Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny McAskill, today released convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, on compassionate grounds.
Convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2001, 11 years after the bombing was carried, after a trial in the Netherlands conducted under the Scottish legal system, Megrahi has consistently protested his innocence of the biggest terrorist attack ever committed in Britain, when 270 people were killed on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. The victims comprised all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board, along with 11 residents of the small Scottish town of Lockerbie below, located in Dumfries and Galloway.
Some of the relatives of the Scottish victims have consistently cast doubt over Mr Megrahi’s conviction. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, recently told BBC radio. “I don’t believe the verdict is right. It would be an abominable cruelty to force this man to die in prison.” Other relatives remain circumspect, and on these grounds had called for the Megrahi’s latest appeal, which he dropped a few days before his release, to be heard. Pamela Dix, whose brother Peter died in the attack, was one of those. “I am not absolutely convinced of Megrahi’s guilt nor of his innocence,” she said. “We simply at this point do not know enough to be able to make that judgment.”
In contradistinction, victims’ families in the United States have called for Megrahi to complete his sentence in Scotland and remain convinced of his guilt. In this they’ve been joined by their government, which over the past week made strong representation to Kenny McAskill in the form of public statements, letters from Senators, and even a personal phone call from US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
On the 20th anniversary of the bombing in December 2008 award winning journalist, Hugh Miles, wrote an opinion piece for The Independent titled: Lockerbie: was it Iran? Syria? All I know is, it wasn’t the man in prison
. In the piece, Miles analyses Megrahi’s conviction and some of the many unanswered questions surrounding it.
Whatever its ins and outs, this entire case, from the bombing in 1988 all the way up to Megrahi’s release today, reflects a shift in the geopolitical and strategic interests of the nations concerned. Back in 1988, Libya occupied the status of international pariah in the West. The Libyan Government, then as now led by Colonel Gadaffi, at one time funded and supported national liberation organisations and movements as disparate as the Provisional IRA and Black September, as well as various militant groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Relations between Libya and the West reached their nadir in the late eighties, when the Reagan administration sought to overthrow Gadaffi in the 180s as a result of his obdurate and unflinching support for the Palestinians, his support of Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, as well as his funding and support of rebel movements throughout the developing world.
The Lockerbie bombing in 1988 - which many commentators and analysts maintain was the work of Iran in conjunction with the Syrians, carried out in retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian passenger aircraft over the Strait of Hormuz in July 1988 by US missiles - came just two years after the story broke that officials within US intelligence and the US Government had conducted secret arms deals with Iran in an attempt to obtain the release of American hostages being held by Iranian backed militias in Lebanon. The money paid for the weapons was used to fund Contra death squads then operating in Nicaragua. In March 1988, Colonel Oliver North and John Poindexter, a former naval officer and National Security Advisor within the Reagan administration, were convicted in relation to the scandal, known to the world and to history as Iran-Contra.
Many to this day believe that it was in the interests of the US Government to conceal Iran’s involvement in the Lockerbie bombing in order to conceal the extent of the Reagan administration’s involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which Reagan vigorously maintained he knew nothing about.
Today Libya is no longer treated or perceived as a rogue state in the West. In fact, ever since renouncing Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programme in the wake of the US and British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Colonel Gadaffi has been rehabilitated as a leader the West can do business with. Given its prodigious oil reserves the official visits to Libya first by former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 2004, followed by former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2008, will therefore have come as no surprise.
Regardless of the geopolitical context surrounding the Megrahi case, Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny McAskill, and the SNP Scottish Government are to be congratulated for refusing to bow to US pressure to allow the Libyan, who is suffering from terminal prostrate cancer, to die in a Scottish prison instead of being allowed to return to his family to see out his last days. Moreover, the decision taken by the Scottish Justice Secretary takes on added significance and weight in light of the supine stance of the British Government in relation to the extradition of computer hacker, Gary McKinnon, to the United States under an extradition treaty which emphasises Britain’s status not so much as a US ally but as a client state.
Today, with the release of Mr Megrahi on compassionate grounds, justice has been served.
I read in a paper "Lockerbie bomber to walk" in a paper a few days ago, and I thought to myself that if someone had done such a terrible thing, they should at least serve their sentences. I never really gave it another thought that the man may be innocent, and I didn't know he had cancer. The article I read of course mentioned nothing other than a guilty terrorist walking free.
It now seems entirely plausible to me that he, and Libya, were just used to cover up more sinister dealings with Iran/Syria at the time. Still, I haven't got much to go on, and I don't pretend to know the full story. Interesting to think about though.