Alex Massie

Thompson’s not so shocking brief for terrorists

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Chris Orr wonders why Fred Thompson's work - albeit just a handful of hours - on behalf of the Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing is not receiving more attention. Fred Thompson, Terrorist Lawyer!

Well, OK. Thompson says his opinion was sought on the venue question, leading Chris to say:

Thompson's mention of "venue" issues, too, is a little misleading. We're not talking about whether someone is tried in Manhattan or Queens here. As far as I can tell, we're talking about whether two indicted terrorists would be extradited from Libya to face justice. (It took years, but in 1999 they were finally handed over for trial in the Netherlands.)

I'm loathe to defend Thompson, a man whose candidacy has no compelling rationale justifying it, but Chris being unfair. After all, the venue issue was crucial. It took years to resolve. Now, of course the Libyans should have extradited the suspects to the UK but, for all kinds of reasons, they were not prepared to do so. Creative thinking was required to find an alternative path for the trial. No wonder it took so long.

Observing that "they were finally handed over for trial in the Netherlands" elides the startling nature of the trial. It took place under Scots Law in a Dutch court, temporarily considered to be under UK sovereignty for the duration of the trial (thus security was provided by Scottish coppers, not Dutchmen). This was, then, no ordinary trial and the "venue issue" was rather important.

It might be worth remembering too that the case against the Libyans was, well, questionable and largely based upon circumstantial evidence. Professor Robert Black, who came up with the idea of the trial taking place in a third country, is far from alone in considering the verdict a travesty of Scots justice.  If memory serves most of the journalists who specialised in Lockerbie - every Scottish paper had its go-to "Lockerbie guy" so the rest of us didn't need to worry about the hideous complexity of the story - are also far from sure that the right people were charged, let alone convicted.

In the circumstances, then, I think there are plenty of other, better reasons for criticising Thompson. His being a dolt would seem to be at the top of the list.

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.

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