WASHINGTON – The United States has asked the Scottish and British governments to review the decision last summer to release the Libyan convicted in the Lockerbie airliner bombing.
In letters to four U.S. lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review the underlying facts and circumstances leading to the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. Four senators wrote Clinton last week, questioning whether oil giant BP played a behind-the-scenes role in the decision to release him.
Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, told reporters Monday that such a review would provide reassurance about the credibility of the decision to free the Libyan on humanitarian grounds, but he doubted it would reverse the decision.
“Everybody has an interest in making sure that this was a decision that was made freely, based on the best information available and did not represent any inappropriate or skewed actions,” Crowley said.
Al-Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103 as it flew from London to New York. The bombing killed 270 people, most of them American.
He was released on compassionate grounds and returned to Libya in August 2009 after doctors said the cancer-stricken man had only three months to live. But a doctor now says al-Megrahi could live for another decade, infuriating many, including the four senators — Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, all Democrats. They are demanding that he be returned to Britain to serve out the rest of his sentence.
In her response, Clinton wrote that she remained deeply troubled by the decision to free the Libyan.
“That al-Megrahi is living out his remaining days outside of Scottish custody is an affront to the victims’ families, the memories of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and to all of those who worked tirelessly to ensure justice was served,” Clinton wrote.
She said U.S. officials will continue to argue that al-Megrahi should not be a free man.
“To that end, we are encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review again the underlying facts and circumstances leading to the release of al-Megrahi and to consider any new information that has come to light since his release,” she wrote.
As to a possible BP link, Clinton wrote that she was aware of media reports on the subject, but said that the decision on whether to release al-Megrahi fell exclusively to the Scottish government under local law. Still, Clinton said she opposed the decision, “whatever the rationale.”
Asked Monday to respond to Clinton’s letter, Menendez told The Associated Press that the British government’s explanations thus far have been inadequate.
“My hope is that Secretary Clinton continues to apply the pressure necessary for the British government to re-examine the circumstances of this release and that we will get additional answers in our hearing next week,” Menendez said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the subject July 29.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is coming to Washington this week for his first visit since taking office in May. He will hold talks with President Barack Obama as well as members of Congress, with the Lockerbie bombing case likely to be on the agenda.
Cameron told the BBC on Monday that he thought the Scottish government’s decision to release al-Megrahi was “completely and utterly wrong.” The decision had been made by the Scottish government, which holds some limited powers within the United Kingdom, and not by the previous British government headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The BBC also reported that Cameron does not intend to meet with the four senators during his visit.