Alex Massie

Freeing the Lockerbie Bomber?

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Back when I worked at Scotland on Sunday I was never the Lockerbie Guy. Nor was I even the Lockerbie Guy's Assistant. For years every paper needed a Lockerbie specialist, not least because having one ensured that the rest of us didn't have to follow the tortuously complicated story any more closely than the readers. Which is to say, I don't know the extent of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's involvement, though clearly even if he was involved he wasn't the fellow who ordered or thought of the mission.

Still, the speculation that he might be released on compassionate grounds - he has been diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer - has provoked a furious reaction from some of the usual suspects. Con Coughlin, for instance, considers his potential release a "humiliating episode" and wonders if Megrahi, far from dying, might "suddenly make a miraculous recovery the moment he sets foot back in Libya". Does Con really think Megrahi has faked his own cancer? Perhaps!

Still, Coughlin is more restrained than Nile Gardiner who writes:

It would send completely the wrong signal to terrorists across the world that the West doesn’t even have the stomach to keep them in jail for more than a few years. Such a move will only encourage future terrorist attacks, and embolden our enemies.

It also defies belief that the United States government (most of the victims were American) would agree to such a deal being struck, though it could well be part of the Obama administration’s broader strategy of engagement with dictatorial regimes, including Libya. Barack Obama recently shook hands with Gadaffi at the G8 summit in Italy.

It is important in the coming days that US Senators and Congressmen, as well as British MPs, speak out against any release for Megrahi, and demand that he serve the rest of his days behind bars on British soil. David Cameron should also make his voice heard on the issue and call for a full explanation from the Brown government.

The families of those who were viciously murdered over Lockerbie deserve to be given a huge say over the fate of Megrahi – there appears to be little indication they have been fully consulted on the matter. The release of such a brutal terrorist, with the blood of hundreds of innocents on his hands, would be an affront to civilized values and a dangerous gesture of surrender to terrorism.

Frankly, it is hard to see how any decision made by Kenny MacAskill (the Scottish Justice Secretary) is going to have much impact upon international terrorism. For good or for ill. Perhaps we should keep Megrahi in jail even after he has died? That would show the terrorists that we're serious!

I also find it curious that Gardiner seems to think that the American administration should have the power to decide what is, despite the international elements to the case, a decision for the Scottish legal and political systems. I dare say the Americans have been consulted, but unlike Gardiner, I don't think that means giving them the power of veto. (It's also worth remembering that it was the Bush administration that began the rapprochement with Libya, not Obama.)

Nor for that matter is there much point calling for a "full explanation from the Brown government" since, as Gardiner must know, it's not a matter for Jack Straw to decide either. Equally, if permitting a man with terminal cancer the luxury of dying at home constitutes a "dangerous gesture of surrender to terrorism" then, really, we're losing our minds. By this standard, letting Megrahi appeal his conviction must also be considered a dangerously naive, soft-on-terrorism decision. 

One final point: it's interesting to ask who leaked this? Was it MacAskill wanting to "soften up" public opinion in advance of letting Megrahi go home, or was it a senior civil servant (or someone else) hoping to provoke a backlash against the idea and keep Megrahi in Scotland until he dies?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietylibyascotlandterrorism