Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gordon Brown: There Was No "Double-Dealing" Over Lockerbie Bomber

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Scottish lawmakers held a symbolic vote Wednesday to disapprove of the Lockerbie bomber's release, as the British government emphatically denied that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's freedom was motivated by economic or diplomatic reasons.

The Scottish government had asked the parliament to endorse the decision as "consistent with the principles of Scottish justice." But by a 73-50 vote with one abstention, legislators backed an opposition amendment condemning Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision as mishandled – and saying they disagreed with the government's actions in freeing the Libyan convicted in the 1988 explosion that killed 270 people.

"Releasing the Lockerbie bomber was a bad decision, made badly," Annabel Goldie, a Conservative Party member in the Scottish Parliament.

The vote is largely symbolic and was not an attempt to topple the Scottish government. MacAskill has said he released al-Megrahi because the Libyan was dying of terminal prostate cancer and compassionate releases are a key part of Scottish justice.

Criticism over the Lockerbie bomber's Aug. 20 release intensified Wednesday, despite the disclosure of confidential British and Scottish documents and denials that the release was linked to Britain's growing ties to Libya.

After keeping silent for days, Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered his strongest denial yet that no promises had been made to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi over the fate of the 57-year-old al-Megrahi – the only man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

There was no conspiracy, no cover up, no double dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers," Brown said emphatically. "We made absolutely clear to the Libyans and everybody else that this was a decision for the Scottish government."

Questions are now turning to everything that still hasn't been said – or disclosed.
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Britain's opposition Conservative Party wants an inquiry into al-Megrahi's release, but the results will unlikely appease the families of bombing victims.

Countering the compassionate release argument, critics point to the lives lost during the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Some have also questioned why Brown hasn't come out in support or against the release.

The British government released the documents Tuesday in an attempt to quell speculation that it had pushed al-Megrahi's release to boost economic cooperation with Libya. But the documents fanned more resentment in the United States, where al-Megrahi's release was vehemently opposed.

Although the documents contain several references to British authorities deferring to Scotland on a potential release, they also contain repeated mentions of how important U.K.-Libyan relations had become. One document also showed that the British justice secretary did not want to exclude al-Megrahi from a possible prisoner transfer agreement – another way that al-Megrahi could have been released if Scotland didn't free him on compassionate grounds.

Britain has regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are responsible for local issues but retains power over foreign policy.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband confirmed details in the documents that suggested Britain had not sought to have al-Megrahi serve out his life sentence in a Scottish prison.

"We did not want him to die in prison, no, we weren't seeking his death in prison," Miliband told the BBC on Wednesday.

Miliband did not elaborate, but some in the Arab world would have been suspicious about any death in custody.

In Tripoli, Libya, al-Megrahi was reportedly taken to intensive care Wednesday, according to family members who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 for the explosion, Britain's worst terrorist attack. He has long maintained his innocence.

Lawyers have said the evidence used to convict him was largely circumstantial – prosecutors said he bought clothes from a shop on the Mediterranean island of Malta that were packed around the bomb before it was placed on the plane.

Just days before Scotland approved his release on compassionate grounds, al-Megrahi's attorneys dropped his appeal against his conviction so he could be eligible for release.

Analysts at the time of the bombing pointed fingers toward Iran and Syria, not Libya, and said evidence was weak.


Associated Press writers David Stringer and Jill Lawless in London and Alfred De Montesquiou in Tripoli, Libya, contributed to this report.

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