Monday, 6 June 2011

WikiLeaks Megrahi cables in The Scotsman

[The Scotsman newspaper today runs a series of stories based on WikiLeaks cables covering US anticipation of and reaction to the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Megrahi in August 2009. The principal report, headlined Wikileaks: Inside story of Megrahi's return home, contains the following:]

Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's motive for giving a hero's welcome to freed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is revealed today in secret US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and seen by The Scotsman.

The cables reveal that the regime's handling of the homecoming was heavily influenced by Col Gaddafi's simmering resentment towards the West over the case of six Bulgarian nurses freed from a Libyan jail in 2007.

The nurses had been jailed for life for allegedly infecting 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus. European Union diplomats negotiated their release - but then reneged on a deal that the nurses should serve the rest of their sentences in jail in Bulgaria.

Col Gaddafi's lingering anger at this diplomatic "insult" is revealed in a cable, written by a diplomat, describing a meeting in Tripoli between the colonel and US senator John McCain, shortly before Megrahi's release. The Libyan leader refused to give any guarantees about the tenor of Megrahi's homecoming, the cable reports, despite Mr McCain's warning that a hero's welcome could severely damage Libya's new friendship with the United States.

Col Gaddafi cited the celebrations that met the nurses in Bulgaria after their release. (...)

The US government has criticised The Scotsman for its tie-up with WikiLeaks, saying: "Any unauthorised disclosure of classified material is regrettable as it has the potential to harm individuals as well as efforts to advance foreign policy goals."

But the cables provide valuable new insights into one of the most iconic moments in recent Scottish history. They reveal:

* The United States tried to add conditions to the Scottish terms of Megrahi's release, demanding he be imprisoned for the rest of his life in Libya following his compassionate release.

* Megrahi's homecoming and how to handle it became a tussle within the Libyan regime, between reformers who favoured friendlier ties with the West and hardliners who saw such moves as a weakening of Libya's strongman status.

* Western diplomats who urged a low-key return for Megrahi believed they had an ally in Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister who subsequently defected to the West shortly after Nato sided by the rebels in the Libyan uprising this spring.

* The triumphant return of Megrahi to Libya was in fact a much lower-key welcome than some hardliners planned, with a crowd of many thousands scaled down to a few hundred at the last minute.

[Further related reports in the same newspaper can be accessed here, as can the cables themselves, including one headed Demarche delivered, in which US diplomats in Tripoli are to be found urging Moussa Koussa to secure that Megrahi is imprisoned in Libya, notwithstanding the fact that his return was under compassionate release, not prisoner transfer. Moussa is reported to have "raised his eyebrows" at this point.]

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