Lockerbie resurgens: al-Megrahi, the myths and the unanswered questions

David Cameron’s visit to Washington this month (July 2010) collided with the resurrection by some American Senators of the controversy over the release in August 2009 on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government’s Justice Secretary of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted (quite possibly wrongly) of responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.  Many, not all, American relatives of Lockerbie victims, and their Senators, are furious, not only that al-Megrahi was released, but also that he’s still alive, 11 months after being released on the grounds that he had only three months to live. This seems to the Americans, and some others, to strengthen their suspicion that the mass murderer was actually released in exchange for a lucrative Libyan oil drilling contract being awarded to BP (BP!  All together now: ‘Booooo!’).

Herein lies one of several Lockerbie mysteries.  In 2007 the then British government agreed that al-Megrahi should not be excluded from the scope of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) being negotiated with Libya, as the UK side had originally demanded.  Jack Straw, then UK Justice minister, publicly acknowledged that this ‘concession’ (which implied that al-Megrahi could be transferred to serve the rest of his prison sentence in Libya) was motivated by British commercial interests in Libya, including the BP contract.  But it was part of the original UN-approved agreement on the management of  the Lockerbie suspects that if either of them was convicted, as al-Megrahi was, he would serve his sentence in the UK (in practice meaning in Scotland, as the whole process was to be conducted under Scottish law).  The terms of the agreement, formally approved by the UN Security Council in resolution 1192 of 27 August 1998 , are set out in a letter from the UK and US Acting Permanent Representatives to the UN, circulated in the UN as document S/1998/795 of 24 August 1998 (pdf).   The requirement that any sentences must be served in the UK could hardly be clearer:

If found guilty, the two accused will serve their sentence [sic] in the United Kingdom.” (para 4).

In the event, one of the two accused was acquitted.  Al-Megrahi was convicted.  Clearly any transfer of al-Megrahi to serve part of his sentence in Libya under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement so laboriously negotiated with the Libyans by Messrs Blair and Straw would have contravened the arrangements approved by the Security Council in 1999.

Question when Blair and Straw made their concession to the Libyans under which al-Megrahi was not after all to be excluded from the PTA, did they know, and remind the Libyans, that whatever the PTA said, under the original agreement approved by the UN,  al-Megrahi couldn’t be transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya?

There are plenty of other murky questions still to be answered about the whole affair, but this must surely be one of them.  (An additional puzzle is why the embattled Scottish First Minister and Justice Secretary, Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, never ones to miss a trick, have not seized the opportunity to skewer Tony Blair and Jack Straw by pointing out from the beginning that their PTA could never have been used to transfer al-Megrahi to a Libyan prison.)

It was painful to hear Messrs Obama and Cameron at their White House news conference on 20 July vehemently denouncing the Scottish Justice Secretary’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds after independent medical opinion had declared that he was dying of terminal prostate cancer and would probably — but not certainly — be dead within three months.  Under Scottish law that prognosis provided clear grounds for compassionate release.  Obama and Cameron are decent humane people and it’s hard to believe that they really disapprove so strongly of such an obviously humane decision by the Scots.  Presumably they both think it expedient to condemn the release in order to placate the grieving Lockerbie relatives and, especially, the indignant Senators.  I doubt whether we’ll ever know whether the decision was really based solely on compassion for a dying man, or whether it was influenced, even subliminally, by pressure from London not to let al-Megrahi die in prison for fear of the effects of that on UK commercial interests with Libya, or (perhaps more likely) by fear of what might be revealed if al-Megrahi’s appeal against conviction was allowed to proceed.

There has been legitimate criticism of Cameron for his public dismissal in a foreign country of a perfectly reasonable and legally watertight decision by a senior member of the Scottish government.   There was nothing to stop him pointing out that in making his decision, MacAskill was acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, not on behalf of the Scottish government although he is a senior member of it:  that the decision was in accordance with Scottish law and precedent:  and that due process was rigorously followed.  None of that is affected by Cameron’s (and Obama’s) disagreement with the decision, which in the end comes down to a matter of judgement.  Why did Cameron fail to explain, if not to defend, the action of a member of one of Britain’s established and democratically elected governments?  Having virtually been wiped out in Scotland, the Conservatives might show a little more respect and tact in commenting on the Scottish government’s actions.

Several well informed people believe there are skeletons in this cupboard which powerful people in the UK and the US want to keep securely and permanently locked away right where they are.  For example, an impressive body of respectable opinion, by no means all professional conspiracy theorists, is not convinced that al-Megrahi was properly convicted. It’s impossible to know whether this doubt was a factor in Kenny MacAskill’s mind when he made his decision: fortunately for him, there were ample other grounds for compassionate release.  It does look however as if some of those concerned were anxious that al-Megrahi’s appeal should not be heard, either because it would risk bringing Scottish justice into disrepute by discrediting the original trial as unfair and defective, or for more sinister reasons.  Or were the likely consequences of al-Megrahi’s appeal possibly succeeding simply too awful to contemplate — for example, the reactions to be expected in the US, and the appalling questions then to be answered: if the two Libyan suspects didn’t do it, who did? And what compensation would be due to al-Megrahi or, if he had died in the meantime, his family?

So why did al-Megrahi agree to abandon his appeal before it could be heard? Was it because he feared that he would not live long enough to see it determined, or because abandoning the appeal was a condition, implied or explicit, of his release on compassionate grounds? Perhaps someone should put this question to al-Megrahi while he is still alive.

A recent article in the Independent newspaper alleged that the Libyan government had paid the doctors whose prognosis that al-Megrahi would die within three months had provided the justification for his release on compassionate grounds:

There are several facts that batter these claims with question marks. The most obvious is that, 11 months later, Megrahi isn’t dead. It’s the most amazing medical recovery since Lazarus. Or is it? It turns out the doctors who declared him sick were paid for by the Libyan government, and one of them says he was put under pressure by Libya to offer the most pessimistic estimate of life expectancy. Susan Cohen, whose only daughter died in Lockerbie, asks: “Why didn’t the Scottish Government pay for the doctors?”
[Johann Hari, the Independent, 23 July 2010]

But as a crisp comment on this canard pointed out, —

This is utterly untrue. The medical report was by Scottish doctors, NHS cancer experts. The ones paid for by Libya were not part of the evidence used by the Justice Secretary. Fact checking mate, you call yourself a journalist?

Indeed, the main medical advice on which MacAskill relied was provided by the Director of Health and Care of the Scottish Prison Service, Dr Andrew Fraser,  who has been described by MacAskill as a doctor of “unimpeachable integrity”.  Yet the slanderous claim that the prognosis had been provided by doctors paid by the Libyan government spreads like toadstools all over the blogosphere and into the MSM.  Moreover, it has repeatedly been made clear that the three-month prognosis was accompanied by a warning that he might die earlier, or he might live longer: no forecast in such circumstances could be certain.  And who knows whether al-Megrahi would still be alive if he had been left in his Scottish prison cell to die, in a foreign country miles from his family?  As to the repugnance commonly expressed at the ‘hero’s welcome’ he received on his arrival back in Libya, it needs to be pointed out that he was being welcomed back as a victim of a monstrous injustice, the Libyans believing almost to a man and woman that he had been wrongly convicted;  this was the opposite of a welcome accorded to a mass murderer and terrorist.

I’m generally suspicious of conspiracy theories but in this case I seem to smell a number of rats — not least because of the decision of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) in June 2007 after lengthy study of the case to refer it to the High Court for a second appeal against conviction.  There were also a number of reports by Hans Köchler, who had been an international observer of the original trial, appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and who described the decisions of the trial and appeal courts as a “spectacular miscarriage of justice”. Some of the relatives of the victims, who have naturally followed all the proceedings closely, are doubtful whether al-Megrahi was properly convicted. There is a strong suspicion that Iran may have been involved, including a specific Iranian said to have been in the pay of the CIA (I am not of course suggesting that the CIA could have been involved in planning or carrying out the bombing). Al-Megrahi’s fellow-Libyan co-defendant was unanimously acquitted by the judges. There’s a good deal of doubt about the actual whereabouts on the relevant day of the principal prosecution witness, on whose testimony al-Megrahi’s conviction effectively stands or falls, and about his alleged identification of al-Megrahi at the trial, which was both shaky and possibly compromised. Even the vehemence of American protests at al-Megrahi’s release tends to arouse suspicion: what beans did they fear he might spill once out of prison? Why all the effort to prevent the second appeal from coming to court? And so on. It really does look as if someone, somewhere, has been and still is hiding something.

It’s important, however, to stress that it’s most unlikely that the British Labour government was involved in any kind of conspiracy with the Scottish Executive, not least because of enmity between Labour and the SNP and the obvious risk that the wily Alex Salmond would use any double dealing against it.  UK ministers certainly made it clear that Britain’s commercial and other relations with Libya would be damaged if al-Megrahi were to be allowed to die in prison in Scotland:  but this clearly expressed a hope that he would be transferred under the PTA (which, as noted earlier, would have been contrary to the original agreement);  and there’s not the slightest evidence that this sentiment was a factor in MacAskill’s mind in deciding on al-Megrahi’s  release on compassionate grounds.   All the same, I wonder why the previous UK government and the US government have hitherto refused to allow Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, to release the texts of their correspondence with him about the issue — correspondence which Salmond says he is ready to release immediately if the other two governments will consent to release. Perhaps we shall at last be allowed to read that.

Footnote:  The attempt by US Senators to summon Kenny MacAskill (and Jack Straw), to be grilled in Washington DC about al-Megrahi’s release by a Senate Committee, strikes many of us, including me, as impertinent.  Our political leaders are answerable to the British people through their elected legislatures, not to the legislators of a foreign country, however powerful.  I am glad that both MacAskill and Straw have both declined the ‘invitation’, although I regret that Straw at first shilly-shallied (talking of needing to consult Gordon Brown, of all people, before deciding what to do), instead of immediately and robustly saying, in effect, in the immortal words of the great American tennis-player, “You have got to be JOKING!!!”  The action of both the Labour and the Conservative spokesmen in the Scottish parliament in criticising MacAskill’s refusal to appear before the US Senate Foreign relations Committee was nakedly opportunist and unprincipled;  on this issue the Scottish executive plainly deserved full cross-party support.

Note to Ephems visitors: This post is based on sections of an earlier piece on this blog and responses to comments on it, but with substantial new material added, including detailed chapter and verse for the assertion that under the original arrangements approved by the UN Security Council, al-Megrahi, once convicted, was required to serve his sentence in the UK and so could never have been transferred to Libya under the PTA.

Update (26 July 2010):

Guardian Letters, Monday 26 July 2010

Vital point missed in Megrahi controversy

In all the renewed controversy over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing (Unthinkable? Bush testifies to Chilcot, 24 July), a vital point seems to have been missed. Under the terms of the US-UK “initiative” under which Megrahi was convicted, he was required to serve his sentence in the UK. The initiative was accepted by Libya and approved by UN security council resolution 1192. For that reason Megrahi could never have been transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya under the prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) negotiated by the Blair government with Libya, regardless of whether Megrahi was included in or excluded from its scope.

It’s difficult to understand how the PTA came to be signed when it could never have been used to transfer Megrahi, the only Libyan then in UK custody. If BP was pressing for Megrahi to be transferred under the PTA, why was it not told that this was ruled out by the terms of the original agreement? Why didn’t Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill point this out to Tony Blair and Jack Straw when they were arguing about the pros and cons of the PTA? Above all, when Blair and Straw made their “concession” to the Libyans under which Megrahi was not after all to be excluded from the PTA, did they remind the Libyans that Megrahi couldn’t be transferred to Libya? If not, why not?

In an article published on Comment is Free on 1 September 2009, Oliver Miles pointed out that Megrahi’s transfer to Libya under the PTA would have been contrary to the original agreement. It’s strange that even then no one seems to have seen the implications of this.

Brian Barder



6 Responses

  1. Tony Hatfield says:

    imagine  the house of commons foreign affairs committee decided to hold hearings on the uk/us behaviour on or close by the the island of diego garcia, allegations of torture in guantanamo bay or extraordinary rendition- all involving uk citizens or residents? anybody really think  rumsfeld/cheney/wolfowitz would even respond politely?

    Brian writes: Thanks, Tony. What a raspberry pretty well any US Senator or Congressperson would emit in reply to a summons to a House of Commons Select Committee investigating some American transgression, such as the shooting down of the Iranian civilian airliner which many believe was the trigger for a revenge attack — over Lockerbie! And in the case of the current brouhaha over the release of al-Megrahi, there’s not a shred of evidence of any transgression by either the Scottish or British government: nothing for the eminent Senators to investigate so far as the narrow question of the release of Megrahi is concerned.

  2. Oliver Miles says:

    Congratulations on throwing a lot of light into dark corners. Let me add a bit on three subjects.
    The 1999 Agreement
    I have the Reuters text (unfortunately omitting the UN reference number) of a letter from the Libyan representative to the UN Secretary General dated 20 March 1999, by which time negotiations had moved on a bit; the restoration of diplomatic relations between Britain and Libya was to be announced only a little later, on 7 July. This letter refers to an “agreed point” that “The suspects, if convicted, will serve their prison sentence in Scotland”. The point was vital to the Libyans, because they feared that suspects handed over to Britain would be passed on to America and executed.
    The negotiation must have been exceptionally difficult, because the Americans would not speak to the Libyans, so the British or the UN must I suppose have acted as middlemen. Not much has been published other than UN documents (Scottish ministers have complained that the UK government refused to brief them, and implied that the US government weren’t much better). But the evidence of these documents does not support the claim, which has often been made, that it was agreed that Megrahi should serve his full sentence in the UK. In other words, the commitment was that any prison sentence should be served in the UK or Scotland, but that there was no evidence of a commitment that any sentence imposed would be served in full with no possibility of remission, etc. So the agreement appears to rule out transfer under the prisoner transfer agreement, but not release under the Scottish humanitarian clause.

    The families
    David Cameron and others have repeatedly referred to the “anguish” caused to the families of the victims by Megrahi’s release. He has ignored the two most prominent representatives of the British families, Dr Jim Swire and Pamela Dix. Swire believes that Megrahi is innocent, Dix is an agnostic on guilt, both have insisted on the need to get to the truth.

    The US senators
    You let the American senators off too lightly. Swire has publicly described the American reaction as “mass hysteria”. They have referred repeatedly and in a crescendo of abuse to the behaviour of the British government and more particularly of BP, accusing it of conspiracy and breaking the Foreign Corrupt Services Act. They refer repeatedly to “allegations” on which these charges are based, allegations they themselves have made without producing any supporting evidence.

    George Galloway got their measure in his bravura appearance before the American Senate on the subject of Iraq: “I am here today – but last week you already found me guilty.” Gorgeous George has advised Alex Salmond to appear before the Senate just for the fun of it – “you will make rings round them”. Maybe, but alas! Jack Straw is no George Galloway.

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for these important comments. Your quotation from the Libyan letter accepting the agreement is especially valuable (the full text is at Further Googling reveals that you yourself publicly pointed out, in your article of 1 September 2009 on the Guardian website Comment is Free, that any transfer of al-Megrahi to Libya under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement would have been contrary to the original US-UK-Libyan agreement under which the defendants, if convicted, would serve their sentences in the UK. The Guardian seems to have failed to spot the importance of your article and neglected to print it in the newspaper itself. Almost every other commentator as well as all the governments concerned seem to have missed this rather important point as well.

    The requirement that the sentence must be served in Scotland is also repeated, rather unexpectedly, in a speech by Nelson Mandela (text here).

    With your consent I have added to your comment your clarification about the agreement, endorsed by resolution of the UN Security Council, that the sentence must be served in the UK — specifically, according to the Libyan letter accepting the terms of the agreement, in Scotland — but that there is nothing in the agreement to prevent early release. In other words, al-Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds before he had served the whole of his sentence (the course adopted by the Scottish Justice Secretary) was fully compatible with the agreement, but his transfer to Libya to serve the rest of his sentence there under the UK-Libyan Prisoner Transfer Agreement would have been in flagrant breach of the agreement.

  3. Richard T says:

    There are a number of points which emerge from this sad episode. The first is that for me and I suspect a a lot of Scots, the public condemnation of our laws and constitutional position by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in a foreign country has been an eye opener. Secondly the wilful failure to understand the constitution by English commentators and MPs is beginning to grate much more now. Thirdly the rush by some – David Milliband for one – to leap on the bandwagon of condemnation of Kenny MacAskill’s decision as being against the national interest of the UK when the root cause of the present furore seems to me to be some grandstanding US senators wishing to make trouble for BP is cynical in the extreme. Fourthly the conflation of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement with the exercise of compassionate release, linked with unfounded and mistaken identification of origins of the medical opinion used by the Justice Secretary is careless at best and cynical at worst if the writers know the truth. Finally as for the press talking of Scottish Ministers being summoned to Washington, this beggars description.
    It has set me to start to wonder whether there is any longer justification for the belief in the overall benefit of the Union to Scotland. I am well aware of the economic arguments in favour of its maintenance but, as of now, they are overshadowed by the politics of the whole Megrahi case and we might as well be fully independent for all the difference it would make. If you look at the correspondence in the Herald and the Scotsman as well as the blogsphere in Scotland, I am not alone in reaching this conclusion.
    I fully agree that no former British Minister or Scottish Secretary should traipse off to Washington to be grilled by the Senators although part of me agrees with George Galloway that Alex Salmond would be more than a match for them.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I can imagine feeling the same if I were Scottish. It will be a huge indictment of David Cameron if by his clod-hopping denunciation of a meticulously correct and humane decision by a Scottish minister, he has given fresh impetus to pro-independence sentiment in Scotland. Personally I regard Scotland as such a fundamental part of my Britishness that I would regard Scottish secession from the UK almost as a kind of amputation; the disintegration of the UK which it would signal would be a tragedy for the entire population (including the Scots). David Cameron has spoken of the preservation of the Union as one of his top priorities, and he must be aware of the inherent difficulties of a predominantly Conservative government at Westminster ruling a Scotland that has decisively rejected the Tories electorally. What on earth does he think he has to gain by this insensitive attitudinising? It looks suspiciously like Blairish kowtowing to an American President who himself is kowtowing to a largely ignorant and vindictive American public opinion.

    I’m sure it would have been quite wrong for Alex Salmond to obey the imperious summons to the US Senate, but I entirely agree that if he were to go, the resulting spectacle of Daniel seeing off the lions in their own den would have been a genuine joy. (Jack Straw, however, would make a bad situation infinitely worse.)

  4. Rhadamant says:

    I enjoyed your article which I found via the BritBlog Roundup, but am not convinced we must take it as read that the Security Council’s resolution is binding vis-a-vis the Prisoner Transfer Agreement.  I’m not qualified to give a view on international law but your former colleagues at the FCO don’t regard the Resolution as in any way hampering the PTA – see, for example, this page

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I am most grateful to you for drawing attention to this important document indicating the FCO view on these issues (I think the main account of the FCO position is at

    This seems to me an extraordinary document. I am not a lawyer, but the letter’s assertion that the British government is free to depart unilaterally from one important provision of a formal agreement approved by the UN Security Council, while acknowledging that it is bound by its other provisions, seems both internally contradictory and also contrary to plain common sense. The letter even seems to imply that because the then UK government gave no specific assurances to the US government at the time about where the suspects would serve their sentences if convicted, therefore the UK must be free to ignore the plain provision of the agreement that the sentences would be served in the UK (the FCO letter wrongly says “in Scotland”). But the absence of additional assurances about where the sentences would be served proves nothing: the original document constituting the ‘initiative’ makes it plain that the sentences must be served in the UK, and repeating this in a separate assurance to Washington would not only have been redundant — it could have aroused great suspicion.

    The letter hints at another alleged justification for unilaterally ignoring a central provision of an international agreement to which the UK is party: namely that a British government’s decision can’t bind its successor. It’s a novel and potentially destructive interpretation of international law to assert that an incoming government is not bound by international law obligations entered into by its predecessor. I doubt if on mature reflection even the author of this strange letter would seriously argue that proposition.

    There is another extraordinary implication in the letter: namely, that the UK could have gone ahead and transferred al-Megrahi to Libya under the PTA even if the US government, the co-author of the initiative, had not agreed to it. Moreover, although the initiative was formally approved by a resolution of the UN Security Council, passed under Chapter VII of the Charter, and including provision for UN monitoring of the proper observance of the agreement, the letter asserts the UK’s right to depart from it in an important respect without that departure first being approved by the Security Council. The FCO letter claims that in the (actually inconceivable) event of a decision by Scottish ministers to approve al-Megrahi’s transfer to Libya under the PTA, —

    We do not anticipate that ongoing UN monitoring will have any impact on Megrahi’s potential transfer to Libya, although [we] believe that it would be necessary to inform the UN of the decision of Scottish Ministers! [Emphasis and exclamation mark added.]

    No wonder the letter has been heavily redacted, with various passages deleted, and with a request to its recipient to treat it as being ‘in confidence’. It really doesn’t stand up to even superficial scrutiny. It ignores the obvious facts that both the US and Scottish governments would have been, and indeed were, strongly opposed to any transfer of al-Megrahi to a Libyan prison under the PTA, and that Scottish government opposition ruled it out in any case. If anyone in the FCO seriously believes that any British government would have contemplated for more than three minutes going ahead with the transfer of al-Megrahi under the PTA without the agreement of the Americans, who were partners in drawing up the original agreement, and without Security Council approval for this major change in the provisions of the agreement that it had approved, then my old department must have suffered a catastrophic fall in its standards since I was last inside its hallowed premises.

    I’m afraid the obvious and likeliest explanation is that the British government blithely ignored — perhaps even overlooked — its commitment to keep al-Megrahi in a UK prison when it negotiated the PTA with Libya, with the primary objective of promoting the UK’s commercial relations with Libya, giving both the Libyans and al-Megrahi the entirely misleading impression that the latter could and probably would be transferred to Libya under it. Having signed the PTA, UK ministers were presumably reminded by their officials and legal advisers, and perhaps by the Scottish government, that al-Megrahi’s transfer would contravene the agreement under which he had been convicted and under which he was held in a UK prison. The FCO letter presumably represents the best arguments that the FCO lawyers could devise to square this obstinately circular circle. (It’s reminiscent of the efforts of the then Attorney-General, but not the FCO lawyers, in 2003 to devise a narrative under which the UK attack on Iraq without UN authority was somehow legal.) No doubt the FCO took comfort from the knowledge that the whole thing was academic: Scottish ministers had too much sense, and respect for the original agreement, to agree to transfer under the PTA, and going ahead with it in the teeth of American opposition was politically if not legally inconceivable in any case.

  5. John Miles says:

    Mr Straw is widely reported to have said that he had nothing to do with the decision to repatriate Mr Megrahi, and “Indeed, I was on holiday at the time and only learnt about it from an item on the BBC News website.”
    I seem to remember Mr Straw sending awhile ago an unsolicited letter to the Scots in which he seemed to go out of his way to stress – rather unnecessarily – that the Scots were perfectly free to do whatever they thought best about Mr Megrahi.
    It struck me as pretty weird at the time.

    How’s this for a conspiracy theory?
    Mr Straw wa s sharp enouugh to realise that (a) there was no way Mr Megrahi could be transferred to a prison in Libya, and (b) he had to be repatriated or Colonel Gadafi wouldn’t be nice to BP.
    Analysis: BP: Gloom at the top – Jul-23
    In depth: BP oil spill – Jul-12

    Brian writes: Thanks, John. I don’t think that this adds up to a conspiracy, though. The UK government had no role in the decision on how to respond to al-Megrahi’s application for release on compassionate grounds, which was solely for the Scottish Justice Secretary, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. But because of the foreign affairs implications of the decision, the UK government was certainly entitled to give its view of those implications to the Scottish government, and I seem to remember that it did convey to Edinburgh its view that there would be bad consequences for UK-Libyan relations if al-M. were to die in a Scottish prison. Whether it was Jack Straw who conveyed this sentiment to Edinburgh, or someone else, I don’t remember. The Scottish government may even have asked Westminster for its views, given its responsibility for foreign affairs. I think Kenny MacAskill may have said subsenquently that he listened to all the representations made to him, by the UK government and others, including the American relatives of the victims (but not including BP which made no representations to Edinburgh), but that in the end he had to make his decision on the facts regarding al-M’s medical condition, Scottish law, Scottish government principles of compassion and humanity, and the precedents, and that’s what he did. In other words, the whole thing seems to have been conducted with complete propriety and due process, and there was apparently nothing conspiratorial about it — whatever the American senators might believe.

    PS: Thanks to Britblog Roundup I have read with much admiration another analytical post on this affair, at, which neatly complements this one. I strongly recommend it.

  6. Stewart Dredge says:

    Its the hypocrisy of the Americans over Lockerbie which I find  hard to stomach. IF Al Megraghi is guilty of the atrocity then Ghaddafi is the mastermind. He is the true Butcher of Lockerbie.
    But, while the Democrats and Republicans are united in demanding that minion al Megraghi rots in a Scottish jail, they are happy that their own senior politicians meet the man who by their own reasoning planned the atrocity, with a view to “normalising relationships” between the oil-rich dictatorship and the USA. Thus, when Condoleeza Rice met Ghaddafi in Tripoli early in September 2008 she did not say “you are a mass murderer and the USA demands that you hand yourself in to to the international courts of justice for trial”, she said “We are working on a trade and investment agreement, a framework, which will allow the improvement of the climate for investment, which I know very many American firms wish to do.”
    And in August 2009, the new Democratic government sent a delegation to Libya led by John McCain, including Senators Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins. McCain noted how “bilateral ties have taken a remarkable and positive turn in recent years.”
    However we shouldn`t think that this American “warming” to the country, which is still ruled by the same pariah who controlled it in 1988, is either new or purely political. On the contrary: in January 2008 Libyan government official Abdel-Rahman Shalqam was wined and dined on Capitol Hill with executives from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Occidental Petroleum and Raythorn as well as officials from the US trade representatives office. So is the Lockerbie issue itself a stumbling block on the trade between America and Libya? It seems not. US trade with Libya soared after economic sanctions were lifted by the Bush administration in 2006. Oil exports totalling 2.5 billion dollars flowed into America from Libya that year and exports from the US to Libya increased by over 400%. No need for dodgy deals in the desert there then!
    What puzzles me is the almost total silence about the above from the “American relatives”. Surely MacAskill`s act of mercy cannot really incense them more than the cynical commercial dealings of their own government officials?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. You make a valid and powerful point.
    Another mystery is why the attitudes of the American relatives of the Lockerbie victims are evidently so different from those of the Scottish and other British relatives. The Americans seem almost unanimously vindictive, clamouring for al Megrahi to ‘rot in jail until he dies’ and unquestioningly convinced that he was correctly and fairly convicted; many of the British relatives approved of the Scottish Justice Secretary’s act of mercy and several are convinced that either al Megrahi is innocent or else that at best his conviction was unsafe and the trial defective. Why the difference? The US is in general a much more Christian country than the UK, yet highly valuing forgiveness as a virtue is, I’m led to believe, supposed to be characteristic of Christians. Give me the Scots every time.