Monday, 9 August 2010

Cardinal faces backlash for rebuking US on Megrahi release

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Herald. It reads in part:]

The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland is facing criticism after he attacked America’s “culture of vengeance” and defended the decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing on compassionate grounds.

In a dramatic intervention into the furious row over the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, Cardinal Keith O’Brien said that Americans should assess their own judicial decisions before criticising those of other countries.

He compared America to Iran and Saudi Arabia because of its use of the death penalty, and defended Scottish officials’ decision to refuse to appear before American senators investigating the circumstances of the release. Scottish politicians should not go “crawling” to America, he said.

A spokesman for Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey senator heading the investigation into Megrahi’s release, last night declined to comment, but Frank Duggan, spokesman for the Victims of Pan Am 103 group, criticised the Cardinal’s intervention.

He said: “I’m a Catholic and we know that the Catholic Church has long opposed the death penalty.

“But I think the bishop here should stick to his knitting, and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” (...)

Experts said yesterday that the calculation should have taken into account further treatment for the Libyan’s prostate cancer. Medics who made the prediction should have recognised that planned chemotherapy would extend his life, according to a group of doctors.

One of them, Professor Roger Kirby, director of the Prostate Centre in London, said that the Scottish Government had made a mistake because it did not “ask the right questions to the right people”.

But a Government spokesman said that Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Health and Care for the Scottish Prison Service, who provided the clinical assessment of Megrahi’s condition for Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, was “a professional of unimpeachable integrity”.

He added: “Dr Fraser drew on expert advice from a number of cancer specialists in coming to his clinical assessment that a three-month prognosis was a reasonable estimate for Megrahi – it was not based on the opinion of any one doctor. These specialists included two consultant oncologists, two consultant urologists and a number of other specialists, including a palliative care team, and Mr Megrahi’s primary care physician.”

Last night Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the tragedy, said America was too keen to “kick ass” without asking if they had got the right man, and said he was glad Megrahi had never faced the death penalty.

Dr Swire said that he agreed with the Cardinal’s comments.

“We should look for justice rather than vengeance,” he said. “I agree with him in criticising that culture.

“American culture is bordering on the search for vengeance and the desire to kick ass, without asking if it is the right ass to kick.

“We have always said that we need to know the truth and would like to extract something good from this, and vengeance is a disgraceful way for a self-confessed Christian nation to behave.”

“What about the question of whether Megrahi is guilty or not?” he added.

However, he said he was not criticising the American relatives of Lockerbie victims and that it would be wrong to say they belonged to that culture.

Dr Swire also revealed that he had written a letter to the Cardinal praising him for speaking out but warning him that with such comments “you have to expect flak, unfortunately”.

Mr MacAskill, who made the decision to release Megrahi, described the Cardinal’s comments as “considered” and “thoughtful”.

[The Scotsman's report on the issue can be read here.]


  1. I tried to contact the Panam103 site by email but the mail bounced back. : (

  2. It is the arrogance of American exceptionalism thet is so depressing. With a number of notable exceptions, who often take a far more critical view of the exercise of US power than we do here in the UK, the average American view academic, journalistic or blogger takes the view that simple by asserting to Mr Megrahi's guilt, despite all the incisive and researched material that Dr Swire and the like have put forward, simple reasserting guilt will somehow make Mr Megrahi guilty, I think we have news for them - no amount of patching together a failed a ridiculous finding as came out of Zeist, surely the only major murder trial in a common law country to be determined without a jury will repair the monstrous edifice of the finding of guilt against him.

    But we plough on regardless and eventually truth with triumph and the real progenitors of the crime against the Lockerbie aircraft, the US and Iranian governments jointly will be brought to book.

  3. Let's remember tho that the absence of a jury was originally thought to be in the best interests of the accused. Given the publicity surrounding the case beforehand, the information about both Libyans and the rest would twelve average Scots have given them a fair hearing? Let's also remember they were known to have been working for the Libyan Government. I'm not sure it could have been achieved.

    Judges, it was thought, were the best people to depend upon to focus only on the evidence and nothing else. WEll that was the theory!

  4. Americans' overpowering desire to 'kick ass' at every turn should, of course, never be underestimated and needs always and ever to be guarded against. Dr Swire has evidently got their number.

    I am reminded of an account given by Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed in 1841, concerning a case in Illinois in which he was called upon to defend two men (Henry and William Trailor) accused of murdering a missing person (one Archibald Fisher), whose body had still not been found when the trial got under way.

    There was a wealth of circumstantial evidence and a hanging party at the ready but no body, for which a search continued to be made. Various witnesses of a decidedly unreliable character swore blind that they had reason to believe that Fraser had been killed and pointed the finger at the Trailors. Nonetheless, Lincoln, who was, needless to say, always the shrewdest man in the room wherever he went in that neck of the woods, had no difficulty in arriving at the truth of the matter, which was that the alleged corpse merely had an untreated medical condition which occasionally caused him to become disorientated and wander off for days. This salient but strangely overlooked fact having been brought to light, everything fell into place. The 'corpse' was found, alive if not very well, and those accused of having murdered him were, with some reluctance, discharged:

    "Thus stands this curious affair. When the doctor's story was first made public, it was amusing to scan and contemplate the countenances and hear the remarks of those who had been actively in search for the dead body; some looked quizzical, some melancholy, and some furiously angry. Porter, who had been very active, swore he always knew the man was not dead, and that he had not stirred an inch to hunt for him; Langford, who had taken the lead in cutting down Hickox's mill-dam, and wanted to hang Hickox for objecting, looked most awfully woebegone: he seemed the 'victim of unrequited affection', as represented in the comic almanacs we used to laugh over; and Hart, the little drayman that hauled Molly home once, said it was too damned bad to have so much trouble, and no hanging after all."

    Plus ça change . . .

  5. Last time, they said the cardinal compared the US to China, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Now the message is sharpened to "He compared America to Iran and Saudi Arabia." As I indicated in a previous comment, the China claim maybe hard to hold up, and of course the actions of the (Western installed) Iraqi government are not something you want to dwell on too long in a game of holier-than-thou crap. So the message is reduced to the core: You Americans are as ethical as the Muslims, both the Shi'a and the Sunnah camps! Isn't that lovely? And this garbage is being pedaled in the same breath as Jim Swire's claims that the US is "a self-professed Christian nation." Is it really me who is injecting religion into the discussion? I think not. Is it fair to ask Swire where he found the "nation" professing an exclusively Christian identity? And which Christian values is he referring to, exactly? Since when have Christian values been so uniform as implied by Dr. Swire? And which Christian values does he rely on in justifying taking compensation from a thief? Spare us the nonsense, we know and see better. Swire is always identified as one, "who lost his daughter," but never as one, "who accepted stolen money as compensation." Swire should take a good look at his Christian teachings, and his country's legal traditions regarding receiving stolen goods. Then, he can lecture the Americans about high morals.

    And for those who "care so deeply" about this case that they refuse to acknowledge any sides other than "us" and "the Americans," I say wake up, smell the gasoline, and ask their caring moral selves who paid the bill for Lockerbie. It wasn't just Scotland or the US, contrary to popular illusions. There are more points of view than those held by the good Christians in the northern hemisphere.

  6. Suliman, do you know for a fact that Jim Swire accepted money from Libya? Not every relative did.

    I understand Martin Cadman refused the money, and there were others.

  7. Interesting post Francophone. Thank you.

  8. Suliman your attack on Jim Swire is despicable.

  9. I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect Dr. Swire didn't take the money. I think Suliman should find out the facts before saying stuff like that.

  10. Suliman you have gone quite far enough. If you wish to debate please try to do so without hurling deeply offensive comments around in this manner. It is completely unnecessary.

    I am NOT part of any cult and I will thank you not to suggest otherwise.

    I am not associated either with extreme muslims nor do I support terrorism.

    You started off on this thread misinterpreting a comparison which a churchman drew between the US and China. You have ranted ever since and insulted others in the process. Now you start on Jim Swire. Grow up!

  11. Rolfe I'm not sure what I think about it. I'm not in their shoes so I honestly wouldn't express a view either way. I know that some took compensation and some didn't. Who knows how people were thinking.

  12. Well, exactly. I've sometimes wondered, because if the plane had stayed airborne for another ten minutes or so there's an outside chance I could have been minus both parents and a family home.

    I think I would have taken the original Pan Am compensation in the 1990s - that was a couple of million. And frankly, that alone is a lot more money than I ever expect to see in my life.

    The six million or so from Gadaffi? I suppose money is always tempting, so who can say. If I'd been as certain as I am that Megrahi didn't do it, probably not. I'd have been a millionnaire by then anyway, and a few more million wouldn't go any further to bring back what I'd have lost.

    I wouldn't judge anyone for taking the money, never. What I do wonder sometimes though, listening to the US relatives, if the possibility that the money was awarded on false premises is something that keeps them from a proper scrutiny of the evidence. I don't criticise them for that, if that's the case - it's only natural.

    I just think that one should be certain that any particular person accepted Gadaffi's money before bringing it up in conversation.

  13. Rolfe: I answered your question before, but my answer keeps disappearing. Here is a quicker version.

    Check the comments made by Dr. Swire when Gaddafi's son said the Lockerbie families were very greedy. I am fairly sure you could have found them if you searched the net. Anyway, here is one sample:

    Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said no money could make up for the loss of loved ones.

    He added: 'So far as many relatives I know would say, we would gladly repay any " compensation" money if we could just have our loved ones back.'

    He said Gaddafi's rant would be found 'deeply offensive' by some relatives.

    Read more:

    Now, what is Dr. Swire talking about repaying? Could he be talking about repaying what he was not paid? I don't think so. And even if you overlook the above, Dr. Swire is still the representative spokesman for a number of British families who did take payment from a thief. I want him to square that up with the same Christian values that he stands on to rebuke the Americans. My understanding is accepting payment from a thief, or other stolen goods, is immoral and in fact illegal in some countries. That is exactly what was done by Swire's camp. And I not asking you to "judge" others, I am asking Swire to judge his own actions. Is it moral, according to his espoused Christian values, to take stolen money in broad daylight? For me, Swire is not holy, not above reproach. And in my opinion his wishy-washy morals are no foundation for discrediting others, Americans or otherwise.

  14. Suliman, you still haven't answered the question as to whether Jim Swire personally accepted money from Libya. I saw Saif al-Islam on TV and read the transcript of the full interview, so that is no news to me.

    Jim Swire seems to be speaking for the group of relatives in the passage you quote, and undoubtedly some of them did accept the money. You may be correct in your assumption; but you may not. I suggest you cool it until you have definite information.

  15. Ahem....

  16. Possibly. A lot of that sounds speculative, and it's unclear if Swire confirmed or denied he'd accepted the money.

  17. Swire is quoted in that article as stating he had made a misatke re: offering a part of his compensation. One would obviously deduce that he had accepted compensation prior to making said offer. But then again, who knows, when it comes to the meida.
    As a family member, far as I know, there was only one family who refused the compensation. And it was not the Swires.

  18. I understood that Martin Cadman refused the money, but I've never heard that he was the only one.

  19. Thanks Bunntamas for providing that link. There is a lot of repeated Swire quotes and a letter he wrote in response to the comments made by Gaddafi's point man on the Lockerbie negotiations. These are the places where I would expect to find Swire's stance on accepting compensations. I think the most comprehensive reports are the ones from BBC. In all these materials, I cannot find Swire confirming or denying that he himself accepted payments. However, as I said already, his moral responsibility is not--by his own standards--predicated on his personal involvement. He certainly had no moral qualms with the actions of other members in his organization. In fact he defended that action on multiple occasions, so there is no question about his being morally "on board" with it. We are not talking about irrelevant actions, we are talking about actions at the very heart of his organization's reason for existing. If Swire can join in rebuking America on a national/cultural level, then he should certainly be expected to evaluate his own morals on an organization level. My point remains: Dr. Swire should take a taste of the same "inward gaze" medicine that he is re-offering to the Americans. And this is not the first time Dr. Swire casts his disputes in terms of moralistic comparisons of his culture with others, nor is it the first time he succeeds in offending the other side. Before joining the cardinal's holier-than-thou rebuke to the American, wherein he has falsely and offensively misrepresented the US as "a self-professed Christian nation," Dr. Swire made the following remarks in response to Gaddafi's son comments about the collective greed of Swire and Co.

    "From within Western culture Saif Al Gaddafi's comments will be found deeply offensive by some relatives, but I can see this as the Arab way of doing things. I'm cynical enough to know that's how the world works. "

    Note the recurrent cultural, large-scale framework for Dr. Swire's offensive comments. Instead of responding to specific claims by his partner in specific negotiations, Dr. Swire prefers to frame the dialogue as an instance of Western culture taking offense from an Arab habit. Just lovely!

  20. Well, I'm not an especial member of the "Jim Swire is a plaster saint" club, so it doesn't bother me one way or the other. I merely wanted to make sure that the facts on which you were basing your slagging-off were well-founded.

    Since this actually has approximately nothing to do with the price of fish, I'll leave you to it.

  21. I don't think he's a plaster saint either. I think he's incredibly human and I believe many people do not give him the credit he deserves for his tireless fight for the truth.

    I also think that whether he accepted compensation or not is none of our business.

  22. Rolfe: Thanks, buddy. This is a dead-end road for you, and I am happy to let you turn around and chase your fish.

    Jo G: My point was never to say Swire is not a saint, plaster or otherwise. It was never to say that Swire does not say anything that's right. On the contrary, I believe him completely when he says that he is burdened with guilt. I believe him when he says he and others were used as pawns in an affair that produced mutual benefits for western big business and Libya's commerce. But that is not all. He also makes remarks that are sweeping offenses and nothing short of bigotry in my view, and no one could dispuite Dr. Swire's own offensive statements. To say that the US is a Christian nation is no less offensive than saying it is a white nation, or a Protestant nation, if the first analogy sounds too distant for northern European nations that take the cross as their national emblem.

    Bottom line: Swire has no leg to stand on in his moralistic grand standing vis-a-vis the US, the Arabs, or anyone else. And whether he himself did or endorsed accepting stolen goods IS our business for as long as Swire professes a superior moral stance. He and his fans can claim whatever they want, but there is no escape from the fact that the depth of his and his organization's morals is accurately measured by how deeply their arms reached in Gaddafi's pocket. And I remind the readers once again that there is more to Lockerbie than the UK and the US, much more. Deal with it, if you can.

  23. Suliman you are, as far as I am concerned, lower than a snake's belly and I have nothing to say to you. Please stop posting to me. I will not respond to anything you say. You lost the right to any response several threads back through your disgusting behaviour.

  24. Jo G: Well, well, well. What I could say to justify all this e-steam from a person who previously treated the readers with "The US is the biggest terrorist on the planet." Presumably, that would be Earth?

    If you think I make a good rendition of an earthly rattler, then let me say with a historical perspective: Don't Tread on Me!

    In a public forum, your expressed ideas are not protected from criticism by others. And happy Ramadan to you, too.

  25. Well, Suliman, I'm really not bothered by Dr. Swire either way. I'm much more interested in the case itself. What I find intriguing is the impression I'm getting that your sniping isn't just arguing for arguing's sake, but based on a belief that Megrahi actually carried out the bombing as described.

    How do you support that belief? Do you still think he purchased the clothes, despite the wholesale demolition of Tony Gauci's evidence and the conclusions drawn from it? Do you have anything to share with us regarding how the suitcase got on board KM180 at Luqa that morning? You see, these are the critical points in the case against Megrahi, which you seem happy to ignore while making personal attacks on his supporters.

    Bear in mind that despite intensive investigation by international teams of detectives, not one trace of the radio, the bomb or the suitcase was ever found on the island of Malta. Baggage loading records for KM180, which were complete and of normal provenance (in marked contrast to the Frankfurt records), showed clearly there was not an extra bag on that plane, and that none of the passengers' bags had been left behind. As regards the presence of an unaccompanied bag on that flight, Lord Osborne remarked, "there is considerable and quite convincing evidence that that could not have happened."

    So do you have any thoughts on these matters, or are you content simply to sneer from the sidelines?