US EMBASSY CABLES released by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks appear to show the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1998 was down to business deals and veiled threats, rather than some of the varying explanations offered by British & American politicians.
However, the cables, at least those leaked so far on the Lockerbie case appear to put the Scottish Government somwhat in the clear (at least for now) over Mr Al Megrahi’s release.
The cables, published by the Guardian newspaper here : US embassy cables: Scottish government 'shocked' by Megrahi outcry & here : US embassy cables: Britain 'between a rock and a hard place' over Megrahi.
Analysis of the cables can be found, again at the Guardian, here : WikiLeaks cables: Lockerbie bomber freed after Gaddafi's 'thuggish' threats with continuing coverage from Professor Robert Black’s Lockerbie case blog here : THE LOCKERBIE CASE
More on what else has been revealed by Wikileaks can be found on BBC News, here : At a glance: Wikileaks cables. As links to the Wikileaks website go up and down, readers may find it easier to check Wikileaks entry on Wikipedia to find still-working links.
Further analysis & opinion from the Herald newspaper, here :
Published on 10 Dec 2010
We may never get to the root of the appalling events almost 22 years ago when 270 innocent people died as PanAm flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie.
But the WikiLeaks papers tell us much about the way in which public authorities across a number of countries behaved in the lead up to and aftermath of the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the only man convicted of the bombing. In the fullness of time, we can expect to see more such papers. It may take years, even decades before other papers are released but we can assume, on the basis of past experience, that we will get a fuller picture of the manner in which this awful event was handled by public authorities.
The picture that emerges from WikiLeaks may encourage a cynical view of government actions. We can, though, take some comfort from the documentary evidence that the devolved Government behaved impeccably. The leaks provide evidence that the Scottish Government did, indeed, make its decision on compassionate grounds and refused to be bullied into releasing Megrahi by the UK Government. The evidence of extraordinary cynicism on the part of the UK Government and its supporters is shocking. This is best summed up in a communication from US officials in the London embassy who informed Washington that “the UK Government has gotten everything – a chance to stick it to Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya” while Scotland got “nothing”.
It is clear from the documents that expectations of Megrahi’s approaching death prior to his release were shared by more than the Scottish Government. Preparations were in hand for the likely consequences of the Libyan prisoner’s death in Scottish custody involving an “immutable timeline”, as American officials wrote seven months before his release. UK officials had prepared for the prospect of Megrahi’s death in custody and were “focused on transfer under PTA [prisoner transfer agreement]”, believing time was short. The Libyan reaction to the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s son’s in Switzerland had been a sobering experience. Against this backdrop, Libya’s intention to cease “all UK commercial activity in Libya” immediately, reduce political ties and encourage demonstrations against “UK facilities”, as well as implicit threats to UK citizens in Libya, could not be taken lightly. It is impossible to know how long Megrahi would have lived had he not been released but the indications are that UK and US officials were preparing for an imminent and serious backlash.
While US Government spokesmen have portrayed the Lockerbie bombing as an essentially American event, US officials took a very different view prior to the release of Megrahi. They feared that US interests would be attacked in the event of the Libyan prisoner’s death if the Libyan Government “views the Pan Am 103 case as a joint US-UK issue”. American officials wrote of repercussions “even if we remain neutral”, a discussion of neutrality that sits uncomfortably with the subsequent US official position.
Public US opposition to the release occurred when it suited US officials. The US Government played a two-level game: maintaining a low profile in opposing Megrahi’s release for fear of provoking a Libyan reaction while strongly condemning the release to appease understandably distraught relatives and playing to a domestic agenda.
The thuggish nature of the Libyan Government under Gaddafi is well documented in dispatches from Tripoli. The repugnant antics of the regime and the extended Gaddafi family are made clear. Much is, indeed, tittle-tattle such as references to Gadaffi’s preference for his “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse and “legendary female guard force”. Three sons fought over the rights to the representative licence for Coca-Cola’s Tripoli plant – it may surprise some that this company has a plant in Libya’s capital, given US hostility to the regime. But Gaddafi has not been a dictator for more than 40 years without guile. The public display of support for Megrahi on his return to Libya was as much about playing to his domestic audience as annoying the west. Even dictators seek to legitimise their rule in the eyes of their public. Negotiations with London had led Libyan authorities to expect the Libya PTA would result in the imminent release of Megrahi. Libyan media reports had built up expectations that, if unfulfilled, would harm the regime internally.
UK officials in Libya were under no illusion as to their role from the start. They sought to facilitate the return of Megrahi to Libya. America suspected Tony Blair was behind the deal. Earlier this year, a UK official expressed concern that Libya would use Megrahi’s funeral and discussed using “all possible levers” to discourage this. He noted that Mr Blair was one who had a “personal relationship” with Gaddafi.
Opposition parties at Holyrood attempted to milk the issue. The liberalism of the Scottish Liberal Democrats was quickly thrown aside in pursuit of a headline. The Tories managed to tie themselves in knots with what was at least an effort to cut out a distinct position supporting Megrahi’s release but keeping him in Scotland. Scottish Labour’s uber-cynicism was led by Richard Baker. Mr Baker may initially have been unaware that his own party in government in London had been leading efforts to return Megrahi to Libya, though this had been obvious for at least two years. He became the chief figure in the “stick it to Salmond’s SNP” agenda.
He was effective, in that most limited way that now comes to be expected of politicians, playing what the late Bernard Crick referred to as “student politics” – but failing miserably in the politics of aspiring to govern. In his memoirs, Mr Blair reflected on how New Labour had behaved in opposition, acknowledging that “some of the tactics were too opportunistic and too facile”. These tactics “sowed seeds that sprouted in ways we did not foresee and with consequences that imperilled us”. These words ought to be imprinted on the foreheads of all who play cynical games in opposition.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks’ founder, would wish us to conclude that all governments are cynical. The evidence suggests otherwise. The Scottish Government and judicial processes emerge well. It stands accused of failing to appreciate the reaction to its decision, essentially of lacking cynicism. There should be no place for cynicism where matters as grave as those involved in this case are concerned. Cynicism is no substitute for good government.
Professor James Mitchell is head of the School of Government and Public Policy, Strathclyde University.
WIKILEAKS CABLES :
Monday, 24 August 2009, 14:05
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 001946
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE AND NEA/MAG
EO 12958 DECL: 08/24/2019
TAGS PREF, PTER, UK, LY
SUBJECT: SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT HOLDS EMERGENCY SESSION AS
DEBATE OVER MEGRAHI DECISION REACHES FEVER PITCH
REF: A. LONDON 1925 AND PREVIOUS B. STATE 80743
Classified By: Ambassador Louis B. Susman, reasons 1.4 (b/d).
1. (C/NF) Summary. The Scottish Government severely underestimated the both USG and UK public reaction to its decision to grant compassionate release to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi on August 20. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has privately indicated that he was "shocked" by FBI Director Mueller's public letter. The media continue to report U.S. anger over the decision, and concern Scotland will be targeted economically, through reduced U.S. tourism and whiskey boycotts. The media speculate that the UK Government had a hand in the deal to maintain good diplomatic relations with Libya and secure oil and gas deals, which the UK Government has denied as "completely wrong" and "offensive." Today (August 24), the Scottish Parliament meets to hear Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill's explanation of his decision. The media speculates that Scottish opposition parties, all of which are on record condemning the decision, may move against the Scottish National Party's (SNP) minority government in a vote of no confidence, though the two-thirds majority required to secure such a move would be very difficult to obtain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not yet made a statement on Megrahi's release, with other Cabinet members maintaining that it was a decision for the devolved Scottish Government. Given growing discontent and speculation about a UK Government hand in the deal, Brown may have to make a statement soon. Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are using the issue to call into question the SNP government's credibility and competence. End summary.
Reaction to USG Statements
2. (C/NF) The UK media have widely reported on FBI Director Mueller's letter to MacAskill and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen's comments on the Scottish Government's decision to grant compassionate release to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. Washington-based Scottish Government Representative Robin Naysmith told CG Edinburgh Sunday, August 24 that Scottish First Minister Salmond was "shocked" by Mueller's comments, which were "over the top" given that President Obama had already commented on the decision. Naysmith underscored that Scotland received "nothing" for releasing Megrahi (as has been widely suggested in the UK and U.S. media), while the UK Government has gotten everything - a chance to stick it to Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya. (NOTE: We expect Naysmith to be engaging heavily in Washington on these issues. END NOTE.)
3. (C/NF) The media have also reported growing concerns that American anger over the decision will translate into a boycott of Scottish whiskey and reduced American tourism in Scotland, an approximately USD 416 million business annually. In a previous meeting with CG Edinburgh on Friday, August 21, Salmond reiterated that he and his government "had played straight" with both the USG and UK Government, but implied that the UK Government had not. During the meeting, which occurred before the Mueller and Mullen statements, he said he wanted to move beyond the Megrahi issue and deepen Scotland's relationship with the USG. He said the Libyan Government had offered the Scottish Government "a parade of treats," all of which were turned down. (NOTE: Roughly fifty percent of Scottish exports go to the U.S., and over 450 U.S. businesses employ over 100,000 Scots in Scotland. END NOTE.)
4. (SBU) Scottish Government statements, including those from Salmond, have acknowledged the "strongly-held views of the American families," but underscored that those views are not shared by all of the victims' families (referring primarily to the British families). Salmond defended the decision, saying it was "right in terms of (the Scottish) legal system" and "what (they) are duty-bound to do." Salmond is also reported in the media to have said that the USG had made clear that, while it opposed Megrahi's release, it regarded freeing him on compassionate grounds "far preferable" to a transfer under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). (NOTE: While indicating the USG's preference for compassionate release over a PTA transfer, as described in reftel B, Salmond's statement does not mention the USG's strong opposition to any release, particularly one that would allow Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. END NOTE.)
Scottish Parliament Holds Emergency Session
5. (SBU) The Scottish Parliament holds an emergency session Monday at 1430 local time (August 24), calling on Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to explain his decision. All three opposition parties in Scotland (Labour, Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats) have condemned the minority Scottish National Party (SNP) government's decision to release Megrahi. The media openly speculate that a vote of no confidence will occur if MacAskill does not resign, but it would be difficult for opposition parties to garner the two-thirds majority required (87 of the 129 seats), if the SNP is able to maintain control of its 47 Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs).
6. (SBU) Scottish opposition political figures, like Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray and former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell, have condemned the decision to release Megrahi, calling it a "grave error of judgment." Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavis Scott said, "The SNP's credibility at home and abroad is in tatters. Scotland's must not be allowed to follow with it."
Compassionate Release for Oil and Gas?
7. (SBU) The UK media widely speculates that the UK Government had a hand in the decision to release Megrahi in order to maintain good diplomatic relations with the Libyans and to secure oil and gas deals, citing the now infamous 2004 "deal in the desert" between former PM Blair and Libyan leader Qaddafi, recent meetings and correspondence between PM Brown and "Muammar," a recent meeting between Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, and other high-level trade delegations. Qaddafi's personal thanks to Brown, the Queen, and the British Government after embracing Megrahi in a televised statement have fanned the flames and increased calls for Brown to explain the UK's involvement in the decision-making process. Mandelson insisted to the media that it is "completely wrong" and "offensive" to suggest that Megrahi's release was linked to trade deals. A Foreign Office contact reiterated to Poloff August 24 that such speculation is "completely absurd." He acknowledged that the Libyans had raised Megrahi at every turn in their burgeoning diplomatic relationship, but said that Megrahi's release was "never directly or implicitly" linked to any deal.
UK Government Reaction
8. (C/NF) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is currently on holiday in Scotland, has refrained from comment. Acting PM Chancellor Alistair Darling has said, "you either devolve the responsibility for criminal justice or you don't," a position that Foreign Secretary Miliband supported in interviews on Friday, August 21. Miliband affirmed that "the sight of a a mass-murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing." Conservative leader David Cameron has sent Brown a public message condemning the decision and calling on Brown to "make clear his own views" on the decision.
9. (C/NF) Foreign Office North Africa team leader Rob Dixon told Poloff August 24 that the UK has been telling the Libyan Government, through Saif al-Islam and the Foreign Ministry, that the Libyan Government's handling of its September 1 national day festivities will determine the future of the UK-Libya bilateral relationship. Dixon explained that the UK has explicitly told the Libyans that Megrahi should not be featured in any high-profile way. He said that the UK has also told the Libyans that Qaddafi's personal thanks to PM Brown and the Queen were "unhelpful" and the UK Government's "unhappiness" had been communicated "in clear terms." Dixon said the Foreign Office will take stock after the September 1 festivities.
10. (C/NF) Dixon termed "absurd" MacAskill's comment (in his original August 20 statement about Megrahi's release) that the UK Government's refusal to make representations was "highly regrettable." Referring to MacAskill's welcoming of a public inquiry into the case, Dixon said such an undertaking would be "nearly impossible" given the way devolution works. Dixon implied that the comments were designed to blame the UK Government for putting the Scots in a position to have to make a decision. Dixon told Poloff on August 24 that the Foreign Office had had no contact with the Scottish Government since the decision was announced.
11. (C/NF) It is clear that the Scottish Government underestimated the blow-back it would receive in response to Megrahi's release and is now trying to paint itself as the victim. It seems likely, especially given the increasing speculation that the UK Government had a hand in the decision, that Prime Minister Brown will have to address the issue publicly. Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are trying to undercut the SNP minority government's credibility as much as possible.
12. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.
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Friday, 24 October 2008, 06:45
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002673
STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND L/LEI
EO 12958 DECL: 10/23/2018
TAGS PREL, PGOV, PTER, LY, UK
SUBJECT: PAN AM 103 BOMBER HAS INCURABLE CANCER; LIBYANS
SEEK HIS RELEASE
REF: A. TSOU-NEA EMAILS/TELCONS B. TSOU-L EMAILS/TELCONS
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Richard LeBaron, reasons 1.4 b, d
1. (C/NF) Summary. Convicted Pam Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi has inoperable, incurable cancer, but it is not clear how long he has to live, according to two separate medical opinions obtained by officials at Greenock prison near Glasgow, where Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence. Preparatory hearings for the second appeal of Megrahi's conviction, meanwhile, are continuing, but the appeal itself will probably not begin until late 2009, according to the Scottish Crown. The Libyan government is therefore pursuing Megrahi's early release through two other channels, the FCO reports: compassionate release under Scottish law, and the as-yet unsigned UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). HMG has made clear to the Libyans, to Embassy London and to the media that it will take no official position on Megrahi's early release, but will leave the decision - whether through compassionate release or the PTA - to the devolved Scottish government. At the same time, FCO contacts tell us that HMG is adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not the Scottish. Embassy London is working with the FCO and the Cabinet Office to find a way to represent USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, without making any implicit statement about UK national foreign policy prerogatives.
2. (C/NF) Summary cont. The Libyans have not yet made a formal application for compassionate release for Megrahi, but HMG believes that the Scottish may be inclined to grant the request, when it comes, based on conversations between Scottish First Minister (PM-equivalent) Alex Salmond and UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Although the general practice is to grant compassionate release within three months of end of life, this is not codified in the law, so the release, if granted, could occur sooner rather than later. End summary.
3. (C/NF) Megrahi was first diagnosed on September 23 at Inverclyde Royal Hospital, both the FCO and the Scottish Crown office have told us; the second diagnosis was on October 10. The two diagnoses match: he has prostate cancer that has spread to his bones, the cancer has advanced rapidly, and it is inoperable and incurable. Megrahi could have as long as five years to live, but the average life expectancy of someone of his age with his condition is eighteen months to two years. Doctors are not sure where he is on the time scale, and therefore, how much longer he has to live. He has visibly deteriorated in recent weeks, according to those who have visited him. His visitors have included a Libyan oncologist, who expressed satisfaction with the medical treatment Megrahi has been receiving. FCO North Africa Group Head Rob Dixon told us October 22 that Qadhafi apparently complained about the Scots' treatment of Megrahi, but that complaint was unspecific and hasn't been repeated. Megrahi has told his family he is dying, and is receiving regular visits from a imam.
4. (C/NF) The Libyans are pursuing two tracks to obtain Megrahi's release, apart from the appeal, Dixon told us. The first is the possibility of early release on compassionate grounds. FCO Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell sent Libyan Deputy FM Abdulati al-Obeidi a letter, which was cleared both by HMG and by the Scottish Executive, on October 17 outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release (text of letter sent to NEA and L). It cites Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act of 1993 as the basis for release of prisoners, on license, on compassionate grounds. Although the Scottish Crown informed the families of the Pan Am 103 victims in an email October 21 that the time frame for compassionate release is normally three months from time of death, Dixon stressed to us that the three month time frame is not codified in the law. Although Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill would normally make the final decision, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Jack Straw that he will make the final decision in this case. Salmond told Straw that he would make the decision based on humanitarian grounds, not foreign policy grounds; Dixon told us HMG has interpreted this to mean that Salmond is inclined to grant the request.
Publicly, Salmond has refused to speculate on what decision he might make.
5. (C/NF) The Libyans have not yet requested compassionate release, but have indicated to the FCO that they will. Libyan officials are currently seeking a meeting with the Scottish Executive to discuss the situation. If Megrahi were to be released on compassionate grounds, he would be released into Scotland, but could be transferred back to Libya. According to Dixon, Megrahi does not have to drop his appeal in order to be granted compassionate leave.
Prisoner Transfer Agreement
6. (C/NF) The second track that the Libyans are pursuing to obtain Megrahi's early release is the UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement. The text of the PTA is not yet concluded between HMG and Libya, although the Libyans are now pushing for this process to be expedited, Dixon tells us. Once the two governments reach agreement on the text, HMG will proceed to clear it with the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Salmond publicly expressed his ire to then-PM Tony Blair for not consulting with Scotland beforehand when HMG announced its intention to pursue a PTA with Libya in 2007; nonetheless, Dixon says the current draft PTA contains standard language that the Scottish have cleared for other countries. Once the three devolved governments agree to the text, Libyan and British officials will sign it. Dixon says the signing will probably take place before Christmas. Once it is signed, under British law the PTA needs to sit for 21 days before the House of Commons and in the Lords before it is enacted, meaning that late January 2009 is the earliest the PTA could come into effect. Megrahi cannot be transferred under the PTA while he has an appeal pending. Dixon says that Megrahi is not specifically mentioned in the text; however, there are no other prisoners currently in the UK prison system to which the PTA would apply.
Status of Megrahi's Appeal
7. (C/NF) The Scottish High Court's October 15 decision to allow all grounds for appeal to be considered, including grounds that had been previously rejected by the Scottish Criminal Case Review commission (text sent to NEA/MAG and L/LEI), slows the whole appeal process down, according to Scottish Court Head of Policy John Logue. Logue and Dixon both estimate that the appeal itself probably won't begin until late 2009, and probably won't conclude until 2010, Dixon said. Under Scottish law, even if Megrahi dies before the appeal is completed, a third party "with a legitimate interest" can continue the appeal on his behalf. The Scottish Crown is therefore proceeding with the case, Logue said.
UK: Between a Rock and A Hard Place
8. (C/NF) HMG is in an awkward position, Dixon and Cabinet Office North Africa officer Ben Lyons confided to us. The Libyans have told HMG flat out that there will be "enormous repercussions" for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi's early release is not handled properly. At the same time, in keeping with the practice of devolution, HMG has made clear to the Libyans, to the media, and to us that it will take no official position on Megrahi's early release, but will leave the decision on early release - whether through compassionate release or the PTA - to the Scottish government, and the decision on the appeal to the Scottish courts. But HMG is also adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not Edinburgh. Added to the mix are Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party, whose stated goal is an independent Scotland, with a referendum on the issue to be held in 2010; Salmond and the SNP will look for opportunities to exploit the Megrahi case for their own advantage. This is the first time HMG has had to deal with a foreign policy issue under devolution, Dixon said, and HMG is feeling its way forward, as are the Scottish; Logue told us that Scotland, for example, has never before granted compassionate release to a foreign national. We noted that while we understand the complexities of the issue for HMG, we need to find a channel for consultation and representation of USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, while taking HMG equities into account. Our HMG interlocutors agreed to explore options with us.
Comment: Devolution and Foreign Policy
9. (C/NF) This is the first time that HMG - and the USG - will face a foreign policy decision made under the constraints of devolution, and the channels that we establish now will set a precedent for future cases. In creating these channels, we will need to take into account sensitivities on the sides of both HMG and the Scottish Executive, while ensuring that whatever position we may want to convey in the Megrahi case gets to the right officials in a timely manner.
10. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.
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