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POST: Compassion for Lockerbie Bomber: Landmark or Lamentable?

August 24, 2009

I wanted to write something about last week’s release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi when the story was first aired, but I felt that I needed to get a better understanding  of the history of the situation before making any judgments – plus, I wanted to see how people reacted.

The array of emotions attached to this case are staggering – everything from despair at his release to disbelief over his initial sentence. My main questions have remained, Was his release out of the ordinary and how will this affect US/UK, US/Libyan relations?

What I do not think many people realize is that freeing terminally ill prisoners on compassionate grounds is a key feature of Scottish law – it has been done 9 out of the last 13 cases, and had only been refused in last 4 because medical evidence did not the substantiate terminally ill status of the prisoners. Since the 9 releases had not taken into account the crime which the prisoner was convicted in the decision, this new release of al-Megrahi fits perfectly into Scottish precedent – prisoner is terminally ill, prisoner is released. The hype of the crime or the circumstance do not play a role.

On a further note, the low amount of media attention given to the continued questioning surrounding his conviction has surprised me. I do not agree or disagree with the aforementioned, very well-written, BBC article, but it does make one think. Of course, al-Megrahi could very well have had a hand in the bombing, but the evidence seems to point to the fact that the true perpetrators, the masterminds, have as of yet gone free. Is the conviction of one seemingly connected man, a “convenient scapegoat”, enough? Was he senior enough in the plan to be the sole representative of the perpetrators of this horrible crime?

Today, Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill “doggedly” defended his decision to free al-Megrahi. He stood by “his and only his” decision and only lamented the heroes welcome given to the freed prisoner upon his return home to Libya on Thursday.  However, a senior State Department official said today that short of praising the Libyans, at least he could say that the “Thursday demonstrations could have been a lot worse.” But the official further stated that they were still “disgusting” and represented only the “minorly pathetic” responsiveness of Libyan officials.

Now there are new claims that oil diplomacy has played a part in the al-Megrahi release which is difficult to deny (although British officials have) considering the BusinessWeek article issued today of increased trade between Britain and Libya in coming months.  Between the US and UK, although tourists have threatened a UK boycott and all senior Obama administration officials balked at al-Megrahi’s release, they still stick by their claim that nothing will change in the relations between the two countries and that they “have great faith in the British democracy to air these things in a very thorough” manner.  In the end, it comes down to the indisputable fact that this decision was wholly up to the Scottish Authorities and, following their own precedent, no distinct changes in any bilateral relations seem to be forthcoming. However, if an under-the-table deal was struck between the UK and Libya, there really is no excuse.

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