Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Judicial reputations and rehabilitation of Scots criminal justice

[Six years ago today, I posted on the blog an item marking the death of Scottish judge Lord Macfadyen.  It read as follows:]

Lord Macfadyen, one of the five judges on the bench during the first Lockerbie appeal in 2002, died last week at the age of 62. He will be much missed: he was a good judge and a genuinely nice person.

In an obituary in today’s issue of The Herald, it is said that “His reputation on the bench was enhanced by the Lockerbie appeal of 2002.” This is quite simply not so: none of the Appeal Court judges enhanced his reputation by his participation in the Lockerbie appeal.

The court dismissed the appeal on the technical legal ground that Megrahi’s then legal team had submitted grounds of appeal that were incompetent and had not asked the court to address the correct issues (Was there enough evidence in law to convict him? Was the verdict of guilty one that, on the evidence, no reasonable tribunal could have reached?). In the course of the appeal hearing, a number of the judges, particularly Lords Kirkwood and Osborne, exposed the weaknesses in the Crown’s case against Megrahi at the trial. But, at the end of the day, the court held that it could adjudicate only on the (wrong and misconceived) issues raised by his lawyers. See “Lockerbie: A satisfactory process but a flawed result” section headed “The Appeal”.

The court’s decision, in my view, was a weak one. The final court of appeal in criminal matters in Scotland should decide cases on their substantive merits, not on technicalities or on the performance of the appellant’s legal representatives. None of the judges who concurred in this approach to the Lockerbie appeal enhanced his reputation.

[If, as has been reported, moves are afoot for a further appeal against the conviction of Abdelbaset Megrahi, five more Scottish judges will have an opportunity to enhance their reputations and to contribute to the much-needed rehabilitation of the reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system.]

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The single decision ... which gives me the greatest pride

[The following paragraph is from an article headed I’m a Scottish Internationalist published today on the Derek Bateman Broadcaster blog. Derek Bateman is a former BBC presenter who is now one of the foremost pro-independence bloggers.]

As an independent nation, stripped of London’s influence, we can determine what our international priorities are. And they may be surprising. Scotland made one of the greatest public declarations of compassion a country can make when, in 2009, the Scottish government freed Abdelbasset al-Megrahi. You may disagree that he should ever have been released but I doubt if you can disagree that it was a decision that defied the major powers, notably America, and sent a message of love and forgiveness around the world. It is the single decision of the devolved government which gives me the greatest pride.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

[Two years ago today, I posted on this blog an excerpt from a column headed “I accuse…” that I had written for Scottish lawyers’ magazine The Firm. It consisted in large part of verbatim extracts (in translation) from Émile Zola’s famous public letter “J’accuse...” on the Dreyfus affair. The article no longer appears on the magazine’s website*, but here is the excerpt:]

With the substitution of Megrahi for Dreyfus, Scotland for France, and the office of First Minister for that of President of the French Republic, every word can with equal justice be addressed to Alex Salmond. The magnitude of the Scottish miscarriage of justice and the flaws in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication that led to it have been exposed in the SCCRC’s Statement of Reasons published by The Herald; in John Ashton’s book Megrahi: You are my Jury; in David Wolchover’s monograph Culprits of Lockerbie; and in Dr M G Kerr’s article An overview of the Lockerbie case.  There is now no shred of justification for continuing to maintain that all is for the best in the best of all criminal justice systems or  -- the coward’s fallback position -- that, while there may have been a few technical, procedural defects in his trial and conviction, Megrahi was clearly guilty anyway, so what does it matter?

Zola’s letter was headed “J’accuse”.  Although the Lockerbie investigation, prosecution and conviction occurred under UK Conservative and Labour administrations, it is Mr Salmond and the Scottish Government that today have the power to put right the disgraceful miscarriage of justice that occurred on the watch of two of their political opponents; and it is accordingly the Scottish SNP Government that today stands accused. The only honourable course of action open to that government is to institute an independent inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the performance of the Scottish criminal justice system in the Megrahi case, as a matter which has caused grave public concern. 

[I have today completed a significant Lockerbie-related piece of writing. The details cannot at present be disclosed, but I hope that it may lead to a major development in the quest to rectify the miscarriage of justice suffered by the late Abdelbaset Megrahi.]

*I am grateful to sfm for pointing out that the article does still appear on The Firm's website.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Gaddafi sons, officials, go on trial in Libya

[This is the headline over a report published today on the website of the Maltese newspaper The Times.  It reads in part:]

Libyan prosecutors have opened the trial of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons and former regime officials  in a major test for the North African state's transition to a democracy.

Neither Saadi Gaddafi or Saif al-Islam were in the courtroom at Tripoli's Al-Hadba prison, but Gaddafi's ex-spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi was among the former officials sitting behind a fenced-off section, a Reuters reporter said. (...)

Senussi was joined in the court by Gaddafi's former prime minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, and former foreign minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, a Reuters reporter said. Also in the court was ex-intelligence chief Buzeid Dorda, who had appeared at earlier trial proceedings.

The men face charges ranging from corruption to war crimes related to the deaths during the 2011 uprising, which expanded into a civil war that eventually ousted Gaddafi. The former Libyan leader was later killed after his capture. (...)

[Abuzed Omar Dorda and Abdel-Ati al-Obeidi both a played a highly significant and, in my view, honourable, part in the resolution of the Lockerbie impasse between the UK, the USA and Libya. No mention is made in this report (or in any of the others that I have seen today) of Mohammed al-Zwai, another important figure in the Lockerbie affair, though he has been named as a defendant in earlier reports.]

Sunday, 13 April 2014

US-Scottish relations and the Megrahi release

[A very interesting and perceptive article headlined US remains a wild card in Scottish independence vote appears today on the website of The Washington Post. Perhaps inevitably, it contains a few sentences referring to the release of Abdelbaset Megrahi, which read as follows:]

Still, Scottish nationalists have been careful not to antagonize Washington. Salmond visited the United States this past week and carried with him assurances that Scotland would remain a close US ally even after independence.

That is not a foregone conclusion. Scottish authorities deeply angered Washington in 2009 by releasing a Libyan national, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who had been convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. At the time of his release, Scottish authorities said he was near death from cancer. But he lived three more years.

[It is perhaps instructive (or perhaps not) that Megrahi is referred to as having been convicted of the bombing, rather than as “the Lockerbie bomber”. In any event, as senior officials of the Gaddafi regime assured me at the time of submission of the applications for prisoner transfer and compassionate release, the US government (which was vigorously seeking to normalise relations with the regime) was relaxed about repatriation though, for US public consumption, it would have to huff and puff.]

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Lockerbie: ‘Even the security services can tell the truth.’

[This is the headline over an article by Andrew Rosthorn published earlier this week on the website of Tribune magazine.  It reads as follows:]

Robin Ramsay, editor of Lobster Magazine notes how former British ambassador Craig Murray can now confirm that the British government has known for twenty years that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence officer jailed in Scotland for the Lockerbie bombing, was innocent.

Murray saw secret documents in the Foreign Office confirming that the Lockerbie bombers were Syrian not Libyan-controlled.

Not until the information conveniently surfaced in the Daily Mail, conveniently after the death of al-Megrahi and conveniently after Syria ceased to be an ally in wars against Iraq, could Craig Murray write:

“The information on Lockerbie published in today’s Daily Mail from an Iranian defector, matches precisely what I was shown in a secret intelligence report in the FCO just around the time of the first Iraq war – that a Syrian terrorist group was responsible acting on behalf of Iran.

“It was decided that this would be kept under wraps because the West needed Iran and Syria’s quiescence in the attack on Iraq.

“I was at the time Head of Maritime Section in the FCO’s Aviation and Maritime Department. I was shown the report by the Head of the Aviation Section, who was deeply troubled by it.

“The UK authorities have known for over 20 years that Megrahi was innocent. The key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper named Tony Gauci, was paid a total of US $7 million for his evidence by the CIA, and was able to adopt a life of luxury that continues to this day. The initial $2 million payment has become public knowledge but that was only the first instalment. This was not an over-eagerness to convict the man the CIA believed responsible; this was a deliberate perversion of justice to move the spotlight from Iran and Syria to clear the way diplomatically for war in Iraq.

“It will of course be argued, probably correctly, that now Syria and Iran are the western targets, it is in the interests of the CIA for the true story to come out, (minus of course their involvement in perverting the course of justice). That is why we now hear it was Syria and Iran. But it so happens that is in fact the truth.

“Even the security services and government can tell the truth, when the moment comes that the truth rather than a deceit happens to be a tactical advantage to them.”

Ramsay notes in the current Lobster that evidence to support Murray’s claim was immediately provided by the SIS / FCO man on the Daily Telegraph, Con Coughlin, in a piece on 11 March:

“The West should come clean about who really bombed Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 – we owe it to the victims’ families.
“It seems a long time ago, that dreadful December night in 1988 when fire and aeroplane debris rained down on the Scottish village of Lockerbie. A generation of Britons has been born unaware of the sense of foreboding we all felt that night, when news broke that a civilian passenger flight had been blown up in mid-air, killing 270 people, by a terrorist bomb concealed in a radio cassette player.
“It is easy to see why a younger generation finds it hard to understand that we need to be wary of Iran and its nuclear ambitions. But, back in 1988, few people were in doubt about Iran’s malign intent towards the West. Even though no conclusive proof could be found to link Tehran directly to the worst terrorist atrocity committed in Britain, few – myself included – were under any illusions that Iran’s Islamic republic was the centre of global terrorism…
“Syria was involved throughout this anti-Western campaign. By supporting Damascus, Moscow had a rare opportunity to heap humiliation on the US. Then, as now, Syria also enjoyed a close alliance with Tehran based on their mutual hatred of their neighbour, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. So Syria was more than happy to facilitate Iran’s terrorist operations in Lebanon while funding its own agenda, which focused on dissident Palestinian bodies, such as Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
“It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in the aftermath of Lockerbie, investigators should concentrate their efforts on the two states most closely associated with sponsoring international terror – Iran and Syria. To put it bluntly, the Iranians had the motive, while the Syrians had the expertise. After the Americans mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian Airbus, killing 290 people, Iran felt it had good reason to seek revenge. If the evidence of a former Iranian intelligence officer is to be believed, the revenge attack was authorised by Ayatollah Khomeini, who ordered that the bombing “must copy exactly what happened to the Airbus”. As Iranian intelligence officers were already working closely with Syrian and Libyan counterparts in Malta on plots to attack the West, once the Ayatollah had authorised retaliation, it was just a question of hiring the right people for the job.”
The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph ran the new spooks line on Lockerbie within three months of Dr Jim Swire’s remarkable address at the 25th anniversary memorial service in Westminster Abbey on December 22, 2013, when he denounced successive British governments: ‘I claim habeas corpus as I say in this ancient abbey that I do not believe that our governments have told us all the truth they know about this terrible tragedy.

‘If we are not granted an inquiry – and for goodness sake we’ve been trying for 25 years to force an inquiry out of them with no results at all – we’ll have to go to the European courts and take our own government to court for not meeting their obligations under human rights legislation.’

Thursday, 10 April 2014

John Ashton responds to Richard Marquise’s Scottish Review article

[John Ashton has today published on his Megrahi: You are my Jury website a response to the article by retired FBI agent Richard Marquise which appeared yesterday in the Scottish Review. Mr Ashton’s article reads as follows:]


The current issue of the Scottish Review carries an article by the head of the FBI’s Lockerbie investigation, Richard Marquise, which critiques the three recently broadcast Aljazeera programmes on Lockerbie. The second of the programmes was originally broadcast on the day Megrahi: you are my Jury was published. It presented evidence that, contrary to the Crown’s claims, the circuit board fragment PT/35b could not have originated from one of the 20 MST-13 timers supplied by Mebo to Libya. Mr Marquise writes as follows. My comments are in regular font:
[Programme] two was primarily dedicated to proving that a fragment of a timer (hereinafter called Pt-35 for the Scottish evidence designation) was not part of the timer that was provided to the LIS. The investigation had determined that PT-35 had been blasted into a piece of cloth which had been contained in the bomb suitcase. The British forensic examiner was criticised for not testing this fragment for explosive residue. It should be noted that PT-35 was found within a fragment of cloth which did have explosive residue on it.
No evidence was presented to the court that the cloth fragment PI995 was tested for residues and nothing in the forensic material disclosed by the Crown suggests that it was.
Once MEBO was identified as the manufacturer of the timer from which PT-35 had come, principals of that company verified this fragment had come from one of 20 timers they had manufactured for the LIS in 1985 and 1986.
In fact Mebo’s Bollier and Lumpert said that the fragment appeared to come from one of the timers. They never claimed to have proof that it did. (Bollier later claimed that it was from a prototype circuit board and not from one of the boards used in the Libyan timers, but this unlikely because the prototypes were grey/brown. Whereas the fragment was green.)
All of them were delivered to Libyan officials, in East Germany and Tripoli. No other timers of this sort were ever made or given to anyone but the LIS. The MEBO technician who had actually made these timers said that he first had to create, by hand soldering, a template for the timers. Once he created the solder lines he was then able to stamp out the 20 copies. Once these were made no other copies were ever made of this type timer.
Al Jazeera showed an interview of a forensic scientist who had allegedly (I do not know what specimens he actually compared) determined that the metallic composition of PT-35 did not match that found on the MEBO timers provided to Libya. He also claimed to have replicated in the laboratory the same or greater temperatures than the fragment would have been exposed to during an explosion to make this determination.
The expert, Dr Jess Cawley, compared PT/35b with DP/347a, which was a control sample one of the boards used in the Libyan timers. His work showed that PT/35b’s circuitry was coated with pure tin, whereas DP/347a’s was coated with a tin-lead alloy. The boards used in the Libyan timers were all made for Mebo by Thuring. During the preparations for Abdelbaset’s second appeal we established that Thuring only ever used tin-lead alloy and had never used pure tin.
It is difficult to exactly replicate the explosion in a laboratory setting. I am not a metallurgist and the FBI was not allowed to examine the composition of the fragment. However, the identification of the fragment was through comparison of the tracking (solder) lines which determined the MEBO timer was an exact match to it. Clearly, if the scientist interviewed for the programme had the requisite technical skills, there would be a disagreement among experts.
It might be difficult to replicate an explosion, but it is not difficult to create the same or even greater heat energy than is created by an explosion. This is what Dr Cawley did and his results showed that the heat of an explosion could not account for the metallurgical difference between the fragment and the Libyan timer boards. The tracking lines of the fragment were indeed virtually identical in pattern to the of the boards used in the Libyan timers, but Crown expert Allan Feraday went further, saying that, not only the tracking pattern, but also the material of the fragment was ‘similar in all respects’ to the Libyan timer boards. ‘Similar in all respects’ was a phrase used throughout his forensic report when describing items that were clearly of common origin.
There was no disagreement among scientists: Dr Cawley’s results merely replicated the results of tests overseen by Mr Feraday in 1991 (which the Crown failed to disclosed) and those done by scientists instructed by the police in 1992.
Many trials result in ‘dueling experts’. However, this is a matter for the court. Every day, in courtrooms around the world, ‘experts’ looking at the same evidence arrive at totally opposite conclusions. The prosecution, to counter, would offer ‘evidence’ that the solder tracking lines are microscopically identical to the other MEBO timers given to Libya and therefore the PT-35 fragment is identical to the other MEBO timers provided to Libya. That is the nature of expert testimony. It would have then been up to the judge or jury to reach a conclusion. Presenting one ‘expert’ opinion was a disservice to the viewers.
Again, there were no duelling experts. All the scientists’ work demonstrates conclusively that there was an irreconcilable metallurgical difference the fragment and the boards used in the Libyan timers. Crucially, the Crown fail to disclose Mr Feraday’s 1991 tests results, which directly contradicted his claim that the fragment and the control sample Thuring board were ‘similar in all respects’.
Mr Marquise does not mention the fact that the Scottish police knew from as early as March 1990, well before the fragment was linked to Mebo, that its pure tin coating was very unusual. In 1992 they commissioned tests that proved that the control sample Thuring board had a tin-lead coating, which begs the question: why did the Crown persist in running a case that was predicated on the claim that PT/35b originated from one of the 20 Libyan timers?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

No one ever told us what to find or not find about Lockerbie

[This is the headline over an article by retired FBI special agent Richard Marquise published in the current issue of the Scottish Review, prompted by the recent Aljazeera documentary Lockerbie: What Really Happened?.  It reads in part:]

The third segment of this programme was the most problematic. I found at least four issues with which I take exception. First of all, the producers of the film as well as several of those in it kept talking about 'evidence' they had uncovered which would have exonerated Libya and Megrahi. Unfortunately none of them, despite their backgrounds, seem to have been able to distinguish between evidence and intelligence.

Let me address each concern separately. A former Manhattan district attorney prepared a report based on interviews she had conducted with some 'unnamed sources'. These sources are (according to the report) very sensitive and they are unable to be identified. They reported on several meetings of terrorist countries and groups which took place in Malta in 1988 prior to the Lockerbie bombing.

The only documentation, or evidence, which was introduced was an alleged document written by one of the unnamed sources which memorialised the meeting(s). She intimated that the sources were reliable and unable to be named which means they could or would never testify and thus their information falls in the realm of intelligence, not evidence. This is a distinction that an experienced prosecutor should understand.

I have no idea what was contained in the report but assume the most 'damning' parts to the prosecution case were aired by Al Jazeera. This report is very similar to one prepared for Pan Am in 1989 which, among other things, said the US government was responsible for the attack and the bomb was brought on board in Frankfurt by a young Lebanese-American man.

This former prosecutor's report, 'Operation Bird', covered a series of meetings in Malta about terrorism and seemed to lay the blame for the Lockerbie bombing on an Egyptian living in Sweden. However, other than by inference, they had no evidence linking anyone at these meetings to the Pan Am attack. In fact, there was no evidence which would be admissible in court shown in the entire segment. They provided no documentary evidence that the man they blamed was even in Malta when the first of these meetings took place. His later travel to Malta in October 1988 has been well-documented in several books about Lockerbie. There is no evidence this man was in Malta in December 1988.

The so-called Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) documents that some have described as the 'smoking gun', were anything but. The documents which DIA released, presumably under the US Freedom of Information Act, although heavily redacted, had a lot of information about Lockerbie, Libya, Iran and other terrorist groups operating around the time of the bombing. Almost every page has a statement on it which says: 'This is an information report, not finally evaluated intelligence'. In other words, none of it was or ever could be evidence. Most of the reporting in the DIA release was rumour, newspaper articles or analysis of information written by DIA analysts. Not one bit of it was provable and able to be introduced into court. No smoking gun here.

An alleged former senior Iranian official was interviewed and he stated that Iran committed the Lockerbie bombing yet he provided no proof of his statement. In 2000, a young Iranian refugee in Turkey made similar claims. Although he alleged that Iran carried out this attack and that he had documents to prove it, he had no documents and he was unable to provide any information on the attack. Although the government of Iran's hands are not clean as it relates to terrorism around the world, there is no evidence which can be used against anyone in that country to charge with the Lockerbie attack.

The final issue in this segment was an interview with a retired CIA agent. He has often been described as having been involved in the Lockerbie investigation. Using his logic, any FBI agent who interviewed a family member one time could say that he too was involved in the investigation. This agent worked in Paris and at best saw some of the cable traffic about the case but he had no day to day knowledge of the evidence and the investigation. He said the FBI and CIA diverged and never came together on the investigation. After some initial operational issues, the FBI, CIA, British security service and Scottish police worked as a team and at the time of the indictments in 1991 were in total agreement with the results.

This man also claimed that there was an executive decision to put the blame on Libya rather than any other country. In September 2009 this former agent claimed on national television in the United States that in 1992 President Clinton ordered the FBI to find evidence against Libya and charge them for the Lockerbie bombing. Clinton was not president in 1992 and the indictment against Megrahi and Libya was returned in 1991. If he had so much information about the so called 'executive decision', one would think he would have got the date and the name of the president correct.

Others have reported to me that after Gaddafi was killed, this same former agent who now claims that Iran was responsible for the bombing and stated this was the opinion of the CIA 'to a man', commented on a national news programme that Gaddafi was responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing. This agent too only talked about intelligence which is never to be confused with evidence, that which can be used in court.

This former CIA agent and others have said that high-level officials either in Washington or London told investigators not to link Syria or Iran to the Lockerbie bombing. This is categorically false. No one ever told any of us to find or not find something.

We followed the evidence, not speculation, rumour and the other things that often make up intelligence.

I saw nothing on any of these three programmes to cause me or any of my colleagues to doubt the evidence against Megrahi and Libya. The US indictment which was returned in 1991 indicted Megrahi, his co-accused Lamen Fhimah and 'others unknown to the grand jury'. I cannot and have never said that Iran may not have had a role in the attacks but there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim.

The forensic evidence and investigation conducted by non-political and dedicated police officers/agents as well as intelligence agents indicated that this was a Libyan operation and that Megrahi not only bought the clothes but facilitated the bomb getting into the baggage system. Megrahi, using his false passport, departed Malta on the morning of 21 December 1988, 30 minutes after the bomb bag had left for Frankfurt and then on to London. Megrahi took a LAA flight to Tripoli and was accompanied by a Libyan bomb technician who we believe armed the bomb.

Any 'investigative report', especially on a topic so sensitive and raw, should include interviews of all sides of the issue. A one-sided commentary on rumours, innuendo, previously litigated testimony and intelligence is bound to end in failure. Al Jazeera set the bar pretty low as this special did not answer the question 'Lockerbie: What really happened?'

Any prosecutor will tell you that the wild speculation and rumour contained in this report would never be acceptable in a courtroom. Intelligence is that information used by law enforcement agencies to help them gather evidence which can be used in a court of law. There is a big difference between intelligence which cannot be proven and evidence which can. The evidence convicted Megrahi – the information provided in the Al Jazeera report will convict no one.

[RB: “The evidence convicted Megrahi.” But as I have written (and as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has confirmed) it clearly ought not to have done.]

The Libya Lie

This is the headline over an article by columnist Dean Henderson published yesterday on the American Veterans Today website. It contains a long section headed The Lockerbie Lie which, although interesting, places excessive reliance on Juval Aviv’s Interfor Report.  The article can be read here.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Alex Salmond 'never challenged' in US about decision to release Libyan Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi

[This is the headline over a report published today on the website of The Huffington Post.  It reads as follows:]

On "many trips" to the US in the years after the controversial release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond has never been challenged on the decision, one he said "most people respect even if they don’t agree with it".

The 2009 ruling by the Scottish government to release the terminally-ill al-Megrahi, who was convicted of 270 counts of murder for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, received considerable push back from Washington at the time, with detractors including the former FBI director Robert Mueller and the then-Secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
However, speaking to the HuffPost on Monday, following a lecture for the opening of Glasgow Caledonian University's New York campus, Salmond insisted what his government did "was right and legitimate under Scots law".

"All of the investigations that took place… each and everyone one of them, including the Senate investigation, found nothing to suggest or establish we’d done anything other than follow the precepts of Scots law," he said.

According to the SNP leader, the "difficult decision" in 2009 was taken following the "set down procedures of the Scottish legal system".

Salmond added: "We are currently in a joint investigation with the United States authorities to pursue the leads that we’ve got, and we’ve now got the co-operation of the new Libyan authorities in taking that matter forward.

"But I don’t expect to be challenged on this [in the US], and whether people agree or disagree, there are very few people who don’t accept that we acted as we saw the right in terms of a legal system. That is an important thing for us, that bona fides are not questioned on the matter."

Monday, 7 April 2014

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

[What follows is an excerpt from an article headed Alex Salmond is in the US schmoozing away. But Americans won't forget in a hurry that he freed the Lockerbie bomber by Professor Tom Gallagher, a virulently anti-SNP commentator, published today on The Telegraph website:]

Whether a coincidence or not, at the start of Alex Salmond’s five-day visit to the United States, the Scottish National Party has suddenly launched a peace offensive after a bruising referendum campaign that has raised fears that society will be polarised for years to come. Party sources have told a Scottish newspaper that they intend to concentrate their energies on healing political wounds if Scotland votes Yes.

But to those who recall SNP rhetoric about the party preserving the best of Britishness in a social union, it needs to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. It smacks too much of a serial wife-beater turning round to his family after a traumatic night and saying that from now on life will be totally different.

It remains to be seen if the era of good tidings will last beyond the conclusion of Salmond’s trip which includes a speaking engagement at the IMF in Washington DC. He can turn from being a political bruiser to acting as a charmer in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately for him, plenty of Americans, both influential folk and everyday citizens, have seen both sides of the coin.

It is not only relatives of the 180 US citizens killed when a bomb blew up a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 who were astonished when his government released the man convicted by a Scottish court, in 2001, for the attack on the grounds that he had little time left to live. The release of the Libyan national Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was announced with much fanfare on 20 August 2009. Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s justice minister, read a long statement insisting that the decision was based on "the values, beliefs, and common humanity that defines us as Scots". Hillary Clinton, then the US Secretary of State, twice spoke to MacAskill in the hope that he would reconsider the release of al-Megrahi who, instead of dying within weeks, enjoyed a comfortable life in a Tripoli suburb until 2012. [RB: It requires a really quite special sensibility to describe taking over two years to die of cancer in a war-ravaged and militia-ridden locality as enjoying a comfortable life in a Tripoli suburb.]

On 15 August 2009, Robert Mueller III, director of the FBI for nearly a decade, wrote to MacAskill in terms which had rarely been used between a senior US official and a friendly government:

"I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors. Your decision to release al-Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice… I do so because I am familiar with the facts of the law , having been the assistant Attorney general in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi in 1991. And I do so because I am outraged by your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of “compassion”’. [RB: More details about Robert Mueller’s “foolish and intemperate letter” (as I described it) can be found here. I commented: “In civilised countries decisions regarding liberation of prisoners are not placed in the hands of policemen and prosecutors, nor are they accorded a veto over those decisions. Mr Mueller (and Mr Marquise) would probably wish that this were otherwise. The rest of us can be grateful that it is not.”]

The British lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, the first president of the UN war crimes court [RB: Not so. He sat as an appeal judge in the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, something rather different.], observed that the decision taken was ‘lacking in compassion to every victim of terrorism and made an absurdity of the principle of punishment as a deterrent' ". [RB: Geoffrey Robertson’s idiosyncratic views on the Lockerbie case and Megrahi’s release can be followed here.]

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened hearings on the affair but Salmond refused point-blank to cooperate. [RB: this is tendentious in the extreme. A more accurate account of the episode can be found here and here.]

It is hard to imagine such a scenario being played out if the Pan Am flight had exploded over Irish, Danish or even French territory. It is likely that the authorities of each of these countries would have avoided such a rupture in bilateral relations with an allied country.