[This is the headline over an article published yesterday on the Newsnet.scot website which includes a long excerpt from a forthcoming book by G A Ponsonby. The whole article merits close attention. The following are extracts:]
Secret documents emerged recently to confirm details of how British intelligence agencies engaged in a series of joint operations with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s government.
The revelations, made first in The Guardian newspaper, indicate the bizarre attitudes of Labour while in government in London and in opposition in Edinburgh. The party said one thing in opposition, and did the opposite – simultaneously – in government.
According to The Guardian: “The papers recovered from the dictatorship’s archives include secret correspondence from MI6, MI5 reports on Libyans living in the UK, a British intelligence assessment marked “UK/Libya Eyes Only – Secret”
“Gaddafi’s agents recorded MI5 as warning in September 2006 that the two countries’ agencies should take steps to ensure that their joint operations would never be ‘discovered by lawyers or human rights organisations and the media’.”
At the time of the joint operations, which it is claimed involved the rendition of Libyans for torture at the hands of Gaddafi’s regime, Tony Blair had also been negotiating a secret deal aimed at extraditing a healthy Abdelbaset al-Megrahi back to Libya. The Labour Prime Minister also helped broker an oil deal for BP in what came to be known as the “Deal in the Desert”. (...)
In December 2010 the story took an unexpected twist. News emerged of the publication of confidential US Government files by controversial free-speech group Wikileaks. Listed in the files were details of confidential top level communications involving US and UK officials. The communications included discussions on Megrahi and they revealed the UK Labour Government had been secretly helping the Libyans.
The files proved that far from being against the release of Megrahi as they had claimed, the Labour government had fully supported the decision to free the Libyan.
Britain feared “harsh and immediate” consequences, according to the leaked cables, if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison.
The US charge d’affaires in London, Richard LeBaron, wrote in a cable to Washington in October 2008:
“The Libyans have told HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] flat out that there will be ‘enormous repercussions’ for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi’s early release is not handled properly.”
Labour politicians had claimed publicly that the decision to release Megrahi was an embarrassment to Scotland – but the documents showed the Labour leadership were in fact favouring his release.
The cables showed that the UK government was aware of dire repercussions should Megrahi die in a Scottish prison:
“GOL (Govt of Libya) officials have warned U.K. Emboffs in demarches here that the consequences for the U.K.-Libya bilateral relationship would be “dire” were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison. Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all U.K. commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official U.K. facilities. GOL officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk.”
The documents also revealed that the US had been privately suspicious of Tony Blair’s “Deal in the Desert” in 2007. The cable stated:
“Saif al-Islam implied that former UK PM Tony Blair had raised Megrahi with the Libyan leader in connection with lucrative business deals during Blair’s 2007 visit to Libya. [Note: Rumors that Blair made linkages between Megrahi’s release and trade deals have been longstanding among Embassy contacts. End note.]”
The Guardian reported that the leaked documents claimed: “Anger with the British persists in some American circles, and UK ministers, Labour and Tory, have attempted to distance London from the release insisting it was purely a Scottish decision.”
Further cables from the US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, revealed that the US position was to resist voicing opposition to Megrahi’s release at the time, so as not to risk Libyan retaliation against US interests.
Mr Cretz warned the US itself should keep quiet in order to protect its interests: “If the [US government] publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release or is perceived to be complicit in a decision to keep al-Megrahi in prison, [America’s Libyan diplomatic] post judges that US interests could face similar consequences.”
The documents suggested that both the UK Labour government and its US counterpart had unleashed false, and seemingly co-ordinated, furore about the Scottish government’s decision to release a dying Megrahi.
The cables also made clear that bribes in the form of “treats” were offered to the Scottish Government by Libyan diplomats, but refused point blank. The cables revealed that US officials had privately acknowledged that the Scottish Government had acted in good faith at all times and had nothing to gain whereas the UK government, according to the leaked documents, gained massively from Megrahi’s illness and subsequent release.
The cables revealed the Americans were aware that the issue had been hijacked by Unionist politicians at Holyrood who were trying to capitalise on it for political gain: “Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are using the issue to call into question the SNP government’s credibility and competence.”
“Naysmith underscored that Scotland received “nothing” for releasing Megrahi (as has been widely suggested in the UK and U.S. media), while the UK Government has gotten everything – a chance to stick it to Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya.”
The publication of the secret cables was very bad news for Labour. If true, then Blair himself had offered Megrahi as a bribe in order to clinch the BP oil deal. Both the UK and US governments were aware of the possible economic and geo-political repercussions for both nations if Megrahi was allowed to die in prison.
The documents featured as the main news item on BBC Scotland that day. However it wasn’t the Labour party which found itself the target of the BBC’s reporting. Somehow the corporation had managed to turn the incredible story into one attacking the SNP.
“First Minister made the decision to release the Lockerbie Bomber” was the introduction read out by the newsreader on the lunchtime news.
An online article appeared on the BBC Scotland news site with a headline that read:
“Salmond rejects new Megrahi claim”
Incredibly, BBC Scotland had decided the main story from the secret cables was not the former UK Labour government’s privately backing Megrahi’s release, but a short sentence related to Alex Salmond.
The BBC said:
“The leaked documents also appeared to contradict the official Scottish government position on who would make the final decision to release Megrahi.
“In August last year, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill insisted it was his decision and his alone.
“But the cables claimed Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond told the UK Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, he would make that call.”
Faced with a virtual banquet of information relating to Libya, the UK Labour government and the US government, BBC Scotland had managed to find something they could use against Salmond. On that evening’s Reporting Scotland the real revelations were ignored as BBC Scotland embellished the reference to Salmond and managed to turn it into that evening’s main news story.
Like the BP oil deal, the BBC had managed to deflect attention away from Labour and towards the SNP. It was an incredible editorial decision by BBC Scotland news editors. More so because in a radio interview earlier that day, Jack Straw had let slip that David Miliband, when Foreign Secretary, had written to the Scottish Government saying the UK Government did not want Megrahi to die in prison.
Straw told interviewer John Humphrys: “Somebody did write to the Scottish Government, that’s a matter of public record.
“It’s been out for well over a year, which is a letter from the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband which set out that, and here I significantly paraphrase, but it said ‘other things being equal we think it would be better if al-Megrahi did not die in prison.”