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Western interests sit in the way of truth over Lockerbie bombing

This article is over 14 years, 10 months old
The conviction and release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi have both been shaped by imperialist power politics, writes Simon Basketter
Issue 2166

The decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi last week has produced much fury and bluster from politicians in Westminster, Edinburgh and Washington.

Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was serving a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that claimed 270 lives.

It was a crime he did not commit.

Megrahi returned to Libya last week after being granted compassionate release by Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill.

But now, just as at the time of the explosion, the grubby nature of imperialist power politics is what dominates the case.


Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, lambasted the release of Megrahi telling MacAskill, “Your action in releasing Megrahi makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world.”

But the idea of the US standing up for the “rule of law” is laughable. The claim comes as new revelations have shown the extent of torture carried out by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Scottish parliament was recalled as all sides searched for domestic political gain.

The Labour government clearly hopes the Scottish National Party (SNP) administration in Scotland will get any political blowback from the release.

But Labour denials of involvement in the ruling rang hollow, as it emerged that the foreign office had intervened in the case.

Both the Scottish and Westminster governments were involved in the blackmailing of Megrahi into unnecessarily dropping his appeal as a condition of his release.

This means important new evidence will not be heard in court.

There are still secret documents relating to the investigation. Foreign secretary David Miliband excluded them from the preparation of the second appeal.

The relatives of the victims on both sides of the Atlantic have been both been used and ignored over the years.

The case has been subject to the needs of imperial powers from beginning to end.

The bombing itself was most likely retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner.

The shifting sands of who the US and Britain wanted as allies in the Middle East shaped the framing of Megrahi. As political allegiances changed, so did official investigations into the Lockerbie disaster.

In the run-up to the 1990 Gulf War, Syria and Iran were dropped as suspects and Libya was blamed.


In the years since, the sands shifted again. For instance, Libya handed over Megrahi to face trial in order to get sanctions on the country lifted.

Today the West wants Libya as an ally, mostly because of its oil reserves. The multinationals are circling, trying to secure lucrative contracts.

The government has described as a “slur” the idea that a trade deal was behind Megrahi’s release.

Yet both Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown have had repeated discussions over trade with Libya in recent months.

Even prince Andrew, as “Britain’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment”, took time off from playing golf to fly to North Africa to meet the Libyan leader at least three times in the past year.

The Libyan British Business Council includes BP, Barclays, GlaxoSmithKline and British American Tobacco in its membership.

Britain imported nearly £1 billion of petroleum from Libya in 2008 – 66 percent more than the previous year – and the export of goods from Britain to Libya rose by nearly 50 percent in the first half of this year.

BP signed a £545.5 million deal in 2007 allowing it to search for oil and gas both on and offshore in Libya following a visit by Tony Blair.

Imperialism provided the context for the bombing. The framing of Megrahi and subsequent cover-up were pushed through to meet the needs of the Western powers.

The current row over his release represents tensions over whether pursuit of profit or the rhetoric of the “war on terror” matters the most.

No one among the establishment has real concern for the victims of the bombing. None want the truth of the Lockerbie bombing revealed.

And along the way, a massive miscarriage of justice has taken place.

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