[Today's edition of The Herald contains two letters on the current furore over BP and its alleged role in the repatriation of Abdelbaset Megrahi. The first, from Dr Jim Swire, reads:]
Any genuine attempt to uncover any aspect of the truth about the Lockerbie disaster and its aftermath is welcome (“Clinton to probe BP link to Megrahi”, The Herald, July 15).
But unless Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, believes that our new coalition government is so keen to castigate our previous administration that it would be glad to cooperate, she can hardly call upon the UK government to explain itself. Would that not be to put the fox in charge of the hencoop?
She would soon see how desperate Jack Straw (as Justice Minister) was to push through the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) in time for the start of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi’s second appeal, even overriding the request of the House of Commons Select Committee on Human Rights for more time.
She might then stop to wonder what the motivation might have been for Straw’s clumsy haste, and why the UK authorities seem to have been desperate to neutralise Megrahi’s attempts to overturn a verdict influenced by multiple instances of government and Crown Office withholding of documents from the defence and indeed the court.
Interference in criminal justice for political reasons would be a far more serious charge than a mere grubby oil deal, of which there are so many examples in both our and her own country’s history.
As her husband once commented: “It’s the economy, stupid”, and oil is central to the economies of both our nations but, currently, flogging BP is such a popular cause in the US.
Clinton would find that the PTA from “the deal in the desert” was not, in fact, used by Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s Justice Secretary. He used the compassionate release route which was no part of that deal but is a precedent in our criminal law, and which did not dictate the withdrawal of Megrahi’s appeal. His decision weakens the scope for bashing BP. But, then, what influenced his choice?
The US is often accused of seeking to impose its own law overseas. Bill Clinton’s brave decision to allow the holding of the Lockerbie trial outwith the US removed the near certainty of a summary death penalty for Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhima, his co-defendant. Subsequent doubts amplified by our Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission have amply justified that relief.
[The second, from Iain A D Mann, reads:]
Why do Americans always think they have a God-given right to interfere in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations? Pan-Am flight 103 fell to earth in Scotland, which, under international law, meant that all investigations and subsequent trials and criminal prosecutions came under the jurisdiction of Scots law.
If former barrister Tony Blair did not understand or ignored this when he made a deal with [Colonel] Gaddafi to release Megrahi (as I suspect he did), that does not alter the fact. And if the deal was made in exchange for Libyan oil concessions to BP (which I suspect it was), neither Blair nor the UK government was in a position to deliver the prisoner exchange. Many like me have concerns about the trial and conviction of Megrahi, but it was carried out under the independent Scottish justice system, as was the decision of Kenny MacAskill to release him on compassionate grounds.
What do the Americans find difficult to understand and accept about this? If the situation were reversed, would they be willing to let British politicians interfere in the US judicial process? I find distasteful the apparent American thirst for revenge and retribution, as if incarcerating one terminally-ill old man in a prison cell would make them feel better and somehow assuage the tragic loss of so many American (and Scottish) lives. Has it never occurred to them to wonder why Libya would have wanted to undertake such a massive operation against the United States, and why a low-ranking Libyan security officer would have been entrusted with the operation?
Is it not more likely that another country was responsible, in direct retaliation for the reckless shooting down of one of their civilian air liners by a US warship just five months earlier?
And is it not strange that the [Maltese] shopkeeper who provided virtually the only evidence of Megrahi’s involvement was later financed by the CIA and set up in a new life in Australia?
The American senators and Hillary Clinton would be better engaged in addressing some of the many short comings in their own criminal justice system, including holding untried foreigners for years at Guantanamo Bay and many convicted prisoners for 25 years on death row before executing them, rather than criticising the British and Scottish legal systems, which still try to uphold the principles of both justice and compassion.