Thursday, July 22, 2010

View from the periphery

I'm very pleased I watched Newsnight Scotland tonight, because I realised as a result that the premise of one of the points I made the other night was wholly wrong. I'm thoroughly relieved to be reminded that the law isn't quite as much of an ass as I took it for - Megrahi could, of course, have been granted compassionate release without dropping his appeal. I think the reason for my confusion was my recollection that the last thing Kenny MacAskill said to Megrahi during their meeting was that, under the rules, the appeal would have to be dropped if the application was to be approved - but of course the application he was referring to was for prisoner transfer, not for compassionate release. In a way the whole conversation was utterly superfluous, because we all know that pigs would fly before an SNP minister would have approved a prisoner transfer to Libya under Blair's tainted 'deal in the desert' framework. So should MacAskill be criticised for leading Megrahi up the garden path, and saying something that may have led to the appeal being dropped needlessly? Absolutely not. He was there to talk specifically about the application for prisoner transfer and that alone, under the legal provisions that granted Megrahi the right to put his case in person. As I understand it, there is no such provision for compassionate release applications. Had MacAskill given a nod and a wink and said "you don't really need to drop your appeal, old chap, because there's no prospect of me granting your prisoner transfer request anyway", that would have been deeply inappropriate. He played a completely straight bat, and simply informed Megrahi of the rules relating to the application they were discussing.

As someone who has long doubted Libya's responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, Hans Köchler's concerns over MacAskill's meeting with Megrahi, and the reasons for Megrahi subsequently dropping his appeal, certainly deserve to be treated with a good deal more seriousness than the transparently partisan complaints we've heard from other quarters. However, Megrahi's decision was scarcely an illogical one - he may well have been advised (however erroneously) that prisoner transfer was a runner and that the best way of maximising his chances of release was to withdraw his appeal. Furthermore, while I can understand Köchler's wish for more light to be shed on these matters (although I'd very surprised if there's anything untoward to be discovered as far as the Scottish government is concerned) I'm slightly puzzled as to why he feels a US Senate Committee is the appropriate body to be probing a domestic Scottish decision.

Jim Swire also seemed surprisingly optimistic that the Senate inquiry might yield something valuable. For me, Murray Leith hit the nail on the head - the US Senate is a vastly powerful institution with the legal clout to get to the bottom of just about anything if it wants to. John Kerry and co have shown literally zero interest in investigating anything to do with Lockerbie other than what Swire correctly characterises as an issue "right at the periphery" - ie. Megrahi's release, and the fact that he has outlived the central estimate for his life expectancy. It's rather akin to the Bloody Sunday inquiry only being interested in probing the moral outrage of one of the soldiers being incorrectly attired.

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