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Unfinished Business

Where’s the Lockerbie bomber?

Sep 5, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 47 • By TOD LINDBERG
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The Brown government clearly saw Megrahi as an obstacle to the cultivation of further lucrative business deals with Qaddafi. As the O’Donnell report concludes: 

It is evident from the paperwork, including in documentation already released, that the Libyans made explicit links between progress on U.K. commercial interests in Libya and removal of any clause in the PTA [Prisoner Transfer Agreement] whose effect would be to exclude Mr Megrahi from the PTA. It is also evident, including in documentation already released, that BP did lobby the former Government to make them aware that failure to agree to the PTA could have an impact on U.K. commercial interests, including Libyan ratification of the BP exploratory agreement (EPSA) signed in May 2007. As is already in the public domain, these commercial considerations played a part in the former U.K. Government’s decision to reverse its position and agree to the removal of this exclusion clause.

Straw et al. also saw clear advantage in a Megrahi release with no finger-prints of theirs on it. An internal Whitehall memo released alongside the O’Donnell report notes, 

The risks to the U.K.-Libya relationship are substantial, but we carry none of the tools to resolve the matter. The best strategy we have for insulating the relationship and mitigating those risks is reiterating that all decisions on Megrahi’s possible compassionate release or transfer under the PTA are exclusively for Scottish Ministers. .  .  . The U.S. position is still crystallising. .  .  . As with the Libya track, our best line is to stress that decisions on possible release or transfer are for the Scottish Executive. We should also reiterate that in the context of the ongoing [legal] appeal [of his conviction] that HMG’s principal objective remains to uphold Megrahi’s conviction and that if released or transferred that he would be so as a guilty man.

Thanks a lot.

Scotland’s MacAskill, meanwhile, was well aware of the Brown government’s press to improve U.K.-Libya relations and the billions of pounds at stake. He found himself in the enviable position of furthering those interests while striking a pose as a world-class humanitarian.

Of course two years later, Megrahi’s survival, let alone his appearance at a Qaddafi rally, does pose a problem for the pretext for the whole sorry episode (in which the Obama administration, “crystallizing” its position rather than telling Her Majesty’s Government that its foreign policy ought not to be devolved to provincial justice ministers, was hardly blameless).

But the conclusion that MacAskill got played, though true, entirely misses the point. All parties worked diligently to overcome the inconvenience to the march of commerce of a mass murderer serving out his sentence. The Brown government got exactly what it wanted.

Scottish authorities reported last week that they had lost contact with Megrahi in Libya, apparently a violation of his conditions of release. Tsk. Unfortunately, the successor Cameron government is of the view that whether Megrahi should be returned to Scotland, were that possible, remains a matter for Scottish authorities. But then, the Cameron government has found other ways to express itself on the Qaddafi regime tout court—as a leader of the international effort to topple him.

Maybe somebody will indeed grab Megrahi in Libya and ship him back to Scotland for violating his parole agreement. On the other hand, reports of his demise are greatly overdue.

Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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