[This is the headline over an editorial in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]
The decision by the Scottish Government that the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) director of health, Dr Andrew Fraser, should not give evidence at a United States Senate hearing into the release of the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has brought claims they have something to hide.
But the charge should be directed at the US and the Senators should invite evidence from their own State Department. The letter from the US State Department to the Scottish Government effectively accepting the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi on compassionate grounds as preferable to repatriation under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) confirms the US condemnation of the Scottish Government as hypocrisy of the first order.
The Justice Secretary and the SPS health director are right to rebuff the US Senators’ invitation to attend the hearing into the release of Megrahi. Their actions have already been explained in a letter from Alex Salmond to Senators, along with an offer to answer further questions. It is therefore difficult to see what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has to gain from the Justice Secretary appearing before them other than to bait him in a febrile political arena.
Wilful confusion has been stoked by US politicians who have deliberately ignored the inconvenient truth that a major obstacle to the PTA was that the only Libyan of any consequence in a British jail, Megrahi, was subject to the separate legal jurisdiction in Scotland.
His release last year was on the separate grounds of compassion due to a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer. Only its timing, which closely followed ratification of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the UK Government and Libya and the announcement of drilling rights for BP in Libya, has allowed conflation by those seeking to exploit outrage over the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
Nevertheless the Scottish Government’s avowal of transparency is brought into focus by the refusal of the Justice Secretary to explain why he took the unprecedented step for a government minister of holding a private meeting with a prisoner before release. As long as that question remains unanswered, suspicion will continue that Megrahi’s withdrawal of his appeal was part of a deal. If MacAskill has nothing to hide, he should be open about the reason for that meeting, unless there is good cause to keep the matter under wraps. By the same token the US Senators should be honest and decouple Scotland’s compassionate release of Megrahi from BP’s interests in Libya.
The attack on PanAm flight 103 has been mired in the complexities of international politics from the beginning and, unfairly or not, Scottish justice has been found wanting in the international court of public opinion. The most glaring affront to justice, however, will always be that 270 people died on December 21, 1988 as the innocent victims of a terrorist crime. Their memories should be honoured by a quest for the truth, not the sordid continuation of political posturing based on misinformation on the other side of the Atlantic.
[I presume that The Herald also has an article describing in more detail the letter from the US State Department to the Scottish Government. Once that article appears online I shall add a reference to this post.
There is no further article on the document: I went so far as to buy a copy of the newspaper to make sure! What there is is a full page of readers' letters, nine out of the total of ten of which support the Scottish Government's stance. They can be read here.
An article by the paper's UK political editor Michael Settle contains the following:]
The US inquiry into release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was in danger of becoming an embarrassing no-show last night after Jack Straw announced he too had declined the offer to attend.
The former justice secretary said he could not help the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing because he had “absolutely nothing to do” with the decision to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, which he stressed was an “entirely separate decision for the Scottish Justice Secretary”.
However, the SNP’s Christine Grahame insisted Straw had no principled reason not to go, given his activities directly related to the committee’s central point of concern about oil.
She insisted his decision was deeply embarrassing for Scottish Labour, which had attacked Kenny MacAskill for declining the Senate’s invitation. (...)
Invitations to five foreign witnesses have gone out from the Senate committee and three have so far been rejected from Straw, MacAskill and Dr Andrew Fraser, the director of health and care of the Scottish Prison Service, who drew up the final medical report on the Libyan.
It is not yet known if Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, will attend or Sir Mark Allen, a former lobbyist for the oil giant who helped broker the £590 million “deal in the desert” with Libya, but in light of the rejections, this is thought unlikely.
Confusion still surrounds the invitation written out for Tony Blair, the former prime minister, to attend but which was then swiftly withdrawn. The committee simply said it had been “an error”. (...)
Yesterday, there was a deal of support for Straw and MacAskill’s decision to decline to attend the Senate hearing. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Conservative foreign secretary, who was Scottish secretary at the time of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, said British ministers “should co-operate but not to the extent to give evidence in person”.
Sir Christopher Meyer, the former UK ambassador to Washington, said: “As a matter of principle, a British government or a Scottish government should not submit to the jurisdiction of an American congressional committee.”
Mike Gapes, Labour chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the senators of political grandstanding while his colleague Kevan Jones, a former Labour defence minister, claimed they were engaged in a witch-hunt against BP. (...)
Meantime, the Justice for Megrahi committee, which believes the Libyan to be innocent, called for the Scottish Government to launch its own inquiry, which would cover all aspects of the Lockerbie case. [Note by RB: The call for an inquiry is fully reported in an article on The Guardian website.]
The Senate committee’s hearing takes place at 7.30pm UK time on Thursday and is expected to last three hours.
[The Scotsman has an editorial on the subject. It is supportive of Kenny MacAskill -- perhaps a first for this virulently anti-SNP newspaper. It reads in part:]
In matters of international relations, protocol counts for much, diplomacy a great deal but integrity most of all.
The US senators who have sent out requests for Scotland's justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to appear before them in their inquiry into the Megrahi affair might usefully have borne this in mind.
Why expect Mr MacAskill to respond positively when the former UK prime minister Tony Blair has not been so summoned? It was Mr Blair who was in the tent with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi when a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) was discussed. It was Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi who was behind the plot to blow up the Pan Am jet with the callous slaughter of life over Lockerbie. It was both Col Gaddafi and Mr Blair that BP addressed in their lobbying over oil interests in Libya. As the First Minister Alex Salmond has made clear in his reply to the senators, "if your committee is concerned about BP's role or the PTA ,then it is BP and the previous UK administration that should be the focus of your inquiries". Quite.
The Scottish Government, publicly and by letter to the senators, has made clear the independent status of Scots law, the grounds under Scots law and the circumstances of Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds. It has also emphatically stated that at no time was it lobbied by BP on this matter.
Perhaps the senators felt that it would be unseemly to be seen to interrogate a former British prime minister who has been honoured by Congress. (...) Whatever the reason for the senators' actions, it is surely Mr Blair and Mr Straw, not Mr MacAskill, who are more central to the course of their inquiries. Requesting Mr MacAskill but not Mr Blair is at best asymmetric. But it smacks of an easy gesture to the gallery and also leaves the impression, unintended we are sure, that the Scottish justice secretary would be the easier to fry in the public pan.
While there is a wholly respectable case for Mr MacAskill to have accepted the senators' invitation and taken the opportunity to explain Scotland's legal system and put their concerns over its independence at rest, the senators have made it difficult for him to do so while not appearing to be a substitute for inquiries best addressed elsewhere.
In other circumstances Scottish ministers would have been happy to make their position plain to an American audience understandably outraged by an act of wanton terrorism and understandably appalled if Megrahi's release was the result of what has become widely known as "the deal in the desert".