The Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, may or may not have made the best decision possible, but the style in which he announced it suggested a desire, unfitting under the circumstances, to make the most of Scotland's moment in the international spotlight, and show the country to be capable of shaping, in this legal area at least, a halfway independent foreign policy. (...)
The British government, meanwhile, clearly wanted an outcome that would be satisfactory to Libya but has nevertheless felt able to criticise the Scots, thus hoping to appease both British and American public opinion. David Miliband's very precise emphasis on the constitutional proprieties has been in complete contrast to his vagueness when asked what he thinks should have been done.
The Obama administration has been no better. The United States has no desire to alienate an energy-rich nation hesitating between bestowing its favours on Russia, on the one hand, and various western countries, including America, on the other. But since it is Scotland that has had to take the decision, it has been safe enough for the American government to oppose it in principle.
Unhappily, what unites all these governments is a disinclination to pursue the truth – or to reveal it, if they know it – about the bombing of Pan Am 103. Distinguished lawyers have cast such doubts on the reliability of the evidence at his original trial that we cannot now say whether or not Megrahi was guilty of placing the bomb. Whether he was the instrument or not, we do not know who ordered the action, or facilitated it. And we do not therefore know which government, or governments, were ultimately responsible. We do not know, it can be argued, because we do not wish to know. Tracking the crime to the doors of the regimes in Syria, Iran or Libya, all possible culprits, some would say, would have repercussions threatening so many interests, in so many countries, that it is not worth doing.
It cannot be denied that those interests are important. They go well beyond securing commercial advantage for Britain, or overcoming bureaucratic obstacles faced by BP in Libya. Western efforts to end long-standing feuds with certain Middle Eastern states, undermined by many of the Bush administration's decisions but now placed on a better footing by President Obama, might well be endangered.
What remains of Obama's policy of engagement with Iran after Ahmadinejad's disputed victory in the presidential elections would be even more problematic. The slow rapprochement with Syria after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon might be disrupted. Nor are considerations of this kind new in the Lockerbie affair. The switch in the focus of the investigations in the early years after the bombing from Syria to Libya was seen by many as more related to America's need to enlist Syria in the first Gulf war than to any new evidence.
...[I]t would have been foolish not to respond to Gaddafi's efforts to rehabilitate himself. That response brought benefits, some commercial, certainly, but others were more important, from the renunciation of nuclear arms to the release of imprisoned Bulgarian medics. The Libyan handover of Megrahi and another accused was part of this long process of rehabilitation. Most of these deals involved closing at least one eye to considerations of justice and truth. In that sense, this latest chapter is no different from what has gone before.
[The above are excerpts from a leading article in today's edition of The Guardian.]