Britain, Ghadaffi and the Lockerbie release

I am not surprised to hear Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif say that the decision to free Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi from a Scottish prison was tied to a deal between the UK and oil-rich north African state.

Britain on Saturday rejected any suggestion that it had struck a deal with Libya to free the Lockerbie bomber — after questions arose when Moammar Gadhafi embraced the man convicted of killing 270 people and publicly thanked British officials.

CONTD after the jump


Read this interesting article by Robert Fisk:

Forget all the nonsense spouted by our beloved Foreign Secretary. He’s all too happy to express his outrage. The welcome given to Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi in Tripoli was a perfect deviation from what the British Government is trying to avoid. It’s called the truth, not that Mr Miliband would know much about it.

It was Megrahi’s decision – not that of his lawyers – to abandon the appeal that might have told us the truth about Lockerbie. The British would far rather he return to the land of the man who wrote The Green Book on the future of the world (the author, a certain Col Muammar Gaddafi, also wrote Escape to Hell and Other Stories) than withstand the typhoon of information that an appeal would have revealed.

Brown and Gaddafi. Maybe they should set up as a legal company once their time is up. Brown and Gaddafi, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths. Not that the oaths would be truthful.

Megrahi’s lawyers had delved deeply into his case – which rested on the word of a Maltese tailor who had already seen a picture of Megrahi (unrevealed to us at the time) so he could identify him in court – and uncovered some remarkable evidence from the German police.

Given the viciousness of their Third Reich predecessors, I’ve never had a lot of time for German cops, but on this occasion they went a long way towards establishing that a Lebanese who had been killed in the Lockerbie bombing was steered to Frankfurt airport by known Lebanese militants and the bag that contained the bomb was actually put on to the baggage carousel for checking in by this passenger’s Lebanese handler, who had taken him to the airport, and had looked after him in Germany before the flight.

I have read all the interviews which the German police conducted with their suspects. They are devastating. There clearly was a Lebanese connection. And there probably was a Palestinian connection. How can I forget a press conference in Beirut held by the head of the pro-Syrian “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” (they were known, then, as the “Lockerbie boys”) in which their leader, Ahmed Jibril, suddenly blurted out: “I’m not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. They are trying to get me with a kangaroo court.”

Yet there was no court at the time. Only journalists – with MI6 and the CIA contacts – had pointed the finger at Jibril’s rogues. It was Iran’s revenge, they said, for the shooting down of a perfectly innocent Iranian passenger jet by the captain of the American warship Vincennes a few months earlier. I still happen to believe this is close to the truth.

But the moment Syria sent its tanks to defend Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, all the MI6 truth-telling turned into a claptrap of nonsense about Col Gaddafi. And Gaddafi, let’s face it, was in deep trouble. Libya almost certainly was responsible for the earlier bombing of French UTA flight 772 over Chad in 1989. Why not frame him with Lockerbie too?

Of course, we must now forget the repulsive 2004 meeting that Blair arranged with Gaddafi after the latter had supposedly abandoned plans for nuclear weapons (not that his Tripoli engineers could repair a blocked lavatory in the Kebir Hotel), an act which the former foreign secretary Jack Straw called “statesmanlike”.

This was the same “statesman” who hosted a group of gunmen that attacked a Greek cruise ship; whose navy had hijacked a yacht called the Silco and held its crew for eight years; and whose secret service kept the Provisional IRA supplied with weapons. Indeed, it was the same “statesman” who murdered the regime’s opponents abroad and shot dead a young British policewoman in London.

Thank God for Jack Straw. He cleaned up Gaddafi’s face and left it to Miliband to froth on about his outrage at Megrahi’s reception back in Tripoli.

Meanwhile the relatives of those who died at Lockerbie – and here I am thinking of a deeply sad but immensely eloquent letter that one of those relatives sent to me – will not know the truth.

I suspect that the truth (speak it not, Mr Miliband, for you do not wish to know) lies in Lebanon, in Damascus and in Tehran. Given your cosy new relationship with the last two cities, of course, there’s not a whimper of a chance that you’ll want to investigate this, Mr Foreign Secretary. And not much encouragement will “Mad Dog” Gaddafi give to such an undertaking, not after the gifts – oil deals, primarily, but let’s not forget the new Marks & Spencer in Tripoli – which he has given us.

Those who complain might be hanged publicly in Benghazi – like the public hanging there of dissident university students in 1979 – or otherwise wiped out, like poor old Mansour al-Kikhiya, who “disappeared” at a Cairo human rights conference in 1993 after complaining about the execution of Gaddafi’s political opponents.

Ironically, Megrahi flew home to Tripoli on an Airbus A300 aircraft, exactly the same series as the Iranian plane the Americans shot down in 1988 – and about which Gaddafi never said anything.

It was Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (once Khomeini’s chosen successor but now a recluse under semi-house arrest who stands up for President Ahmadinejad’s political opponents) who said in Iran in 1988 that he was “sure that if the Imam [Khomeini] orders, all the revolutionary forces and resistance cells, both inside and outside the country, will unleash their wrath on US financial, economic and military interests”.

Remember that, Mr Miliband? No, of course you don’t. Not even a whimper of outrage.


Gadhafi praised Prime Minister Gordon Brown and members of the royal family by name for what he described as influencing the decision to allow the terminally ill Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to return home to die. Thousands greeted al-Megrahi at the airport as he arrived in Tripoli after being freed Thursday from a Scottish prison.

But British officials insisted they did not tell Scottish justice officials what to do — and in any case, they could not, because the decision was not theirs’ to make.

“The idea that the British government and the Libyan government would sit down and somehow barter over the freedom or the life of this Libyan prisoner and make it form part of some business deal …. it’s not only wrong, it’s completely implausible and actually quite offensive,” Business Secretary Peter Mandelson told reporters in London.

Britain has walked a fine line in the issue, as the government in London must distance itself from local affairs in Scotland. While outraged at the jubilant reception al-Megrahi received in Libya, British leaders have refrained from criticizing the decision to free him, which was made in Edinburgh under Scotland’s separate judicial system.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decided to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds because the Libyan has prostate cancer and was given only months to live by top British doctors. Compassionate leave for dying inmates is a regular feature of Scottish justice.

In Washington on Saturday, FBI Director Robert Mueller blasted MacAskill for allowing the Lockerbie bomber to return home, saying the decision made “a mockery of justice” and gave comfort to terrorists around the world.

President Barack Obama earlier called the decision “highly objectionable.”

In an insult to those in London hoping for restraint, Gadhafi hugged the only man convicted of the 1988 bombing in a meeting Friday and al-Megrahi kissed the Libyan leader’s hand as the cameras rolled.

Libyan television showed pictures of Gadhafi singling out Brown, as well as “the Queen of Britain, Elizabeth, and Prince Andrew, who all contributed to encouraging the Scottish government to take this historic and courageous decision, despite the obstacles.”

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said Saturday the release was “entirely a matter for the Scottish government.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with palace policy.

Gadhafi’s embrace fueled outrage that has simmered at al-Megrahi’s reception in Libya, where joyful celebrants threw flower petals as the 57-year-old former Libyan intelligence agent stepped down from the jet.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Friday condemned the scenes as “deeply distressing.”

But the constant stream of videos on the Gadhafi hug and the kiss have only added to the woes of Britain’s leaders. Mandelson left the hospital Saturday after a prostate operation only to find a scrum of reporters demanding answers about an alleged deal. He insisted that London and Tripoli did not negotiate.

To further drive home the point, Brown released the text of a letter he sent to Gadhafi urging that al-Megrahi’s return be treated as “a purely private family occasion.”

“A high-profile return would cause further unnecessary pain for the families of the Lockerbie victims. It would also undermine Libya’s growing international reputation,” Brown wrote.

While Britain does have oil interests in Libya — notably a $900 million exploration deal between BP PLC and Libya’s National Oil Co. — they are small compared to investments by Italy’s Eni SpA.

Even so, Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, said al-Megrahi’s release was a constant point of discussion during trade talks. In comments aired on the Libyan television station he owns, he said those discussions stretched back to former Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s government.

“In fact, in all the trade, oil and gas deals which I have supervised, you were there on the table,” Gadhafi’s son told al-Megrahi. “When British interests came to Libya, I used to put you on the table.”

Blair, who resigned in 2007, told CNN on Saturday that the Libyans did raise the issue of al-Megrahi but he told them he did not have the power to release the bomber.

Mandelson agreed with Blair.

“This goes back very many years,” he said. “The Libyan government and representatives of Libya have always raised the issue of this prisoner.”

Al-Megrahi was convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The explosion of a bomb hidden in the cargo hold killed all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground in Britain’s worst terrorist attack.

His trial at a special Scottish court set up in The Netherlands, which came after years of diplomatic maneuvering, was a step toward normalizing relations between the West and Libya, which spent years under U.N. and U.S. sanctions because of the Lockerbie bombing.

Although Libya has accepted formal responsibility for the attack over Scotland, many in his homeland see al-Megrahi as an innocent victim scapegoated by the West.

Al-Megrahi has maintained his innocence even as he dropped his appeal so that he could be released from prison.

His lawyers have argued the attack was the result of an Iranian-financed Palestinian plot, and a 2007 Scottish judicial review of al-Megrahi’s case found grounds for an appeal of his conviction.

During an interview published Saturday in the Times of London, al-Megrahi said he had abandoned the appeal to spend what time he had left with his family. He promised to release what he described as evidence that would exonerate him — but offered no details.

“There was a miscarriage of justice,” he was quoted by the Times as saying.

In the interview, al-Megrahi told the Times he understood that the families of many Lockerbie victims were furious, but he appealed for understanding.

“They believe I’m guilty, which in reality I’m not,” he told the Times. “One day the truth won’t be hiding as it is now. We have an Arab saying: The truth never dies.”