THE Scottish Nationalist government has defended its decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi amid a mounting and frenzied counter-attack directed by the Obama administration.
Scotland’s former Labour first minister Jack McConnell has joined the attack saying that it was a ‘grave error of judgment’.
Saif al-Islam Gadaffi, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi, reportedly told a TV station that Megrahi’s case was ‘always on the negotiating table’ during trade talks.
Yesterday, his spokesman said that the comments had been taken out of context.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson dismissed US suggestions that the British government had put oil and gas considerations before the feelings of its US ally as ‘offensive’.
Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, was freed by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds on Thursday, in line with Scottish government policy, while Megrahi has always maintained his innocence.
The Scottish Government repeated yesterday that the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had reached his conclusions on the basis of Scotland’s ‘due process, clear evidence, and the recommendations from the parole board and prison governor’.
The comments came in response to a letter from Robert Mueller, chief of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, who said the action made a ‘mockery of the rule of law’ and ‘gave comfort to terrorists’.
Mueller is a former prosecutor who played a key role in investigating the 1988 Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people.
In his letter to Mr MacAskill, he said: ‘Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice.
In its statement, the Scottish government said: ‘The US authorities indicated although they were opposed to both prisoner transfer and compassionate release, they made it clear they regarded compassionate release as far preferable to the transfer agreement, and Mr Mueller should be aware of that.
‘Mr Mueller was involved in the Lockerbie case, and therefore has strong views, but he should also be aware that while many families have opposed Mr MacAskill’s decision many others have supported it.’
On Saturday, Libyan TV showed pictures of Col Gadaffi meeting Megrahi and praising ‘my friend’ Gordon Brown and the British government for their part in securing his freedom.
He also thanked Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of York for the help that they had given to get Megrahi home, as well as the Scottish government.
Tory Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the British government ‘urgently needs to clarify the approach that it took’ to negotiations with Libya.
The British government is saying that the release of Megrahi is a matter for the devolved Scottish government alone.
In his letter, Mueller states:
‘Dear Mr Secretary:
‘Over the years I have been a prosecutor, and recently as the Director of the FBI, I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors, since only the prosecutor handling the case has all the facts and the law before him in reaching the appropriate decision.
‘Your decision to release Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice in this case. I do so because I am familiar with the facts, and the law, having been the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi in 1991.
‘And I do so because I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of “compassion.”
‘Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice. Indeed your action makes a mockery of the rule of law.
‘Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation, the conviction by jury after the defendant is given all due process, and sentence appropriate to the crime, the terrorist will be freed by one man’s exercise of “compassion.”
‘Your action rewards a terrorist even though he never admitted to his role in this act of mass murder and even though neither he nor the government of Libya ever disclosed the names and roles of others who were responsible.
‘Your action makes a mockery of the emotions, passions and pathos of all those affected by the Lockerbie tragedy: the medical personnel who first faced the horror of 270 bodies strewn in the fields around Lockerbie, and in the town of Lockerbie itself; the hundreds of volunteers who walked the fields of Lockerbie to retrieve any piece of debris related to the breakup of the plane; the hundreds of FBI agents and Scottish police who undertook an unprecedented global investigation to identify those responsible; the prosecutors who worked for years – in some cases a full career – to see justice done.
‘But most importantly, your action makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988.
‘You could not have spent much time with the families, certainly not as much time as others involved in the investigation and prosecution.
‘You could not have visited the small wooden warehouse where the personal items of those who perished were gathered for identification – the single sneaker belonging to a teenager; the Syracuse sweatshirt never again to be worn by a college student returning home for the holidays; the toys in a suitcase of a businessman looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife and children.
‘You apparently made this decision without regard to the views of your partners in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the Lockerbie tragedy.
‘Although the FBI and Scottish police, and prosecutors in both countries, worked exceptionally closely to hold those responsible accountable, you never once sought our opinion, preferring to keep your own counsel and hiding behind opaque references to “the need for compassion.”
‘You have given the family members of those who died continued grief and frustration. You have given those who sought to assure that the persons responsible would be held accountable the back of your hand.
‘You have given Megrahi a “jubilant welcome” in Tripoli, according to the reporting. Where, I ask, is the justice?’
Robert S. Mueller, III
In 1986, a UK-supported US bombing raid on Tripoli killed a number of people including Colonel Gadaffi’s adopted daughter.
In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner killing 290 passengers in the Gulf.
There were no prosecutions in either case and the pilots who attacked Tripoli received decorations as did the captain of the Vincennes.
Next week, on the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution US and UK political and business delegations will be attending the celebrations, despite the FBI letter.
Libya has no debts, has a colossal oil base, and is now a valuable business ‘partner’ for both the US and UK slump-hit capitalists.
Diplomats believe that these facts will outweigh all the other alleged ‘moral and ethical’ considerations of the imperialists.