Despite being the only individual convicted for the Lockerbie Bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 by the Scottish Government.
Megrahi was released from prison almost 1000 days ago because he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. But he has been kept alive by medication available in Libya, which is not available in the UK.
According to David Cameron, the Scottish Government’s decision to release Megrahi has therefore turned out to be the wrong decision, and an insult to the families of the 270 people murdered. And the Scottish Conservative Party Chief Whip, John Lamont, has weighed in to call it an ‘embarrassing milestone’ for the Scottish Government.
Many will agree with these comments. But opinion is divided. Some might consider these comments to be a rather crass attempt to deflect attention away from many of the unsavoury deals that are made in the complex game of international politics. Megrahi’s case is no different.
The very fact that Megrahi was convicted in the first place, despite crucial evidence apparently being withheld at the time, suggests that the need to find someone (anyone) to blame for the atrocity, was much more important than leaving the case unsolved.
Professor Robert Black, in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper in 2005, called it “the most disgraceful miscarriage of justice in Scotland for 100 years”.
Whether or not Megrahi was guilty, a scapegoat had to be found. But the fact that he was subsequently released on compassionate grounds is a reminder of how far this, and previous Governments, have been prepared to go to make deals that served their own private interests and agendas.
The Scottish Government claims to have made the decision according to the principles of Scots Law. If due process was followed, then fair enough. But whether the medical grounds for his release were sound is another question entirely.
Something doesn’t feel right about the whole situation.
The circumstances surrounding Megrahi’s release come dangerously close to either implying that a mistake was made in the original conviction, or that serious pressure was being exerted from other countries to ensure that, come what may, he was not left to die in a Scottish prison.
Either way, it was a huge gamble for the Scottish Government to take.
Despite Cameron’s public criticism of the decision, 1000 days later, I find it quite difficult to believe that the UK Government would not have intervened much earlier in the process, had it strongly opposed Megrahi’s release at the time.
It is just too convenient to argue that the decision was outside the jurisdiction of the UK Government and that it had no choice but to accept that it was a decision solely for the Scottish Government to make. I am sure that the UK Government would have found a way of blocking the move, had it so wished.
And now that the core assumption on which the gamble was predicated has not transpired, politicians throughout the country are lining up to criticise and ridicule the Scottish Government’s decision.
But the ‘embarrassing milestone’ is not so much that Megrahi has not yet died from his terminal illness.
The embarrassing milestone is that almost one quarter of a century later, the truth about this case has still not come out, for whatever reason, and the wider network of people behind the bombing have still not been brought to justice.