Leaders: MacAskill has reason to be angry at Megrahi criticism

FORMER justice secretary's condemnation of US and UK authorities over his decision to free Lockerbie bomber is unsurprising

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi holds his release papers as he boards an aircraft at Glasgow airport in 2009. Picture: Getty
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi holds his release papers as he boards an aircraft at Glasgow airport in 2009. Picture: Getty

Few actions by the Scottish government raised more international controversy and dispute than the decision by former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Not only did the affair give rise to all manner of conspiracy theories as to who was – and was not – involved in the bombing, but it also brought widespread criticism of the Scottish government over his release. Megrahi lived another three years, giving rise to deep anger among the families of the Lockerbie victims and criticism from the US government.

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Yesterday, seven years after authorising his release, the former justice secretary rounded furiously on his critics, accusing key players in the affair of hypocrisy. He said Scotland was “set up to take the rap” for the global fall-out of the Lockerbie bombing because the country lacked the “might and power” of the international elites it was up against.

The downing of PanAm flight 103 over the town killed 270 and was the UK’s worst terrorist incident. Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, was convicted in 2001 by a special Scottish Court in the Netherlands. In July 2009, his legal team asked for him to be released from prison on compassionate grounds after he developed prostate cancer.

Mr MacAskill ordered his release under a 1993 Scottish statute enabling the release of any prisoner deemed by competent medical authority to have three months or less to live.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday, Mr MacAskill said he was “contemptuous” of the US and UK authorities, condemning the “hypocrisy” of other key players in the affair, such as the UK Government which did oil deals with Libya in exchange for an agreement to return Megrahi. “Obama, Clinton, Straw all came out and said ‘don’t agree with it – absolutely appalling’. And they had been conniving and working for it. We actually delivered what they wanted, which was to let Megrahi go.”

While there is nothing new in MacAskill’s charge, the force of his condemnation speaks to the intensity of feeling over the affair within St Andrews House and the degree to which the Scottish government felt it had been treated as a convenient scapegoat for international ire. Subsequent comment has also singled out former Prime Minister Tony Blair over his dealings with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in particular the terms of a £450 million deal giving BP access to Libyan oil.

While Mr MacAskill re-iterated his belief that Megrahi was not the principal participant in the bombing, he also said that the forthcoming police investigation was likely to dismiss much of the allegations of criminality made by the Justice for Megrahi group which believes the late Libyan was not involved.

Whatever consolation it affords Scotland’s former Justice Secretary, the reputation of Tony Blair has been largely destroyed by his Middle East dealings. And Mr MacAskill has reason still to be angry, given that so few emerge with any credit over this affair.