[This is the heading over a letter from Ruth Marr in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]
Many years ago, doctors told a family friend that his heart and lungs were in a very bad way, and he had around six months to live; he lived for another 20 years.
Probably most people could recite similar situations, and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi would also appear to be in that category, still alive almost two years after doctors pronounced that he had approximately three months to live (“Megrahi attends pro-Gaddafi rally”, The Herald, July 27).
It is totally understandable that those who believe Megrahi to be guilty of the Lockerbie bombing atrocity should feel anger and bitterness, but many worrying questions which demand answers hang over the Lockerbie case, and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has identified six areas which suggests the possiblity that Mr Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.
The Justice for Megrahi Group has campaigned tirelessly for a public inquiry into all the facts surrounding Lockerbie, and the Public Petition which it raised with the Scottish Parliament, calling for an inquiry, and which garnered huge support from the public, is to be considered by the Parliament’s Justice Committee.
Until we get at the truth surrounding the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, and the conviction of Mr Megrahi for that heinous crime, we cannot get justice – not only for Megrahi, but for the victims who perished, the grieving families left behind, and everyone connected with the Lockerbie case, who more than 20 years later, still carry the scars of that terrible tragedy.
[In stark contrast is the article by Iain Macwhirter (with whose views I normally, unlike today, find myself in agreement) in the same newspaper. It reads in relevant part:]
Sometimes in life, you just have to admit you got it wrong.
With hindsight it was a mistake to release Adelbasset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, on compassionate grounds in 2009.
The Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, did the right thing by the tenets of Scots law.
He thought long and hard and, on the basis of medical advice that Megrahi had three months to live, he made the wrong call. So did I, by the way, so I’m not exercising 20/20 hindsight here.
Why was it wrong? First of all, because of the impact on the Lockerbie victims’ families, who have had to endure two years of seeing Megrahi celebrated as a national hero by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s murderous regime in Tripoli.
He has become a potent symbol of defiance by the regime against Western “imperialism”. He was paraded again this week in the latest show of strength by the Libyan dictator.
Of course, we didn’t know in 2009 that we would be at war, effectively, with Gaddafi but Megrahi has now turned into a major propaganda asset for the enemy.
Damage has also been caused to Scotland’s image in America and the rest of the world and it has made our justice system look absurd. Kenny MacAskill took guidance on Scots law on compassionate release, but he was not bound to follow it.
In retrospect he should have said that this involved such an exceptional crime, under such extraordinary circumstances, that it would be morally deficient, if legally correct, to release him from jail. Megrahi could have been allowed compassionate time with his family in Scotland, while still a prisoner.
And yes, I realise there were serious doubts about Megrahi’s guilt. The key prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, was allegedly paid $2 million by the US authorities.
The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board appeared minded to give him another appeal. But the fact remains that he was convicted by the judges in Camp Zeist in a fair trial; found guilty of the worst terrorist single atrocity in British history. That stands.
Megrahi’s release also fuelled the conspiracy stories that, for some reason, Alex Salmond had become Tony Blair’s best friend and had agreed to spring the Lockerbie bomber so that BP could get its hands on Libyan oil.
The infamous “deal in the desert” did involve a prisoner transfer agreement , though the Scottish Government had no involvement in that, and did not repatriate him under any kind of guidance from London.
It was, as Salmond said, a Scottish decision taken in Scotland. The wrong one – albeit for the right reasons.
[Related news reports in The Herald can be read here and in The Scotsman here. An editorial in The Scotsman can be read here.]