Friday, 19 August 2011

Britain and US head for clash on fate of Lockerbie bomber

[This is the headline over an article published this evening on the United Arab Emirates The National website. It reads in part:]

The British and US governments appear to be on a legal collision course over the fate of a Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The UK government accepts that Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, who was released from a Scottish prison two years ago today, can never be returned to Britain to complete his jail sentence.

But the Obama administration is believed to be ready to demand Al Megrahi's extradition to the US if Col Muammar Qaddafi is forced from power.

The release of Al Megrahi, who had completed fewer than eight years of a 27-year sentence, appalled the US government and most of the relatives of the 259 passengers and crew aboard Pan Am Flight 103, plus those of the 11 victims killed when the jumbo crashed on the Scottish border town.

It also angered David Cameron, who has since become Britain's prime minister, and his Conservative Party.

But while a Downing Street spokesman accepted this week the legal process had been exhausted and there was "no mechanism" for putting Al Megrahi back behind bars, the US administration is understood to be determined to extradite him to America, home to 189 of the victims.

"The US has not said anything officially but it is widely believed that the administration will try to get Megrahi back to the States if NTC [National Transitional Council] forces succeed in ousting Qaddafi," a diplomat said yesterday.

The NTC is the rebel authority Britain and the US recognise as the legitimate government of Libya. (...)

Guma El Gamaty, the UK coordinator for the NTC, this week described Al Megrahi's release as "helping Qaddafi and not the Libyan people".

"Unfortunately, it gave Qaddafi a political and diplomatic victory," Mr El Gamaty said. "By releasing Megrahi, it was the wrong signal."

But should the US and NTC agree to Al Megrahi's extradition, it would almost certainly cause a transatlantic rift and a clash over international law, not least because he has already been found guilty at a trial in The Netherlands under an agreement that included the US.

He also still falls within the jurisdiction of the Scottish legal system.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "East Renfrewshire Council, as the supervising local authority, has been able to maintain contact with Al Megrahi since his return to Libya, including during the recent conflict, and he continues to abide by the terms of his release licence."

But Robert Forrester, the secretary of Justice for Megrahi - a British-based lobby group that believes the Libyan was the victim of a miscarriage of justice - thinks the US will have no hesitation in trying to extradite him if Col Qaddafi and his regime fall.

"There is a strong likelihood that if members of the NTC lay their hands on Mr Al Megrahi, he may quickly find himself in possession of a one-way ticket to the USA, with all the dire consequences that that could hold in store for him," Mr Forrester said.

The Justice for Megrahi campaign has been joined by civil rights activists, relatives of two British victims, lawyers, journalists and even the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It wants the Scottish authorities to offer Al Megrahi "an open door" to enable him to flee to Scotland and live out his remaining time on licence in Britain.

But more strident voices have been calling for him to be brought back to Scotland to complete his prison term.

However, a spokesman for Mr Cameron said: "I don't think there is any mechanism by which he can be brought back to the UK."

Libyan authorities say Al Megrahi is already close to death, despite his appearance at the Qaddafi rally last month.

"His health has taken another turn for the worse after doctors discovered a growth on his neck," a government spokesman told the The Mail on Sunday.

"For the cancer to reach a part of the body so far away from the prostate confirms that Brother Megrahi's body is now ravaged by the disease."

1 comment:

  1. God all holy mighty, and I speak as an atheist, Cardinal O'Brien (the Scots Primus), hit the nail on the head when he denounced the vengeance-driven [witches of Salem] type of cultural mentality that seems to have come to characterise a very vocal section of what purports to be American mainstream culture (and I do not for a single second include all Americans in this cult of death and blind to the truth vengeance. Not even for a nano-second. But, it, currently, seems a calculated and hysterical combination of forces seem to be attempting to force their will on their fellow citizens and the rest of the world at whatever the cost. I suspect their Founding Fathers, some Scots included would have wept at this deformity of founding principles also).

    I love America and have immediate family there; numerous dear friends and academic peers from their shores whom I deeply respect, and this remorselessly savage thinking is alien to them. Utterly so. And I feel deeply sorry that they are tarred by the same brush and have to bear the insults heaped upon them because of a minority of their fellow citizens' insatiable capacity for righteous evil.

    I hope the Scottish Government gets very publicly to the bottom of all this (under UN/Council of Europe monitoring if needs be); and if anyone (including Scots judges and prosecutors or any other agent of any participating government, organisation or institution) seems to be implicated in any wrong-doing, they are put on trial before an independent international tribunal of justice.

    Otherwise, I simply hope Mr Meghrahi is able to find the time to live out what is left of his life in some kind of peace.