The US Senate's conspiracy theory about Megrahi shows just how ignorant it is of British politics, writes Alan Cochrane.
It is always uncomfortable to be attacked by a supposed friend, all the more so when the onslaught is so unreasonable and wrong-headed. However, the main criticism that must be levelled against the report compiled by four US senators on the circumstances surrounding the release of the Lockerbie bomber is that it is naive – stunningly and embarrassingly so.
What appears to have happened is that Senators Robert Menéndez, Frank Lautenberg, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand decided from the "off" that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was freed as a result of base political, diplomatic, but above all commercial, motives.
They further believed that the UK Government had, for a combination of these disreputable reasons, lent on the devolved administration of Alex Salmond in Edinburgh to release the mass murderer.
The senators decided to produce a report to "prove" their theory and, lo and behold, that is precisely what it came up with.
Along with others who should know better, they refuse to believe that a separatist SNP administration in Edinburgh would never give in to pressure from the unionist UK government in London over a wholly devolved issue, such as the Scottish justice system.
As a result, the senators produced a very poor piece of work that demonstrates the incredible ignorance evinced by these four conspiracy-theorists about how politics and governance works in this country, a not at all unusual state of affairs for American politicians' knowledge about what they would call foreign parts.
Scotland's First Minister and Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, have said repeatedly that Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds because Mr MacAskill had been told by medical experts that he was suffering from terminal cancer and had only three months to live. For the record, I should repeat at this juncture that I supported that decision. That that prognosis was spectacularly wrong has, sadly, been proved by the passage of 16 months since his release.
It is not difficult to understand the anger and hurt of the relatives of those killed, many of whom are constituents of the senators.
However, the cause of the bereaved would have been served better had the senators steered clear of this elaborate conspiracy theory.
Time and time again, their 58-page report points the finger at the UK government.
For instance: "The UK government played a direct, critical role in al-Megrahi's release"; " … evidence suggests that UK officials pressured Scotland to facilitate al-Megrahi's release"; " … it would not be surprising that the Scottish government would be susceptible to pressure from the UK government."
Entitled "Justice Undone", the report charts what it sees as a series of suspicious meetings between British politicians – including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – diplomats and businessmen, all hell-bent on securing a massive oil deal for BP, and Libyan officials. Not surprisingly, given his "non-person" status in the US over the Gulf oil spill, BP chairman Tony Hayward is given a walk-on part in all of this jiggery-pokery. The senators conclude that the UK Government knew that, in order to maintain commercial relations with Libya, "it had to give in to political demands".
"The threat of commercial warfare was a motivating factor", it adds.
The senators may be on firmer ground over their challenging of the medical evidence used as the basis for Megrahi's release. But even here they cannot resist sketching out an elaborate plot, involving Dr Andrew Fraser, the senior doctor at the Scottish Prison Service – accusing him of attending "political meetings" that "may have influenced his decision".
They also come up with a frankly spurious list of supposed powers that the UK Government could have used to stop Megrahi being freed and also claim that another reason for freeing the bomber was pressure from the Qataris who were poised to take over Sainsbury's, which the senators say is a "Scottish food producer". News to me!
Where the senators will find many supporters, however, is in their final conclusion – namely that the release was a straightforward bit of grandstanding: "The compassionate release option allowed First Minister Salmond to inject Scotland on the international stage."
The sad fact remains that this report is nothing more than supposition dressed up as fact, opinion masquerading as truth.
It has unleashed a great deal of Brit-bashing, too. That is unfortunate but is as nothing when compared to the grief of the bereaved families. Their cause has not been aided by this nonsense of a report.
Given that he is still alive more than a year later proves that the release of this mass murderer may well have been a mistake. But he was released on compassionate, not commercial, grounds.
[From an opinion piece on the website of the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph by the paper's Scottish Editor.]