Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Senate asks why Lockerbie bomber was freed

[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of The Wall Street Journal. It reads in part:]

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a long-awaited hearing Wednesday that aims to find out why Scotland last year gave a controversial "compassionate release" to cancer-stricken Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

But the session may only widen the gulf between US politicians demanding a more detailed medical explanation of how Mr Megrahi won his freedom and Scottish officials who are declining to provide one.

A Senate staffer's fact-finding trip to Britain this month appears to have produced even more conflict between the US and Scotland, particularly surrounding the details of Mr Megrahi's prognosis and the question of whether he began chemotherapy treatments before or after he was released by the Scots.

The Senate staffer met with George Burgess, who was Scotland's deputy director for Criminal Law and Licensing at the time of Mr Megrahi's release. According to an aide to Sen Robert Menendez, (D, NJ), the senator who is heading the hearing, Mr Burgess said the convicted bomber began chemotherapy before leaving Scotland. According to the aide, the Scottish official also said it was Peter Kay, Mr Megrahi's general practitioner in the Scottish prison system, who issued the prognosis that Mr Megrahi had about three months to live—a guideline prisoners must meet to qualify for compassionate release in Scotland. That prognosis was later sanctioned by Scottish Prison Service medical administrator Andrew Fraser. The hearing stands to address both those assertions on Wednesday, the aide said.

Scotland, however, says that isn't an accurate portrayal of what was said in the meeting. Mr Burgess couldn't be reached to comment.

"It is a matter of public record that Megrahi was not on chemotherapy treatment in Scotland at any point," a spokeswoman for the Scottish government said in an email Tuesday. She added that "the responsibility to provide a reasonable estimate of prognosis was Dr Fraser's—no one else's—and therefore the prognosis was his." The spokeswoman didn't say whether Dr Kay agreed to the prognosis, or made it initially. (...)

Mr Megrahi's lawyer, Tony Kelly, said he didn't feel comfortable divulging details of his client's medical treatment. Despite the haggling between the US and Scotland over when the chemotherapy began and which doctor made the prognosis, the issue of Mr Megrahi's chemotherapy—which had been discussed around the time of his release—has added weight to the Senate's call for the release of the medical documents.

One of the primary points of inquiry for the Senate is Mr Megrahi's chemotherapy treatment, the aide to Sen Menendez said. Doctors normally wouldn't administer chemotherapy to a patient seen to be three months from death, experts have said.

Neither the Scottish government nor the UK government are sending representatives to testify at the hearing. Nor is BP plc, which has at times been accused of influencing the decision to release Mr. Megrahi to advance its oil interests in Libya. The Senate committee has said it will explore "the possible influence of commercial interests" on Mr Megrahi's release.

BP has said it lobbied to speed the passage of a Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the UK and Libya ratified in spring 2009. But the oil giant's involvement in the Megrahi case has so far been a moot point. Though Mr Megrahi applied to be transferred under that agreement last year, his application was rejected; instead, he went free thanks to a separate application under Scottish law's provision for compassionate release.


  1. This has got to be about the most meaningless hearing ever conducted: proposed by senators whose interest in the outcome is secondary to the value it has to their political careers, on a subject that lost its relevance to the public as soon as the oil well was capped, allowed to be ignored by the individuals and the company who are cited as being central to its proposition, to be populated by experts who are neither witnesses nor were involved in any relevant medical matters, nor relevant oil company business, nor trade business talks with Libya pertaining to the PTA...did I miss anything out there?

  2. Bob Menendez starts his days with breakfast at his usual spot, the International House of Pancakes...
    Probably, the only unimpeachable statement you will hear today regarding him and his senator's inquiry.

  3. Lest I be subpoenaed by his committee, he orders (according to the NY Times), corned beef hash, three eggs over medium, and rye toast with butter on the side.
    But I will refuse to attend on the grounds, it's not furthering my political career - only his.

  4. And we see a pattern emerge: the guy buys toast in a pancake house and investigates the release in a miscarriage of justice...

  5. According to The Wall Street Journal the Scottish Government spokesman, Mr George Burgess, "couldn't be reached to comment."

    This is his address:

    Deputy Director,
    Justice Directorate,
    Criminal Law and Licensing Division,
    St Andrew's House,
    Regent Road,
    Edinburgh EH1 3DG

    Tel: 0131-244 3537
    Fax: 0131-244 3297

    Keep trying, WSJ!

  6. Indeed. message sent:
    Sent: Thu Sep 30 01:08:46 2010
    Dear Mr Burgess.

    I note that the Financial Times carries a report here:

    Concerning a particular US Senate investigation, from which I quote:

    “Senator Robert Menendez, who pursued the probe, said George Burgess, former deputy director for criminal law, told investigators that Mr Megrahi had received chemotherapy prior to his release.”

    Senator Menendez apparently accuses you in the above of disclosing at least part of Mr Megrahi’s personal medical records, and of course, in consequence, of breaching Mr Megrahi’s right to patient confidentiality: a right which, as you will be aware, is protected by law.

    As a regular visitor of Medialens, a website dedicated to “correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media”, and as a Scotsman who has been following the entire tissue of falsehoods which emanate from the Lockerbie bombing, I was wondering if you would like to comment on this accusation, as apparently the Wall Street Journal is claiming you:

    "couldn't be reached to comment."

    Answer received:30 September, 2010 2:27

    Mr Waldron,

    Thank you for your email. I am not aware of any attempt by the Wall Street Journal to contact me. I am currently on holiday, so contact is more difficult than usual although, as your email demonstrates, far from impossible.

    I have passed your email on to colleagues in Edinburgh who are seeking to set right the various misrepresentations from the Senator's office. They will no doubt be in touch.

    W George Burgess