Monday, 23 August 2010

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.

Report from The Daily Telegraph
By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter
Published: 8:46AM BST 21 Aug 2010
Lockerbie bombing: US calls for Megrahi to be returned to jail
PHOTO: Convicted Lockerbie PanAm airline bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi (in wheelchair) is visited in Tripoli Central Hospital by a delegation of African parliamentarians in Tripoli Photo: EPA

The Obama administration used the anniversary of the bomber's release on compassionate grounds – because he had advanced prostate cancer – to condemn the decision.

The US president's office said it had advised Libyan officials of its view that Megrahi should not be free.

John Brennan, Barack Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, criticised the "unfortunate and inappropriate and wrong decision."

He said: "We've expressed our strong conviction that Al Megrahi should serve out the remainder – the entirety – of his sentence in a Scottish prison."

Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, said that a "cloud of suspicion" hung over the decision to release Megrahi, who is now living with his family in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

The bomber returned to jubilant scenes in Libya on August 20 last year after being released from a Scottish prison. Today he remains alive – despite being given three months to live at the time of his release.

The estimated life expectancy of Megrahi was crucial because, under Scottish rules, prisoners can be freed on compassionate grounds only if they are considered to have this amount of time or less to live.

It emerged a week ago that the bomber, who is 58, has embarked on a new course of chemotherapy which could extend his life well into 2011.

The fact that Megrahi has lived so long in Libya has incensed many of the relatives of those who died in the bombing in December 1988 when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in mid air over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground.

Mr Menendez is one of four US senators who have written to r Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, and David Cameron, the Prime Minister, laying out the areas where "questions linger".

The information requested in the correspondence relates to Megrahi's medical diagnosis and communications between BP and the British government.

US politicians want to investigate concerns that the bomber's release was linked to an oil deal – a suggestion that has been strongly denied by all parties involved.

Senator Menendez said: "Every new piece of evidence builds on to the cloud of suspicion hanging ominously over the circumstances surrounding Al Megrahi's release."

Earlier this summer the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations announced that it was to hold an inquiry into Megrahi's release.

But a hearing was postponed after Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and his former UK counterpart Jack Straw declined to attend as witnesses.

The senator repeated calls for an independent inquiry to be held in the UK, where the decision to release Megrahi also met strong criticism yesterday.

The UK government has described the decision as a "mistake" and opponents at Holyrood called for the publication of further medical evidence.

But Mr Salmond defended the government's actions and said Andrew Fraser, the prison doctor whose role it was to compile and present a prognosis based on Megrahi's medical notes, had followed a process of "complete integrity".

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "The senators' latest letter is totally wrong in saying commercial influences played any role whatever in the decision, and is quite misleading – we have published everything we can, and the senators embarrass themselves by asking us to un-redact material which we are only prevented from publishing because the US government refused permission.

"None of the issues raised in any way alters the fact that the decisions of the Scottish Government were made with total integrity, and according to the due process of Scots Law."