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MacAskill was right about Megrahi

The defining moment of devolution? Scotland a “pariah nation”. The end of Tartan Week in America? The Scottish government was attacked on all sides last week for letting the Lockerbie bomber, Adelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, return home to his family. “It’s the world versus Scotland” cried the Sun. You’d have thought that the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, had just released a mass murderer. He had of course, but only so he could die. It’s how we do things here.
The implication of much of the coverage was that, through a combination of incompetence and deviousness, the Scottish government had provoked an international incident which has seriously damaged Scotland’s image abroad and brought into question the devolution settlement. According to the Telegraph, Scotland had “waved its little fist” at world opinion and would suffer the consequences, including an end to foreign investment. This was a ludicrous over reaction from press and politicians feeding on public indignation.
I can’t see any reason why MacAskill’s “act of humanity” should lead to Scotland being shunned by the community of nations, just because a few saltires were flown in Tripoli on Megrahi’s return to Lybia. The episode could have been handled better, I’m sure, and Kenny MacAskill’s somewhat robotic delivery – the Rev I M Jolly meets the Terminator – didn’t help. People may disagree with his decision to release Megrahi, but it was clearly his to take and he acted with some dignity under intense pressure.
It wasn’t, as the Guardian suggested, an attempt by an upstart Scottish government to forge its own independent foreign policy. MacAskill acted within his powers as the minister with responsibility for the Scottish criminal justice system and consulted widely before he made his decision. He was advised by the parole board and the prison governor to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in accordance with Scottish legal tradition. And speaking personally, I am rather proud that this country seeks to act with compassion, even towards a convicted mass murderer. I don’t see what purpose would be served having his bones rot in jail, other than to placate public opinion in America.
The whole episode was saturated with hypocrisy. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, may have been “distressed and upset” by the scenes in Tripoli, but it was the UK government that initiated the diplomatic process that led to the Megrahi’s return to his homeland. They willed the end even if they didn’t determine the means. The initial contacts over the fate of Megrahi were made by London – specifically by Tony Blair in his ‘deal in the desert’ with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2007. After that meeting, a Prisoner Transfer Agreement was signed by the British government, and it was made clear that the abandonment of al Megrahi’s appeal would be a condition of his transfer to a Libyan jail. This was why Megrahi made his regrettable decision to abandon his appeal against the decision of the judges in Camp Zeist in 2001.
As it happened, he needn’t have, since the Scottish government short-circuited the whole process by releasing Megrahi on humanitarian grounds. But be in no doubt: the UK government is entirely content with the decision, which is why there has been no official condemnation and why the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has been uncharacteristically silent on the matter. Far from there being a diplomatic rift between Edinburgh and London, there was actually a community of interest between a United Kingdom government eager to normalise commercial relations with Libya and the Scottish government seeking to exercise its own judgement on the fate of prisoner in a Scottish jail. Both sides may deny it, but they were – in a very real sense – in cahoots.

The Libyan leader, Col Gaddafi, predictably gave the game away when he congratulated “my friend” Gordon Brown and the British Government for their part in securing Megrahi’s freedom. He even praised the Queen for “encouraging the Scottish government to take this historic and courageous decision, despite the obstacle.” He went on to tell Libyan television that “in all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, (Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table”. The UK government can’t deny this and it hasn’t attempted to.
So, where does this leave Lockerbie? Well, without any “closure”, clearly. Absent an appeal, as urged by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Committee, there can be no re-evaluation of the soundness of the evidence against Megrahi. The Scottish government insist that they didn’t want Megrahi to drop his appeal – but perhaps they didn’t try all that hard to stop him. After all, compassionate release means that the Scottish legal system need not now be brought into question again over the Lockerbie verdicts. Many influential voices in Scotland, including Dr Jim Swire, the father of a Lockerbie victim, believe that Megrahi was wrongly convicted on the tainted evidence of the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci. The defence claim that Gauci, the only person to identify Megrahi, failed to make clear before an identity parade that he had seen a magazine picture of Megrahi. It is also said that Gauci was given millions of dollars by the Americans for his evidence.
The conspiracy theories will reverberate for decades. There have been suggestions that it was Syrian-backed Palestinians who were really responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. It is claimed that new evidence suggesting this has been suppressed by the British government. Public Interest immunity certificates have been placed on these papers preventing publication on the grounds that disclosure would damage British national security. Unless there is a public inquiry , these documents will never be revealed, and none of the governments involved – here or abroad – seem willing to launch one.
Where does it leave Scotland? Well, as the fog of recrimination clears, its seems that the worst charge against the Scottish government is one of being soft on convicted mass murderers. Many believe that Megrahi should have been executed for his crimes; that he forfeited the right to live when he ignited the device that killed 290 people in 1988. But that isn’t how we see things here. It may be Scotland against the world, but that doesn’t mean Scotland is wrong. And history will confirm that Scotland did not act alone


About iain2macwhirter

Writer and journalist.


13 thoughts on “MacAskill was right about Megrahi

  1. On the money Iain.There has been a suggestion that it was in the interests of the present Scottish govt to make sure there was no appeal because the original conviction would have embarrased them.Yet more rubbish. The SNP were not even incumbent at the time of the trial. The set up of the terms of the trial was absolutely nothing to do with them.Never mind, we have a (largely) rabidly anti-SNP media in Scotland (including broadcast media) which is determined to batter them into submission. If it wins, then I honestly don't think I want to hang around to see the consequences.

    Posted by voiceofourown | August 24, 2009, 11:07 am
  2. When are you gonna stop lying about 7/7 being the work of those guys from Leeds? I am sick of you lickspittles in the press spewing this outrageous lie about 'suicide bombers'. Those behind the bombings wear three thousand dollar suits.

    Posted by Anonymous | August 24, 2009, 3:06 pm
  3. I hope as time goes by more people come out and openly support Kenny MacAskill in his decision. I too am proud that Scotland has been shown as a compassionate nation not driven by unforgiving hatred.I'd be interested in the views of anyone from Northern Ireland on the subject for of course many US citizens including presidents encouraged the release of perfectly healthy mass murderers there into the very communities they had attacked. It is fortunate that the people of NI can moved on passed their troubles. I only hope at some point so can the families of flight 103

    Posted by Anonymous | August 24, 2009, 6:01 pm
  4. Excellent post Iain. Ian Gray was asking for copies/notes of various meetings in the Statement Q & A this afternoon. Surely he wouldn't be so stupid as to show his boss in a bad light.Then again …

    Posted by subrosa | August 24, 2009, 7:20 pm
  5. Scotland's moral superiority complex knows no bounds. I wonder if we would have freed Hitler had he been tried in Scotland. The fact is, because the majority of those killed were not Scottish there is little outrage in Scotland at this descision and a lot of people feeling smug that we had told the world we were morally superior (to our nieghbours) and now we have proved it. If Thomas Hamilton had not committed suicide after Dunblane and was to be released early on compassionate grounds, make no mistake, there would be outrage in Scotland.

    Posted by Anonymous | August 25, 2009, 10:09 am
  6. Read the Scottish Independence Convention's blog, written by former Lockerbie resident, Aileen Orr, at http://www.scottishindependenceconvention.co.uk/Blog.asp

    Posted by Anonymous | August 25, 2009, 11:02 am
  7. Saor Alba A Nis… I read it it made me feel sick to the stomach to read someone compare the accidental shooting down of an airliner to the deliberate downing of an airliner as being the same and somehow justified. And also to have a Christian forgiveness message and a eye for eye viewpoint within the same article is confusing.

    Posted by Anonymous | August 25, 2009, 11:20 am
  8. I understand having compassion for people. However, terrorists are brainwashed, mentally unstable, and dangerous..

    Posted by Joy Reed | August 25, 2009, 7:49 pm
  9. Except Iain it wasn't Scotland against the world. Where else in the world was criticising Scotland?Yje position of the Lib Dems is the most bizarre. It is their natural liberal supporters that would agree with MacAskill's decision the most.Yet their Scottish leadership seems to still harbour an irrational hatred of the SNP that pulls them into an extraordinary position close to the Tories.They have just surrendered support to the SNP.

    Posted by Vicky Crosse | August 25, 2009, 10:04 pm
  10. Joy said… "I understand having compassion for people. However, terrorists are brainwashed, mentally unstable, and dangerous.."You better tell the oppooistion that then since they supported the release of over 400 in Northern Ireland a few years ago.As you'll have noticed the place has got far worse since then……

    Posted by Anonymous | August 25, 2009, 10:07 pm
  11. Have a look at Musa Kusa, who on the prosecution theory was one of the architects of the PanAm bombing. In 1980 he was expelled from the UK after a speech in which he said "The revolutionary committees have decided last night to kill two more people in the United Kingdom. I approve of this.";http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1980/jun/13/anglo-libyan-relations . "Musa Kusa, currently the head of external intelligence, is said to have direct ties not only to the Pan Am 103 and Berlin bombings but also an assassination plot in 2004 against then crown prince, now king, Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Kusa was also responsible for attacks on Libyan dissidents abroad when he headed the Libyan Peoples' Bureau (or embassy) in London, for which he was expelled. There is no record of his ever acknowledging that such attacks were wrong or expressing remorse for them… As former CIA head of counterterrorism Vince Cannistraro has said, Kusa has "blood on his hands all round the world." ; http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=2968By 2003 he was dining with British government envoys in the Travellers Club; see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/envoy-of-death-brokered-deal-in-a-pall-mall-club-577450.html . Since then he's been entertained in Washington by Condoleeza Rice; http://articles.latimes.com/2005/sep/04/world/fg-uslibya4 .It's hard to take seriously any complaints that Megrahi is released from governments that treat his boss as a VIP.

    Posted by Jonathan | August 29, 2009, 3:25 pm
  12. The trouble is Iain it is nothing to do with conspiracy theory as the person named as the Lockerbie bomber is named on a memo obtained under the Freedom of Information from the US Defence Intelligence Agency dated December 1989 as Khaisar Haddad who now stays in Washington.Also this is not new the US trying to blame others for terrorism. The US goverment is being sued by a Dr Judy Wood and Dr Morgan Reynolds for putting out lies with regard to 911 and there is a bill going through the US Congress based on these experts evidence calling for a new independent inquiry into 911.I do not know if you have seen them but the videos by these two Dr's and others showing why 911 was nothing to do with terrorists can be seen at http://www.paisleyexpressions.bogspot.comNothing to do with conspiracy just facts!

    Posted by Anonymous | August 30, 2009, 5:58 pm
  13. You're all a bunch of morons. We (Americans) should dump our friendship with the UK the same place we dump our feces! I'm half Scott and have never been ashamed of it till now.

    Posted by Anonymous | August 31, 2009, 5:30 pm

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