Despite the best of intentions, Scotland has been made to look an idiot over the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds. Al-Megrahi arrived back in Libya to a hero's welcome leaving the world asking why

When international politics begins to smell like oil it has this uncanny ability to stink. So too goes the bizarre case of the Scottish suck-up to oil rich Libya in the “compassionate” release of the ailing Pan Am bomber.

In delivering Abdel Baset al-Megrahi back to the bosom of his homeland to die a hero’s death, Scotland has laid herself bare for world wide vitriol, none of which should come as a surprise to anyone with a properly placed sense of sympathy, rather than the seriously warped one displayed by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

How to go from thinking you really were the Flower of Scotland to being summarily deflowered on a world stage… and sooo publicly too.

Of course Scottish Kenny can’t be blamed for the victorious welcome al-Megrahi received when his plane touched down at Tripoli airport. All that flag-waving and kissing and hugging and official pictures were not supposed to happen. Scotland swears it had warned Muammar Gaddafi against such things, but being caught so off-guard speaks volumes to the naivety of those involved from the British side. Hadn’t they studied the personality they were delivering their controversial cargo to? What about Gaddafi’s sons who are hungry for the limelight to assist with their respective applications for the old man’s job once he pops his Gucci loafers? Did the legal and political hierarchies of the once mighty British Empirereally expect al-Megrahi who has never admitted his crime, to be shuffled off the tarmac into a waiting police van and driven to the quiet seclusion of his family to die?

Then to add another layer of unease is Gaddafi’s chat about his good friend Gordon Brown, who he’d recently met with, and yes, petroleum deals were discussed. Strangely, when the Scottish Parliament was debating this whole thing on Monday, it was made very clear that the Scottish-born Prime Minister had yet to break his silence on the compassion of his fellow nationals – five days into the scandal.

The problem with this case is that just when you manage to whip up a full head of steam over the idiocy of being compassionate for the convicted murderer of 270 people on Flight 103 and in their homes in the town of Lockerbie rather than his victims, something uncomfortable niggles away. And I don’t mean MacAskill’s pass-the-bucket moment when he so theatrically told the world that al-Megrahi was facing a sentence from a “higher power”.

No, what chafes is whether anyone actually believes he’s the person responsible for the bombing, and there has always been considerable doubt he was anything more than a sacrificial lamb in Libya’s desperate quest to rehabilitate itself internationally. Well, the rehabilitation followed quick smart didn’t it?

In his inimitable way, The Independent’s Robert Fisk pulled out all stops on this issue with a weekend column pointing to complicity at the very least from the Lebanese... possibly a Palestinian connection... and likely Iran had its fingers in there seeking revenge from the American downing of an Iranian passenger jet.

Of course depending on how long al-Megrahi’s prostate cancer takes to finish the job set out by the 2001 special court in the Netherlands, and in the unlikely event of a deathbed confession, there will always be questions. For a starter, who else was involved?

And then there’s the untidy business of what’s in it for Britain?

Conveniently, Scotland is in the gun for the decision and the only form of support given so far is the astonishment on the part of Foreign Secretary David Milliband to suggestions there could be any quid pro quo. We give you the old dying terrorist, you give us access to your blisteringly hot and lucrative oil and gas sector. Hardly cricket, really.

On the oily face of it, you’d think the Scots would be the toast of Downing St. Not yet Jimmy. First there will be the time in the diplomatic sin bin with none other than Barack Obama waving his finger and questioning the grounds for compassion in turning the life sentence conveniently over to God. There have not so far been, nor will there be, any grounds for humane treatment of MacAskill & Co from across the Pond.

All the Brits can really do is press upon Prince Andrew to refrain from attending the big party Gaddafi is soon to hold to celebrate his forty years in power – the Prince having a strangely close relationship with Libyan regime. Yet a prince missing out on a few free drinks in a big flash tent is really deeply shallow given the depth of feeling of the relatives of the victims.

Many of those relatives have been active in the media endorsing the compassionate release; others have not. And who can blame them?

To be fair to MacAskill, had he come out and said no way this terrorist is going to get his sympathy and he can rot out his last cancer-riddled days in the slammer, he’d have been condemned for being a hard Scottish bastard.

The grave offence made was that of being so out of step with the politics and the known antics of showman Gaddafi who only a matter of a few years ago was in the state-sponsored terrorism business. Forgetting how the old Libya played the game has left dangling the possibility of a trade/oil component, and that’s likely to leave a large and sticky political slick.

Scotland the Brave? Not much choice for a while is there.

Comments (6)

by David Colley on August 26, 2009
David Colley

Jane - While there is a lot of bluster regarding the release of al-Megrahi that is all it is - bluster for public consumption. If one looks behind the scenes you'll see al-Megrahi was the fall guy. There is considerable evidence that 103 was bombed as retaliation for the US navy shooting down an Iranian airliner. There is an excellent, if long winded, book on the subject - "Coverup of Convenience".

In light of this and the appalling behaviour of the West towards Libya (OK, the Libyans are not lily white) the reaction of the people upon al-Megrahi's return is hardly surprising.

by David Beatson on August 26, 2009
David Beatson

Hi Jane - now it's America's term. Did you catch this from AFP today [26 August]:

"US officials were stuck in a bind on Tuesday over calls to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from pitching a tent near angry relatives of Lockerbie bombing victims on his upcoming trip to New York. Senator Frank Lautenberg called on the State Department to restrict Gaddafi to the immediate UN area and block him from planting his tent on the grounds of a Libyan diplomat in the nearby suburb of Englewood, New Jersey. Lautenberg, who represents New Jersey, said the town is painfully close to the homes of many families of the 1988 Pan Am plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people."

by Claire Browning on August 27, 2009
Claire Browning

Gordon Campbell covers the alleged miscarriage of justice aspect here.

The source linked to is Wikipedia, and while the threshold for the granting of a second appeal to Al-Megrahi was met, we won't know now what the outcome of that appeal would have been.  Wikipedia links back to the SCCRC news release, which notes that some of the fresh evidence uncovered pointed towards innocence; some of it also indicated guilt.

However - without wishing to dispute anything that you've written, Jane - it's an angle that helps cast at least a faintly different light, and that may have lost its way a bit, above.

by Andrew Geddis on August 27, 2009
Andrew Geddis

I wonder if the international reaction (including Libya's breach of its promises) hasn't blinded us to the basic issue here - is it just and proper to keep a man suffering through the last three-odd months of his life in prison? What values does that serve? What does it say about a society that pursues vengeance/retribution to that extent? Frankly, I'm with the Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland on this one:

"This decision has sent a message to the world about what it is to be Scottish. We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy? I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims' families and I respect their views, but to them, I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge."

As for the claim that the likely actions of Libya/international pressure should have prevented the release ... does that mean we all can now forgive David Lange for releasing the Rainbow Warrior bombers? After all, that involved the bending of NZ's understanding of justice to the will of the French - but apparently global politics simply matter more than what we think is right and wrong. And there I was, thinking that decision marked one of his low points.

by Serum on August 27, 2009
Serum

The release of the cancer-stricken former Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for the gravest single act of terrorism ever perpetrated within Great Britain’s jurisdiction –history tells us that such acts of terrorism require detailed planning involving many participants - on the grounds of humanitarian ideals and avoiding death in a British jail as opposed to allowing a second appeal to prove Megrahi’s innocence, more than ever ensures that any miscarriage of justice will now not be definitively exposed.

By setting Megrahi free, the British authorities are conveniently ensuring that the widely held belief that it was not Libya but Iran that engineered the Lockerbie bombing with the footwork carried out by the Syrian-hosted Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General command, and purportedly paid $10 million by Iran, will never be put to a renewed legal test and suggesting more clearly than ever before that justice was never done in this case - and that justice never will be done.

by David Colley on August 28, 2009
David Colley

Well put Serum. Here's some background to the release - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/dailypolitics/andrewneil/2009/08/very_murky_waters_indeed.html

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