Business as usual

The release of Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, aka the Lockerbie bomber, has understandably come in for strong criticism from across the world. Megrahi was convicted  and awarded a life sentence for his role in the 1988 bombing of a PanAm flight that killed 270 people mid-air. He is terminally ill with prostrate cancer and a Scottish court decided to release him last week on compassionate grounds. The Scottish government has defended the decision of its courts arguing that compassionate release is a regular feature of its judicial system when a prisoner is near death. Indeed, of the 31 applications the courts over the past decade, 24 prisoners were freed. Seven others were not as the medical evidence they presented of being terminally ill was flimsy. Megrahi’s release would have been acceptable if it was part of a larger reconciliation process, where he and his victims’ families sat together and undergone a process of healing and understanding. But that was not the case.

Megrahi’s release is said to be part of a larger deal that will benefit British business. Companies like British Petroleum have huge investments in Libya and Megrahi’s release is expected to remove obstacles in the way of their doing business with the Libyans. The British government has, of course, denied any business motivations to the Scottish court’s decision to release Megrahi but it has emerged that the Scots did consult the British Foreign Office before making public its decision to free Megrahi. It was the lure of doing business with the West that prompted the Libyan government to hand over Megrahi for trial 10 years ago. And it is business again that is behind Scotland’s decision to free him.

Megrahi seems to have been released for the wrong reasons. It will send out a wrong message to terrorists and to governments supporting and sponsoring terrorism. It suggests that lucrative business deals can be used as bait to get governments to release terrorists. In the past, terrorists have used plane hijacks and kidnappings to put pressure on governments to release their jailed comrades. Britain has indicated now that it will do so if obstacles in the way of sewing up business deals are removed. It has been sanctimoniously hectoring the rest of the world to do more to fight terrorism on their soil. It has lost whatever moral authority it might have had to do so.

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