Saturday, 17 July 2010

Clinton seeks UK explanation on Megrahi

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Herald. It reads in part:]

Hillary Clinton last night urged the UK Government to explain to American politicians the circumstances that led to the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing after David Cameron described the decision as wrong.

The US Secretary of State, who is looking into claims from US senators that BP lobbied for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Megrahi’s release in August last year as part of an oil deal with Libya, made the suggestion in a call to Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Her spokesman said Clinton had indicated “it might be appropriate for the UK Government to communicate with Congress to make sure they fully understand ... what transpired a year ago”.

The Prime Minister said through his official spokesman that he believed it had been a mistake to free Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal cancer, repeating the view of Britain’s ambassador to Washington Sir Nigel Sheinwald.

Cameron’s spokesman said: “He has said in the past that he believes that the decision was wrong. Obviously he respects the process (that allowed the Scottish Government to release Megrahi) ... but he said at the time he thought it was wrong.”

Last night Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the tragedy, criticised the “mass hysteria” and “misunderstanding” in the US in relation to the decision to release Megrahi.

“The public attitude in the US is to seek revenge against BP and this is harming America’s image,” he told The Herald. “There is no surprise in the idea of BP lobbying the UK Government but that does not change the fact that the decision to release Megrahi was not made by the UK Government.

“I think there is a mass hysteria in the US. Pursuing this line that BP lobbied for Megrahi’s release comes perilously close to saying the UK Government somehow put pressure on Scotland to release him.”

Sheinwald had said the UK Government believed that the decision had been a mistake. He also said claims Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP were not true.

Sheinwald served as Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser during the negotiations that led to the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya in 2007. The Herald revealed that as early as 2005 secret talks were ongoing between the UK, US and Libya to get Megrahi back to Libya. Sheinwald was present at these negotiations and helped agree the infamous deal in the desert.

The deal was denounced by the Scottish Government.

Scottish ministers released Megrahi on compassionate grounds 11 months ago because medical experts said he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and was not expected to live more than three months.

A separate application between the UK and Libyan governments under the terms of the PTA was rejected by Scottish ministers. However, US senators are angry that in 2007 BP also sealed a £590 million exploration agreement with Libya. (...)

[An editorial headed "Misunderstandings muddy the waters over Megrahi’s release" in the same newspaper reads:]

Still they do not get it. It should not be a surprise that the heightening clamour over the freeing of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi is founded on a massive misunderstanding of the circumstances leading to his release.

Facts can be conflated, manipulated or simply ignored when politics come into play. Such has happened in the case of Megrahi, who was convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, and the role of the Scottish Government in sanctioning his release on compassionate grounds some 11 months ago.

There is a debate to have, one that takes on a sharper focus the longer Megrahi lives, about whether that decision, based on a medical report taking account of the views of oncologists involved in his care, was correct. But there is no sustainable debate about BP being prepared to “trade justice for oil profits”, despite the best (or worst) efforts of certain American senators to push that line. The allegation, which cannot be separated from anger in the United States with BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has no basis in fact, unless we have all been deceived on a massive scale (of which there is no evidence).

The claim BP lobbied the Scottish Government for Megrahi’s release is based on a failure to understand.

Perish the thought that such misunderstanding might also be wilful. BP has said it pressed Tony Blair’s government over the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) with the Libyans. But that deal had nothing to do with Megrahi’s release, a decision taken on separate grounds and by different means by an SNP administration that denounced the agreement. Yet it serves a purpose to conflate the two.

David Cameron had an opportunity to clarify matters ahead of meeting Barack Obama. By repeating his contention that Megrahi’s release was a mistake (also the President’s view) hours after Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Britain’s ambassador to the US, affirmed that was the UK Government’s position, the Prime Minister has failed to clarify matters. Singing from the same hymn sheet on Megrahi might serve the purposes of the special relationship but Sir Nigel’s role as Blair’s foreign policy adviser during the talks leading to the PTA has added to a sense of corrosive obfuscation. The choreography has been so rehearsed that we are now told Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, and William Hague, Foreign Secretary, agree Megrahi’s release was a mistake. That will play well in America, for all the wrong reasons. But it will serve no positive or substantive purpose in this country. If you must meddle, do so on the basis of fact.

[The Scotsman runs a report headlined "MacAskill could be summoned to Washington to testify on Megrahi". It can be read here. Once again, the readers' comments outshine the article.]

1 comment:

  1. "If you must meddle, do so on the basis of fact."

    Quite. However, since when has any of the meddling in this case from the word go ever been based on something so fragile and elusive as fact? No change there then. Three cheers for BP, by the way, for unintentionally keeping the pot boiling. Who knows, someone may yet manage to put their foot in it yet.