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Saturday, August 21, 2010

We were right to let Megrahi go home

We were right to let Megrahi go home

Americans who have complained about Megrahi's release need to move on, writes Bruce Anderson.

The Megrahi affair is a shambles. It made the last government – and the Scottish executive – look weak and shifty. The new Government has failed to eradicate that impression. As a result, Britain's reputation has suffered.

This is all so unnecessary. To bring the matter under control would require only the assertion of two simple principles: truth and realism. First, truth, and some history. In the late 1980s, the UK was in a state of undeclared war with Libya. For years, the Libyans had been sponsoring terrorists, including the IRA. In retaliation, rightly and bravely, Margaret Thatcher allowed the Americans to launch a bombing raid on Tripoli from British bases. In their turn, the Libyans blew up the plane which crashed in Lockerbie.

The years passed and the world changed. The Libyans agreed to negotiate with the West and to abandon their nuclear programme. In response, we became friendly to the Libyan leadership. There were trade talks; there was a limited amount of military co-operation. But no one should be under any illusions. Lockerbie was planned and authorised at the highest level. Megrahi was not an autonomous murderer. He was a servant of the state. When ministers shook hands with important Libyans, they were shaking hands stained with the blood of innocent victims.

They were right to do so. This is where the realism comes in. It was important to persuade the Libyans to renounce the attempt to develop nuclear weapons. It was sensible to use trade and investment deals to lock them into a co-operative frame of mind. Given Libya's vast raw materials, it was desirable that British firms should be involved in the efforts to exploit them. If we did not take the chance to create jobs and earn profits, others would.

Admittedly, it was the Libyan hierarchy which handed Megrahi over for trial, sacrificing a pawn to secure bigger objectives in the diplomatic chess game. But we are not obliged to acquiesce in their cynicism and ruthlessness. Once we were making friends with the organ-grinders, it would have been hypocritical to go on punishing the monkey. The question of mercy was irrelevant. If Megrahi had been acting on his own, he would have already received all the mercy which he deserved, in that he was not put to death by torture. As he was merely a Libyan agent, he was entitled to benefit from our rapprochement with his country.

The phrase "move on" has become a cliché, usually to provide cover for sub-Blairite slop. But it has its uses. IRA men are serving in the Northern Ireland government, because the province has moved on to a peace process. As we have moved on with Libya, it was right to allow Megrahi to move out. The Americans were upset: tough. We are a sovereign country, as are they. If some British MPs demanded the right to question Congressmen from Massachusetts about their links with the IRA, they would be told to mind their own business. So should the Americans who have complained about Megrahi.

Even so, the Government should make one concession. It ought to give a frank account of the decision-making process that led to the release. If it did so, not everyone would agree. But people would at least feel that the politicians were levelling with them and explaining the tough-minded decisions which governments have to take in a difficult world.

There is a final point. According to British doctors, Megrahi had only a few heavily sedated weeks left. He is still alive. Would someone please reassure us that Libyan medicine has not yet surpassed the NHS?

Lockerbie bombing: US calls for Megrahi to be returned to jail

The United States has made an impassioned plea for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, to be returned to jail.

Comment: I wish America would stop trying to be the world's policeman!


CherryPie said...

Thank you for the balanced explanation on the political developments and explanation.

With regard to your question on the medical aspect, I don't know in this case but sometimes people survive much longer than expected despite the severeness of an illness. I have seen this happen more than one and I put it down to strength of character and positive thinking.

Anonymous said...

In an earlier post you remarked that the families' incensed by Megrahi's release had only themselves to blame. Nonsense.

Now, you seem to be agreeing with the decision to release this man, which is your opinion to which you are entitled. However, you have no direct involvement. 'Moving on' is impossible for those whose lives have been blighted.

CherryPie, there is nothing balanced about this blog. Also, to suggest that people survive because of strenght of character and positive thinking is ridiculous. It also makes people feel responsible for being unable to recover from terminal illness. A positive attitude is good for coping, useless for warding off the inevitable.

And I think you meant severity.

CherryPie said...


With regard to your comments about illness we will have to agree to differ. My comments were about my own family members who suffered with terminal illnesses.