The Lockerbie scandal has just become even murkier. According to a Sunday Times report yesterday “the US government secretly advised Scottish ministers that it would be ‘far preferable’ to free the Lockerbie bomber than jail him in Libya.”
The newspaper obtained a leaked document which reveals that Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US embassy in London, had written to Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister, ahead of the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The correspondence indicates that the Obama administration’s opposition to the “compassionate” release of the Lockerbie bomber may not have been as clear-cut as it has subsequently claimed. In the August 12, 2009 letter, the senior US official appeared to condone “a conditional release on compassionate grounds” of convicted Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, if Scottish officials were determined to proceed with the release of al-Megrahi against the wishes of Washington. As The Sunday Times revealed:
The note added: “Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.” LeBaron added that freeing the bomber and making him live in Scotland “would mitigate a number of the strong concerns we have expressed with regard to Megrahi’s release”.
As the piece points out, this clearly contradicts President Obama’s assertion at his joint White House press conference last week with the British Prime Minister that “all of us here in the United States were surprised, disappointed and angry” upon learning of Megrahi’s release. Here is what Barack Obama said when he appeared alongside David Cameron on July 20:
I think all of us here in the United States were surprised, disappointed, and angry about the release of the Lockerbie bomber. And my administration expressed very clearly our objections prior to the decision being made and subsequent to the decision being made. So we welcome any additional information that will give us insights and a better understanding of why the decision was made.
This latest revelation in the Lockerbie debacle should not diminish the responsibility of Scottish authorities in the disgraceful release of a mass-murdering terrorist who killed 270 people. Nor should it alleviate the pressure on the Coalition government to hold a full inquiry into the role of British government officials in the bomber’s release. But it does raise serious questions over the Obama administration’s own role in the Lockerbie matter, and whether it did all in its power to try to prevent the release of a terrorist responsible for the killing of 189 Americans.
As I wrote nearly a year ago, President Obama was not as forceful as he might have been in speaking out before Megrahi’s release, and did not appear to make the fight against it a priority:
If returned to Libya he (Megrahi) will receive a hero’s welcome, and both Britain and the United States will be completely humiliated. He might also stage a dramatic recovery. As for the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, who have barely been consulted, they will be denied justice. Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, must show compassion for the families of those who were murdered, not for the terrorist who savagely killed their loved ones. A direct intervention by President Obama may be the only measure that will prevent Megrahi’s release – it’s time for him to speak out.
This Thursday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Lockerbie should focus not only on the role of Scottish and British authorities in the shameful release of the bomber, but also upon the messages being sent by the Obama White House and State Department to both the Scottish and British governments ahead of Megrahi’s release. This is a time for complete openness and transparency over Lockerbie on both sides of the Atlantic. David Cameron has pledged to make available some key British government documents dealing with the Lockerbie release. It is time for Barack Obama to do the same with regard to his administration’s Lockerbie correspondence.