Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Scottish 'travesty'

[This is the headline over an article in the Embassy Row section of The Washington Times website. It reads in part:]

President Obama's top counterterrorism aide denounced Scotland's decision last year to release the Lockerbie bomber as a "travesty" and categorically denied a widespread report that the United States secretly endorsed the decision to free the Libyan terrorist, who was sentenced to life in prison. (...)

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, this week wrote Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, in response to a major British newspaper's report Sunday that the Obama administration "secretly" agreed to al-Megrahi's release. (...)

The Sunday Times of London based its story on a letter dated Aug 12, 2009, from Richard LeBaron, the top diplomat at the US Embassy in London at the time, and Alex Salmond, the first minister of the Scottish government. Conservative talk-show hosts in the United States picked up the story the next day and accused Mr Obama of being soft on terrorism.

Mr Brennan sent Mr Duggan a copy of the LeBaron letter, and the State Department released the document Monday to show that the United States never acquiesced in al-Megrahi's release.

Mr Brennan said he personally made that position clear to Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill (...)

Al-Megrahi's "crime was unforgivable and his sentence was just, and MacAskill's decision was a travesty that should be strongly denounced by all," Mr Brennan said.

Mr Duggan on Tuesday praised the Obama administration for quickly releasing the letter.


  1. There seems to be a real 'straw man' (if you'll pardon the oxymoron) being constructed here. It was never claimed that they acquiesced in the decision, just that the US was well aware what was being considered.

    Indeed, the argument used by the senators, and indeed Obama, was not only were they upset, they were surprised by the decision...

    The exchange of letters makes it crystal clear that they were well aware of what was being considered. They may not have agreed, but they had expressed the least worst option as far as they were concerned.

    This is trying to blow smoke up our collective backsides...

  2. Not being au fait with diplomatic phraseology, it is difficult to work out what is the standard interpretation of that leaked document between the Scottish Justice Secretary and the US Ambassador’s office in London. Absurdly, the parties are apparently commenting on an identical document and drawing different conclusions, or at least giving different public interpretations. Therefore, how on earth are we supposed to have confidence in the day-to-day business of inter-government exchanges if there is such a large disjoint in basic (native english) written communications? Alex Salmond is suggesting it means there was a tacit understanding signalled by the US that the possible release of Al Megrahi would not be an insurmountable obstacle because they list degrees of wishes to be considered if their first preference, of keeping Al Megrahi in jail, is not granted. The US spokesperson says, it demonstrates beyond doubt that the US did not sanction, to any measure, the release of Al Megrahi - and the options outlined in the event of him being allowed to leave prison were a reasonable exposition of the alternatives you would expect in a diplomatic exchange of views. So with that letter explained, in their estimation, it is obvious that the Senate committee would endeavour to shift the focus away from their own government’s handling of the pre-release communications and on to affairs solely between the British Government and the Scottish Government and BP (or British commercial interest groups) because these, after all, are the intended targets in this investigation as they seek to prove ‘blood money’ via unethical practices.

  3. I think the main point Alex Salmond was trying to derive from that letter, was that the release was hardly a "great surprise" or a "shock", because the US government was consulted and made representations before the event.

  4. the "surprise and shock" parts were untrue.

  5. I think we also have to check our own press on their interpretation of the letter. The US did not approve the release and the possible return to Libya.

    Having said that, it is none of their business anyway and this whole thing is another set-up only this one is about votes later in the year for struggling democrats. That is the point I wish our own media would hammer home a little more forcefully to the Americans along with a warning to back off.