Saturday, 5 August 2017

Sacrificed in the interest of international realpolitik

[On this date in 2009 The Independent carried two articles by its Defence Correspondent, Kim Sengupta. What follows is an extract from the first, Lockerbie prisoner awaits news on Libya return and the full text of the second, Lockerbie: a miscarriage of justice?:]

A decision is expected in the near future on whether the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing will be sent back to his home country after he met the Scottish Justice Secretary in prison.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who is suffering from advanced terminal prostate cancer, has applied for compassionate release while the Libyan government has requested that he is moved to their custody under a recent prisoner transfer agreement with the UK.
Both Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and Al Megrahi’s lawyer Tony Kelly refused to make any comments following the one hour meeting at Greenock prison. However, according to legal and diplomatic sources, there is domestic and international pressure for a ruling on the matter.
Mr MacAskill cannot grant Al Megrahi a transfer while his appeal against his conviction and life sentence for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, which left 270 people dead, goes through the courts.
However, the Justice Secretary can still consider the application from Libya if he is returned there on compassionate grounds.
Mr MacAskill has said that political and economic factors will not influence his decision. He has spoken to the US Attorney General and the British and American families of the Lockerbie bomb victims.
Al Megrahi, who was convicted over the bombing under highly controversial circumstances, granted the right to a fresh appeal last October by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, after a three year review, amid growing concern that he may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
However, the appeal has been delayed at least until the Autumn after one of the judges sitting on the case had to withdraw to undergo heart surgery and the prisoner’s rapidly deteriorating condition meant that he may not be able to survive for much longer.
MSP Christine Grahame who has already met al Megrahi in jail, maintains that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and he should be given compassionate release.
Ms Grahame, SNP member for South of Scotland, added: "The trouble with a prisoner transfer is it will never be resolved through the Scottish courts. The appeal must proceed, and justice be done and seen to be done. I think it's appropriate that when someone's considering what's to happen to someone who's terminally ill and in prison that all aspects are examined."
Some of the bereaved, including Dr Jim Swire whose daugthter Flora was among those who died, have backed moves to free Al Megrahi. Opposition MSP’s, however, were critical of an early release.
The Lockerbie bombing, the mass slaughter of 270 people over Scotland, has been mired in controversy with charges that justice for the victims was sacrificed in the interest of international realpolitik.
Both British and American officials originally claimed that Iran commissioned the attack on the Pan Am flight using the Palestinian guerrilla group PFLP (GC), based in Damascus, in retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the US. That changed, however, after the first Gulf War when Syria joined the US sponsored coalition against Saddam Hussein and the same officials now held that Libya was the culprit state.
Col Gadaffi’s regime eventually paid out £1.4 million in compensation to the families of the victims but that was seen by those sceptical of the new theory as one just of the deals which brought him back into the international fold and Al Megrahi was sacrificed for the same end.
Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was one of those killed, said after the trial into the bombing "I went into that court thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter. I came out thinking he had been framed. I am very afraid that we saw steps taken to ensure that a politically desired result was obtained.”
Last October Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission identified six grounds where it believed " a miscarriage of justice may have occurred" at the original trial into the Lockerbie bombing, at Camp Zeist, in Holland, six years ago.

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