July 23, 2010
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Is your life worth more to your government than a few pence added onto Big Oil's share price? At first, this will sound like a foolish question. But sometimes there is a news story that lays out the priorities of our governments once the doors are closed and the cameras are switched off. The story of the attempt to trade the Lockerbie bomber for oil is one of those moments.
Let's start in the deserts of Iraq -- because the Lockerbie deal might just reveal what really happened there. Many people were perplexed by Tony Blair's decision to back George W. Bush's invasion, which has led to the deaths of 1.2 million people. Blair said he was motivated by opposition to two things -- terrorism and tyranny. First off, he said Saddam Hussein might give Weapons of Mass Destruction to jihadis. When it was proven in the rubble after the invasion that Saddam had no WMD and no links to jihadis -- as many critics of the war had said all along -- Blair declared he would do it all again anyway, because Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, and all tyrants should be opposed.
Most critics of the war said the real reason was a desire for Western access to Iraq's vast supplies of oil. This debate has gone on for years. Now it emerges that Tony Blair plotted to hand a convicted terrorist -- the worst in modern British history -- to a vicious tyrant, in exchange for access to oil for British corporations. It seems to settle the argument in the darkest possible way.
Here's how it happened. Just before Christmas in 1988, a flight from London to New York City was blasted out of the sky above Scotland by a bomb in the cargo. All 259 people onboard were killed, along with 11 on the ground. One man was convicted for the mass murder at a Scottish trial in 2000: Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer. Following the bombing, most Western governments imposed sanctions on Libya that forbade their companies to invest there. If you are opposed to terrorism and tyranny, it was a happy ending: An alleged terrorist was tried in open court and convicted, and a tyrant was shunned.
But within a few years Tony Blair was not happy. Why? The oil company BP wanted to be able to drill down into Libya's oil and tap the profits that would gush forth. Their then-CEO, John Browne, flew to Tripoli in the company of MI6 agents to find out what the dictatorship wanted in return for opening the country's wells. It was, of course, clear. They wanted Megrahi back.
BP has admitted it lobbied Tony Blair to hasten into effect a prisoner exchange with Libya. They say they didn't specifically mention Megrahi -- but there was no need to. There were no other Libyan prisoners of particular note in Britain.
Blair's administration was so intertwined by that point with the oil company that it was often dubbed "Blair's Petroleum." There was a revolving door between BP and Downing Street: BP execs sat on more government taskforces than all other oil companies combined, while Blair's closest confidantes, such as Anji Hunter and Phillip Gould, went to work for the corporation. He made two of the corporation's successive CEOs into Lords, even appointed one as a minister to his government, and slashed taxes on North Sea oil production, causing BP's share price to skyrocket. By 2005, he was talking to Lord Browne at Downing Street dinners about what he would do after he left office. There were rumors at the time he considered working for BP.