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Wednesday, July 21, 2010 

The Maltese double cross a year on.

Amazing as it may seem, we don't know any more now about the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds from a Scottish prison last August than we did then, despite being very close to a year on. A quick summary is however in order: what we do know is that BP were very keen on gaining full access to Libya's emerging energy resources market. They were probably almost certainly intimating this very clearly to the British government; the letters released, again last year after the controversy refused to die down show that then government ministers, including Jack Straw, David Miliband and Gordon Brown had all gone out of their way to make it possible for al-Megrahi to be returned to Libya at some point. Then there was the prisoner transfer agreement drawn up between Libya and the United Kingdom under Tony Blair, seemingly designed to ensure the return of al-Megrahi.

It wasn't though the British government which made the decision: it was the devolved Scottish government which had the thankless task of of doing so, where the minority Scottish Nationalists are in power, which has always had a incredibly testy relationship with Labour in Westminster and at Holyrood. The documentation we have clearly shows that they actively wanted al-Megrahi excluded from the prisoner transfer agreement, knowing full well that it would be them that would get the blame for any sort of unsavoury deal between London and Tripoli. We don't know just what lobbying, if any, went on informally and behind closed doors for al-Megrahi to be returned, yet even if there was any it was completely secondary to the fact that al-Megrahi has cancer and is dying, which absolutely no one denies even now. The decision made to release him on compassionate grounds was not just suddenly seized upon by Kenny MacAskill as a ingenious way to get rid of a long standing problem to British interests in Libya; it was one that was also supported completely by both the prison service and the parole board (not the parole board, as voice_of_reason points out; not sure where I got that idea). Nothing has been presented since then to undermine absolutely any of this.

It just so happens that BP has (rightly) become the whipping boy in the United States thanks to its unbelievable incompetence in the Gulf of Mexico, and as David Cameron was journeying over there to meet Obama, it was time to start kicking them about something else as well. Then there's the other thing, which this is actually really about: that the inconsiderate mass-murderer himself hasn't finally done the decent thing and succumbed to his terminal disease. What a complete and utter bastard! How dare he defy the odds and live not just for the three months which it was estimated he would survive for and instead still be here almost a year on, apparently breathing when he should instead be decomposing? How can someone firstly massacre 270 innocent people in such a cowardly fashion, and then, the final indignity, not die when he's meant to? This was essentially what Kirsty Wark was demanding last week of Nicola Sturgeon on Newsnight, when perhaps the person she ought to be directing her incredulity to was al-Megrahi himself, cutting out the middle woman. Why are you still alive? Shouldn't you be dead? Why don't you just die? Or maybe Paxman would have been better, his nostrils widening and eyes flashing with contempt as al-Megrahi explained his failure to let the inevitable happen thus far.

The real injustice has remained, throughout of all this, that al-Megrahi had to drop his appeal against his conviction in order to be released, and it's also a far more credible alternative explanation as to why the Scottish government was so keen to release him on those compassionate grounds when the opportunity arose. Would they do the same if it was Robert Black who was dying, for instance? Probably not. As the Heresiarch points out, if al-Megrahi had instead decided to take his chances with his cancer and stay in prison to fight his conviction, we would probably have known by now whether or not his appeal had been successful. After everything which the authorities went through to ensure that he was found guilty, for him to then be found innocent (or more accurately have his conviction quashed, as again pointed out in the comments) for another trial to take place would have been unthinkable; much better for him instead to be persuaded to drop his appeal and return to live out his last few months with his family, which it seems and often is far better than any other medicine. Everyone would then be happy, except for the American families of the victims and the politicians representing them, far more convinced of al-Megrahi's guilt than the ones in this country have ever been, and anyway, with al-Megrahi dead everyone could hopefully, in that horrible cliché, begin to move on, even if they didn't think justice had been properly served either way.

That al-Megrahi then so stubbornly clings on to existence is the final insult, and pleases absolutely no one. The tabloids and more patriotic sections of the formerly broadsheet press spent last month valiantly defending BP against the onslaught by Obama and others on "British Petroleum", yet because they disagreed about the Scottish government's decision they've been demanding answers along with everything else rather than pointing out the almighty rafters in the Americans' eyes, so I'll take up the mantle instead. How the US government feels it can lecture absolutely anyone on how they treat and deal with terrorists, especially when we at least bothered to convict them first, even if the end result has since been rightly called into question, is staggering. As for going out of our way to help BP with their business, could these really be the same American senators and congressmen who fall over themselves repeatedly to prostate themselves before almost any business which needs a helping hand, and where the government has been so notoriously hand in glove with its own domestic oil companies in the past?

And seeing as it directly ties in with the possible connection of Iran Air Flight 655 to Pan Am Flight 103, how about we go all the way back to 1953 when the CIA, prompted by MI6, overthrew the Iranian government of Mohammad Mosaddegh after he nationalised the country's oil industry, much to the chagrin of the Anglo-Persian oil company, or as it became known, British Petroleum. Mosaddegh was the most progressive leader Iran has ever had, or is likely to have barring the overthrow of the theocracy. The coup against him and the imposition of the Shah led directly to the revolution of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war, in which the US sided with Iraq despite selling both sides weapons, and to the USS Vincennes being in the Strait of Hormuz when it "mistook" Iran Airlines Flight 655 for an attacking F-14 and shot it down, killing 292 Iranian civilians, for which the US government has never apologised, never accepted responsibility and never admitted any wrongdoing, although it did eventually pay $131.8 million in compensation to end a case brought by Iran at the International Court of Justice, compared to the $2.16 billion paid by Libya for a bombing it could still feasibly have had no involvement in whatsoever.

When al-Megrahi does decide to let his cancer overwhelm him, as it surely will sooner rather than later, it would be smashing if we could finally have an independent inquiry into all aspects of the bombing, as requested by Pamela Dix of the UK Families Flight 103. That might just lay everything finally to rest; shame then that the chances of one happening are precisely nil, and that all the sound and fury will instead be focused on a compassionate decision made for entirely the right reasons by a Scottish government getting all the blame when it deserves absolutely none.

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May I point out two minor inaccuracies?
In terms of Section 3 (2) of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (scotland) Act 1993 the Parole Board for Scotland has no locus where "the circumstances are such as to render consultation impracticable". In the Megrahi case, the Board was not consulted.

Secondly, while I agree entirely that abandonment of the appeal means that a vast tranche of new ecvidence will never be tested in court, a Court of Appeal can never find an appellant "innocent"; they may quash the conviction, may hold that there has been as miscarriage of justice, but in an accusatorial system based upon whether the prosecution can prove guilt, they cannot declare someone innocent.

You can, and have. Not sure where I got the idea that the parole board had been consulted, but thanks for correcting me on that.

Second, as many others seem to have done also, I forgot temporarily that all this is happening under Scotland's different legal system. Again, thanks.

A bit late I know, but the Scottish Justice Secretary could hardly release Robert Black on compassionate grounds, as he was convicted and sentenced in England.

Try Peter Tobin as a better example?

Oh, and great article by the way.

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