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.