[On this date in 2009 the late Margo MacDonald MSP contibuted an article headlined No need to hide politics behind Megrahi release to Edinburgh’s evening newspaper, the Evening News. It reads in part:]
When Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was tried for the murder of 270 people at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands, the usual process was amended. (...) [H]is trial was conducted without a jury, with the verdict and sentence being decided by three Scottish High Court judges. (...)
A few people at his trial, whose numbers have grown over the years, harbour suspicions that the changed procedures served to protect the security interests of these states, and others, at least as much as al-Megrahi's safety. But allowing for the compromises in procedure, there was still the intention that justice should be the overriding factor.
Many people felt uneasy as the jury-free proceedings were played out in public, in the presence of victims' relatives. But they trusted in everything else being done according to the book. It's now known the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has turned up evidence withheld from al-Megrahi's defence lawyers at the trial, pertinent enough to have the SCCRC advise that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. You can bet your bottom petro-dollar that if there was any manipulation of evidence, it was down to diplomatic, and not judicial considerations.
This being the case, why should anyone find it an unthinkable departure from the paths of righteousness for Kenny MacAskill to have taken notice of the multiplicity of state interests involved with his decision on whether to agree to al-Megrahi's request to be allowed to end his days in Libya? Legal considerations doubtless influenced and guided the justice secretary's decision. But it beggars belief that in meetings between civil servants from Edinburgh and London, transatlantic phone calls between the American State Department and Scotland's Justice Ministry, and meetings and communications between Arab, Scottish and UK governments there were no exchanges of views on what should happen to al-Megrahi.
Apart from anything else, people who were not directly affected by the atrocity can address the issue buffered by the 20 years that have passed. In the same way as many other wicked cruelties have come to be accommodated by their victims as the world has moved on and new relationships have developed, so the realpolitik of 2009 is different from that of 1988. The Berlin Wall was still in place, the world was divided between states under the influence of either Moscow or Washington. In the Middle East, internal civil war all but destroyed Lebanon, Iran and Iraq had pursued a long, destructive war, other Arab countries were unable to exert influence or power in defence of their interests because of internal tensions, and Libya was a pariah state. (...)
Nelson Mandela's was the name invoked by the supporters of the decision to let al-Megrahi go home. Twenty years ago, he was still a convicted terrorist. It's ironic that should have been his legal status when he was released from prison, and nobody even thought to ask about the legal niceties. (...)
The details of such things may have blurred in the public mind, but experience and common sense ensures understanding of all the pressures on the justice secretary when the Libyans and al-Megrahi applied for release.
The Scottish government and the justice secretary would have saved themselves a load of angst if they'd admitted this up front. For the record, I agreed with the decision, but thought the stated reasons for it didn't ring totally true.
[RB: Earlier this week a portrait of Margo MacDonald was gifted to the Scottish Parliament. It can be viewed here.]