Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Taking the High Road out of Scotland

The release of the convicted terrorist Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds has sparked a great deal of controversy. Mr al-Megrahi was, at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, in 1988, a Libyan intelligence officer, and if he was guilty of planting the device which destroyed Pan Am Flight 103, then it is almost certain that he was acting under the instructions of his employers, the Libyan Government.

Whilst this does not absolve him of responsibility in any way, the bombing by the United States of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, which killed around 15 civilians including the adopted 15 month old daughter of Muammar al-Gaddafi; which was itself a reaction to a terrorist attack in West Berlin which appears to have been masterminded by Libyan intelligence and was itself a reaction to various US-Libyan aerial and naval engagements in the Gulf of Sidra, appears to have been the catalyst for the planting of a bomb in Pan Am Flight 103.

The Libyan Government surrendered Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi and also Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah both of whom were tried by a Scottish Court sitting in the Netherlands. Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted and Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi convicted.

Others who presumably are both nameless and unpunished share his guilt.

Since 1988 the world has moved on. The political divisions in Europe which allowed Muammar al-Gaddafi to pursue his strange brand of revolutionary politics which in many ways mirrors the fascist regime in which he grew up in an unrestrained manner have changed. Libya's militancy and status as a rogue state has diminished, at least in theory, and one of the consequences of this sort of rapprochement has to be a degree of forgiveness, at least at state level, for outrages of the past. That this is a successful strategy is demonstrated by the current state of Northern Ireland and of course the relations which now exist between the former Comecon states and the rest of Europe. Muammar al-Gaddafi has made some financial reparation for both the Berlin and the Pan Am 103 bombings.

All this would point towards the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi in the near future even if he had not been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

As it is, there is a power to release on compassionate grounds, and this appears to have been exercised by the Scottish Justice Minister strictly in accordance with Scottish Law. There was nothing to be gained by keeping a sick man in prison whilst he died, and those whose relatives died in this outrage should consider that retribution should have its limits.

It was a cycle of action and reaction which created the circumstances in which the bombing took place and was presumably approved by those high up in the Libyan Government.

The important message of his conviction was that terrorist outrages deserve to be treated as crimes and be subject to the rule of law rather than excused as an incident of conflict, declared or not. In a way that message has been perverted by the United States over the past few years in that terrorism has been used as an excuse for ignoring the Geneva Convention and even the most basic standards of human rights.

It is therefore no surprise that law officers of the United States are complaining loudest about what was at all stages a matter for the Scottish legal system. The decision cannot be reversed, and it is to be hoped that the Scottish Government will support the proper application of a legal system which has few equals in the world. It is a matter of regret that the British Government, which ought to share the same values, cannot bring itself to speak out in favour of what was clearly a correct decision.

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