Lockerbie Bomber’s Release Could Set a Dangerous Precedent

The release of the Lockerbie bomber may have fuelled allegations of UK surrendering to the demands of crass commerce, but the act was also endorsed by Scottish religious leaders. Although the real reason for the release cannot be pin-pointed, it would certainly impact similar scenarios worldwide in the future when compassion driven by religious values and deals struck with ideologically antithetical governments would be involved in a face-off with justice to terror suspects.

Anybody could argue that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was terminally ill and had only three months to live. Compassion was a natural reaction, but can terrorists be let away if their homelands hold a nation to ransom with business deals worth billions of dollars?

Amid conflicting reports coming out of UK, it is becoming increasingly clear that the release had more to do with an oil deal with Libya rather than only compassion driven by religious values.

Justice secretary Jack Straw was more blatant when he told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that he was unapologetic about the deal struck with Libya two years ago to release the Lockerbie bomber in return for British Petroleum benefiting from a multimillion dollar contract. Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a diametrically opposite stance when he said, “no cover-up, no double-dealing…. no deal on oil” was involved in Megrahi being let off by a Scottish prison.

But on BBC’s Radio 4, the Cabinet Minister Ed Balls said that none in the administration wanted the man freed. He passed the buck from Westminster to the Scottish government in an apparent bid to wash hands off the controversy. But lobbing the ball into the Scottish court again brings religious logic to the fore that went into releasing the Lockerbie bomber.

But then again, Jack Straw had already spilled the beans about the oil deal that determined what is now being portrayed by Westminster as a ‘very Scottish’ affair.

A Libyan intelligence officer, Al-Megrahi, was sentenced to 27 years for the gruesome deaths of 259 passengers and crew onboard a Pan Am 103 flight from London to New York in 1988. The bombing also resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the ground staff in Lockerbie, Scotland.

Perhaps, Westminster wants to hide behind the cloak of the Scottish government as the message from church leaders was loud and clear. Convener of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, Rev Ian Galloway and Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow said August 25– five days after Al-Megrahi was released– that it was a message to the world about Scottish values, and compassion was “one of the principles inscribed on the mace of the Scottish parliament by which Scotland’s government should operate.”

Scotland’s Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill cited the 1993 Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings Act, Scotland and the release and return of Al-Megrahi to Libya in tune with ‘Scottish values’. Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop David Chillingworth supported MacAskill’s “brave political choice.”

Debate should also be triggered if the release was also in conformity with British values.

The Conservative, William Hague shot back: “This is a classic example of the right hand having no idea what the left hand is doing….we have yet to hear two government ministers agree on a single aspect of the decision to release Mr. Al-Megrahi.”

The contradictory statements coming out in the space of a week have already put 10 Downing Street in a fix.

Compassion and religion cited by church leaders in Scotland did not resonate with their counterparts in the US.

Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders were unanimous in their condemnation–mockery of justice and false compassion was what they felt– in interviews to NBC.

Whether even the terminally ill can be pardoned hellfire and brimstone ordained in constitutional justice may remain a contentious issue and the great Atlantic divide may not be bridged for many years to come.

But, it could set a dangerous precedent as even dangerous terrorists–fighting fit for another round of mayhem– languishing in prisons the world over could also be set free if the host nation is hard pressed to secure a contract.

Globalization can throw up myriad scenarios where interests could be conditional and not always based on high morality or ethics. Demands for release can also be pressed holding innocent civilians hostage in a public building or an airliner. It was successfully attempted by hijacking an Indian airliner and flying it to Kabul during the Taliban regime.

Giving in to Libya’s demands was either a turning of the tables or a call to brace up to a new form of threat. MI5 and the CIA were alleged to have plotted the removal of the democratically elected government of Dr. Mossadegh in Iran soon after WWII after he began to nationalize the western oil companies. Many analysts, including former CIA director, Richard Helms, believed that foisting the Shah the Iranians led to rabid theocracy and renascent nationalism.

But times have changed and the Lockerbie bomber’s release could be ominous as it is bound to set a dangerous precedent.

Terrorists, hell bent on extracting their pound of flesh could use and take advantage of the very democratic institutions they despise. And it would be naive to lose sight of the reality in the haze of religious values and multimillion dollar oil contracts.