[What follows is excerpted from an article published on the WSWS.org website on this date in 2009:]
While there is considerable scepticism about Megrahi’s original conviction, the British government and the Scottish administration insist that he is guilty, making his release, just eight years into his sentence for the worst ever terrorist atrocity in Britain, even more suspect.
The Times cited the comments of Saad Djebbar, an international lawyer who advises the Libyan government and who visited Megrahi in jail in Scotland: “No one was in any doubt that if al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison it would have serious repercussions for many years which would be to the disadvantage of British industry.”
MacAskill and the Scottish National Party claim that the Scottish and British governments are two distinct entities, motivated by differing interests and ethics—so that base considerations over trade could not have entered into their deliberations over Megrahi.
But Oliver Miles, Britain’s former ambassador to Libya, has said he believes that “some kind of deal” was struck between the British and Scottish governments and Tripoli for the Libyan’s release.
There was “something fishy” in Megrahi’s decision to drop his appeal against conviction on the same day that news of his imminent release leaked out, Miles told the Times. “I cannot know what exactly happened but I believe that the UK and Scottish governments wanted the appeal to be dropped and somehow it was dropped,” he said.
Separately, the Daily Mail cited a “leaked email” from a “whistleblower in the Scottish justice department,” alleging that the need for Megrahi to drop his legal action was “rammed home” to Libya.
“A successful appeal would have been a humiliation for the US, UK and Scottish governments—meaning no one had been found responsible for the worst terrorist outrage in British history,” the newspaper alleged.
Whatever the specific calculations, there appears to have been a confluence of interests in support of Megrahi’s returning home.
Moreover, the decision cannot be considered in isolation from the preceding 20 years of Great Power duplicity surrounding the Lockerbie bombing, and relations with Libya in particular.
Almost from the moment Pan Am Flight 103 exploded above Scotland en route to New York City, the search for truth and for justice for those whose lives were destroyed has always been entirely subordinate to the political and commercial interests of the major powers.
Responsibility for the bombing was initially assigned to Iran, as a revenge attack by the latter for the shooting down of one of its civilian aircraft by the US military six months before, killing all 290 people on board. But Washington at this time was seeking to ensure Iranian acquiescence in its planned attack on Iraq in the first Gulf war.
Libya, which opposed the assault, was singled out, and in 1992 the US imposed economic sanctions, on the condition that the Libyans accept responsibility and hand over the two men alleged to be responsible, Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah.
Over the next period, several events combined to make this seemingly impossible demand realisable. The collapse of the Soviet Union encouraged Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to drop his anti-imperialist rhetoric and search for an accommodation with the Western powers. European oil companies—specifically French and Italian interests—were keen to develop their own explorations in Libya, home to the sixth largest oil reserves in the world.
The coming to power of the Labour government in 1997 broke the log-jam. Anxious that British oil companies should not lose out to their European competitors, the Blair government brokered negotiations on the handover of the two accused Libyans, and in 1999 the US, Britain and Libya agreed terms for their trial in the Netherlands.
The judicial hearing was the backdrop for London and Washington’s efforts to secure access to Libyan resources. Despite numerous outstanding questions, many doubts about the responsibility of either Libyan, and Fhimah’s acquittal, Megrahi was convicted in 2000 by the non-jury court. Libya “accepted responsibility” for the actions of its agents and agreed to pay compensation in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Subsequently, Libya provided the US and the UK with intelligence information necessary to their warmongering in the Middle East in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. Following the 2003 US-led pre-emptive war on Iraq in the face of massive international popular opposition, Libya announced that it would abandon its primitive nuclear weapons programme—bolstering Washington and London’s claims that their “war on terror” strategy was working.
International sanctions were lifted, and in March 2004, barely one year after the invasion of Iraq, Blair was greeted warmly by Gaddafi on a high profile visit to Tripoli which saw the Anglo-Dutch Shell oil company sign a potential £550 million deal for gas exploration rights, amongst other trade deals.
Notwithstanding the denunciations of Megrahi’s release by US politicians over the last weeks, the Bush administration was deeply involved in these manoeuvres.