Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Alex Salmond attacks senator for Megrahi deal 'insinuation'

[This is the headline over The Scotsman's report on the First Minister's latest letter to Senator Menendez. The following are excerpts:]

The transatlantic row over the Lockerbie bomber has intensified after Alex Salmond accused a US senator of attempting to "insinuate" a false link between his release and a lobbying campaign by BP, and US politicians claimed the Scottish investigations into the affair had been "limited".

In an angry letter to Senator Robert Menendez yesterday, the First Minister defended his decision to snub a US Senate inquiry into the affair as he restated his denial that the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had been linked to a lucrative Libyan oil deal.

His comments came as two US politicians sent a terse missive to the Scottish Government, complaining that receiving information in writing was not an "adequate replacement" for witnesses appearing in person and claiming that the Scottish Parliamentary inquest into the compassionate release had not been carried out by an independent investigator and had therefore been restricted. (...)

Mr Salmond said that decision had been made "on principle rather than on any issue of practicality" and claimed the most appropriate way for him to provide information to the senators was in writing.

He added: "It is difficult to envisage circumstances in which serving members of the US government would agree to appear as witnesses in hearings or inquiries held by the legislature of another country."

Mr Salmond reiterated his insistence there was no evidence of a link between the release and the prisoner transfer agreement, signed by the UK and Libyan governments shortly before BP reached an oil exploration deal with the African country.

"It was with concern I watched you attempt to insinuate such a link on BBC Newsnight on 30 July by citing a letter from Conservative Party peer Lord Trefgarne, the chair of the Libyan British Business Council, to justice secretary MacAskill last year," he wrote. "This was one of approximately one thousand representations received by the Scottish Government last year." [Note by RB: The Scotsman, for some reason, chooses not to quote the sentences which immediately follow: 'You have this letter because the Scottish Government published this last year as part of our comprehensive issue of documentation related to the decision. That being the case, you must also have seen the reply from Mr MacAskill, also published, which stated that his decisions would be "based on judicial grounds alone and economic and political considerations have no part in the process". In order to avoid any suggestion of misrepresentation, I trust that you will include that fact in future references.']

He added: "Please do not ascribe to the Scottish Government economic or commercial motives for this decision when there is no evidence whatsoever for such a claim." (...)

Later a Holyrood spokesman said questions over the justice committee's handling of the case were not for the First Minister to address.

[The same newspaper has an editorial on the issue. It reads as follows:]

It is clear from Alex Salmond's latest letter to US Senator Robert Menendez that the First Minister is, understandably, beginning to lose patience with the persistent demands and allegations levelled at Scotland from across the Atlantic Ocean.

In his latest missive Mr Salmond is fully justified in taking Senator Menendez to task over the claims the Scottish government released Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to pave the way for the prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) between the UK government and Libya for which the oil company BP lobbied.

As the First Minister rightly points out, there has never been any evidence the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill took his decision to free Megrahi on compassionate grounds as part of this deal and the insinuation by the Senator in a recent interview that this was the case casts an unwarranted slur on the reputation of the Holyrood government and Scottish justice.

And as if these exchanges were not enough, the water was further muddied last night by another letter, addressed to the Scottish government, from Senator Menendez and his Senatorial colleague Frank Lautenberg which questioned the conduct of an inquiry by the Scottish parliament into the Lockerbie affair.

In response the Scottish government was right to point out that this latest Senate salvo is constitutionally illiterate. Scotland has a separation of powers between the executive arm of government and the elected body to which it is answerable. Just like America.

These latest exchanges have been sparked by the continuing controversy over what happened on that terrible night over Lockerbie in 1988: who was responsible; whether the right man was convicted; and if the PTA agreed by the UK government was linked to BP's bid for business in Libya, once held responsible for bringing down Pan Am 103, but brought into the international fold over the past decade.

In their determination to keep the issue alive - in an election period for them - the Senators are seeing matters from a narrow, US-centric, perspective and conveniently ignoring the doubts over their own country's involvement in the wider Lockerbie story.

There are still questions over the US's warship's downing of an Iran Air A300 Airbus in July 1988 in which 290 passengers were killed, and whether the supposedly retaliatory bombing of Pan Am 103 was the responsibility of Palestinian terrorists linked to Syria, and not Libyans as the US subsequently claimed.

If the Senators are serious in their search for the truth behind the Lockerbie tragedy then, with the same self-proclaimed objective of establishing that truth objectively from evidence, they might care to look a little deeper at the involvement of their own country.

But if, as we suspect, they are not interested in the wider issue and are using the deaths of hundreds of innocent people for partisan electoral purposes then the transatlantic flow of letters from Washington should cease.

In short, a period of silence from Senator Menendez and his colleagues would be welcome.

[The Herald's report, headlined "War of words escalates as Salmond rebukes US senator" can be read here.

The CNN website has a report on the news conference held yesterday by Senators Lautenberg and Menendez. I draw attention to it because of the readers' comments that follow the story. Could it be that the senatorial grandstanding is beginning to backfire even in the United States?

A further report on the CNN website now deals with the First Minister's letter to Senator Menendez.]




    Die Wahrheit bahnt ihren eigenen Weg. Am Ende der "Lockerbie-Saga" muss Mr. Abdelbaset al- Megrahi und Libyen, dank der neuen Aktion der US-Senatoren und der verlangten Öffnung der SCCRC Dokumente, als Miscarriage of Justice in 6 Punkten als unschuldig erklärt werden...

    Babylon computer translation in german/english

    The truth clears its own way. At the end of the "Lockerbie Saga" Mr Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Libya, owing to the new action of the US senators and the required opening of the SCCRC of documents, as Miscarriage of Justice in 6 points must are explained as innocent…

    by Edwin and Mahnaz Bollier, MEBO Ltd., Switzerland
    URL: www.lockerbie.ch

  2. It's about time one of our national newspapers started taking a firmer line on this, for the sake of our national pride if nothing else. Who would have thought it would be the Hootsmon? Some of that editorial is absolutely spot on the nail, the best I've seen for a while.

    These latest exchanges have been sparked by the continuing controversy over what happened on that terrible night over Lockerbie in 1988: who was responsible; whether the right man was convicted; [....]

    the Senators are [...] conveniently ignoring the doubts over their own country's involvement in the wider Lockerbie story.

    There are still questions over the US's warship's downing of an Iran Air A300 Airbus in July 1988 in which 290 passengers were killed, and whether the supposedly retaliatory bombing of Pan Am 103 was the responsibility of Palestinian terrorists linked to Syria, and not Libyans as the US subsequently claimed.

    Go the Hootsmon!

    As regards omitting the bits about the Justice Secretary having replied to that letter saying that commercial considerations would play no part, and Salmond telling the senators to go talk to Tony, these aspects are covered in the Herald's article. It's disappointingly factual though, with no editorialising that I could see.

    {Damn, I was just too late with this, once again the comments are headed by MISSION SPAM!}

  3. I'm glad to see both the Herald and the Scotsman doing what no opposition politicians are doing right now and condemning these people. (I wish they had included more calls for a full Lockerbie investigation.) I am disgusted at the Tories, the Lib-Dems and Labour in Scotland for remaining silent throughout this complete farce simply because the Nationalists are the ones taking the snash. Politics should be set aside in order to condemn outright the approach taken by another country by bulldozing into areas that are not their concern. The same responses should be coming from Party Leaders at Westminster. THe behaviour of the US is simply not acceptable and breaches diplomatic protocol to the point where the gloves really must come off. All other Parties, the Tories, Labour and the Lib-Dems are guilty of failing to stand up for the rights of the UK, and the rights of Scotland, to deal with our own business here without interference from four insignificant American senators.

    God forgive me, but no wonder the US is hated in many places throughout the world.

  4. RB: "Could it be that the senatorial grandstanding is beginning to backfire even in the United States?"

    To some extent, that's starting or bound to.To some other extent, this will raise suspicions that Scotland has gone soft and is sliding into the Islamist camp.

    The exact extent of each extreme is hard to say, but don't underestimate how deeply we have slid over here. It's an amazingly stupid nation. All I can ask to temper the annoyance and anger is a little pity.

  5. "Sliding into the Islamist camp"? You have got to be joking!

    Even Megrahi isn't an "Islamist" so far as we know. He was a JSO officer who was accused of involvement in a Libyan exercise to take revenge on the USA for the Bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, in which Gadaffi's infant adopted daughter was killed. Even if he did it, he was doing his job at the time, not engaged in some Mohammed Atta-style jihad.

    Yeah, yeah, we're in the "Islamist" camp! I buy my newspapers and fruit and some other groceries from a Muslim, for goodness sake! How more depraved can we get? Said Moslem speaks colloquial Scots and his main interest is playing in the local football team and supporting one of the big Edinburgh teams, but hey, we're all "Islamists" now!

    I wish we could use the laughing dog smilie on this blog.

  6. Caustic Logic, any American who even thinks that way needs to be certified. I am SICK of the American habit of labelling others who will not do as they are told as pro-Islam! Furthermore I am offended at such a thing even being aired here.

    The biggest terrorist on the planet is the United States of America. That has been the case for decades now: the only people who can't see it are Americans. They scream about democracy and freedom and then go on to demonstrate, in glorious technicolour, that they will permit both to exist only where they allow it to do so. That isn't democracy, it is something else which Europe and the US, I thought, had fought to defeat in the 1930s and even earlier in the First World War. Alas no, clearly the plan was for only one dictator to exist in the world: the United States. Democracy? They can keep their version of it! It is an insult to those who died fighting that others could have freedom from evil dictators.

  7. PS Caustic Logic, I apologise for the way a sentence in my previous post reads. You personally have not offended me.

  8. "Even if he did it......."

    If he did it then he is guilty as charged. If I thought for a second he did it I would not have supported his release.

  9. I don't know. That one is too hypothetical for me.

    What I meant was, the characterisation of the Lockerbie bombing as being in the same class of event as 9/11 represents a failure to understand the difference between a specific operation designed to achieve revenge for a specific wrong, and the "mad jihadist" terrorist that has come to the fore in the past 10 years.

    Those who believe Megrahi was guilty should castigate him in the terms on which he was convicted - the rhetoric that describes him as a jihadist sworn to crush the infidel is inappropriate.

  10. The mad jihadist "terrorist" believes he is following orders too in a way. And since I was old enough to follow all that was going on in the Middle East I have often understood only too well why the West is hated by many people there. I remember asking my dad when I was a young teenager, "How can Israel get away with that?" and he said, "Because it has a big brother called the United States of America and that means it can do anything it wants."

    The people of Palestine believe they are fighting in the only way they can and are often labelled "terrorists".

    My view is there are many forms of terrorism. Invading another country illegally is one form: it is just state-sponsored terrorism with weapons far more sophisticated than those available to the average suicide bomber. I remember the incident involving the death of Gadaffi's daughter. That was just another "mission" by the US to "kick ass": it was also a terrorist act in my book. The US won't see it that way nor will the UK in relation to what we did in Iraq. Israel certainly won't see what it does daily in Palestine as a form of it either. Yet they are.

    What concerned me was the "even if he did do it" sentence Rolfe because that doesn't do justice to what you are about. I have seen what one person was prepared to do to try and damage your contributions on here. So don't let slip phrases like that and give anyone else the opportunity to weaken the excellent case you put whenever you post.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say in your latest post. We can say to those who claim Megrahi is guilty, "Ok, let's have the SCCRC findings out in the open then. Let's test the original verdict so that we can all be sure. Let's address the doubts the Commission itself raised about that conviction and that trial." That's our case and we see daily how afraid they are of it.

  12. Caustic, you've said what a stupid nation the US is. You aren't alone tho. Here too I sometimes look around and despair at the same sort of thing. We can feel outraged by events which happen constantly throughout our world, our country, our city, our neighbourhood even and wonder why we seem to be the only one making a fuss. I sometimes think, when people watch the news do they not absorb any of it? And if they do, why don't they care?

  13. I agree, it was a poor choice of words. However, how else can we discuss hypotheticals?

    This is getting a bit off-topic, but I remember discussing the compassionate release at the time with people who didn't want to hear that Megrahi was innocent. I tried to put myself in their place - if he was actually guilty, would I have supported compassionate release?

    I came to the conclusion, yes, for a number of reasons.

    First, forget trade deals, and consider international relations. Letting Megrahi die in a Scottish jail would have soured relations with Libya enormously. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. We can afford to let a dying convict die in his own country if it will contribute to a future where the peoples of the world get on together just a little bit better.

    Second, the practicalities of caring for a terminal cancer patient in prison are a bit of a problem, and sending Megrahi in particular out into the Scottish community (a hospice or a private home) for that care would have been very disruptive and taken up a lot of police resources. Libya wants to take him off our hands and pay for his medical care for his last three months? Deal.

    Third, and this is what I was actually getting at, we have to consider what he was actually convicted of. He was convicted of knowing about the plot and being involved in some unspecified peripheral way, in his capacity as a JSO officer. He was said to have bought these clothes, with the assumption being made that he knew what they were going to be used for (by someone else), and of passing through Luqa airport at the same time some other person was smuggling the bomb on the Frankfurt flight. Nothing else.

    Yes, on these grounds, and on the basis that the 3-month prognosis was given in good faith by appropriate experts, I'd have done what Kenny did.

  14. To clarify the above (and I'm glad the Islamist slide is now a popular dance move in Scotland) that really is where some comments point in their own ways. Europe is soft, etc. It'snot really prominent, but it pops up on the Internet quite a bit prolly from the troll magnet effect. I refer to "Kaddafi Delenda Est," et al.

    There's a bit of patriotic paranoia out there - this country is so amazing that ALL wicked non-American forces must be conspiring against it. It's pushed on the right-wing a lot, old military guys and stuff, and seeps around. Suddenly, Democratic Socialists and Islamo-Fascitst are palling it up. The outlandishness of it is part of the appeal - when the world seems upside down, the Antichrist and the end must be near! Higher defense budgets and more overthrows!

    I'm sorry, that was mostly imagined and I just didn't stop. I really don't know what's up with those people.

    On the hypothetical: If I believed Megrahi was guilty but dying, I'd be kind of neutral. If I knew one quarter of the questions I now know and still somehow believed he was guilty, I think I'd want him released. Because, despite my own limited belief, there are clearly serious questions about his guilt. I wouldn't want even a 10% chance of the wrong (innocent) guy dying alone in prison.

  15. An eye for an eye is an argument usually used by those who support the death penalty. I do not. A justice system which properly punishes the guilty, especially in serious crimes, is a necessity in all civilised countries. This particular crime was horrific. I'm saying if Megrahi was guilty I could not have gone for compassioniate release although I would have been very happy for him to receive good healthcare while in prison.

    Partial involvement isn't an argument I can deal with in crimes like this or, indeed, in other crimes where people pay with their lives. When a group of young men attack another until one of those men inflicts a fatal blow it isn't just that person I would jail for murder. We see far too many young men dying after such attacks these days while their killers walk away with paltry sentences which leave them facing maybe 3 years behind bars because the sentence served is halved anyway. Our legal system allows such things by providing convenient lesser charges. Their families get them back in no time at all. The families of the dead meanwhile serve the real life sentence. And of course it is known that we are soft on violence now: it is the main reason why taking another person's life just doesn't seem to be a big deal any more.

    I despise the trade argument Rolfe. Sorry, but there it is. I detested it when David Milliband made it and I detested it when I learned Blair had been out doing deals in the desert with trade at the root of it.

  16. Caustic the other thing the US faces right now is bankruptcy and I actually think their behaviour will worsen as the US loses its grip as the dominant power in the world. They are not going to like it one bit. They will become more dangerous.

    And just look at what else they still face right now. Afghanistan is a disaster. They (and the UK) are losing. I say they, I mean those young men and women out there putting their lives on the line, and losing them, on a daily basis. If only we could go back to the days when Kings, (and now politicians) went to war with their armies. I think Mr Blair and Mr Bush would have perhaps avoided Afghanistan and Irag. Russia was in Afghanistan for how long???? Shouldn't this have crossed their minds before they committed our armies to going there? What made them possibly think we would win? And now we can't get out!

    New dominant countries are emerging - China in the main. The Sleeping Giant as my dad used to call it. David Cameron acknowledged India's place too last month. Oh and Pakistan? Pakistan whose nuclear capability was suspended in the late 90s because it was considered unstable. Yet, as part of the deal for accessing their airspace to get into Afghanistan Bush restored this. And now those weapons are somewhere in Pakistan, the US just doesn't know where. Bush and his people are gone and the administration they were dealing with in Pakistan at the time are gone too. Pakistan if anything is even more unstable now. Yes, indeed, let's hear it for the US.

    The West is Best argument is utterly discredited. This site is just one which proves this beyond all doubt and sadly the UK is in the same category when it comes to filthy politics which can ensure they get a trial, a conviction and an end to something without justice even having to enter the equation.

  17. Jo, I specifically said I wasn't talking about trade deals. And my phrase was "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". Nothing about the death penalty, all about the cycle of revenge and retribution.

    If we decide to keep a dying foreign convict in jail till he dies, rather than allow him to spend his last few weeks in his home country, what does it benefit us? Revenge, that's what. It feels good to be tough and hard and unforgiving. And maybe no forgiveness is warranted.

    However, what about the rest of the price? Enmity with the Libyan people that goes on into the future, part of the never-ending cycle of tit-for-tat hatred. If all we have to do to break a bit of that cycle is let a dying man die at home and forego that last small part of the revenge, I for one would go for it.

    Perhaps that's a drop in the ocean set against all the trouble you recount in other Asian countries. But we have to start somewhere.

    I appreciate your point about degrees of involvement, and it's a legitimate one. However, if this was a Libyan operation, Gadaffi ordered it. And we're busy making best friends with Gadaffi. It seems a bit pointless to keep someone who merely knew about the plot and may have assisted in a peripheral capacity in prison while he's dying of cancer, if we're prepared to accept Gadaffi back onto the world stage as an ally.

  18. Rolfe, I am not hard or tough or unforgiving and my views aren't about feeling "good" about anything. I am not about revenge either, I am about justice. We have strayed a bit certainly on this thread from believing a man was innocent to talking about what we would have done if truly was guilty. I'm being honest. If I thought he was guilty I would feel quite differently.

    I think Megrahi was framed. I think we jailed the wrong man and I think we did not get the truth about the Lockerbie atrocity. Those are my reasons for being relieved Megrahi went home last year especially when it was so evident that the Scottish Judiciary seemed hell bent on delaying forever hearing that appeal. They are also my reasons for continuing to call for the investigation we still need into the whole thing.

    If this man was guilty, then frankly, I really wouldn't want to repair relations with Libya. I wouldn't want to be friends with Libya full stop. And whether we like it or not good relations with Libya for the UK are all about trade.

    I abhor those nations who indulge in acts of terrorism and I have outlined above how the squeaky clean nations like ourselves, the US and Israel, can indeed do terrorism on a very large scale without actually calling it that. We have terrorised other nations, bullied them and made them comply for decades trailing back into the last century. We killed, we massacred without mercy and built the "British Empire". We partitioned here there and everywhere, in India, in Africa, in the Middle East, we robbed them of their greatest treasures, we plundered and pillaged with all the enthusiasm of the most dedicated pirates. We brutalised their peoples. We functioned using foundations even more unreliable than those beneath the house built on sand. Our principles were built using foundations built on double standards and hypocrisy.

    I don't believe it would have been appropriate, if I thought Megrahi was truly guilty, to have released him to go home to Libya after serving such a short period of his sentence. Not for that crime Rolfe. I would have shown compassion by wanting us to provide the best in the way of care and treatment but I would not have wanted to release him.

    This crime was no "drop in the ocean" and I am sorry to see you use that term to describe it. But it was one perpetrated using the measure that applies in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world and that measure is called filthy politics with neither side interested in having justice involved anywhere in the proceedings.

  19. I don't think the crime was a drop in the ocean, I merely wondered if you thought that repairing relations with Libya was a drop in the ocean in the context of all the other trouble in the world.

    You're right, we've strayed a long way from the point. We agree Megrahi was framed and the wrong man was jailed. The rest is just hypotheticals, and good for nothing more than an argument.

    Caustic Logic, I remember arguing at the time, as you do, that there was sufficient doubt over his guilt, in the light of the SCCRC findings, that the compassionate release was a good thing. As you say, we wouldn't want even to take a 10% chance that we were keeping an innocent man in jail under these circumstances.

    Unfortunately Kenny MacAskill's rhetoric very much negated that point, by harping on about how he was justly convicted. Trying to put forward the point that it was better to err on the safe side under the circumstances just got the retort "but your Justice Secretary says he's guilty".

  20. Rolfe I have made it clear that "repairing relations with Libya" wouldn't have been a priority for me had I thought their leader was behind the bomb on that plane and that Megrahi was guilty. You clearly think its important, guilty or not. I'm disappointed by that.

  21. And the compassionate release was a good thing for me because of the Judiciary's long delay in hearing the man's appeal. A delay which Dr Hans Kochler called "tanatamount to an obstruction of justice". I thought it was the only way Megrahi was ever going to be free. But it doesn't mean I will stop calling for the grounds of that statement by the SCCRC to be investigated further and properly. It is the very least the relatives of the dead are owed.

  22. I think repairing relations with anywhere is generally a good thing, really. You can't change the past, but you can try to make the future better.

  23. No Rolfe, by doing that you simply ignore the damage inflicted on other lives, those lost, and those living with that loss, as the result of an illegal act. You can never do that. Above all you can't set aside any civilised justice system that says if you do these things there is a penalty to be paid.

  24. Well, let's not fight about it. I'm sure we can agree to disagree. :)

  25. I read the CNN artiicle'scomments and unfortunately, got the impression that the backlash was from British readers,mostly anyway. I did try to comment, but even with a new account sign-up, they refused to publish my comments. CNN usually does. :(