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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Judith Miller's Malta connection - interview with former Maltese Prime Minister

Judith Miller, the New York Times journalist who has been jailed for refusing to comply with a court order, is the same journalist who had revealed to the world that the Maltese Prime Minister had saved the life of Muammar Ghaddafi by alerting him in time to the US air strikes that destroyed the Libyan leader's house nearly 20 years ago. Miller, whose current case has gripped the attention of the American media, has decided to go to jail rather than reveal a confidential source and testify before the grand jury. Judith Miller is also an old professional acquaintance of Godfrey Grima, a Maltese Fleet street trained journalist who has been writing for the Financial Times for several years. Miller and Grima met several times on assignments in Libya, Poland, the US and Italy.

Yesterday, I had a revealing conversation with the then Prime Minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici about Judith Miller and the interview he distinctly recalls giving her in Castille, months after the actual US air force attacks on Tripoli in the middle of the night of 15 April 1986. In the interview, which was published in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici was bluntly asked by Miller (tipped-off by the US intelligence services) whether he had alerted the Libyans to the attack. Mifsud Bonnici explained that he had personally informed Ghaddafi that unauthorised fighter planes had just crossed southwards over Maltese territory and he had felt duty bound to alert Libya since it was a friendly neighbouring country and because Malta had the responsibility of air traffic control in the central Mediterranean.

He gave me an account of how he learned at a later stage that the Americans had intercepted his messages to Libya and that they had known all along that the mission to assassinate Ghaddafi was foiled by his alert which was transmitted just minutes before the bombs were dropped on the Libyan capital . The attack was ordered by the Reagan administration with UK approval in response to Libyan support for attacks on U.S. servicemen in Europe. The American attack killed close to a 100 people including Gaddafi's adopted daughter.

The former Prime Minister who lives in Hamrun went on to explain that on the very same day of the American attack, the Libyan Prime Minister had been in Malta to bring a written undertaking from Ghaddafi that Libya was ready to embark on negotiations with Mediterranean countries with a view to prohibit and discourage terrorist attacks in the region. This was in response to an initiative by the Maltese Labour government which had written to all countries bordering the Mediterranean asking them to sign a formal anti-terrorism pact binding all signitaries. Mifsud Bonnici explains that the US administration had worked behind the scenes to successfully persuade the major European Mediterranean countries Italy, France and Spain ( all led by Socialists - Craxi, Mitterand and Gonzalez respectively ) not to sign any such pact. The then US ambassador to Malta, Gary Matthews today working at the US Institute for Peace, had said that the US 'discourages any regional initiative'. Cyprus was the only European country which had agreed to sign the pact.

The Maltese Government had then taken the case to the United Nations requesting the Security Council to condemn the attacks on Libya and calling on all states to enter negotiations. A majority of countries voted in favour of the resolution moved by the Maltese ambassador Gorg Agius (today president of the National Council for the Elderly) but was vetoed by the US and the UK with the Soviets abstaining.

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who today remains an enthusiastic anti war campaigner and who took centre stage in the last weeks with his opposition to the European Constitution, states that the attacks constituted a major setback for Maltese tourism in the mid eighties. When I asked him what he thought of the current controversy surrounding Judith Miller (who has been fervently campaigning over the last three years in favour of the war on Iraq) , he strongly defended her right as a journalist not to reveal her confidential sources.

The sins of Judith Miller by Russ Baker

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