September 1st, 2009
07:29 PM ET

The Lockerbie letters

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/europe/09/01/libya.lockerbie.bomber/art.scottish.parliament.spa.jpg caption="Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill says he followed "due process" in releasing Lockerbie bomber."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

The British government has been under sharp pressure over allegations that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was in exchange for Libyan oil deals. The Brits deny it, but have now released a series of letters between government officials in London and Scottish officials. Having read through all of these letters, I’ve prepared a little quick breakdown here.

The synopsis: London assured the Scots from the outset of negotiations with Libya, that the Scots would have the final say in any release of the Lockerbie bomber, al Megrahi. However, the Brits also abandoned efforts to make the Libyans accept Megrahi’s continued incarceration, prodded the Scots to be aware of the sensitive and valuable new relations with Libya, and pushed the Scots to consider the Libyan application for Megrahi’s release. They even assured the Scots that they were under no legally or diplomatically binding agreement to the UN or the US to keep him locked up.

In the letter of the law, London is correct to say, English officials did not make his release happen. In the spirit of their correspondence with the Scots, however, it does appear that they made it clear such a release should be considered and might be looked upon favorably given the higher negotiations.

Here is the breakdown of the letters.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/europe/09/01/scotland.libya.lockerbie.documents/art.megrahi.gi.jpg caption="Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, second from left, arrives in Tripoli, Libya, on August 21."]

EARLY SUMMER, 2007: British officials are negotiating new international relations with Libya, including a transfer of Libyan prisoners held in Brit jails. They assure the Scots that Megrahi will not be included in any such deal.

LATE SUMMER, 2007: London acknowledges concerns from Scots that the proposed legal exclusion of Megrahi from the prisoner exchange deal has not yet been accomplished. They suggest, however, that Scottish authorities will still have the ultimate say over Megrahi’s fate, no matter what deal is struck. In other words, the responsibility for the decision is now being pushed toward the Scots.

DECEMBER, 2007: Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, admits he quit pushing for an explicit agreement that could keep Megrahi locked up, because of “the wider negotiations with the Libyans….reaching a critical stage and in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom…”

FEBRUARY, 2008: The Scots question why Straw caved on Megrahi and what he means by “interests.” He is defensive, calling Libya “an important partner in the fight against international terrorism.” He does not consider it “necessary, or sensible to risk damaging our wide ranging and beneficial relationship with Libya…

NOVEMBER, 2008: Prisoner Transfer Agreement is being finalized. Straw simultaneously reasserts that the Scots still have the final say, and urges them to talk with the Libyans who are concerned about Megrahi’s health.

JULY, 2009: Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises Scots that no agreements with the U.N. or the United States related to the Lockerbie case would preclude the release of Megrahi. This letter asks the Scots to keep this information private.

AUGUST 3, 2009: Foreign and Commonwealth Office reasserts that the Scots have no legal reason to fear objections from U.N. or U.S.

AUGUST 20, 2009: Megrahi, the man convicted of killing 270 civilians, most of them American, is released. The Scottish official who makes the decision says it was his alone and made purely on ground of compassion because Megrahi is dying. London denies any collusion in the release, or any connection to oil deals with Libya. Libya initially trumpets the release as a measure of shrewd negotiations in which trade decisions were leveraged for Megrahi’s release. Now, however, the Libyans agree with London and say the release had nothing to do with oil or trade.

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. eward thornon

    i think we shouldnt judge them about this cause americas done shady deals in the past too

    September 1, 2009 at 9:01 pm |
  2. michelle

    This is really sad that the families have to read about these backdoor deals that freed this monster.

    September 1, 2009 at 7:49 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    Sounds like from this that someone was caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Maybe when we get off oil and use renewable energy resources we all will get over this temptation of meeting the terms of terrorists with freeing someone who should have only been freed by death.

    September 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm |