Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, better known as the Lockerbie Bomber, should be dead by now. That was the deal.
Megrahi blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, murdering 270 people, including 190 Americans.
A former Libyan intelligence agent, Megrahi was arrested and charged and then used every detail, wrinkle and technicality afforded by Western justice to escape his fate.
Proceedings dragged on for years, and it wasn’t until Jan. 31, 2001, that a three-judge Scottish panel finally convicted him. Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison.
Which should have been the end of a long, agonizing process that had caused tremendous suffering to the loved ones of those who died.
Except the agony was just beginning.
Because eight years later, with no real explanation, Megrahi was released from prison and sent home to Libya and adoring crowds.
Why? One guy: Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. MacAskill announced that Megrahi had prostate cancer and had only three months to live and deserved to live them at home in Libya.
MacAskill is not a doctor, nor did he assemble a blue-ribbon panel to examine Megrahi. Rumors swirled, including the possibility that the British government was trying to help British Petroleum gain access to Libyan oil reserves.
Nonetheless, on Aug. 20, 2009, just 10 days after MacAskill made his shocking announcement, Megrahi was released and flew home to Libya, where he was promptly supposed to die. That was almost 18 months ago, and Megrahi is still having a good laugh.
When I wrote about this at the time, I asked why, if a mass murderer had only weeks to live, not just let him die in prison?
Kenny MacAskill was horrified by such questions and seemed to view them as another sign of American barbarity.
“In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity,” MacAskill said. “It is viewed as a defining characteristic.”
Personally, I think letting a mass murderer go free is the defining characteristic of a doofus, and some agreed. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Megrahi should be sent back to prison in Scotland.
FBI Director Robert Mueller wrote MacAskill a letter saying, “Your action makes a mockery of the rule of law” and “gives comfort to terrorists around the world” and “makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988.”
“You could not have visited the small wooden warehouse where the personal items of those who perished were gathered for identification — the single sneaker belonging to a teenager; the Syracuse sweatshirt never again to be worn by a college student returning home for the holidays; the toys in a suitcase of a businessman looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife and children,” Mueller wrote. “Your action rewards a terrorist.”
To which the Scottish government yawned.
But last Monday, something interesting happened. According to a report released by the British government’s top watchdog agency, Britain’s former Labor government did “all it could” to help Libya win Megrahi’s release.
That help, given by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, included explaining to the Libyan government how to apply for Megrahi’s release and telling the Scottish government there were no barriers to letting Megrahi go home.
Was that aid given in order to help British Petroleum get access to Libyan oil fields?
“The report stopped short of confirming [such] allegations,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Oh, well. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Megrahi is living outside Tripoli and is showing no signs of keeling over at any minute.
MacAskill remains the cabinet secretary for justice and a member of the Scottish Parliament. He also remains a figure of controversy.
Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, said last year: “The Scottish government seems more interested in diverting attention away from its disastrous handling of the release than in clearing up the deepening suspicion over why they sent Mr. Megrahi back to his hero’s welcome.”
Anger, charge and countercharge still swirl. But in a small wooden warehouse where there is still a single sneaker belonging to a teenager; where there is the Syracuse sweatshirt never again to be worn by a college student, and where there are toys never to played with by children, there is only quiet.