Friday, 10 December 2010

WikiLeaks proves Scotland was right on Megrahi release

[This is the headline over an opinion piece in today's edition of The Herald by Professor James Mitchell, head of the School of Government and Public Policy, Strathclyde University. It reads in part:]

We may never get to the root of the appalling events almost 22 years ago when 270 innocent people died as PanAm flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie.

But the WikiLeaks papers tell us much about the way in which public authorities across a number of countries behaved in the lead up to and aftermath of the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only man convicted of the bombing. In the fullness of time, we can expect to see more such papers. It may take years, even decades before other papers are released but we can assume, on the basis of past experience, that we will get a fuller picture of the manner in which this awful event was handled by public authorities.

The picture that emerges from WikiLeaks may encourage a cynical view of government actions. We can, though, take some comfort from the documentary evidence that the devolved Government behaved impeccably. The leaks provide evidence that the Scottish Government did, indeed, make its decision on compassionate grounds and refused to be bullied into releasing Megrahi by the UK Government. The evidence of extraordinary cynicism on the part of the UK Government and its supporters is shocking. This is best summed up in a communication from US officials in the London embassy who informed Washington that “the UK Government has gotten everything – a chance to stick it to Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya” while Scotland got “nothing”.

It is clear from the documents that expectations of Megrahi’s approaching death prior to his release were shared by more than the Scottish Government. Preparations were in hand for the likely consequences of the Libyan prisoner’s death in Scottish custody involving an “immutable timeline”, as American officials wrote seven months before his release. UK officials had prepared for the prospect of Megrahi’s death in custody and were “focused on transfer under PTA [prisoner transfer agreement]”, believing time was short. The Libyan reaction to the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s son’s in Switzerland had been a sobering experience. Against this backdrop, Libya’s intention to cease “all UK commercial activity in Libya” immediately, reduce political ties and encourage demonstrations against “UK facilities”, as well as implicit threats to UK citizens in Libya, could not be taken lightly. It is impossible to know how long Megrahi would have lived had he not been released but the indications are that UK and US officials were preparing for an imminent and serious backlash.

While US Government spokesmen have portrayed the Lockerbie bombing as an essentially American event, US officials took a very different view prior to the release of Megrahi. They feared that US interests would be attacked in the event of the Libyan prisoner’s death if the Libyan Government “views the Pan Am 103 case as a joint US-UK issue”. American officials wrote of repercussions “even if we remain neutral”, a discussion of neutrality that sits uncomfortably with the subsequent US official position.

Public US opposition to the release occurred when it suited US officials. The US Government played a two-level game: maintaining a low profile in opposing Megrahi’s release for fear of provoking a Libyan reaction while strongly condemning the release to appease understandably distraught relatives and playing to a domestic agenda. (...)

UK officials in Libya were under no illusion as to their role from the start. They sought to facilitate the return of Megrahi to Libya. America suspected Tony Blair was behind the deal. Earlier this year, a UK official expressed concern that Libya would use Megrahi’s funeral and discussed using “all possible levers” to discourage this. He noted that Mr Blair was one who had a “personal relationship” with Gaddafi.

Opposition parties at Holyrood attempted to milk the issue. The liberalism of the Scottish Liberal Democrats was quickly thrown aside in pursuit of a headline. The Tories managed to tie themselves in knots with what was at least an effort to cut out a distinct position supporting Megrahi’s release but keeping him in Scotland. Scottish Labour’s uber-cynicism was led by Richard Baker. Mr Baker may initially have been unaware that his own party in government in London had been leading efforts to return Megrahi to Libya, though this had been obvious for at least two years. He became the chief figure in the “stick it to Salmond’s SNP” agenda.

He was effective, in that most limited way that now comes to be expected of politicians, playing what the late Bernard Crick referred to as “student politics” – but failing miserably in the politics of aspiring to govern. In his memoirs, Mr Blair reflected on how New Labour had behaved in opposition, acknowledging that “some of the tactics were too opportunistic and too facile”. These tactics “sowed seeds that sprouted in ways we did not foresee and with consequences that imperilled us”. These words ought to be imprinted on the foreheads of all who play cynical games in opposition.



    I not hope for 'Scottish Parliament' that the background of the "SALE" (Libya to United Kingdom) to be must published… (Corfu, WikiLeaks, stand-by)

    by Edwin Bollier, MEBO Ltd. Switzerland, our webpage:

  2. I'm tired already with the headlines "SNP vindicated" when the truth is they really haven't been vindicated at all. They actually, ironically, supported the Unionist Parties by continuing their policy of ensuring the truth about Lockerbie never sees the light of day.

    That Professor Mitchell deals with that in such a crass manner at the beginning of this piece. "We may never get to the root......" is disgusting. By suggesting there is no way to do exactly that, no path to the truth, he lies too.

    Where are the honest in Scotland? Honest politicians, honest journalists, honest laywers? There are some yes, but clearly not enough.

    That the SNP of all Parties passed up on the chance to get the truth out about Lockerbie is the saddest part of this sorry tale. And for me anyway the biggest shock of all.

  3. Jo G,

    Don't fret, all the good ones are on the campaign. By the way, thanks to you, Eddie and Bensix for helping out on the skirmish at Subrosa's the other day.


  4. QR, your own contribution was excellent and I'm certain you won over many new friends for the campaign.

  5. "And for me anyway the biggest shock of all."

    I'm a member of the party and I cannot for the life of me understand it. Leaving aside the all too obvious legal and ethical issues, the SNP seemed to have much to gain politically from promoting Megrahi's appeal - and yet they did not. I wonder what pressures were brought to bear - they must have been very considerable.

  6. Vronsky, I feel for people like you, I really do. I'm just a person who votes SNP. Salmond of all people could have pulled this off brilliantly. I was certain of it, still am.

  7. I'm just baffled. It's incomprehensible. Someone is twisting someone's arm I think. But who, how, and why?

  8. Vronsky, we've discussed the possibilities before here. But there are no clear rewards being thrown in the direction of the SNP nor will there be. They stand for independence: no Unionist Party or government was going to give them very much after all. Nothing else to see either. No excuses. We can only conclude they went for this willingly. I mean come on, can you see Salmond saying "The original verdict is sound." when he didn't believe it for a Unionist Party? I can't see it in any circumstances.

    What made me feel actually physically sick these last few days was hearing Salmond daring to talk about "Scots justice" for justice this was not. He knows it: MacAskill does too. Like you I believed that taking on the whole issue of Lockerbie, finally, would have put the SNP way up there and I am also certain the country would have backed them to the hilt.

    For me tho not only is he guilty of something awful here but as a body the Scottish Parliament is equally guilty. They were all confronted with the findings of the SCCRC report in 2007 and the awful implications. That they were all, except for notable exceptions like Christine Grahame and a few others, happy to do nothing, say nothing is shocking. Why? And why did the Scottish media let them away with it?

    The other guilty group, I'm afraid, are the masses in Scotland who are too busy reading celebrity mags, watching x-factor and keeping tabs on Cheryl Cole's love life to worry about our justice system and our Parliament being exposed as, when necessary, a lethal combination who will deny justice to a person in order to hide their own grubby little secrets.

    Ultimately the SNP are now flying with the craws and those who would normally not hesitate to vote for them should be letting them know the terrible damage they have done.