Showing posts sorted by date for query Obeidi. Sort by relevance Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by date for query Obeidi. Sort by relevance Show all posts

Saturday 16 September 2023

Death announced of Abdul Ati al-Obeidi

I am deeply saddened to learn of the death at the age of 83 of Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who held many offices in Libya during the Gaddafi era, including Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. From the time in November 1991 that the UK and the US brought charges against Libyan citizens in respect of the Lockerbie bombing, until the eventual compassionate release and repatriation of Abdelbaset Megrahi in August 2009, Obeidi was intimately involved in the Lockerbie case as chairman of the Libyan Government's Lockerbie committee. 

Over the years leading up to the voluntary surrender of Megrahi and Fhimah for trial in the Scottish Court in the Netherlands, and in the years following Megrahi's conviction, I had numerous meetings with Obeidi and invariably found him honest, trustworthy and transparent in all his dealings. He was always part of the solution, not part of the problem. I wish I could say the same about the British and American officials that I came in contact with over that period. But it would not be true.

Abdul Ati al-Obeidi has featured in many items posted on this blog. They can be accessed here.

Saturday 23 October 2021

‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out’

[What follows is the third and final extract from chapter 15 of The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi by Daad Sharab. Articles about this book can be found in The National here and here. The previous extracts on this blog can be read here and here.]

Daad Sharab with Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in Barlinnie

As he was released, al-Megrahi said he bore the people of Scotland no ill will, and thanked the prison staff at Barlinnie and Greenock for their kindness. He received a hero’s welcome back in Tripoli. [RB: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in an article in The New York Times denied that there had been a hero's welcome.] I was in Jordan at the time but watched on television, noticing that al-Megrahi flew home on the same jet I’d helped Gaddafi buy from Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Also on board was the Colonel’s son, Saif, in his white robes and holding al-Megrahi’s arm aloft as he stepped on to Libyan soil.

Saif was basking in the glory of the triumphant homecoming, although in reality I knew he’d barely been involved. I was seething inside as I watched him steal all the credit, while the real hard workers were nowhere to be seen. Saif regularly went to London, but he never once bothered to hop on a domestic flight to Glasgow to visit al-Megrahi in prison at either Barlinnie or Greenock. The jubilant scenes didn’t go down well in the West, which had requested a restrained welcome, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. It was rare that Libya got the upper hand against America.

However, when he came home I hardly recognised al-Megrahi who was walking with a stick and had to be helped down the steps of the aircraft. He looked nothing like the healthy man I’d last visited a few years earlier. It was said at the time of his release that he would die within three months. In fact he lingered on for another three years, even outliving Gaddafi which no one could have envisaged at the time. I found the outcry from the West over al-Megrahi’s failure to die sooner distasteful. I always felt very sorry for him and never doubted his innocence. What reason did he have to lie to me, an agent of the regime?

In a moment of desperation, he once told me in prison: ‘They would be very happy for me to die here.’ There is a suspicion in my mind that al-Megrahi did not receive very good medical attention in prison, because prostate cancer usually responds well to treatment if it is caught early. He died at his villa in the suburbs of Tripoli, in May 2012, aged 60. I hope he found peace and was able to enjoy precious time with his family. In my eyes al-Megrahi was the 271st Lockerbie victim.

By then the final compensation cheques had been paid to the families, much to the dismay of Gaddafi. Although he appreciated the importance of keeping up the instalments, he often railed against the unfairness and how the handing over of compensation would be interpreted. ‘Why should I do this when Libya is innocent?’ he asked many times. 

For those working behind the scenes it was a constant battle to persuade the Colonel to take a pragmatic approach. Finally Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, one of his key advisors on Lockerbie, spelled this out in very direct terms. At one of our regular Lockerbie briefing meetings with Gaddafi, he told the leader: ‘Look, we don’t want to see you suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. If the cost is money, then we have a lot of money. Let’s just pay them, get rid of this issue, open up our country and keep it stable. America can do anything it wants. Do you want us to end up watching you on TV like Saddam Hussein?’

It was a very blunt reference to Saddam’s capture and humiliation by US forces, which had so rattled Gaddafi. For all his bluster he knew that America and its allies could topple him at the drop of a hat. The bombing of his compound in 1986 by the Americans was a constant reminder of the West’s power. After al-Obeidi’s intervention the Colonel didn’t make such a fuss about the blood money.

The burning question remains: if al-Megrahi was innocent, as I firmly believe, then who brought down the Pan Am flight?

At the time of the Lockerbie bombing there were loose alliances between various states and organisations. They were generally opposed to the ideals of the West, and pooled resources. Bombing an aircraft is no easy matter, so if one country didn’t have the expertise to carry out an attack it simply funded a group that did. I don’t carry a smoking gun but al-Megrahi, who knew the case inside out and had access to Libya’s files on Lockerbie, was convinced that it was a joint enterprise between Iran, Syria and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [-General Command]. The shooting down of the Iranian passenger jet by the American warship Vincennes, six months before Lockerbie, was too much of a coincidence. It was the crucial link, but by the time the evidence began to stack up no one wanted to point the finger at Iran or Syria, who had helped Western coalition forces in the first Gulf War. My time on the fringes of international diplomacy taught me that politicians are like shifting sands in the desert.

Sadly I never got the opportunity to see al-Megrahi following his release but I know he intended to present fresh evidence at his appeal, insisting he had nothing to fear or hide. ‘I had most to gain and nothing to lose about the whole truth coming out,’ he said.

I am sure the British intelligence services know the truth about Lockerbie, but it has been covered up. Al-Megrahi’s early death was convenient, although his family did eventually get a posthumous appeal. It came as no surprise to me that it was rejected, or that al-Megrahi’s family have called on the British government to release secret files which implicate Iran. Justice has not been done and, for political reasons, I fear we may never learn the truth.

In another recent development the US has named and charged another so-called suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. I don’t claim to know every member of the Libyan intelligence services but I can tell you I never encountered him during my many years in Libya, or heard his name mentioned by Gaddafi. Why did the Americans choose to make this announcement on the 32nd anniversary of Lockerbie? In my opinion it is nothing more than another crass political stunt.

Thursday 10 August 2017

Easier to grant compassionate release if appeal dropped

[What follows is taken from an account written by Abdelbaset Megrahi which is to be found on page 354 of John Ashton’s Megrahi: You are my Jury:]

On 10 August [2009], [Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny] MacAskill and his senior civil servants met a delegation of Libyan officials, including Minister [Abdel Ati] al-Obeidi, the Libyan Supreme Court Judge Azzam Eddeeb, and the London Chargé d’Affaires Omar Jelban. By this time I was desperate. The 90-day limit for considering the prisoner transfer application had passed and, although I had some vocal public supporters, MacAskill was coming under considerable pressure to reject both applications. After the meeting the Libyan delegation came to the prison to visit me. Obeidi said that, towards the end of the meeting, MacAskill had asked to speak to him in private. Once the others had withdrawn, he stated that MacAskill gave him to understand that it would be easier to grant compassionate release if I dropped my appeal. He [MacAskill] said he was not demanding that I do so, but the message seemed to me to be clear. I was legally entitled to continue the appeal, but I could not risk doing so. It meant abandoning my quest for justice.

Next day, with huge reluctance and sadness, I broke the news to [solicitor] Tony Kelly that I was dropping the appeal

Thursday 20 July 2017

“Libya has always viewed him as a political hostage”

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the website of The Guardian on this date in 2010:]

Libya's relations with Britain have been flourishing across the board since the controversy over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, one of Muammar Gaddafi's senior ministers said today.

Libya was "delighted" at Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's return home from a Scottish prison last August and still insists he is innocent of the murder of 270 people on Pan Am 103, said Abdel-Fatah Yunis al-Obeidi, the Libyan secretary general for public security.

Obeidi, whose rank is that of a cabinet minister, hinted that David Cameron's comment that Megrahi's release had been a "mistake" — fuelling the domestic and international row about the circumstances of the decision — was made under US pressure. In an exclusive interview on a visit to London, Obeidi said he was certain the former intelligence agent was innocent.

"Libya is delighted by his return and has always viewed him as a political hostage and never acknowledged him as a prisoner," he said. "Libya had no connection with the Lockerbie affair. The international community was led to believe that Libya was behind the incident but history will prove the truth. I am convinced that Megrahi was innocent and was a victim of a huge international conspiracy."

Libya agreed to pay billions of dollars in compensation to families of the victims because of demands from the UN, not because it admitted guilt over the worst act of terrorism in British history. It portrays Megrahi's release as a purely humanitarian issue involving a man suffering from terminal prostate cancer who supposedly had just weeks left to live.

"Megrahi is in the hands of God," said Obeidi. "He was in a Scottish prison. Those who made the three-month prognosis were British doctors. The fact that he is still alive is divine will and has nothing to do with Libya. If you have a direct line to Heaven you can check up there."

Renewed US interest in the affair is linked to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and anger among families of the 189 US victims of the Pan Am bombing.

"The British government should disregard the views of others," Obeidi said. "We and you know who those others are. They are those who do not want Britain to look after its own economic interests and wants it to be subjugated to them for ever."

Obeidi's busy UK schedule underlines the warmth and intensity of bilateral relations since Tony Blair met Gaddafi in 2004. (...)

"Relations are excellent and getting better every day," he said. "The problem before was the absence of trust. Now we have restored confidence and there is much greater cooperation."

Libyan officials do not normally relish discussing Lockerbie, wishing to draw a line under it after the payment of compensation, the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US and UK and a wider sense that the country has shed its pariah status as western companies, backed by their governments, queue up to do business. But Libya lobbied hard for Megrahi's release — finding a willing partner in the Labour government — and the only man convicted of the 1988 atrocity was escorted home personally by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the leader's son and presumed heir. During a recent lecture in London the younger Gaddafi responded monosyllabically to a question about Megrahi, focusing instead on the "new" Libya and opportunities it presented.

Libya does not expect any adverse effect on its booming relations with the UK. "The Libyans won't really care," predicted Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Tripoli. "It's yesterday's problem. The worry now is Megrahi's state of health. There's no question of him being sent back to Scotland or of Libya having to pay any price. They will see it as Cameron being in the pocket of the Americans."

Thursday 8 June 2017

The prisoner transfer débâcle

[What follows is excerpted from a report published in The Guardian on this date in 2007:]

Scotland's justice secretary today labelled as "ludicrous" Westminster's claim that a prisoner exchange agreement with Libya did not cover the Lockerbie bomber.

Kenny MacAskill poured scorn on Downing Street's insistence that a memorandum of understanding signed last week during a trip by Tony Blair to Libya did not apply to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, has protested to Tony Blair over the agreement, which he suggested could lead to the Lockerbie bomber being transferred from Scotland to his homeland.

The SNP leader made an emergency statement in the Holyrood parliament complaining that "at no stage" had he been made aware of a British-Libyan agreement on extradition and prisoner release before it was signed.

The agreement has sparked the first major row between the government and the minority SNP administration in Holyrood.

Mr MacAskill told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland that Westminster's handling of the affair was "at minimum, discourteous to the first minister and the Scottish parliament".

Mr MacAskill continued: "There's no mention of al-Megrahi [in the memorandum] but we have many people in our prisons ... but we have only one Libyan national in our prisons.

"So when we're talking about the transfer of Libyan prisoners they are not secreted in Barlinnie, Saughton, Perth or anywhere else.

"We have only one Libyan national in custody and when we talk about the transfer of prisoners, frankly it is ludicrous to suggest that we are talking in a context other than this major atrocity that was perpetrated on Scottish soil and which was dealt with by a Scottish court and with a sentence provided by Scottish judges." (...)

No 10 denied Megrahi's case was covered by the document, saying: "There is a legal process currently under way in Scotland reviewing this case which is not expected to conclude until later this summer.

"Given that, it is totally wrong to suggest the we have reached any agreement with the Libyan government in this case.

"The memorandum of understanding agreed with the Libyan government last week does not cover this case."

But Mr MacAskill rejected any suggestion that the agreement would only apply to the transfer of al-Qaida suspects.

He said: "We haven't been given clarification [by Downing Street].

"All we've been told is that a memorandum of understanding has been signed.

"Mr al-Megrahi is not specifically excluded. It refers to the transfer of prisoners so this is London's interpretation of it.

"I doubt it very much if it's the interpretation being placed upon it by the government of Libya."

The row comes in the middle of an examination of Megrahi's case by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The body will decide later this month whether to refer his conviction back to an appeal court.

Mr MacAskill said: "It [the memorandum] is undermining the fabric of the Scottish judicial system that has been independent long before the Scottish parliament was established.

David Mundell, the Tory MP whose Dumfriesshire constituency covers Lockerbie, said he was "appalled" by Mr Blair's handling of the matter.

"Not only has he ridden roughshod over Scotland's parliament and legal system, but his actions threaten to undermine a legal process which took years to put in place and was agreed with the United Nations and international community," he said.

[RB: Here is something previously written by me on this matter:]

It was on [29 May] 2007 that the “deal in the desert” was concluded between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi at a meeting in Sirte. This was embodied in a “memorandum of understanding” that provided, amongst other things, for a prisoner transfer agreement to be drawn up. In later years UK Government ministers, particularly Justice Secretary Jack Straw, sought to argue either (i) that the prisoner transfer element of the deal was not intended to apply to Abdelbaset Megrahi or (ii) that if it was intended to cover him, all parties appreciated that the decision on transfer would be one for the Scottish Government not the UK Government. Here is what I wrote about that on this blog:

According to Jack Straw "the Libyans understood that the discretion in respect of any PTA application rested with the Scottish Executive." This is not so. In meetings that I had with Libyan officials at the highest level shortly after the "deal in the desert" it was abundantly clear that the Libyans believed that the UK Government could order the transfer of Mr Megrahi and that they were prepared to do so. When I told them that the relevant powers rested with the Scottish -- not the UK -- Government, they simply did not believe me. When they eventually realised that I had been correct, their anger and disgust with the UK Government was palpable. As I have said elsewhere:

"The memorandum of understanding regarding prisoner transfer that Tony Blair entered into in the course of the "deal in the desert" in May 2007, 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 [it belatedly sunk in] 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.

“Among the Libyan officials with whom I discussed this matter at the time were Abdulati al-Obeidi, Moussa Koussa and Abdel Rahman Shalgam.”

Saturday 29 April 2017

Parliamentary pressure to accept neutral venue trial

[On this date in 1998 Tam Dalyell MP secured his fourteenth adjournment debate on Lockerbie in the House of Commons. What follows is excerpted from his speech in that debate:]

Given the recent travels of Dr Jim Swire of the UK relatives group, accompanied by Professor Black, who had extensive meetings with the League of Arab States, the Organisation of African Unity, the Libyan leader and officials for the two accused, will the Government explain an almost total lack of willingness to communicate with the Libyan Government or to use some kind of communication to get out of the impasse?

I spoke last night to Robert Black, who is visiting Stellenbosch in South Africa. He said that the Libyan Government had stated previously that they would put “no obstacles in the way of their nationals going to trial”. The Libyan Government now say that they "positively welcome" their nationals going to trial in a third country. They have promised to
“facilitate those arrangements and to do everything to achieve that end”. I received a copy of a letter written today by Dr Swire to the Foreign Secretary—I have shown it to senior officials at the Foreign Office, and I apologise for the fact that I was not able to do so earlier. It states that present at the meetings were Mr Abdul Ati Obeidi, Secretary at the Foreign Office, Libya; Mr Zuwiy, Secretary of Justice, Libya; Mr Omar Dorda, the Libyan permanent representative at the United Nations; and, crucially, Dr Ibrahim Legwell, the lawyer representing the two Libyan suspects. The more important point is that they had an endorsing meeting with Colonel Gaddafi. Hitherto, it has been asked, "How do we know with what authority Libyan promises are made?" When the promise is made by Colonel Gaddafi himself, it is high time to accept Libya's assurances in good faith. (...)

Finally, I asked both Dr Swire and Professor Black, "Do you think in your heart of hearts that the Libyans did it or had anything to do with it?" Both replied separately and said, "In our heart of hearts, no, the Libyans were not involved." They are not naive people. That is also my view—and I do not think that I am being naive, either.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Gaddafi expresses support for neutral venue trial

[On this date in 1998 Dr Jim Swire and I had a meeting in Tripoli with Colonel Gaddafi. What follows is the text of a press release issued following our trip to Libya:]

A meeting to discuss issues arising out of the Lockerbie bombing was held in the premises of the Libyan Foreign Office in Tripoli on the evening of Saturday 18 April 1998.  Present were Mr Abdul Ati Obeidi, Under-Secretary of the Libyan foreign Office; Mr Mohammed Belqassem Zuwiy [Zwai], Secretary of Justice of Libya; Mr Abuzaid Omar Dorda, Permanent Representative of Libya to the United Nations; Dr Ibrahim Legwell, head of the defence team representing the two Libyan citizens suspected of the bombing; Dr Jim Swire, spokesman for the British relatives group UK Families-Flight 103; and Professor Robert Black QC, Professor of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh and currently a visiting professor in the Faculty of Law of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

At the meeting discussion focused upon the plan which had been formulated in January 1994 by Professor Black for the establishment of a court to try the suspects which would:
* operate under the criminal law and procedure of Scotland
* have in place of a jury an international panel of judges presided over by a senior Scottish judge
* sit not in Scotland but in a neutral country such as The Netherlands.

Among the issues discussed were possible methods of appointment of  the international panel of judges, and possible arrangements for the transfer of the suspects from Libya for trial and for ensuring their safety and security pending and during the trial.

Dr Legwell confirmed, as he had previously done in January 1994, that his clients agreed to stand trial before such a court if it were established.  The representatives of the Libyan Government stated, as they had done in 1994 and on numerous occasions since then, that they would welcome the setting up of such a court and that if it were instituted they would permit their two citizens to stand trial before it and would co-operate in facilitating arrangements for that purpose.

Dr Swire and Professor Black undertook to persist in their efforts to persuade the Government of the United Kingdom to join Libya in accepting this proposal.

On Sunday 19 April 1998, Professor Black met the South African ambassador to Libya and Tunisia, His Excellency Ebrahim M Saley, and discussed with him current developments regarding the Lockerbie bombing.  He also took the opportunity to inform the ambassador of how much President Mandela's comments on the Lockerbie affair at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 1997 in Edinburgh had been appreciated.

On Monday 20 April, Dr Swire and Professor Black had a meeting a lasting some 40 minutes with the Leader of the Revolution, Muammar al-Qaddafi.  Also present were the Libyan Foreign Secretary, Mr Omar al-Montasser, and Mr Dorda.  The Leader was informed of the substance of the discussions held on Saturday 18 April, and expressed his full support for the conclusions reached.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Libyan acceptance of neutral venue trial reaffirmed

[What follows is an item headed Breaking of deadlock in Libya? posted on Safia Aoude’s The Pan Am 103 Crash Website and based largely on a report published by the Libyan Jana news agency on this date in 1998:]

Jim Swire held talks in Libya on Saturday with the justice minister about the trial for two suspects in the attack, Libya's official news agency reported on the 19th April. [Dr] Swire, and victims' legal adviser Robert Black met Justice Minister Mohammed Belgasim al-Zuwiy [more often anglicised as Zwai] after arriving in Tripoli.

They discussed suggestions by Swire and Black “concerning reaching ... a fair and just trial of the two suspects in a neutral country, Libya's official news agency, JANA, reported. Swire and Black drove 215 miles from Tunisia to the Libyan capital Saturday, Swire's spokesman, David Ben-Ariyeh [Ben-Aryeah], said in London. Swire told Ben-Ariyeh he was grateful for the “efficient and warm welcome they received.

Black and Swire held talks in Tripoli this week with [the suspects’ lawyer Ibrahim] Legwell and Libyan foreign affairs and justice officials. They also met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a bid to gain support for a trial plan formulated by Black. The most important meeting was held with the Libyan lawyer for Fhima and Megrahi in Tripoli, Dr Ibrahim Legwell.

Ibrahim Legwell said he told Scottish lawyer Robert Black and Jim Swire, that his two Libyan clients were ready to stand trial under Scottish law in a neutral country.

We agreed on several basic points and details,” Legwell told Reuters in a telephone interview from the Libyan capital Tripoli. “I confirmed to them, as I have done previously, that my clients would stand for trial before such a court, which will be set not in Scotland nor the United States, but in a neutral country,” he added. “We also agreed that it would be established with an international panel of judges to be agreed upon and presided over by a senior Scottish judge. The court would operate under the criminal law and procedures of Scotland,” he added as well.

We also are very concerned about how to ensure the safety, the security and the rights for our clients pending, during and after the trial,” he said.

Legwell said Libya's Justice Minister Mohamed Belgacem Zwai, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdel Ati al-Obeidi, and Libya's representative at the UN, Abouzid Omar Dourda [Dorda], attended part of his meetings with Black and Swire when these issues were discussed.

Zwai said he expected a settlement of the dispute over where to hold the trial. “We expect we will reach a solution that satisfies all parties before the World Court issues its decision,” he told reporters in Cairo late Monday. Black and Swire also met Libyan Foreign Affairs Minister Omar Mustafa al-Montasser in Libya and then Gaddafi Monday at the end of their visit. The Libyan revolutionary leader had in the past said he would support whatever the suspects' lawyers accepted.

Black and Swire left Tripoli Monday for Cairo, where they were to submit their proposal and results of their talks in Tripoli to Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) chief, Salim Ahmed Salim, Legwell said. Zwai met Abdel-Meguid Tuesday, officials in Cairo said. Black and Swire also undertook to persist in their efforts to persuade the British government to join Libya in accepting the proposal, he added.

Legwell said the plan was that if Black's proposal was accepted by Britain, regional groupings such as the Arab League, the OAU and the European Union would submit to the Security Council a text approving the plan ahead of suspending the sanctions.

Jim Swire arrived in Cairo on the eve of the 21st April, and he told Reuters by phone, that Libya had agreed to surrender the two suspects to the Netherlands for trial. “I think the importance probably of what we've done is they (the Libyans) have renewed that undertaking and they have reinforced it, he said. “This (proposal) was given the blessing of the leader subsequently,” Swire said of his 40-minute meeting with Gaddafi.

The problem of course is, will the west set up the court that is required? I don't know what else the Libyan government can do to prove that they mean it when they say they would come.

Monday 24 October 2016

Between a rock and a hard place

[What follows is excerpted from a cable (available courtesy of Wikileaks) sent on this date in 2008 by US chargé d’affaires in London, Richard LeBaron, to the State Department:]

1. (C/NF) Summary. Convicted Pam Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi has inoperable, incurable cancer, but it is not clear how long he has to live, according to two separate medical opinions obtained by officials at Greenock prison near Glasgow, where Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence. Preparatory hearings for the second appeal of Megrahi's conviction, meanwhile, are continuing, but the appeal itself will probably not begin until late 2009, according to the Scottish Crown. The Libyan government is therefore pursuing Megrahi's early release through two other channels, the FCO reports: compassionate release under Scottish law, and the as-yet unsigned UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). HMG has made clear to the Libyans, to Embassy London and to the media that it will take no official position on Megrahi's early release, but will leave the decision - whether through compassionate release or the PTA - to the devolved Scottish government. At the same time, FCO contacts tell us that HMG is adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not the Scottish. Embassy London is working with the FCO and the Cabinet Office to find a way to represent USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, without making any implicit statement about UK national foreign policy prerogatives.

2. (C/NF) Summary cont. The Libyans have not yet made a formal application for compassionate release for Megrahi, but HMG believes that the Scottish may be inclined to grant the request, when it comes, based on conversations between Scottish First Minister (PM-equivalent) Alex Salmond and UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Although the general practice is to grant compassionate release within three months of end of life, this is not codified in the law, so the release, if granted, could occur sooner rather than later. End summary.

Megrahi's Diagnosis
3. (C/NF) Megrahi was first diagnosed on September 23 at Inverclyde Royal Hospital, both the FCO and the Scottish Crown office have told us; the second diagnosis was on October 10. The two diagnoses match: he has prostate cancer that has spread to his bones, the cancer has advanced rapidly, and it is inoperable and incurable. Megrahi could have as long as five years to live, but the average life expectancy of someone of his age with his condition is eighteen months to two years. Doctors are not sure where he is on the time scale, and therefore, how much longer he has to live. He has visibly deteriorated in recent weeks, according to those who have visited him. His visitors have included a Libyan oncologist, who expressed satisfaction with the medical treatment Megrahi has been receiving. FCO North Africa Group Head Rob Dixon told us October 22 that Qadhafi apparently complained about the Scots' treatment of Megrahi, but that complaint was unspecific and hasn't been repeated. Megrahi has told his family he is dying, and is receiving regular visits from a imam.

Compassionate Release
4. (C/NF) The Libyans are pursuing two tracks to obtain Megrahi's release, apart from the appeal, Dixon told us. The first is the possibility of early release on compassionate grounds. FCO Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell sent Libyan Deputy FM Abdulati al-Obeidi a letter, which was cleared both by HMG and by the Scottish Executive, on October 17 outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release (text of letter sent to NEA and L). It cites Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act of 1993 as the basis for release of prisoners, on license, on compassionate grounds. Although the Scottish Crown informed the families of the Pan Am 103 victims in an email October 21 that the time frame for compassionate release is normally three months from time of death, Dixon stressed to us that the three month time frame is not codified in the law. Although Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill would normally make the final decision, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Jack Straw that he will make the final decision in this case. Salmond told Straw that he would make the decision based on humanitarian grounds, not foreign policy grounds; Dixon told us HMG has interpreted this to mean that Salmond is inclined to grant the request.
Publicly, Salmond has refused to speculate on what decision he might make.

5. (C/NF) The Libyans have not yet requested compassionate release, but have indicated to the FCO that they will. Libyan officials are currently seeking a meeting with the Scottish Executive to discuss the situation. If Megrahi were to be released on compassionate grounds, he would be released into Scotland, but could be transferred back to Libya. According to Dixon, Megrahi does not have to drop his appeal in order to be granted compassionate leave.

Prisoner Transfer Agreement
6. (C/NF) The second track that the Libyans are pursuing to obtain Megrahi's early release is the UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement. The text of the PTA is not yet concluded between HMG and Libya, although the Libyans are now pushing for this process to be expedited, Dixon tells us. Once the two governments reach agreement on the text, HMG will proceed to clear it with the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Salmond publicly expressed his ire to then-PM Tony Blair for not consulting with Scotland beforehand when HMG announced its intention to pursue a PTA with Libya in 2007; nonetheless, Dixon says the current draft PTA contains standard language that the Scottish have cleared for other countries. Once the three devolved governments agree to the text, Libyan and British officials will sign it. Dixon says the signing will probably take place before Christmas. Once it is signed, under British law the PTA needs to sit for 21 days before the House of Commons and in the Lords before it is enacted, meaning that late January 2009 is the earliest the PTA could come into effect. Megrahi cannot be transferred under the PTA while he has an appeal pending. Dixon says that Megrahi is not specifically mentioned in the text; however, there are no other prisoners currently in the UK prison system to which the PTA would apply.

Status of Megrahi's Appeal
7. (C/NF) The Scottish High Court's October 15 decision to allow all grounds for appeal to be considered, including grounds that had been previously rejected by the Scottish Criminal Case Review commission (text sent to NEA/MAG and L/LEI), slows the whole appeal process down, according to Scottish Court Head of Policy John Logue. Logue and Dixon both estimate that the appeal itself probably won't begin until late 2009, and probably won't conclude until 2010, Dixon said. Under Scottish law, even if Megrahi dies before the appeal is completed, a third party "with a legitimate interest" can continue the appeal on his behalf. The Scottish Crown is therefore proceeding with the case, Logue said.

UK: Between a Rock and A Hard Place
8. (C/NF) HMG is in an awkward position, Dixon and Cabinet Office North Africa officer Ben Lyons confided to us. The Libyans have told HMG flat out that there will be "enormous repercussions" for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi's early release is not handled properly. At the same time, in keeping with the practice of devolution, HMG has made clear to the Libyans, to the media, and to us that it will take no official position on Megrahi's early release, but will leave the decision on early release - whether through compassionate release or the PTA - to the Scottish government, and the decision on the appeal to the Scottish courts. But HMG is also adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not Edinburgh. Added to the mix are Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party, whose stated goal is an independent Scotland, with a referendum on the issue to be held in 2010; Salmond and the SNP will look for opportunities to exploit the Megrahi case for their own advantage. This is the first time HMG has had to deal with a foreign policy issue under devolution, Dixon said, and HMG is feeling its way forward, as are the Scottish; Logue told us that Scotland, for example, has never before granted compassionate release to a foreign national. We noted that while we understand the complexities of the issue for HMG, we need to find a channel for consultation and representation of USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, while taking HMG equities into account. Our HMG interlocutors agreed to explore options with us.