New questions over Lockerbie bomber
Posted by Jamie at 6 24 AM on Sunday, July 25
THE AMERICAN government secretly told Scottish Ministers they wanted the Lockerbie bomber to be freed.
New documents uncovered last night showed Barack Obama’s administration said they wanted to see Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi set free instead of being transferred to a Libyan prison.
The letter was sent to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond by Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US Embassy in London
It states: “If Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer.”
And it questions the US President’s claim last week that Americans were “surprised, disappointed and angry” at the bomber’s release from jail.
The Americans wanted the Lockerbie bomber to remain in Scotland if he was freed.
But the letter shows they were involved in discussions before he was freed.
The revelation comes as a US Senate inquiry into the scandal considers demanding access to al-Megrahi’s medical records.
Senators want to find out if he really was released because he was dying from cancer, or if it was part of an oil deal.
Al-Megrahi was jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering 270 people by blowing up a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in 1988.
He was freed last August on compassionate grounds because he has prostate cancer and was said to have just three months to live but is still alive almost a year later.
The revelations come as a senior United Nations official last night questioned whether al-Megrahi struck a deal with the Scottish government before he was freed.
The official United Nations observer at Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi’s trial says Kenny MacAskill visited the bomber in his prison cell and offered to free him if he dropped his appeal against his conviction.
The Libyan dropped his appeal a week after the visit and was flown home on compassionate grounds just eight days later.
Scottish ministers feared al-Megrahi could have his conviction overturned causing worldwide embarrassment for the Scots legal system and government.
Now UN observer Dr Hans Kochler claims MacAskill did a deal to free him.
He said the Scottish Justice chief had no business going to see al-Megrahi in Greenock Prison.
He said: “The only visit that was required in the process of handling al-Megrahi’s application for compassionate release would have been one by competent and independent medical experts since it is essentially a medical assessment that determines compassionate release under Scots law.
“A meaningful investigation should find out the real motive behind the decision of the Scottish Justice Secretary.
“In view of the unprecedented private meeting between a Secretary for Justice and a person convicted of mass murder it is entirely appropriate to ask whether the decisive motive might have been the termination of proceedings so that the role of the Scottish, UK and US administrations in the handling of the Lockerbie case would never be fully scrutinised in a court of law.”
The accusation comes days after David Cameron was grilled by American politicians about the case.
There are allegations BP lobbied for the release to help it win a lucrative oil contract with Libya.
The controversy shows no sign of going away with BP due to start deep-water drilling off the Libyan coast within weeks despite concerns about its safety record after the Gulf of Mexico spill.
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is investigating claims over the Lockerbie case.
Sources in Washington say it is looking at demanding access to al—Megrahi’s medical records.
They don’t believe the records will show he had just three months to live.
Former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Mr MacAskill have refused to give evidence to the committee.
Senator Frank Lautenberg yesterday pleaded with the Scottish government to reconsider the decision.
Dr Jim Swire - whose daughter Flora was among the victims - has written to committee chairman John Kerry following Kochler’s remarks.
He wrote: “For some reason Mr Megrahi withdrew his appeal, though this was not required for compassionate release. Was pressure put upon him to do so?”
Mr Cameron has told his top civil servant to look through all the documents relating to the case to see if more can be released.
But he needs permission from former PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to publish papers relating to their time in government.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said he would consider the request. He added: “Obviously we will have to see what they want before deciding.”
He said Mr Blair had nothing to hide. “The decision to release al-Megrahi was taken two years after Tony left office.
“He had not even been diagnosed with cancer by the time Tony left ofice so there was obviously no involvement from him.”
A spokesman for Mr Brown said he had not yet been approached by Downing Street.
He said: “David Cameron will make the judgement about what should be released. Once he has made that judgement we will have that discussion.”
The Scottish government claims the British and American administrations are blocking it from releasing paperwork on the case.
A SNP spokesman said: “We have published everything we have on the case except some correspondence between the Scottish government and the UK and US governments. They have both declined permission to publish them. We are happy to publish them.”
Mr Cameron has consistently criticised the decision to free al-Megrahi.
The former Labour government has insisted it was entirely a Scottish decision.
MacAskill has faced further criticism for saying he had no choice but to free him.
Last year he said he alone had “responsibility to decide” the bomber’s fate.
But last week he rowed back, claiming he “did not have a great deal of discretion” and the move was dictated by “rules and regulations”. He said freeing the bomber was “a decision that I had to take”.