Politics/Law/Government

That Libya thing

There’s a whole lot of ink being spilled, and much, much more to come, over the US Senate’s whining over the early release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted by Scottish judges back in 2000 for the Pan Am 103 bombing. Megrahi was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds—he was suffering from advanced prostate cancer. The issue has gotten complicated by allegations that BP somehow arranged for the swap, or was involved somehow in a quid pro quo for access to Libyan gas and oil fields, and BP is everyone’s favorite target at the moment, so why not go after them? It’s further complicated by the fact the Megrahi is still whinnying among us—he hasn’t had the good form to die yet. It’s even more further complicated by the fact that, to date, the various British and Scottish political leaders involved in the decision to release Megrahi have politely declined to testify in front of the US Senate. They’re not bound to, of course, and the Senate can’t compel their testimony anyway. Interestingly, the list of invited testifiers does not appear to include Tony Blair, who we know was intimately involved in the negotiations between BP, the British government, and the Libyan government.

And the best part? Megrahi may have been framed. And the real reason Megrahi was released probably had nothing to do with his illness, but the fact that by releasing Megrahi, his appeal process lapsed, thus preventing some potentially embarrassing documentation from being released. Confused yet?

The pieces above by Alexander Cockburn at The First Post and Gareth Peirce at The London Review of Books are both long, detailed, and well worth reading. Because as far as I can tell, no one in America seems aware of the fact that Megrahi may have been railroaded by the UK and US governments. I can’t really speak to whether or not Cockburn and Peirce are correct on this. But I will note that the sometimes spokesman for the UK victims’ group agrees with them (although not all of the victim families agree with him), as do a number of lawyers in both Scotland and England. But it may be that they’re wrong—at some point, enough will come out to provide a bit more clarity. There are now calls within Scotland for a formal inquiry on the decision last year.

And that process might certainly be accelerated by the current grandstanding by a bunch of US Senators. Doesn’t the Senate have more important work to do? My own Senator, John Kerry of Massachusetts, has apparently admitted that Obama’s proposed climate legislation is probably not moving this year. But we have time for this stuff?

Because it’s also clear that no one is thinking this through. If Peirce and Cockburn are correct (along with a number of lawyers), and Megrahi was railroaded, then a whole batch of disquieting questions emerge. Like, who did it if Megrahi didn’t? Well, what evidence there is suggests Iran, which raises further interesting and potentially embarrassing questions. And if the UK government was actually relieved that the appeal process didn’t go forward, what information was it that no one wanted to see the light of day? Because that information now won’t be forthcoming–dropping the appeal was a condition for Megrahi’s release. And just what Tony Blair’s role in this whole process, anyway? The world of oil is big, complicated and ugly. This could all get uglier.

There’s no question that the families of the bombing of Pan Am 103 deserved to know the truth of what happened to that flight 20 years ago. While some appear convinced that Megrahi’s verdict was sound, others are not convinced. Whether or not their search for the truth, and some closure, will be helped or hindered by some grandstanding by a bunch of US Senators remains to be seen.

4 replies »

  1. Well damn. If our Senators can’t grandstand then what good are they?

    Ahem. Do keep us informed. If there WAS a railroad, and if US officials were involved, and the gods help us, Iran was behind it, then it might very well result in another round of hearings into steroid use in professional sports, and I need to be ready for that.

  2. One of the things that interests me is that there seems little cognisance of the finer points of British politics involved here, indeed the constitutional issues at play (because contrary to popular belief, Britain has a constitution, it’s just not one document with “Constitution” at the top).

    The accusation is that Megrahi was released as part of a deal between the British government of Tony Blair and the Libyans, involving lobbying from BP. Indeed there *was* a deal about prisoner exchange which was agreed by the Blair government and Libya, though what part BP had to play isn’t know.

    But…

    1. Megrahi wasn’t released under a prisoner exchange deal.

    2. Megrahi wasn’t released by Blair’s government.

    Justice, even cases of international terrorism is a devolved matter in the Scotland. Megrahi was tried, at Camp Zeist, under *Scottish* Law, not British law (there is no such thing – Scotland has always had a separate legal system). Since 1999, responsibility for the Justice system in Scotland has rested with the Scottish Executive (since 2007, the Scottish Government). It was the Scottish government who released Megrahi, not under a prisoner release agreement, but under a compassionate release scheme, which all Scottish prisoners are eligible for. A small number of prisoners are released this way each year in Scotland – if the medical evidence suggests they are terminally ill, they are almost never refused. The same sort of thing happens in US prisons. Now, the medics seem to be wrong, which is unfortunate for everyone but Megrahi, but the evidence a year ago was that he was terminally ill.

    Notably, two weeks earlier the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs was released for the same reasons – and he is also still alive today.

    Now, the politics bit…

    The current Scottish Government is a minority administration formed by the Scottish National Party. They are a mainstream, mostly left-of-centre (broadly speaking, all five political parties in the Scottish parliament are to the left of the Democrats), social democratic party committed to an independent Scotland. This is important. They won power in 2007 after beating the Labour party by a single seat.

    The SNP are *not* friends with Labour. In the central belt of Scotland, which includes the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, they are bitter, bitter enemies. Whatever deals were being done between Blair and Gaddafi, the Scottish Government were not party to them.

    This kind of puts a hole in the whole conspiracy theory thing, doesn’t it.

    Oh and “Call me Dave” – the new Prime Minister who was over this week? Well, he doesn’t like any of them. In Scotland, he leads the Conservative and Unionist Party – union in this case referring to the United Kingdom. No friend of the SNP and certainly no friend of Blair.

  3. Thanks for the color, Megan. Sounds as if you live up there. You’re right–there’s no love lost between Salmond and the Labour leadership. And Dave? I imagine there’s a part of him that’s rather enjoying this, and a part that’s thinking, Jeez, I have to deal with this crap too? And you’re right–Megrahi’s trial was under Scottish law, not English, so the UK government (which went through the motions of protesting Megrahi’s release when it occurred) had nothing to do with any of the decision-making leading to the release. Still, one has to wonder–in all the materials prepared and submitted for the appeal, which Megrahi dropped as a condition for the release, what was there that was embarrassing to the Scottish government?

    And on that point, what would have to happen so that those materials could be released? I just don’t know enough about the entanglements of the Scottish legal process to say. But I do wonder what’s in there. On the one hand, I don’t imagine that the Scottish government would be particularly concerned about embarrassing the British government. On the other hand, if this was a frame-up, why did three Scottish judges go along with it?

    The one common point between the Scottish and British governments, I believe, was that no one wanted Megrahi to die in Scotland.

  4. I think that there’s likely plenty of embarrassment to go around. A railroading is embarrassing enough for all involved. Who did it would likely remain unknown, at least with any certitude.

    As far as conspiracy theories go, the thing that must remain hidden is the possibility that the bomb got on board because it was on a CIA protected drug run. And it is established fact that CIA was helping run drugs on those paths at that time. That’s not to say that CIA did it, but rather that it was the perfect opportunity for getting a pretty big bomb on a plane. (The general – and laughable – counter to that is that it was a “rogue” operation about to be burned…hardy har har. CIA’s never shied away from running drugs. There’s nothing rogue about it; it’s the bread and butter.)

    Nobody wants to see the victims’ families suing the US government for letting something like this happen while it was breaking its own laws in order to break more laws. Not to mention the PR disaster it would be on “The Arab Street”…Americans probably wouldn’t even notice. I guarantee that no Senators would notice.