[What follows is an excerpt from an article headed Alex Salmond is in the US schmoozing away. But Americans won't forget in a hurry that he freed the Lockerbie bomber by Professor Tom Gallagher, a virulently anti-SNP commentator, published today on The Telegraph website:]
Whether a coincidence or not, at the start of Alex Salmond’s five-day visit to the United States, the Scottish National Party has suddenly launched a peace offensive after a bruising referendum campaign that has raised fears that society will be polarised for years to come. Party sources have told a Scottish newspaper that they intend to concentrate their energies on healing political wounds if Scotland votes Yes.
But to those who recall SNP rhetoric about the party preserving the best of Britishness in a social union, it needs to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. It smacks too much of a serial wife-beater turning round to his family after a traumatic night and saying that from now on life will be totally different.
It remains to be seen if the era of good tidings will last beyond the conclusion of Salmond’s trip which includes a speaking engagement at the IMF in Washington DC. He can turn from being a political bruiser to acting as a charmer in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately for him, plenty of Americans, both influential folk and everyday citizens, have seen both sides of the coin.
It is not only relatives of the 180 US citizens killed when a bomb blew up a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 who were astonished when his government released the man convicted by a Scottish court, in 2001, for the attack on the grounds that he had little time left to live. The release of the Libyan national Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was announced with much fanfare on 20 August 2009. Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s justice minister, read a long statement insisting that the decision was based on "the values, beliefs, and common humanity that defines us as Scots". Hillary Clinton, then the US Secretary of State, twice spoke to MacAskill in the hope that he would reconsider the release of al-Megrahi who, instead of dying within weeks, enjoyed a comfortable life in a Tripoli suburb until 2012. [RB: It requires a really quite special sensibility to describe taking over two years to die of cancer in a war-ravaged and militia-ridden locality as enjoying a comfortable life in a Tripoli suburb.]
On 15 August 2009, Robert Mueller III, director of the FBI for nearly a decade, wrote to MacAskill in terms which had rarely been used between a senior US official and a friendly government:
"I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors. Your decision to release al-Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice… I do so because I am familiar with the facts of the law , having been the assistant Attorney general in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi in 1991. And I do so because I am outraged by your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of “compassion”’. [RB: More details about Robert Mueller’s “foolish and intemperate letter” (as I described it) can be found here. I commented: “In civilised countries decisions regarding liberation of prisoners are not placed in the hands of policemen and prosecutors, nor are they accorded a veto over those decisions. Mr Mueller (and Mr Marquise) would probably wish that this were otherwise. The rest of us can be grateful that it is not.”]
The British lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, the first president of the UN war crimes court [RB: Not so. He sat as an appeal judge in the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, something rather different.], observed that the decision taken was ‘lacking in compassion to every victim of terrorism and made an absurdity of the principle of punishment as a deterrent' ". [RB: Geoffrey Robertson’s idiosyncratic views on the Lockerbie case and Megrahi’s release can be followed here.]
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened hearings on the affair but Salmond refused point-blank to cooperate. [RB: this is tendentious in the extreme. A more accurate account of the episode can be found here and here.]
It is hard to imagine such a scenario being played out if the Pan Am flight had exploded over Irish, Danish or even French territory. It is likely that the authorities of each of these countries would have avoided such a rupture in bilateral relations with an allied country.