A Year On, Bomber’s Release Spurs Calls

A Year On, Bomber’s Release Spurs Calls
# 22 August 2010 02:56 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. U.S. senators ratcheted up pressure on the Scottish government over its decision to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber one year ago Friday, sending letters to U.K. and Scottish leaders demanding an array of medical, legal and diplomatic documents related to the release, APA reports quoting The Wall Street Journal.
The request marked the strongest and most specific U.S. call for documents following the Aug. 20, 2009, release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner as it flew over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
On Friday, Scottish Labour Party leader Iain Gray is set to call on Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to "apologize for his gross incompetence" and "come clean with the facts" over how he handled the decision to release Mr. Megrahi. According to an advance copy of Mr. Gray’s statement, he will also seek the publication of medical
Mr. MacAskill issued Mr. Megrahi a "compassionate release" on the grounds he had around three months to live. Mr. Megrahi remains alive in his home country of Libya.
In a Thursday letter, U.S. senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York—Democratic senators from states whose residents accounted for many of the bombing’s 270 victims—asked Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond to provide further information on medical advice that allowed Mr. Megrahi to leave Scotland and on meetings between Libyan envoys and Mr. Megrahi’s primary doctor. They renewed their call for an inquiry into the release.
"Until such an inquiry is launched, we will not stand by as an injustice remains very much alive in a villa in Tripoli," the senators wrote.
A Scottish government spokesman couldn’t be reached late Thursday.
In a separate letter to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, the senators brought up a lingering transatlantic tension point—whether the U.K. had made and broken a promise to U.S. officials that Mr. Megrahi would serve out in Scotland the full sentence handed down in 2001, life with a minimum 27 years in prison.
The senators asked Mr. Cameron for an unredacted version of a July 16, 2009, letter that alleges Mr. MacAskill asked the U.K.’s foreign secretary whether the U.K. had made such an agreement with the U.S. The U.K. has said it made no such promise but has provided what the senators called a "heavily redacted" letter detailing the exchange.
Contacted late Thursday, a Downing Street spokeswoman had no immediate comment. Mr. Cameron has already said the release decision was Edinburgh’s alone and was "completely and utterly wrong."
The U.S. senators also wrote to the British government seeking more information on the role of oil giant BP PLC in lobbying for a prisoner transfer agreement between Britain and Libya. The U.K., Scotland and BP say the oil giant had nothing to do with Mr. Megrahi’s release.
A close examination by The Wall Street Journal of the medical decisions leading up to the release, published this month, showed no evidence that any of the four specialists who treated Mr. Megrahi signed off on the three-month prognosis that formed the basis for his release.
Instead, one young, part-time prison doctor, Peter Kay, provided guidance to Andrew Fraser, the prison’s health-service director. That guidance was subsequently passed on to Mr. MacAskill, who made the decision to release Mr. Megrahi.
On Thursday, Mr. MacAskill defended his decision to set Mr. Megrahi free, saying he followed the rules and laws of Scotland. "I acted appropriately and I stand by the decision," he said in a statement.
The minister has turned down a request by a U.S. Senate committee to testify at a hearing that will explore the release. But Mr. MacAskill said Thursday he would "try and provide" a meeting with the senators if they came to Scotland.
In an apparent attempt to defuse criticism, the Scottish Prison Service on Thursday circulated a statement from one of the doctors involved in discussions ahead of Mr. Megrahi’s release. "The background medical portion of that application is a fair reflection of the specialist advice available at the time," oncologist Grahame Howard said in the statement.
Dr. Howard, one of four experts involved in the discussions, emphasized that the final assessment was made by Dr. Fraser. "As an external adviser I was involved in discussions leading up to the point where Mr. Megrahi was considered for release on medical grounds," said Dr. Howard.
The doctor didn’t say what advice he gave or whether he supported Dr. Fraser’s conclusion at the time that Mr. Megrahi’s life expectancy could reasonably be estimated at three months, the bar for compassionate release under Scottish law. Dr. Howard couldn’t be reached to comment for this article.
Abdulmajeed Eldursi, director of Libya’s Foreign Media Corporation, said Mr. Megrahi is living with his family and is "very sick." Tony Kelly, Mr. Megrahi’s lawyer, declined to comment on his client’s health.
Mr. Megrahi previously has called his conviction "unjust" and said he had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Last year, following his release, he posted hundreds of documents online detailing arguments supporting his abandoned appeal in an effort to clear his name.
A person familiar with the matter said the Libyan government was keen to play down the anniversary and would not be celebrating in public, given the embarrassment it caused to Scotland last year when Mr. Megrahi was greeted on his return to Tripoli to crowds waving Scottish flags.
The U.K. government said it has told Libya not to hold the sort of celebrations that angered the relatives of the victims of the bombing upon Mr. Megrahi’s return to Libya. "We made our position clear, any celebration of his release we would consider that tasteless, offensive and insensitive," a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.