Monday, August 24, 2009

Megrahi's release: what we do know

While I should say from the outset that I simply don't believe the official narrative when it comes to this case, I'll restrict myself to what we do know - because I think there is enough there to take issue with the mob currently baying for blood on both sides of the Atlantic following the Scottish Government's decision to release Adelbaset al-Megrahi.

For example, when Fraser Nelson says that the evidence against Megrahi was 'overwhelming', we know that this is not a universally shared opinion. It doesn't, for instance, seem to have been the opinion of the judges at the original trial who said, in para 89 of their ruling[pdf] that:
"We are aware that in relation to certain aspects of the case there are a number of uncertainties and qualifications. We are also aware that there is a danger that by selecting parts of the evidence which seem to fit together and ignoring parts which might not fit, it is possible to read into a mass of conflicting evidence a pattern or conclusion which is not really justified."
We also know that the judges, despite this, went on to find Megrahi guilty beyond a reasonable doubt - a decision considered questionable enough for an appeal request to have been granted.

(I'd like to insert here the observation that thinking a conspiracy may have taken place does not make one a 'conspiracy theorist'. To insist otherwise would lead one, for example, to conclude that there was not, after all, any intention on Richard Nixon's part to subvert the Constitution of the United States when he ordered the Watergate break-in. In any event, arguing that a miscarriage of justice may have taken place does not necessitate a belief in a conspiracy at all.)

We also know that neither the original trial judges nor Her Majesty's Government ever suggested at any time that Megrahi was acting alone as a sort of Lee Harvey Oswald of international terrorism. Therefore, according to the official narrative, the prime movers of the Lockerbie bombing have never been brought to justice. Furthermore, given that both London and Washington both held the Gaddafi regime responsible, they have failed to give any convincing reason why Megrahi should continue to be punished when they themselves have initiated a process whereby Libya is supposed to be rehabilitated and invited to re-join the international community.

With regards the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill's decision, we don't know as yet what the British government thinks of it because while their representatives have been quick to offer an opinion on weighty matters such as the deaths of Jade Goody and Michael Jackson, they are surprisingly coy about this subject. The murky atmosphere surrounding this case is unlikely to be dispelled any time soon - not least because David Milliband has slapped a PIIC on the Lockerbie Papers. This from a government that routinely responds to protests about its intrusive behaviour with the retort that, "only the guilty have anything to fear".

Some of us suspect that Megrahi's release is not out of accordance with the wishes of London - but we can't know this. We also don't know whether MacAskill made the decision for the right reasons. But what sticks in the throat is the assumption that it is impossible that it was made in good faith. Here one should make the observation, as the Rodent does in his inimitable style, that while it is possible that partisan advantage was the motive here - one would have thought that releasing a convicted terrorist might not be the most obvious choice for the thinking political strategist.

Furthermore, as Ian Macwhirter points out - while there are a number of criticisms that could and have been made about the way this matter has been handled, the decision that MacAskill has made is in accordance with the principles of Scots' Law and his critics in Holyrood today failed to provide a single argument or piece of evidence that seriously challenges this.

In other words, no one has been able to demonstrate that this decision contravenes the principles of due process and the rule of law - yet we have to take lectures on these subjects from a nation that has been routinely water-boarding terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay. This too we know.

Finally, those vocal retributionists both sides of the Atlantic have been inviting those of us who support the Scottish Government's decision on this matter to consider how the families of the victims might feel. (Because their empathetic feelings are deeper, more profound and above all, more righteous than thou.) Leaving aside the fact that we know what a number of them think - that they support this decision - I can only say this: of course one can't know but only imagine. For myself, I imagine being of the vengeful disposition. But we also know that it is the function of a liberal polity not to write the vendetta principle into criminal statute and to limit the sometimes inexhaustible human desire for vengeance. Beyond this, on asking how the families would feel, I'd imagine they feel much like the relatives of those who died on Iran Air Flight 655 - bereft, desolate and enraged. Because for this no-one has provided a satisfactory explanation, nor apologized, nor been brought to justice - still less shown any remorse. This too we know.

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