The Maltese double cross part 4.
Incredible though it might seem, nothing has actually changed since al-Megrahi was released on the 20th of August. Al-Megrahi is still terminally ill, although some have called into question the prognosis that he has only 3 months or less to live; the decision was still made wholly by the Scottish government, which the documents released today don't even begin to alter; and lastly, the decision was the right one, taken by Kenny MacAskill, and also one which was supported by the prison service and parole board. It remains a nonsense and half gesture that al-Megrahi should have been released to a hospice, as some have suggested, regardless of the probably exaggerated security costs mentioned by MacAskill. The best solution remains that al-Megrahi should have been granted compassionate release, but allowed to continue with his appeal against his conviction in the interests of justice.
Al-Megrahi's dropping of his appeal, which he didn't need to, remains the only real properly unanswered question surrounding the case, and should be the main bone of contention, along with MacAskill's visit to him, which many have deemed unnecessary. Whether al-Megrahi was told that he had to drop his appeal otherwise it would cause major problems with his release is unclear, but it seems likely that it was intimated to him or his lawyers in some way. Likewise, why MacAskill felt that he needed to meet the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing when he could have made his decision without doing so is also currently impenetrable, and is only likely to lead to conspiracy theories.
Instead we're being lead on a wild goose chase, where everyone seems to think that something isn't right, yet no one has found any definitive evidence to prove it. It's quite obvious that since Libya emerged from its pariah status that the UK state and the companies which are only at arms length from it have been salivating at the opportunities which the country promises, and it's equally obvious that Libya, as proven by the documents released today, was intent on getting al-Megrahi back at the earliest opportunity, with the likes of Jack Straw scrabbling around looking for a way for al-Megrahi to be eligible for return under the prisoner transfer agreement. Who knows quite why Jack Straw suddenly came round to the idea that despite previously saying al-Megrahi had to be excluded from the agreement that he could in fact be included in it, although we can probably guess. The government was never going to release anything that directly implicated it; you only have to look at the tenacity with which it is refusing to hand over documentation on Binyam Mohamed's treatment to see that. Instead Straw and the government will doubtless be mildly embarrassed at how easily his mind could be turned, as will Brown and Miliband at how they agreed that they didn't want to see al-Megrahi die in jail, a fairly benign thought to make clear, considering how it's distasteful in the extreme for anyone to die from cancer while in prison, even a mass-murderer, and also knowing how outraged Libya would be.
Yet if anything the documentation makes the Scottish parliament and the SNP look far better than they did originally. They clearly wanted al-Megrahi excluded from the prisoner transfer agreement (PDF), unless they were just going through the motions, something which the UK government decided wasn't going to happen. The machinations of Downing Street look shady; Salmond and MacAskill look pure.
Even if the dealings do look shady, David Cameron is calling for a public inquiry on the grounds of a hypothetical, and demanding to know what the prime minister thinks about a decision which he couldn't make and which is none of his business to interfere with. Cameron isn't the only one playing politics though, as we saw previously: every major party both in Scotland and Westminster with the exception of the SNP has disagreed with the decision, almost certainly in some instances purely because they can, rather than what they would have done were they to make the decision. Somewhere in all of this there is a dying man, denied the opportunity to clear his name, and over 280 families in similar circumstances, some equally uncertain of how their loved ones came to die, others outraged by the decision to release the man in anything other than a box. All are being ignored for as ever, short term political gain. This isn't going to win any elections, it isn't even going to make a difference in opinion polls; it's either, according to your view, bringing a good, humane decision into disrepute, or even further distracting attention from someone who has escaped justice. Politics is as usual struggling to pull itself out of the sewer.