Conflict & Justice

Wikileaks documents on the Lockerbie case

The WikiLeaks release includes cables that provide new details on how and why the convicted Lockerbie bomber was released from prison last year and allowed to return home to Libya. The World's Jason Margolis has more.

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In Great Britain, the big Wikileak there today: details over how and why the convicted Lockerbie bomber was released from prison last year and allowed to return home to Libya. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was serving a life sentence in prison, convicted of 270 counts of murder for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

In August 2009, the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill announced his government's dramatic decision to free the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds. The general practice in Scotland is to grant compassionate release to prisoners within three months of end of life. MacAskill desribed Megrahi's prostate cancer as �terminal, final and irrevocable.�

Those words were met with anger and skepticism. Now, 16 months after his release, Megrahi is still alive in Libya. According to the newly-released diplomatic cables from Wikileaks, Libya threatened the UK with enormous commercial repercussions if Megrahi died in prison. At the time, Libya and the British oil company BP were working on an oil exploration deal potentially worth billions.

�What we're seeing is this dynamism, horrific dynamism in many respects, between the moral outrage of the act and the economic interests,� said Heather Conley with the Washington think tank, The Center for Strategic and International Studies. �And many, many who now are watching this operate publicly, transparently are really concerned about greater weight being given to the economic than to the moral outrage.�

Stephanie Bernstein's husband Michael was killed on Pan Am flight 103 nearly 20 years ago. She said releasing Megrahi gave into Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's explicit threats to halt trade deals and harass British embassy staff in Libya.

�These are the kinds of things that we suspected that were going on at the time, but to actually see them in black and white is pretty stunning,� said Bernstein. �Here we have a guy (Gaddafi) who is directly threatening civilians it sounds like, as well as diplomats. And what do we do? We totally cave it to him.�

The First minister of Scotland Alex Salmond today defended the Scottish Justice Minister's decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

�You'll remember explicitly, he pointed out these forecasts could never be certain, Mr. Megrahi could live longer, he could live shorter than three months,� said Salmond.

The cables also show that the Scottish government was offered a so-called �parade of treats� in exchange for Megrahi's release. But the cables say that the Scottish government turned them down.

In the documents, the US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, warned that the US should keep quiet. Cretz said if the American government opposed Megrahi's release, U.S. interests could be at risk as well.

Heather Conley said this cable alone does not condemn American policy. �As you're hearing I'm sure anyone describing anything related to the Wikileaks release, you place it in context,� said Conley. �Here is the ambassador looking at the bilateral relationship between the United States and Libya and offering his thoughts for that particular matter.� And while the new cables add insight to the release of Megrahi, Conley adds that there are a lot of dots that remain unconnected.