Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Wikileaks reignite Megrahi controversy

The Wikileaks revelations have lapped up onto Scottish shores again tonight with the claim that Libya's Colonel Gaddafi threatened the UK with "thuggish" reprisals if the Lockerbie bomber was not released from Greenock jail.

The leaked cables from the US Ambassador in the UK in 2009, show that Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was privately “shocked” by the fierce American reaction to the release of the Abdul Basset al-Megrahi, leaked US documents reveal.

The latest Wikileaks cables, private dispatches from US diplomats in the UK in 2008, show that the SNP ministers found themselves “out of their depth” when the release of Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds created a firestorm of protest in the United States.

The US view is clearly that the UK government played the SNP into releasing Megrahi, leaving Salmond empty handed and feeling the heat of US outrage. Salmond expresses himself shocked and claims that the SNP "played straight" over the release of Megrahi and did not expect the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton or the former head of the FBI to condemn him.

The latest revelations came as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London on an international arrest warrant in relation to allegations of rape in Sweden.

Megrahi, who continues to live with his family in Tripoli, returned to a Saltire-waving hero's welcome that sparked protests from the US government and families of the victims of the downed Pan Am flight 103.

The US Consol in Edinburgh at the time wrote to Washington: "The Scottish government severely underestimated both US government and UK public reaction to its decision … Alex Salmond has privately indicated that he was 'shocked'."

The revelations come as a sharp reminder to the SNP of the fury they faced when Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill decided to release Megrahi, who is suffering from prostrate cancer, on compassionate grounds.

The Wikileaks cable reveal the UK government feared an even harsher reaction by Libya against UK interests if the convicted Lockerbie bomber died in jail.

According to the Guardian the message US diplomats received from Jack Straw, then justice minister, was that although Megrahi might survive up to five years Salmond and the SNP were nonetheless inclined to release him.

A cable states: "Megrahi could have as long as five years to live but the average life expectancy of someone of his age with his condition is 18 months to two years. Doctors are not sure where he is on the time scale."The Libyans have not yet made a formal application for compassionate release … but HMG believes that the Scottish may be inclined to grant the request, when it comes, based on conversations between … Alex Salmond and UK justice secretary Jack Straw.

The Americans concluded that UK Justice Minister Jack Straw succeeded in manoeuvring MacAskill into granting a "compassionate release" to a storm of protest in August 2009 and that the British ambassador in Lybia expressed “relief” at the outcome. I'm sure some cable somewhere will reveal that Jack Straw privately expressed a wry smile.

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