Sunday, 30 August 2009

Mandela supports MacAskill decision

[This is the headline over the lead story by Campbell Gunn in today's edition of The Sunday Post, Scotland's largest-circulation Sunday newspaper. It reads as follows:]

Nelson Mandela has backed Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

The former South African president has retired from public life and no longer wishes to be involved in public issues.

But on Friday he sent a letter via his Nelson Mandela Foundation to the Scottish Government supporting the decision made on compassionate grounds by the Justice Secretary.

The move will be welcomed by the Scottish Government, which has consistently claimed, while there has been heavy criticism from the United States over the release, the majority of world opinion is supportive.

It will also ease the pressure that has been building on Mr MacAskill.

Professor Jakes Gerwel, chairman of the Mandela Foundation, said in the letter, “Mr Mandela appreciates the decision to release Mr al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

“Mr Mandela played a central role in facilitating the handover of Mr al-Megrahi and his fellow accused to the United Nations in order for them to stand trial under Scottish Law in the Netherlands.”

“His interest and involvement continued after the trial,” said the professor.

“The decision to release him now, and allow him to return to Libya, is one which is in line with his wishes.”

Mr Mandela visited al-Megrahi while he was in Barlinnie Prison, in June 2002, spending an hour with him and calling for him to be moved to a Muslim country.

He also played a key role in persuading Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi to hand over al-Megrahi and his co-accused Khalifa Fhima for trial in a neutral country for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 people.

President Mandela helped resolve the dispute between Libya, the US and the UK over bringing to trial the two Libyans indicted for the Lockerbie bombing.

In 1992, Mandela approached president George Bush with a proposal to have the two indicted Libyans tried in a third country and suggested South Africa. Bush was in favour but the plan was rejected by British prime minister John Major.

However, when the idea was suggested to Tony Blair, after he became PM, it was accepted and Holland was chosen as the neutral venue for the trial.

Yesterday, al-Megrahi said he was determined to clear his name and claimed a full inquiry into the events surrounding Lockerbie would help families of the victims discover the truth behind the bombing.

First Minister Alex Salmond has welcomed Mr Mandela’s support.

“The overall international reaction shows strong support for the decision to show compassion to a dying man, according to the due process of Scots Law,” he said.

“And that is clearly the view of the person who has demonstrated that quality above all others over the last generation.”

[The same newspaper carries a report on the statement by Eddie MacKechnie, Abdelbaset Megrahi's former solicitor, noted on 24 August on this blog. As far as I can see, it is the only newspaper to have picked it up.

Other newspapers -- for example The Sunday Herald, whose story can be read here -- are still harping on about the medical evidence underpinning Kenny MacAskill's decision. As I wrote on 28 August:

'The position is quite simply this. Specialist oncologists simply are not prepared to tell a patient, or anyone else who may want to know, how long that person has to live. They regard their function as being to provide or advise on the best care and treatment for the patient for however long or short a period he may have left to him. This means that if a patient, or anyone else with a need to know, insists on being provided with a time scale, this must be provided, not by the cancer specialists, but by the ordinary general practitioner attending the patient who must do his best, with his overall knowledge of the patient and the progess of the disease, to translate the specialists’ views into weeks or months.

'That is precisely what has happened in Abdelbaset Megrahi’s case. The newspapers and politicians who have sought to read something sinister and underhand into the medical aspects of Kenny MacAskill’s decision should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, particularly that vocal Labour MSP who is himself a medical practitioner.']

1 comment:

  1. Nelson Mandela's role in having the Lockerbie bombing case brought to trial was pivotal, as Wikipedia explains:

    President Mandela took a particular interest in helping to resolve the long-running dispute between Gaddafi's Libya, on the one hand, and the United States and Britain on the other, over bringing to trial the two Libyans who were indicted in November 1991 and accused of sabotaging Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed at the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, with the loss of 270 lives. As early as 1992, Mandela informally approached President George H.W. Bush with a proposal to have the two indicted Libyans tried in a third country. Bush reacted favourably to the proposal, as did President Fran├žois Mitterrand of France and King Juan Carlos I of Spain. In November 1994 – six months after his election as president – Mandela formally proposed that South Africa should be the venue for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.

    However, British Prime Minister, John Major, flatly rejected the idea saying the British government did not have confidence in foreign courts. A further three years elapsed until Mandela's offer was repeated to Major's successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997. Later the same year, at the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Edinburgh in October 1997, Mandela warned:

    "No one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge."

    A compromise solution was then agreed for a trial to be held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, governed by Scots law, and President Mandela began negotiations with Colonel Gaddafi for the handover of the two accused (Megrahi and Fhimah) in April 1999. At the end of their nine-month trial, the verdict was announced on 31 January 2001. Fhimah was found not guilty but Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in a Scottish jail. Megrahi's initial appeal was turned down in March 2002, and former president Mandela went to visit him in Barlinnie prison on 10 June 2002.

    "Megrahi is all alone," Mandela told a packed press conference in the prison's visitors room. "He has nobody he can talk to. It is psychological persecution that a man must stay for the length of his long sentence all alone. It would be fair if he were transferred to a Muslim country — and there are Muslim countries which are trusted by the West. It will make it easier for his family to visit him if he is in a place like the kingdom of Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt."

    Megrahi was subsequently moved to Greenock jail and is no longer in solitary confinement. On 28 June 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission concluded its three-year review of Megrahi's conviction and, believing that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, referred the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal for a second appeal. In August 2009 Megrahi, now suffering from cancer, was reported to have withdrawn his appeal in return for compassionate treatment. Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate causes, and was allowed to return to Libya. Megrahi is expected, as of August 2009, to have only 3 months left to live (see

    What a great pity that President Mandela's November 1994 offer of South Africa as a venue for the Lockerbie trial was not taken up! In rejecting the offer might British PM, John Major, have been trying to prevent the facts of the apartheid regime's involvement in the Lockerbie bombing being revealed in court (see Reuters news agency report dated 12 November 1994 entitled SOUTH AFRICA MINISTER DENIES KNOWING OF LOCKERBIE BOMB

    We now have to await the findings of the upcoming United Nations Inquiry into the death of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing to find out exactly what Mr Major didn't want us to know about the South Africa connection to Pan Am Flight 103.