Saturday, 17 July 2010

Lockerbie hearings set to open can of worms

[This is the headline over an article on the website of Canada's National Post which displays an appreciation of the facts relating to Megrahi's repatriation and of the UK/Scottish constitutional position that is sadly lacking in most US commentaries. It reads:]

A US Senate hearing into BP's alleged involvement in the release of the Lockerbie bomber may be based on a false premise, but it has all the potential to open up a can of worms.

Senior senators are demanding to know whether "justice and punishment for terrorism took a back seat to back-room deals for an oil contract." BP will be quizzed over whether they lobbied for the release of Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in exchange for trade deals.

BP has denied any such thing, but with its reputation already tarnished by the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, a Senate hearing will be another opportunity to continue to vilify the company in the eyes of Americans.

However, what is already clear is that while Megrahi was sitting in a jail cell in Scotland, his future and trade with Libya were inextricably linked.

And it is questions about that link which has the potential to cause embarrassment in some quarters.

For years, Libya had petitioned the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement, allowing prisoners to be exchanged and serve sentences in their home countries. As Colonel Muammar's Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, later explained, for Libya the PTA was only ever concerned with one prisoner.

He told the Scottish ... newspaper [The Herald] last year, "For the last seven to eight years we have been trying very hard to transfer Mr. Megrahi to Libya to serve his sentence here and we have tried many times in the past to sign the PTA without mentioning Megrahi, but it was obvious we were targeting Megrahi and the PTA was on the table all the time."

BP, it has admitted, was also lobbying the British government to conclude a PTA with Libya.

On Thursday, BP said in a statement, "It is matter of public record that in late 2007 BP told the U.K. government that we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.

"We were aware that this could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan Government of BP's exploration agreement."

In May 2007, Britian and Libya agreed to sign a PTA. The agreement was ratified a year later in November 2008, at the time British prime minister Tony Blair signed the agreement he also witnessed the signing of a major BP exploration contract in Libya worth £500-million.

Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi told [T]he Herald, "It was part of the bargaining deal with the UK ... We signed an oil deal at the same time. The commerce and politics and deals were all with the PTA."

Scotland, meanwhile, had specifically asked for Megrahi to be excluded from the PTA, but Britain refused.

Months later, in May 2009, Libya applied to Scotland for Megrahi to be transferred under the PTA. Although Britian signed the PTA -- thus paving the way for any transfers under the deal -- it was up to Scotland whether they would agree to the transfer.

But Scotland found a major hurdle in the way.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney-General Eric Holder told Scotland that the US had been given assurances before Megrahi's trial that he would serve his full sentence in Scotland. Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill asked Britain for clarification about the assurances, but the government refused to answer.

It was because of those assurances that Mr. MacAskill decided not to agree to transfer Megrahi under the PTA.

At this point, it might appear that the efforts of BP and the British government -- who had both worked so hard to get a PTA signed -- had come to nought.

However, Mr. MacAskill then released Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

If, as Mr. MacAskill was told at the time, Megrahi only had a few months to live, it appears to have been the humanitarian thing to do.

But with reports that Megrahi might yet live another 10 years, the decision to release him and the background to it are going to come under severe scrutiny at the Senate hearing. It promises to be an uncomfortable time for some people.

1 comment:

  1. I have long stopped being surprised over the press' superficiality in these matters.

    Still, it does surprise me a little, that nobody has discussed the point that there is an enourmous difference between how long time a severely ill man might live while locked up jail, denied love and the best possible treatment - and how long time he may live with his loving family around him and with intensive medical care.

    So what to do? If you don't release him, he will die soon, and you disregarded humanitarian consideration.

    If you do release him, he may life much longer, and so he shouldn't have been released.

    In many countries, year-long jail sentences are known as half death-sentences.

    The general US-opinion seems to be, that this is the way it better be in Scotland too.

    - - -

    "A US Senate hearing into BP's alleged involvement in the release of the Lockerbie bomber... "

    Is that really what it says? It's sad, so sad, and it's getting more and more absurd.

    - - -

    That the conviction of Megrahi needed a 2M$++ bribe to the material witness seems not to interest the US senate at all.

    I wonder why? Could it be that something is rotten..?