of the eyewitness evidence in the Lockerbie case.
Professor Loftus studied the various statements made by Gauci and came to the conclusion that his story regarding Megrahi buying the clothes in his store on December 7, 1988 is simply a piece of pure fiction. Here are her conclusions.
“My analysis identified a number of areas in which Gauci changed his testimony from one point in time to another. More specifically, the statements he gave relatively early on (9 months after the crime) before Al-Megrahi was a suspect differed in many respects from what Gauci would recall later, after Al-Megrahi was a suspect.
While the defence attorney did, at trial, point out some of the changes, it might have been useful to compile them and show the entire collection. Since one of the major reasons why someone’s testimony changes from one point in time to another is that they have been supplied with new details, it would have been important to try to discover the new details to which Gauci had been exposed. After investigators began to look for Libyans, and began to suspect Al-Megrahi, what kind of information did Gauci receive, either deliberately or inadvertently?
This information, and more, was presented to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, a commission that reviews cases post-conviction and did so in this case. The Commission is an independent public body, which was established in 1999 and bears the responsibility for reviewing alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland.
The Commission has the power to refer to the High Court of Justiciary any conviction regardless of whether appeals of that conviction have been heard previously. The Commission refers cases when it believes that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred.
In Al-Megrahi’s case the Commission expressed deep reservations about the conviction and concluded that it might have been a miscarriage of justice (Adams, 2007; Oliver, 2007). Much of the world knows less about this development, but much more about a different development*namely that Al-Megrahi was released from prison in 2009 and sent back to Libya on compassionate grounds because of advancing cancer.
Public outrage was sparked. Al-Megrahi lived with his cancer for a few years and, as noted earlier, died in 2012. One cannot help but wonder whether the outrage over his release might be tempered if those angry individuals were to seriously examine the suspicious eyewitness testimony that led to Al-Megrahi’s conviction in the first place.
My examination has led me to seriously wonder: Is the Lockerbie bomber still out here?”
Elizabeth Loftus on Eyewitness Testimony
“The wrongful conviction of Steve Titus was a miscarriage of justice in which Steve Titus (1950–1986), an American businessman, was wrongly convicted of rape.
Titus was fired from his job after the conviction and, though the charges were soon dismissed, he became long term unemployed.
The crime was later determined to have been committed by serial rapist Edward Lee King.
Journalist Paul Henderson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for his work on the case. Jack Olsen’s book Predator examined the investigation of the crime and the life of the real criminal.” [Wikipedia]
Memory, 2013 — Vol. 21 No. 5, 584-590
Lockerbie — The Eyewitness Evidence Against Megrahi by Pr Elizabeth Loftus