Over the last few days, BP has found itself the subject of some discomforting questions about the release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber that killed 270 people in the air and on the ground in the Pan Am 103 explosion in 1988. BP now acknowledges that it lobbied the British government to release Libyan prisoners in order to get better access to oil fields controlled by Moammar Gaddafi, but denies lobbying for Megrahi specifically. Buried in the Washington Post’s report is a piece of data that should be putting the Obama administration under the microscope as well:
BP faced a new outcry Thursday about whether the Scottish and British governments sought to smooth BP’s oil exploration contract talks with Libya by releasing prisoners, including the man convicted of bombing the Pan Am plane that went down over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The bombing killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. …
BP acknowledged Thursday that in 2007, it urged the British government to speed up a prisoner release because it was worried that a stalemate on that front would undercut an oil exploration deal with Libya. But the company denied that in 2009, when progress on the Libyan venture bogged down, it sought the specific release of the Lockerbie bomber, Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.
“BP told the U.K. government that we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya,” BP said.
That wasn’t the only government who heard from BP. Claiming that BP and the Brits had a “no surprises” policy with Washington, their source said that the Obama administration signed off on the Libya deal (emphasis mine):
A source familiar with BP negotiations at the time said BP kept the U.S. government informed of its discussions with Libya and the United Kingdom, including talks about prisoner releases. BP had also hired Mark Allen, a Middle East expert and veteran of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency, and other former British government experts to help talks with Libya.
“The Libya deal was done with the full blessing of the U.S. government,” said the source, who sought anonymity to preserve his business relationships. “There was always a policy of no surprises with the U.S. government.”
Really? The White House certainly gave a different impression of the situation at the time. When the deal was announced, the Obama administration used the harsh diplo-speak phrase “deeply regrets” to describe their reaction to Megrahi’s parole. The decision violated a standing agreement with the UK on Megrahi, which was that the US would not press for extradition as long as Megrahi served his full life sentence in Scotland.
At the time, many of us wondered why the British and the Scots would renege on such an agreement without negotiating it with the US. If the Post’s source is correct, then it appears that London did negotiate it with us — and that the Obama administration signed off on releasing a man who murdered 189 Americans in an act of international terror. It seems difficult to believe that such a decision would have come from anywhere else but the Oval Office. And it seems equally clear that any Libyan deal that didn’t involve Megrahi would hardly require our participation or approval.
BP certainly has a lot to answer for in this situation. The White House should be answering a few questions, too.
Update: A good point made in the comments — why is this coming out now? Do you suppose that BP got tired of being publicly kicked by the Obama administration?
Update II: An interesting point from Dan Foster at NRO:
A lot of this turns on whether the deal was done “with the full blessing of the U.S. government,” as per the Post‘s source, or merely with the full knowledge of the U.S. government. There are plenty of things foreign powers and allies do, and tell us that they are going to do, that we don’t like.
True enough, but the Obama White House gave no indication that they knew about the deal ahead of its execution; in fact, as I recall, they acted pretty angry about it as if it had surprised them. If they did know about it but didn’t approve of it, then why didn’t the White House talk about what it did to stop it, or reveal their demand for extradition? Even if this just means they were kept apprised of the situation, it still means they didn’t do much (or anything) to stop Megrahi’s release.
That’s assuming, of course, that the source is reliable, which is why I couched this with a big if.