Saturday, 30 August 2014

Megrahi's release and the "deal in the desert"

Five years ago, the media furore over the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Megrahi was showing no sign of dying down. Here are excerpts from an item -- one of several -- published on this blog on 30 August 2009:

Jack Straw, the UK Justice Secretary, has described as "absurd" suggestions that trade deals had anything to do with the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. (...)

His comments were made as the father of one of the victims of the bombing of Pan Am 103 said it was time "to stop mulling over the why and wherefore of Megrahi’s release" and Nelson Mandela sent a letter of support to the Scottish Government. (...)

Mr Straw said: "The implication that, somehow or other, we have done some back-door deal in order to release Mr Megrahi is simply nonsense.

"What makes this whole debate absurd now is that Mr Megrahi was not released under the prisoner transfer agreement."

Mr Straw admitted that in return for Libya abandoning its nuclear weapons programme there were moves to "establish wider relations including trade", but added: "the suggestion that at any stage there was some kind of back-door deal done over Mr Megrahi’s transfer because of trade is simply untrue". (...)

[Notes by RB:

1. It is disingenuous in the extreme for Jack Straw to claim that the debate over a deal between the UK and Libyan Governments over Abdelbaset Megrahi is absurd because he was in fact repatriated, not under the prisoner transfer agreement, but through compassionate release.

The memorandum of understanding regarding prisoner transfer that Tony Blair entered into in the course of the "deal in the desert" (and which paved the way for the formal prisoner transfer agreement) was intended by both sides to lead to the rapid return of Mr Megrahi to his homeland. This was the clear understanding of Libyan officials involved in the negotiations and to whom I have spoken.

It was only after the memorandum of understanding was concluded that Downing Street and the Foreign Office belatedly realised that the decision on repatriation of this particular prisoner was a matter not for Westminster and Whitehall but for the devolved Scottish Government in Edinburgh -- and that government had just come into the hands of the Scottish National Party and so could no longer be expected supinely to follow the UK Labour Government's wishes. That was when the understanding between the UK Government and the Libyan Government started to unravel, to the considerable annoyance and distress of the Libyans, who had been led to believe that repatriation under the PTA was only months away.

2. The letter from Dr Swire that is referred to in The Herald's article reads as follows:]

Lockerbie: the truth must be known

Before the Lockerbie trial, brokered by Nelson Mandela, had begun, I believed that it would reveal the guilt of the two Libyans in the murder of my daughter and all those others.

I have always believed that we should look for how something of benefit to the world could be somehow squeezed out of the appalling spectacle of brutal mass murder laid before us on those gentle Scottish hills. From before the Lockerbie trial, whilst still believing in Megrahi's guilt, I hoped even then that commercial links could be rebuilt between Libya and Britain for the benefit of both in the future. That was one of the reasons I went to talk to Gaddafi in 1991. It seemed that Libya's 5 million people with that country's immense oil wealth could mesh well with the many skilled people available among the 5 million population of Scotland.

What I heard at Zeist converted me to believing that the Libyan pair were in fact not involved in the atrocity after all. I remembered Nelson's comment at the time when a trial was agreed "No one country should be complainant, prosecutor and Judge". Yet under Clinton's presidency, the composition of the court had been altered so that Nelson's warning had been ignored. It was President Clinton too who told us all to realise 'its the economy, stupid.' But the UK, in the form of Scottish law, was now to exclude any international element, and the methods used to assemble the evidence revealed that the UK/US collusion was so close that it was safe to consider that alliance as Nelson's 'one country' also.

These matters are political and we have no expertise in that field, which appears distasteful to many. I do feel though that Lord Mandelson's disingenuous comments on the issue of the 'Prisoner Transfer Agreement' should lead him to resign (yet again).

More than 20 years later, we, the relatives, are still denied a full inquiry into the real issues for us - Who was behind the bombing? How was it carried out? Why did the Thatcher government of the day ignore all the warnings they got before Lockerbie? Why did they refuse even to meet us to discuss the setting up of this inquiry? Why was the information about the Heathrow break-in concealed for 12 years so that the trial court did not hear of it till after verdict? Why were we constantly subjected to the ignominy of being denied the truth as to why our families were not protected in what even our crippled FAI (crippled because it too was denied the information about Heathrow) found to have been a preventable disaster?

Let us stop mulling over the why and wherefore of Megrahi's release, I for one am delighted that a man I now consider innocent because of the evidence I was allowed to hear at Zeist is at home with his family at last. Let there be a responsible replacement immediately for the appeal a dying man understandably abandoned to ensure his release. Scotland should now take responsibility for reviewing a verdict which her own SCCRC already distrusts. The public's knowledge of the shifty dealings surrounding the 'Prisoner Transfer Agreement' should help to swell demand for objective assessment of the Megrahi case. Overturning the verdict would open the way for a proper international inquiry into why Lockerbie was allowed to happen, who was really behind it, as well as how the verdict came to be reached.

Let us turn our attention now, please, at last to the question of why we the relatives have been denied our rights to know who really murdered their families, and why those precious lives were not protected.

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