Continued from previous page
Blair responded to BP's lobbying with apparent pleasure. His Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell, assured Libyan officials that Blair did not "want Megrahi to pass away in prison." His Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said a desire for Libya's oil was "an essential part" of this decision. So Straw began negotiating a prisoner swap agreement, and urged the Scottish authorities to release the convict. He told the Scottish government in a leaked letter that it was "in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom" to let Megrahi go.
The chief negotiator for the Libyans was Mousa Kousa, a thug who had been expelled from Britain after bragging about plots to murder democratic dissidents here on British soil. These supposed opponents of tyranny didn't blush.
There are, of course, some serious commentators who argue that Megrahi was framed. It's a legitimate debate. But if he was, it should have been settled in court, at an appeal, not in a dodgy deal with a dictator to benefit BP.
Both sides now admit what was happening: They were trying to trade a convicted mass murderer for oil. Saif Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator's son and second in command, said it was "obvious" that attempts to free Megrahi were linked to oil contracts, adding "we all knew what we were talking about." When he later appeared on a TV chat show alongside Megrahi, he told him: "In all the trade, oil and gas deals which I have supervised, you were there on the table. When British interests came to Libya, I used to put you on the table."
There is no question there was a plot. The only question is whether the plot worked, or whether it got what it wanted anyway by a remarkable coincidence. It was, ultimately, up to the Scottish politicians whether to release Megrahi, and they publicly refused a prisoner swap. We know that Straw lobbied them to do it, but they insist they made the decision independently on "compassionate grounds." A year ago, Megrahi was sent home to Tripoli to be greeted by cheering crowds after serving eleven days for each person murdered. Officially, the Scots had assessed him to have only three months left to live.
There are several facts that batter these claims with question marks. The most obvious is that, eleven months later, Megrahi isn't dead. It's the most amazing medical recovery since Lazarus. Or is it? It turns out the doctors who declared him sick were paid for by the Libyan government, and one of them says he was put under pressure by Libya to offer the most pessimistic estimate of life expectancy. Susan Cohen, whose only daughter died in Lockerbie, says: "Why didn't the Scottish pay for the doctors?"
Indeed, a detailed investigation by the Sunday Telegraph reported that "the Scottish and British governments actively assisted Megrahi and his legal team to seek a release on compassionate grounds" -- suggesting they were hardly neutrally trying to discover the medical facts. The Libyan dictatorship certainly took the release as a gift from the British government. The tyranny's chief spokesman, Abdul Majeed al-Dursi, said: "This is a brave and courageous decision by the British... We in Libya appreciate this and Britain will find it is rewarded." BP has indeed been rewarded: It is now drilling in Libya.
But releasing him this way was certainly easier. It's hard to tell the public you released a mass murderer out of compassion for him, but it's almost impossible to tell them you did it for oil. Senator Charles Schumer of New York says: "Once Megrahi is released, all the roadblocks to that oil deal are removed. If anyone thinks this is a coincidence, I have a bridge to sell them in Brooklyn."