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Lockerbie: The scandal of the decade?
The WikiLeaks cables offer more evidence the British government was complicit in the release of the Pan Am bomber
David Frum
David Frum
W

ikiLeaks has done terrible harm to some good people.

Yet it's also true that the leaked diplomatic cables have brought shame and embarrassment to people who could not deserve it more.

One excellent example: The defeated British Labor government has now been thoroughly caught in its lies about the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the terrorist convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. Two hundred and fifty-nine passengers and crew were murdered in the attack, plus 11 people on the ground, who were killed by plunging wreckage.

The official story was that the decision to release al-Megrahi in August 2009 was made in Scotland and had nothing to do with London. Indeed, the story went, the Labor government in Westminster could not possibly have been more distressed by the release, after just eight years in prison, of a convicted mass murderer.

Turns out, of course, that's not the real story.

Here’s how the Guardian reported what was revealed in the WikiLeak cables: "The British government’s deep fears that Libya would take 'harsh and immediate' action against UK interests if the convicted Lockerbie bomber died in a Scottish prison are revealed in secret U.S. embassy cables that show London’s full support for the early release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, made explicit and 'thuggish' threats to halt all trade deals with Britain and harass embassy staff if Megrahi remained in jail, the cables show. At the same time 'a parade of treats' was offered by Libya to the Scottish administration if it agreed to let him go, though the cable says they were turned down. Britain was 'in an awkward position' and 'between a rock and a hard place.' The London chargé d’affaires, Richard LeBaron, wrote in a cable to Washington in October 2008, 'The Libyans have told HMG [Her Majesty's Government] flat out that there will be 'enormous repercussions' for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if al-Megrahi's early release is not handled properly.' This intelligence, the cable said, was confided to the U.S. embassy by two British officials: Ben Lyons, in charge of North Africa for Downing Street, and Rob Dixon, his counterpart at the Foreign Office."

The al-Megrahi story could be the scandal of the decade. Of the 259 people murdered over Lockerbie, 190 were American citizens. It took a decade of hard diplomatic work to bring the man directly responsible for those deaths to justice. If the cables are correct, the al-Megrahi release was not some aberration of the local Scottish government, with which London had nothing to do. Instead, our British ally was subjected to intense commercial pressure to release al-Megrahi, apparently acquiesced, and then stone-facedly denied its own role. Nothing to do with them, utterly beyond their control, terribly sorry, old boy

Here's how the UK government characterized the release at the time, again as reported by the Guardian. "Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said reports that the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was released over an oil deal are 'wholly untrue.' He denied a 'back door deal' was done to transfer al-Megrahi because of UK trade talks with the Libyan government." Even at the time, that story looked dodgy. Here's the next sentence from the same news account: "Letters leaked to a newspaper show Mr. Straw agreed not to exclude [al-Megrahi] from a prisoner transfer deal in 2007 because of 'overwhelming national interests.'" By the way, six weeks after Straw changed his mind about the handling of al-Megrahi's case in 2007, BP gained a huge oil deal in Libya.

WikiLeaks does not add any new proof to the case that the British ministers misled the world about the al-Megrahi release. What the leaks do show is that neither the U.S. government nor the British government itself ever believed the misrepresentations. So that's some comfort: A mass murderer may have gone free, but at least nobody in authority duped themselves over what had happened. Just the voters. Actually on second thought, the voters were not duped either. We all knew, and now the truth of what leaders knew has been exposed for all to see.

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