Did the UK renege on Lockerbie promise to US?
posted at 11:15 am on August 29, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
The government of Gordon Brown in the UK insisted it had nothing to do with the “compassionate release” of terrorist Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber who killed 270 people, the majority of them Americans. The Times of London has correspondence which appears to dispute that, and shows that the UK reneged on a promise to the US to keep Megrahi behind bars for his entire sentence (via Newsbeat1):
According to confidential correspondence obtained by The Times, ministers urged the Scottish government to consider returning Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to Libya under a prisoner transfer deal in an apparent breach of a decade-old pledge.
A former Cabinet minister and two sources close to talks over the handover of suspects in 1999 told The Times that Robin Cook, then Foreign Secretary, promised Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State at the time, that anyone found guilty would serve their sentence in Scotland, where the airliner exploded with the loss of 270 lives.
A senior US official said: “There was a clear understanding at the time of the trial that al-Megrahi would serve his sentence in Scotland. In the 1990s the UK had the same view. It is up to them to explain what changed.”
Not only did they renege on that pledge, but they also had a lot more to do with the decision to release Megrahi than first disclosed:
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, made reference to the deal — to which Libya also agreed — in a letter to Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, in June 2007. “Libya agreed prior to al-Megrahi’s trial that anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing would serve their sentence in Scotland,” he wrote. Britain had reminded Libya of this through diplomatic channels, he said.
The position was reversed two years later when the Libyans applied for al-Megrahi’s transfer. Ivan Lewis, the Foreign Office minister, told the Scottish government that Britain had never provided a “definitive commitment” to the US because it had not wanted to “tie the hands of future governments”.
The disclosure casts doubt on Britain’s insistence that it did not interfere in the devolved Scottish government’s decision last week to let al-Megrahi return to Libya. It also explains the Obama Administration’s anger.
The Scottish government has insisted that the decision to release Megrahi came organically from their own “values” of humane treatment of prisoners. This shows that the impetus for the release did not come from the Scottish courts but from the Libyan government, by way of London. The Scots apparently queried back as to any commitments made by London to the US on Megrahi, with the Brown government insisting that none were made.
This puts an entirely new light on the release, and tends to confirm what the Libyans have said all along. The British government cut a deal to release Megrahi, and apparently manipulated the Scottish government to make it work. Why? The only possible reason is to secure its oil contracts in Libya, which means that Megrahi got traded for commercial purposes. They sold out justice for Libyan euros.