Clinton urges Scottish review of decision to release Lockerbie bomber on humanitarian grounds

By Robert Burns, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010

Clinton urges review of decision to release Libyan

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has asked the governments of Scotland and Britain to review the decision last summer to release the Libyan convicted in the Lockerbie airliner bombing.

In letters to U.S. lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review the 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.

In her response, Clinton wrote that she remained deeply troubled by the Libyan’s release.

“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.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had not intended to meet with the senators during his visit to the United States. However, the British Embassy in Washington said Monday night that Cameron would meet with them Tuesday night at the British ambassador’s residence.

“The prime minister recognizes the huge strength of feeling on this issue and he has immense sympathy for the families, American, British and others affected by the Lockerbie atrocity,” British Embassy press secretary Martin Longden said. “The PM has personally asked to rearrange his program in Washington to enable him to meet with the four senators and discuss their concerns directly.”

In remarks to the BBC a day before beginning an official visit to Washington, Cameron called the Scottish decision “completely and utterly wrong.”

But Cameron’s office appeared to rule out a government inquiry into whether BP lobbying helped pave the way for al-Megrahi’s release, saying it was “not currently under consideration.”

Clinton, meanwhile, 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.

Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, told reporters Monday that a review could answer questions about the credibility of the decision-making process. But he doubted it would reverse the outcome.

“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 over Lockerbie, Scotland, en route 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 U.S. senators — Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The lawmakers have demanded that he be returned to the United Kingdom to serve out the rest of his sentence.

Cameron’s trip to Washington this week will be his first since taking office in May. He will hold talks with President Barack Obama and separately with members of Congress.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Lockerbie case likely will come up in the White House session.

In Clinton’s letter to the senators, she wrote that she was aware of media reports of a possible BP link, but she said 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.”

She also wrote that British Foreign Secretary William Hague had agreed to consider the issues raised in the senators’ letter and to respond directly to Congress. On Saturday, he sent a letter to Clinton and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., dismissing the idea that BP influenced the Scottish decision.

“There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish executive’s decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release al-Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP,” Hague wrote.

Asked Monday about 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.

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