Sunday, July 25, 2010
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi returns to Libya and receives a hero’s welcome
The Obama administration secretly advised Scottish justice ministers it would be “far preferable” to free the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bomber than jail him in Libya.
Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more “palatable” than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison on grounds that he had terminal cancer.
The document, acquired by a well-placed U.S. source, threatens to undermine President Obama’s apparently duplicitous claim last week that all Americans were “surprised, disappointed and angry” to learn of Megrahi’s release.
Scottish ministers viewed the level of U.S. resistance to compassionate release as “half-hearted” and a sign it would be accepted.
U.S. officials have tried to keep the letter secret, refusing to give permission to the Scottish authorities to publish it on the grounds it would prevent future “frank and open communications” with other governments.
In the letter, sent on August 12 last year to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and justice officials, Mr LeBaron wrote that the U.S. wanted Megrahi to remain jailed in view of the nature of the horrific crime.
270 people died on Pan Am flight 103, when a bomb exploded splitting the Boeing 747 jumbo jet into two pieces. The ill-fated jet crashed into the Scottish village of Lockerbee. Most the passengers were Americans, including dozens of high school students.
“Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.”
The Obama administration lobbied the Scottish government strongly against sending Megrahi home, under a prisoner transfer agreement signed by the British and Libyan governments, in a deal now known to have been linked to a 550 million British Pound oil contract with BP.
It claimed this would flout a decade-old agreement between Britain and the US. that anyone convicted of the bombing would serve their sentence in a Scottish prison. Megrahi was released by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on the grounds that he had three months to live, making his sentence effectively spent.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee launched an investigation after The Sunday Times revealed this month that Megrahi’s doctors now believe he could live for another decade.
A source close to the Senate inquiry said:
“The (LeBaron) letter is embarrassing for the US because it shows they were much less opposed to compassionate release than prisoner transfer.”
Despite the controversy over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Megrahi’s release, it emerged over the weekend (reported on this Blog) that BP is planning deep-water drilling off Libya within weeks.
It is perfectly clear that the Obama administration is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on regarding the early release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. The administration can’t pretend to stand with the family members of the victims of Pan Am flight 103, while it stands with UK, Libya, and BP.