Feeling the heat of the United States Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stepped up the pressure on Scottish authorities to review the case of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.
In a written response to letters sent by a group of Senators to the State Department, Ms. Clinton today said, “I and other senior U.S. officials strongly and consistently expressed to Scottish authorities and the then-British government our longstanding position that Mr. Megrahi should serve out the entirety of his sentence in Scotland for his role in the bombing of Pan Am 103.”
Regarding the future course of this case, Ms. Clinton said the U.S. would continue to maintain in its exchanges with Scottish officials its “unshakable conviction” that Mr. Megrahi should not be a free man. She also said, “To that end, we are encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review again the underlying facts and circumstances leading to the release of Mr. Megrahi and to consider any new information that has come to light since his release.”
Megrahi, oil spill to dominate talks in Washington
It is expected that BP — in the context of both the Megrahi case and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — will dominate the talks that United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron will hold in Washington this week with President Barack Obama. Reports said Mr. Cameron would be meeting with the Senators who had written to Secretary Clinton.
Mr. Megrahi, charged with the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight to the United States, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, was transferred from jail to his native Tripoli, Libya, in August 2009. He had served a little more than eight years of a 20-year minimum jail sentence, but was released after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly one year on from his release, he is still alive.
In a statement that reflected the State Department’s awareness of the role of oil major BP in lobbying for a Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the United Kingdom and Libya, Ms. Clinton said, “We are aware of media reports suggesting a link between BP’s commercial interests in Libya and Mr. Megrahi’s deeply regrettable release from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds last year.”
Ms. Clinton also said the new U.K. government had expressed its view that Mr. Megrahi’s release and return to Libya was “wrong” and “a mistake”, and that it was an affront to the victims’ families, the memories of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and to all of those who worked tirelessly to ensure justice was served.
In her letter to the Senators, she further underscored that BP’s position favouring a PTA between the U.K. and Libya was a matter of public record. “The then-British government undertook to conclude the PTA in 2007-2008 as part of its broader reengagement with Libya. In 2009, the decision of whether to release Mr. Megrahi from prison fell exclusively to the Scottish government under local law, and specifically, to the Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill,” Ms. Clinton said in the statement.
Noting that ultimately, while Mr. Megrahi had petitioned for release on compassionate grounds, as permitted under Scottish law, Ms. Clinton said he was in fact released based on the medical prognosis of the Scottish Prison Service and a range of medical specialists.
In a separate press briefing, Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley said that Mr. Hague had however noted in a letter to the Secretary over the weekend that he had found no basis to the suggestion that BP, in any way, influenced the Megrahi decision. “Whatever lobbying that they did was within the context of the prisoner transfer agreement,” he was reported to have said.