Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Doomed from the outset

[On this date in 2010 a letter from Sir Brian Barder was published in The Guardian under the heading Vital point missed in Megrahi controversy. It reads as follows:]

In all the renewed controversy over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing ... a vital point seems to have been missed. Under the terms of the US-UK "initiative" under which Megrahi was convicted, he was required to serve his sentence in the UK. The initiative was accepted by Libya and approved by UN security council resolution 1192. For that reason Megrahi could never have been transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya under the prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) negotiated by the Blair government with Libya, regardless of whether Megrahi was included in or excluded from its scope.

It's difficult to understand how the PTA came to be signed when it could never have been used to transfer Megrahi, the only Libyan then in UK custody. If BP was pressing for Megrahi to be transferred under the PTA, why was it not told that this was ruled out by the terms of the original agreement? Why didn't Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill point this out to Tony Blair and Jack Straw when they were arguing about the pros and cons of the PTA? Above all, when Blair and Straw made their "concession" to the Libyans under which Megrahi was not after all to be excluded from the PTA, did they remind the Libyans that Megrahi couldn't be transferred to Libya? If not, why not?

In an article published on Comment is Free on 1 September 2009, Oliver Miles pointed out that Megrahi's transfer to Libya under the PTA would have been contrary to the original agreement. It's strange that even then no one seems to have seen the implications of this.

The reason why the "promise" was not taken seriously by the UK Foreign Office was that the only country that might have an interest in complaining if it was broken was the United States of America. And both the United Kingdom government and the Libyan government knew (because -- as Libyan officials informed me -- they had checked) that Washington was relaxed about Abdelbaset Megrahi's repatriation, though it would have to huff and puff for US public consumption when it happened.

When Kenny MacAskill rejected the application for prisoner transfer his principal reason for doing so was the undertaking contained in the “initiative” that led to the Zeist trial that, if convicted, the suspects would serve their sentence in the UK. Of course, if it had been accepted by the Libyan Government that transfer of Megrahi to a prison in Libya was simply not possible under the terms of the “initiative” (and I did my very best to convince them) no prisoner transfer application would have been made and, in consequence, abandonment of Megrahi’s appeal would not have been necessary when, later, his application for compassionate release was lodged. The prisoner transfer application may have been -- indeed, was -- doomed from the outset, but it served the interests of the United Kingdom and the United States very well by ensuring the abandonment of Megrahi’s appeal.]

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