Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Al-Megrahi release: one year later

[This is the heading over the official record of yesterday's hearing by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It contains a video of the proceedings and transcripts of the evidence and can be accessed here. I am indebted to blog commentator Bunntamas for supplying this link.

Of the media coverage of the hearing, perhaps the best is in The Wall Street Journal. Its report is headlined "US says Scotland ignored request to examine Lockerbie bomber" and reads in part:]

Scotland disregarded a US request last year for "an independent and comprehensive medical exam" to determine whether the Lockerbie bomber was close enough to death to qualify for compassionate release from jail under Scottish guidelines, a Department of Justice official said Wednesday.

The statement, made by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, came in a long-awaited US Senate hearing on the release of Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi (...)

"The release on compassionate grounds was deeply, deeply flawed and perhaps even intentionally skewed to allow for al-Megrahi's release," Sen Robert Menendez (D, NJ), who chaired the committee, said in his opening remarks.

During the hearing, Mr Swartz said Attorney General Eric Holder told Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill that the US disagreed vehemently with any decision to release Mr Megrahi from jail.

The US also told the Scottish government that, in the event Scotland decided to go against US wishes and release Mr Megrahi anyway, it should do so only under two conditions: One, that Mr Megrahi should first undergo an "independent and comprehensive medical exam establishing that he had three months to live," and two, that Mr Megrahi be kept under observation in Scotland instead of being sent home to Libya, Mr Swartz said.

"As you know, sadly, neither condition was met," Mr Swartz said. (...)

During the hearing, prostate-cancer experts James Mohler and Oliver Sartor testified that the three-month prognosis that secured Mr Megrahi's release made no sense, given that the convicted bomber was considering starting chemotherapy for the first time around the time of his release.

"There is no conceivable way that a cancer specialist or anyone familiar with the treatment of prostate cancer could have given Mr Megrahi a three-month survival prognosis," Dr Mohler said.

Ms McEldowney and Sen Menendez reiterated calls for Scotland to release the full medical documents that led to the prognosis. "The only medical report relevant to the Cabinet Secretary's decision was the report of Dr Andrew Fraser, which has already been published by the Scottish Government," a Scottish government spokeswoman said Wednesday.

[The report in The Times is headlined "Fury at Senate aide’s claim on al-Megrahi treatment" and contains the following:]

Alex Salmond’s government reacted with fury last night after claims were made to a US Senate committee investigating the release of the Lockerbie bomber that Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi had received chemotherapy treatment before leaving Scotland.

The suggestion was made by an aide to Senator Robert Menendez, who is heading the Capitol Hill hearing, after a visit by the unnamed member of staff to Scotland earlier this month. The Scottish government said last night that it had written to the Senate hearing demanding that “the misinformation” be corrected.

The aide, in a report to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said that he had met George Burgess, Scotland’s deputy director for Criminal Law and Licensing, at the time of al-Megrahi’s release. According to the aide, Mr Burgess said the bomber began chemotherapy before leaving Scotland.

The aide also claimed that the prognosis that al-Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, had only three months to live was made by a prison doctor and not, as the Scottish government has said, by Dr Andrew Fraser, the medical director of the Scottish Prison Service. (...)

The aide’s version of events would appear to conflict with the published minute of the prison meeting between al-Megrahi and Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, two weeks before the Libyan’s release. This quoted al-Megrahi as telling Mr MacAskill that he was due to start chemotherapy. (...)

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Senator’s staffer has got both these issues entirely wrong, and the Senate Committee is misinformed. We wrote to the committee yesterday informing them of these errors when we became aware of them, and expressing our extreme disappointment.”

[The Telegraph website's report headlined "Cancer experts brand Lockerbie bomber release 'ridiculous'" can be read here; Newsnet Scotland's report headed "Labour urge US Senators to 'join with us' as both question Megrahi medical evidence" can be read here; that on the website of The Financial Times can be read here; and that on Express website can be read here.]

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