[This is the headline over an article in today's edition of The Sunday Herald. It reads in part:]
Pressure is growing on the US government to release secret documents which detail its position on the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.
As the trans-Atlantic row deepens over why Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was freed from a Scottish jail last summer, the US government is being urged to drop its ban on the publication of letters it sent to both the Scottish Government and Whitehall on the issue.
The US government refused Holyrood permission to make the papers public in a strongly worded letter last September, a month after Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, was allowed to return to Libya following his compassionate release.
But the move to make the documents public took a step forward as the Senate committee on foreign affairs prepares for Thursday’s inquiry into the prisoner’s release, with chairman Senator Robert Menendez requesting that the Scottish Government provide information on Megrahi’s release in five key areas.
They include “any documents including communications to or from Scottish Government officials, relating to the US government’s position on Al Megrahi’s release or transfer to Libyan custody.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said last night: “We have received another letter from Senator Menendez, who will chair next week’s hearing, and who has now asked for us to provide five categories of documents relating to the case. We are more than happy to do so, and indeed have already published all we hold on this issue, with the exception of some documents where permission for publication has so far been declined.
“These unpublished documents include correspondence between the Scottish Government and the US Government, whose release Senator Menendez has now requested. We would urge the Senator and his colleagues to work with their own Government so that the remaining information we hold can be published in the interests of maximum transparency.”
The Scottish Government also denied reports that Alex Salmond received a letter from committee member Senator Frank Lautenberg, who is said to have “pleaded” with the First Minister to send a representative to the hearing to add “credibility” to proceedings.
[Another article in the same newspaper by James Cusick contains the following:]
Of all the missing pieces in the jigsaw of information on the Lockerbie bombing and its aftermath one of the most confusing is Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal against his conviction for the greatest terrorist atrocity ever perpetrated over Scottish soil. (...)
The Scottish Government had repeatedly branded the 2007 Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the UK and Libya – brokered in Tripoli in May 2007 by the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his foreign affairs adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald – as unconstitutional because it took no account of Scotland’s separate legal identity from the UK Government,
For the prisoner transfer agreement to go ahead Megrahi would have had to drop his appeal. But MacAskill rejected the PTA and opted instead to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds, under the terms of which the appeal could have gone ahead as planned. Yet Megrahi opted to drop it. Why? (...)
MacAskill will have known the full facts that lay behind the SCCRC’s decision to grant the appeal. The commission produced an 800-page report of the decision taken at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2001. It was a Scottish court sitting in an independent country, and heard by three high court judges. A further 14 pages offered evaluation of new evidence and new circumstances surrounding the case against Megrahi, and identified six key areas where a potential miscarriage of justice may have taken place. (...)
Perhaps the most damning fall-out from the imminent appeal process, however, is the potential shredding of the evidence used to convict Megrahi and the unanswered questions about why they were admitted to court in the first place. Other uncomfortable questions centre on why wider investigations into the background of key witnesses did not take place on any scale that would have routinely been tested in a different legal arena.
Crucial to Megrahi’s conviction was the prosecution’s ability to place him in Malta on December 7, 1988. That was the day the court identified as the date a purchase was made at Mary’s House, a shop run by Tony Gauci. Clothes bought in the Sliema shop on this specific date were said to have been in the Samsonite case containing the explosive device.
Gauci was the witness who identified Megrahi as buying the clothes from his shop, on December 7. (...) This is crucial because the Libyan’s passport states that he was in Malta at that time. But if the clothes purchase was made earlier then Megrahi couldn’t have been in Malta at the time. That is the new picture painted in the evidence reviewed by the SCCRC. Gauci’s identification of Megrahi in his shop is also questioned.
Documents also allege that at an early stage of the US-UK investigation Gauci asked for, and was given, $2m by the US Department of Justice for his contributions to the case.
Other new areas of evidence which cast doubt on the conviction included documents said to have come from the CIA which relate to the ‘Mebo’ timer that is said to have been the key device which detonated the bomb on the aircraft. Details of these documents were not given to Megrahi’s defence counsel.
The owner of the Mebo firm, Edwin Bollier, is also listed in review of the evidence as claiming that in 1991 the FBI offered him $4m to testify that the fragments of a timer found near the scene of the crash were part of a Mebo MST-13 timer which the company said had been supplied to Libya.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is supposed to be the outcome of any legal process seeking justice. The appeal of Megrahi, had it gone ahead, suggests that Scottish justice fell short in the way it dealt with Lockerbie.
[A third article in The Sunday Herald by Tom Gordon reads in part:]
To many observers, it was the day Kenny MacAskill crossed a line. Before BP’s oil spill made it the focus for conspiracy theories, it was also the moment some felt ministers pressured a dying man to spare the blushes of the Scots legal system.
Just before 9am on Wednesday, August 5 last year, the Justice Secretary entered Greenock Prison for a meeting with inmate 55725. (...)
On May 5, the Libyan government had applied for Megrahi’s release under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) initiated by Tony Blair.
The following month, on the advice of George Burgess, head of the government’s criminal law and licensing division, MacAskill agreed to meetings with key players in the Lockerbie case, including Megrahi.
On July 24, Megrahi made a separate application for release on compassionate grounds. (...)
MacAskill came with Robert Gordon, director of the Justice Department, and Linda Miller, from the Criminal Law and Licensing Division.
According to official notes of the meeting, MacAskill said he would be considering both applications for release “in parallel”.
After asserting his innocence, Megrahi gave a history of his case, from his surrender in 1999, to trial at Camp Zeist in 2001, up to the present day, his illness, separation from his family, and feeling of “desolation”.
MacAskill stressed he could only grant a PTA transfer if there were no court proceedings ongoing – in other words, if Megrahi dropped his appeals against conviction and sentence.
“Mr Megrahi confirmed he understood this point,” the note recorded.
However, according to one of those close to events, Megrahi wrongly took this to mean that dropping his appeals was also a pre-condition of compassionate release. It wasn’t.
“MacAskill said something stupid. He shouldn’t have mentioned the appeal at all. “[The two processes] were conflated. That’s ultimately what Megrahi took from it,” said the source.
A week later, Megrahi signalled he was dropping his appeals.
His QC, Maggie Scott, told the High Court her client thought this would “assist in the early determination of these applications”.
Note the “applications” plural. (...)
A senior legal source told the Sunday Herald Megrahi was definitely under the false impression that abandoning his appeals would help secure compassionate release.
However the Libyan may simply have calculated that with MacAskill considering the PTA and compassionate applications at the same time, ending his appeals would leave both options open rather than just one. [Note by RB: This is the correct interpretation. Mr Megrahi was very well aware that compassionate release did not require abandonment of the appeal. Equally, he knew that prisoner transfer did; and he, like his government, was still labouring under the lingering impression created by Blair and Sheinwald during the "deal in the desert" that his repatriation under the PTA was really a done deal. Release under the PTA was what was really expected, because that was what Nigel and Tony had led the Libyan government to believe.]
On September 2, by a majority vote, the Scottish Parliament declared MacAskill had “mishandled” the release decision, and that meeting Megrahi while considering his application for compassionate release was “wrong”, and an “inappropriate precedent”.
[An editorial in the same newspaper headlined "Don’t let America give us lessons in justice" contains the following:]
[E]ven if MacAskill’s decision was flawed – and that is surely a subjective opinion – there remains no evidence that BP played any role whatsoever in persuading the Justice Minister to release Megrahi. The Scottish Government has insisted it received no representations from the oil company, and that it had no contact with it. There is no evidence, or indeed any serious suggestion, that is not the case.
There is, however, plenty of evidence that the Westminster Government wanted Megrahi free and that it was lobbied by BP to pave the way for his return to Libya.
It was the Westminster Government – albeit not the present Government – that agreed the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya when Megrahi was the only significant Libyan in a British jail. It was a Westminster Government which specifically agreed not to exclude Megrahi from that agreement. And it was a Westminster Government that decided to agree a strategy of bringing Libya back in from the cold. BP has already admitted lobbying Westminster for a quick conclusion to the prisoner transfer agreement so that trade with Libya could resume. Indeed, a deal between the Libyan government and BP was signed almost immediately after the prisoner transfer agreement was approved. All this is in the public domain. It does not require an inquiry in America to establish these facts.
It was only when it became apparent that Westminister did not have the legal authority to release Megrahi that the matter landed on MacAskill’s desk. Westminster may have officially kept its wishes to itself while MacAskill was making his deliberations but there can be no doubt that it privately wished Megrahi freed. It had already agreed a deal to make that happen.
In the end, MacAskill went against the prisoner transfer agreement but instead decided on compassionate release. It is acceptable to question the wisdom of that decision. It is not acceptable to question MacAskill’s right to make it.
Yet if the events surrounding Megrahi’s death are known, there are many facts about his conviction, and in particular his appeal against that conviction, which remain shrouded in mystery.
By all means we should have an inquiry which would allow the serious doubts about the veracity of the evidence against Megrahi to be aired. But we do not need the inquiry currently being demanded and we do not need America to give us lessons in justice. Alex Salmond is right to have nothing to do with it.