Friday, 23 July 2010

Scots defend Lockerbie convict’s release

[This is the heading over a post by Robert Mackey on The Lede, the news blog of The New York Times. It reads in part:]

Scotland’s government will not be providing any new documents on the release of the Libyan man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 to a Senate panel investigating the matter, it said in a statement on Wednesday night.

The Scottish government also declined a request from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to have Scotland’s justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, appear next week at a hearing that will look into allegations that BP might have lobbied for the return of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to Libya in order to secure an oil contract with the Libyan government. BP denies that it lobbied for Mr Megrahi’s release but said that it did press for a prisoner transfer agreement to be completed.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond wrote in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his government, which has authority over justice matters and made the decision to release Mr Megrahi last year, had already published all of the relevant documents under its control. He added: “The only significant documents that we have not published are US government representations and some correspondence from the UK government, where permission was declined. The Scottish government is, and has always been, willing to publish these remaining documents if the US and UK governments are willing to give permission for that to be done.”

Mr. Salmond also insisted that even if BP might have lobbied the government of the United Kingdom to complete a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, his regional authority was not involved in those discussions and eventually decided to release Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds because of a terminal illness rather than transfer him to Libyan custody. He wrote:

"My understanding is that the recent interest from the Committee and from other Senators stems mainly from concerns over any role played by BP in al-Megrahi’s release. I can say unequivocally that the Scottish government has never, at any point, received any representations from BP in relation to al-Megrahi. That is to say we had no submissions or lobbying of any kind from BP, either oral or written, and, to my knowledge, the subject of al-Megrahi was never raised by any BP representative to any Scottish Government Minister. That includes the Justice Minister to whom it fell to make the decisions on prisoner transfer and compassionate release on a quasi-judicial basis. [...]

"If your Committee is concerned about BP’s role or the [prisoner transfer agreement] then it is BP and the previous UK administration that should be the focus of your inquiries. There is nothing the Scottish Government can add to this since we have had no contact with BP at any point in the process of considering al-Megrahi’s position."

While outrage over the release of Mr. Megrahi in the United States has returned to the headlines with the new focus on BP, continued doubts about his guilt by some legal experts and family members of the victims of the bombing in Britain have led them to call for “an inquiry into the atrocity itself.” Pamela Dix, whose brother, Peter Dix, was killed in the bombing wrote on the Guardian’s Web site that an inquiry was needed because, “The families have faced years of denials and obfuscation, as we have painstakingly sought answers to the many unanswered questions about Lockerbie. The BP issue is just another element in the shameful way in which the truth behind Britain’s biggest mass murder has been hidden.”

[The post ends with a reprise of concerns about the soundness of Mr Megrahi's conviction that had been outlined in a post on The Lede in August 2009 and quotations from Gareth Peirce's article in London Review of Books.]

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