Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Is it possible that something good could yet come from evil of Lockerbie atrocity?

[This is the heading over a letter from Dr Jim Swire published in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

It has always been my hope that something good could be made to come out of the carnage and destruction of the Lockerbie horror – something to hearten rather than depress all of us.

Many voices, particularly in the US, have been raised to deplore the fact Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi has not died, as statistically he should have done within about three months of his compassionate release; such sentiments are not good.

Libya has a primary healthcare system not unlike our NHS. The secondary care is very different. Libya is too small (its population being around five million) to support world-leading complex secondary care, and the research teams that go with it, so that where complex secondary care is needed, in selected cases the patient may be flown to a centre of excellence, often in Europe or even occasionally America. In some cases, foreign experts are called in to advise or treat in Libya.

A year ago Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, received advice from Scottish Prison Service doctors and other international cancer experts that Megrahi had a roughly 50/50 chance of living three months. Over the past year, the Libyan regime has become increasingly reticent in talking about Megrahi, so even those of us with special interests in his health are ignorant of what treatment he may have received. It is evident his survival is very important to the Libyan regime; therefore, we can assume the best medical expertise in the world has been called to his bedside. It is for Megrahi to have privacy over his treatment and condition for now.

Mother nature has provided that roughly half the population of Scotland and Libya are men, and thus susceptible to cancer of the prostate gland. Prostate cancer in some form would be commonly found if men of Megrahi’s age were examined in detail. Of these, most will have inactive cancers. Megrahi’s cancer was an aggressive form and had spread to his bones before he left Scotland, where conventional treatment had been offered, had failed and hence his lifespan then was reasonably estimated to be about three months.

He has now had time to benefit from the best cutting-edge research and treatment available in the world, most probably from America, possibly stem cell.

Let us invite the Libyan regime to let the world know (when the time is right) what treatment this remarkable survivor received, so that not only the 2.5 million men in Libya, and the same in Scotland, but the three billion men worldwide can know there is new hope against this cancer.

Because the Libyan oilfields are being revitalised by modern technology, with Lockerbie sanctions long lifted, their national income is rising steeply. Libya might be prepared to fund a new world-class research agency for cancer treatment to attract the best physicians in the world. Perhaps the US senators, alleged to be seeking information about Megrahi’s treatment, could also put their weight behind such a project. Bids might start at around $2m – the amount allegedly used to bribe Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who identified Megrahi in the first place.

Such a centre could lessen the load of loss for Lockerbie relatives, something benign to remember along with the horror. Maybe the Libyan regime would consider underwriting such a world-class centre, perhaps through the United Nations’ World Health Organisation, and maybe with a title to remind us that sometimes, just sometimes, good can come even out of such evil.

I know our Flora would have approved of such a project.

[The other readers' letters published under the same heading are also worth reading.]


  1. This letter is sensational in my view. Jim Swire doesn't do aggression but when he he wishes to make a point he does so in devastating fashion.

    His contribution today makes many highly valid points about the treatment of cancer and the advances being made throughout the world at this time. He doesn't make political points but merely states the facts.

    The killer blow comes late in the letter and had me almost applauding when I read it.

    "Perhaps the US senators, alleged to be seeking information about Megrahi’s treatment, could also put their weight behind such a project. Bids might start at around $2m – the amount allegedly used to bribe Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci, who identified Megrahi in the first place."

    Touche Dr Swire, and very well said.

  2. As usual, Swire is talking nonsense. Here he is audaciously asking the Libyan regime to fund a world-class cancer research and treatment center that Scottish and Libyan men can benefit from. What Dr. Swire fails to address is why Libyan funds should be used at all. Dr. Swire himself believes Megrahi is not guilty of the Lockerbie crime. Yet he has the "galvanized face" to come out and ask for more Libyan money! I can't believe this guy. He jabs at the Americans for allegedly bribing a witness, and in the same breath, turns to Libya asking for more money.

    Instead of asking the US senators to start their bidding at $2M, he should really realize that charity starts at home. He should turn to his own government, his own charitable foundations, and his fellow Lockerbie families who took the Libyan money while at the same time adamantly declaring Megrahi not guilty. One hand in Gaddafi's pocket, the other wagging an index finger "No, not guilty!" No one held a gun to their heads to force them to take the money. And I see nothing standing in their way now to return it. Swire talks about an alleged $2M bribe, but I am talking about the certain $10M that each family was awarded. Let your pockets do the talking and set the example, Dr. Swire & Company: Pledge to give back half the compensation you pocketed while protesting the trial as a sham. How shameless can a person be!

    Swire's latest dance should be viewed in light of a recently linked article on this blog, which says that he has a family member who is suffering from cancer. I don't know the extent of truth in that article, but it would be entirely consistent with his unjustified lobbying for more Libyan money, more money, more money.

    From within the frame of Eastern culture, Dr. Swire's irrational and unjustified appeal for more Libyan money only confirms what Gaddafi's son said about the greed that Swire represents.

  3. Suliman,

    charity starts at home, you say. Right - and best by spending your time, money and resources on the cause.

    Who better than Jim Swire have devoted his life to clearing Libya's name in this case?
    He is in the top-very-very-few of people whose work - against a sea of mainstream press apathy and misinformation - got the word out that Megrahi, and thereby Libya, was wrongly convicted at the trial.

    Without that work there'd be virtually no-one in the West today not holding your country responsible for this crime.

    - - -

    Your attempt to paint JS in a light of selfishness is laughable: JS has a family member with cancer, and for this reason he'd like to see the research center to be built, so this family member can be saved!

    Unless you are completely ignorant about medical research - something JS would not be - you'd know that research center being projected tody today would more than a decade away from helping anyone with the disease.

    I suppose almost any person who'd support increased research in cancer could be regarded selfish, as I wonder how many people who'd not have a loved one departing for that reason.

    - - -

    You write:
    "[JS] turns to Libya asking for more money."

    No he don't. What he writes is
    "Libya might be prepared to fund a new world-class research agency for cancer treatment to attract the best physicians in the world."

    Libya might be, or might not be. I am not able to evaluate cost vs. benefit for Libya. But many countries funds such research - I assume they do it for a reason.

    With the focus on Megrahi, and the fact that most of the people i the world still think you are the bloody murderers in Lockerbie and have celebrated a murderers return, well, something like this may just be a smart move?

    How many people would think "Good to see something constructive coming from that country, instead of plane bombs and sales of oil to pollute our world."?

    - - -

    But all these speculations are not elaborated on in JS letter.

    For him it is a dream, a hope - that something valuable after all could result from the Lockerbie tradegy, and so that the loss of his daughter was not for nothing.

    I find that very constructive and noble, and your incredibly negative attack on the integrity of JS a disgrace.

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  7. "Readers are invited to comment on blog posts. There is no moderation of comments. But I will erase comments ... (b) that fail to meet my -- perhaps idiosyncratic -- standards of courtesy towards other contributors. I do not erase comments simply because I disagree with them or because I, or other contributors, find them irritating."

    Suliman, your personal comments directed at sfm contravene this policy. If you are incapable of remaining within the boundaries of civilised discourse, find some other forum on which to vent your spleen.

  8. Prof. Black: Before all is said and done, let's get a couple things cleared up.

    I addressed "sfm" directly only in two paragraphs, the first and the last. If you would specify in which paragraph(s) I directed personal comments that violate the stated blog policy, then I will gladly delete the post in question and replace it with a properly edited version.

    For now, however, I will also ask all readers to compare my comments to "sfm" with other comments that have been directed at me with impunity. For example, compare my comments above with "Suliman you are, as far as I am concerned, lower than a snake's belly..."

    Let's get that much cleared up for a start.

  9. Suliman.....I think you are quoting me in your last post.

    The comment was made, not with impunity, but with, I felt, good reason. You had insulted Jim Swire in a manner I felt was unacceptable. By all means disagree with the man if you must but be civil about it. You were not civil.

    You ridiculed him and you went beyond what was necessary. You also brought the matter of compensation received by Dr Swire into the discussion and as far as I'm concerned that is none of your, or our, business. You had a great deal to say about that much of which I found offensive and said so.

    As I said, disagree with him if you must but do it in a civil manner and the next time you ache to say something vicious about him try something: walk a mile in his shoes and see if you even manage a yard.

  10. Suliman, your approach here is that Dr Swire is asking for "more money". You accuse him of "greed".

    He has asked nowhere in his letter for anything for himself.

    He has asked Libya to share the secret of Megrahi's cancer treatment in the last year almost so that the entire male population of the world - who may one day face the prospect of prostate cancer - can benefit.

    He has asked Libya to participate in leading the way to bring hope in the fight against prostate cancer.

    He has, I repeat, not requested anything for himself. You have therefore, once again, publicly misrepresented him even while his words contradict you on the very same page.

  11. Suliman, you have correctly identified the portions of your comment that contravene my policy. I had not picked up the personal comment made about you by another contributor. I should have done, and I apologise.

    From this moment on, personal attacks on commentators will be deleted as soon as I become aware of them, which may not be immediate since I do not sit 24 hours a day at a computer.

    Robust debate is encouraged. Strong disagreement with a commentator's opinions and his version of the facts is entirely permissible. Personal abuse is not.

  12. All the drama above aside, I read this letter and though "what a lovable loon!" Dr. Swire is in top form, head in the clouds, making sense in a way that's probably not fully practical, but tracing lines we could follow or just wonder at.

    Interestingly ... I don't know much about these things, but I hear Libya takes pretty good care of its people, Megrahi included. They ranked no. 2 happiest country in Africa in that recent survey. (the US failed to make the top 3 in North America. Sorry, the Americas.) People are all pissed about Megrahi getting good treatment there and failing to die.

    Lemons -> lemonade and all that.

  13. Caustic, I don't quite get the "loon" word. It really doesn't apply to Dr Swire in any shape manner or form. I really do wonder sometimes at the people who patronise and sneer at him.

  14. Prof. Black: That's fair enough. Your apology is accepted. and I appreciate your admission that your powers were not exercised evenhandedly up to now.

  15. This post and the one following are in substitution of the three separate comments that I posted yesterday. The content of the previous posts was revised as follows:

    The first and last paragraphs have been edited by removing metaphors and stating my position directly. All quotes of "sfm" were removed, most were replaced with introductory phrases added to appropriate paragraphs.

    I maintain, however, that my original posts were in no way more offensive to another participant than the multiple personal insults and accusations that have been directed at me on this blog.


    Greetings, "sfm".

    If you really want to discuss publicly, an identified person's "ignorance" or "disgrace," it might be more responsible if you did so on a level ground; that is, by revealing your own personal identity. This time, however, I will address the other parts of your reply, for the benefit of all interested readers.

    Your definition of Swire's mission is an un/fortunately false characterization. I doubt that anyone, especially members of the Swire-Black Choir would ever accept that Swire's life-long mission is "to clear Libya's name." Indeed Dr. Swire has been widely publicizing his positions on the Lockerbie affair and a bunch of other things along the way. My exposure to all of his work has come through mainstream media. I honestly don't see him suffering from a shortage of opportunity.

    I would not confuse or equate "my country" with the military dictatorship that rules it. You and others might, but I don't. Swire himself displays his awareness of the distinction when he aims his pitch at the "Libyan regime." The Western world knows "my country" is too disabled to bear responsibility for any actions of its unaccountable ruling regime. But the West, on both sides of the Atlantic moral divide, have no moral qualms with taking the money swiped from the mouths of those who have no say, and delivered by the hand that has no rightful ownership. Neither side could ever justify their stance on their own morals and ethics. Those who believe Megrahi was guilty must also believe he had higher conspirators. Therefore, they should never have accepted processes and settlements that were (1) predicated on a priori curtailment of Justice by limiting the scope to the two accused, and (2) ultimately sealed in a deal where the believed conspirators were allowed to purchase legal immunity with funds they do not rightly own. On the other side, I see those who believe Megrahi was not guilty yet have no trouble accepting the money paid on his behalf and for his guilt! Neither I nor anyone else will ever be able to place the dealings of Western governments with "my country" on a rational basis. I know that is hopeless, and I can, not understand governments, but I cannot not understand Western civil society.

    You misrepresented my position on how Swire can benefit from his own proposed scheme. I said there is a report of some specific information, the truthfulness of which I have not seen challenged, but I still allowed for that by saying I do not know how reliable it is. However, that information would be consistent with Dr. Swire's proposal for the establishment of a world-class center for cancer research and treatment (you missed that part). In his pitch, Dr. Swire also supposed that Megrahi is receiving cutting-edge, stem-cell treatment (not research) provided by American specialists. Is it really a big leap to conclude that Dr. Swire is pitching for "my country" to pay for cutting-edge cancer treatment? I don't think so.

    No, Dr. Swire was not talking only about research. He was talking about a world-class center for cancer research and treatment.

    continued below...

  16. Your broad supposition about selfishness as a motivator for supporting cancer research is just "motherhood and apple pie." Our topic of discussion is much more specifically defined, not by me, but by Swire's own pitch. The topic is a proposal for the Libyan regime to foot the bill for a world-class center for cancer research and treatment. The pitch is supported by misleading fluff. Dr. Swire leads his argument by presenting equality of stakes between Libya and Scotland: roughly equal population sizes, and he carefully notes roughly equal percentages of men, then he asks for the Libyan regime to foot the bill alone! In his presentation, he shows sensitivity to the percentage of men in the two populations, but he neglects to consider the prevalence of prostate cancer among the two sub-populations of men, which could be severely tilted one way or the other. Scientifically, Dr. Swire's attempt at establishing parity is a failure, though I don't expect everyone to catch that. In any case, he abandons parity altogether when it comes to funding. Do you get that?

    Yes, I did and still do say Swire is turning to Libya for more money. And yes, he did, and your chosen quote repeats his reference to treatment. And he also said, "Maybe the Libyan regime would consider underwriting such a world-class centre." Is this not a clear proposal for the Libyan regime to foot the bill for a world-class treatment center? You bet it is. And as I said, in departure from his (cock-eyed) balance.

    Stating generalities about what any country might and might not do is again a a case of motherhood and apple pie. And by the way, not many countries have "world-class" centers for cancer research and treatment. If such centers were so common, what the hell would make them "world-class"? This is almost as ridiculous a claim as saying, "All the children in Lake Woebegone are above average."

    By saying the proposed action is a "smart move", I think you mean "good publicity." I agree that the Libyan regime's insatiable desire for publicity is targeted by Swire's pitch very precisely. In fact, Swire as I said before is quite sophisticated in "publicity engineering." Note how he carefully lobs "the title of the center." He shows a keen awareness of the lure of titles and names for a megalomanaical dictatorship. So, he tells them: Pay for it, and you get to name it. Crafty!

    Your contrasting of the publicity potentially gained by funding cancer research and treatment with the image defined by bombs and pollution is more motherhood and apple pie. We are talking about specific things not hypothetical mixups of a country and a megalomanaical dictatorship.

    Your speculations have been answered. My responses are not based on speculations and tautologies.

    Dr. Swire is looking for more Libyan money to "lessen the load" that Libyans already paid billions for. His camp believes those billions were unjustly extracted. The least they should do is to commit some of their own take to lessening their own load, not to ask for Libyans to pay more. Sorry, Libyans have a lot of loads that are in need of lessening, chief among them is the load of dictatorship that is highly susceptible to being blackmailed and bamboozled with grandiose vanity placards bearing their name.

    Unlike you, I find Swire's pitch immensely distasteful and conniving. And the disgrace, as I see it, is the attempt of adding insult to the deep injury of the Libyan people.

    Finally, I remind you: If you want to participate in a fair exchange with me, then consider yourself invited to identify yourself.

  17. I don't feel welcome in this discussion, and I don't feel up to matching Suliman's penetrating analysis of each word to find out how valid his points are.

    One easy question: "Suliman," what does "identify yourself" mean?

  18. Jo G:

    The quote was only provided as an example in its own right, not at all meant to re-ignite any heated discussion with you.

    I think my views on how Dr. Swire and his group stand to benefit from his own proposal are stated as clearly, and almost as redundantly, as I could manage. The basis of my views can be found directly in Swire's own words. He wants the Libyan regime to spend more money in relation to Lockerbie, and the list of potential beneficiaries includes whom, exactly, just Libyans? No, it also includes him and his colleagues whose load he said would be lessened by his imagined Libyan expenditure.

    Why did he (attempt to) draw a Libya-Scotland parity? How does Scotland fit in all this? I know the geo-legal uniqueness of Scotland wrt the trial. But if the intent is to identify a qualified partner in a human tragedy, then one should not rely on geographic proximity or fortuitous demographic similarity. One should probably consider the human loss itself, and in that sense Scotland really is not foremost among qualified partners.

    I can understand your indifference about how Libyan money is spent, considering that you personally have no claim to it. But I hope you do realize that Libyan money is by definition the business of every Libyan. In effect, Swire & Co are saying to the Libyan: "You were wronged when we took your money. Now for the sake of your and our benefit, you give more." That's not greed? OK, your call.

    CL: I'll be back later.

  19. Suliman, he absolutely does NOT wish Libya to spend more money on Lockerbie. He has not said that anywhere. You are twisting everything one man says and does because of some deep-rooted disapproval you feel towards him. His letter is there for all to read and your own wildly inaccurate interpretation is there also. People can make up their own minds. I have other things to do.

  20. Professor Black I apologise for breaching your rules by making a remark, highlighted above, on a separate thread on your blog.

  21. Suliman, here is where Dr Swire sees the "benefits" of such a project going:

    "Let us invite the Libyan regime to let the world know (when the time is right) what treatment this remarkable survivor received, so that not only the 2.5 million men in Libya, and the same in Scotland, but the THREE BILLION MEN WORLDWIDE can know there is new hope against this cancer."

    NOT Dr Swire, NOT his "group", NOT Lockerbie, NOT just Libya and Scotland - but the male population of the world at risk from prostate cancer.

  22. Jo G: Apologies for my small passive-aggressive moment above. I stand by "lovable loon" and shan't go into just how it was meant. Just give me some credit,eh?

    As for what Suliman's on about, Swire does say "Such a centre could lessen the load of loss for Lockerbie relatives..."

    He completes the sentence "something benign to remember along with the horror." Creating something nice would help make the pain more bearable. And he has the gal to suggest Libya might shell out money to help the families of the victims!

    Beyond good feeling, dealing with hard reality, this hypothetical center could be some unusual synergistic PR for both Libya and Dr. Swire, who proposed it. It could also radically change cancer treatment in Europe and save your life some day, hypothetically. What are you visualizing that's so distasteful?

    And I'd like to ask, if it's not getting too personal, why are you so watchful over Libya's expenditures and their expected return? Are you concerned that some PA103 survivor isn't bilking them for, what, $2 million? Where were you when $2.7 BILLION was extracted from them under false pretenses, simply to end the crippling sanctions imposed for the same false pretenses without even the benefit of a trial? For God's sake, the indictments that formed the basis of sanctions that killed thousands were half-based on the words of Abdul Majid Giaka. Do you not see how sad and criminal that is?

    You're upset about a proposal for a cancer center? Really?

  23. To clarify, from para 3 is directed to "Suliman."

    Faux HTML tag indicating "rant over" didn't appear.

  24. Caustic:

    1. Identify yourself means make your personal identity known. Examples on his blog include, Prof. Black, Jo G, Charles, myself, etc.

    2. You were referring to a survey by Forbes magazine, which they say took about 4 years and involved thousands of people, but they never specify how many people from each country. If the sample size was weighted by population, I am sure you can figure out how many people were actually surveyed. And of course, you point to the US rank in that very scientific study. Where do you go for comparisons on the state of human rights in a country, People magazine? In any case, your survey which placed Libya second-happiest in Africa also placed Israel second happiest in Asia. What are the chances that Palestinians were included in your little reference, Caustic?

    There are better references to consult, in order to find out how well a country takes care of its people, and here health care is what is meant. Check the data provided by the World Health Organization. Compare what Libya pays per capita, in comparison to places like UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabic and Qatar. Let me give you an idea, based on data from a 2008 report. Libya paid about $100 per capita annually for health care. Qatar about $600/year. Libya's numbers place it closer to Jordan. If you have access to Arabic, then you can check Libyan press and find out how ridiculous it is to claim "Libya takes care of its people," in terms of health.

    Finally, let me leave you with this. At $100/capita and a population under 6 million, the amount Libya paid in compensation is equivalent to about 5 years of expenditures on health care. Every Libyan lost the equivalent of five years of health care, and Swire has the face to ask Libya to fork out more for his little troubled soul! People who are burdened should seek the help of mental health specialists, not more Libyan money to be spent.

  25. Congratulations on a partial response!

    In any case, your survey which placed Libya second-happiest in Africa also placed Israel second happiest in Asia. What are the chances that Palestinians were included in your little reference, Caustic?

    Good point, and I had the same thought 'reading' through the slide show version. I included that stuff more for texture than as an argument. It's obviously highly circumstantial, just interesting in how it came out. Interesting points following on that. I could add that Libya and Qatar might have other differences in approach aside from monetary input, but I don't know the facts here, so...

    Main points:
    "Finally, let me leave you with this. At $100/capita and a population under 6 million, the amount Libya paid in compensation is equivalent to about 5 years of expenditures on health care. Every Libyan lost the equivalent of five years of health care, and Swire has the face to ask Libya to fork out more for his little troubled soul! People who are burdened should seek the help of mental health specialists, not more Libyan money to be spent."

    Well they're fully free to say no, given the tight budget you suggest may exist. I'm still not clear why you're being so protective of Gaddafi's bottom line. It seemed to me from elsewhere you're no fan of that government?

    Did Libyans actually lose their health care, or was that an equivalency thing?

    Do you realize also how Libya lost all that money? Why did they decide to pay out that huge amount in compensation? You haven't denied I think that's a bigger problem and question than Dr. Swire's interesting proposal, which to read you only sucks in context of coming AFTER that major hemorrage of capital.

    In fact, I'm starting to wonder if your real problem here is that you're afraid this IS a good idea, and what that will do vis-a-vis perceptions of Libya.

  26. Oops. To complete a thought:
    Why did they decide to pay out that huge amount in compensation? You haven't denied my claim that this was under false pretenses. Do you deny that claim and on what grounds?