There is so much being unsaid in the continuing debate over the ‘Lockerbie bomber’ Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi that I felt I had to write something. It now appears that the British government may have been pressuring for the release of Al-Megrahi in order to secure economic deals with their new allies in Libya, which is contrary to international law and despicable behaviour. But this is obscuring a wider debate about whether Al-Megrahi was guilty in the first place.
I hate conspiracy theories, I really do, so I don’t want to sound like an internet nutter but the evidence against Al-Megrahi in his initial 2001 trial was flimsy at best. I don’t want to go into the evidence because it is all out there, see for example Paul Foot’s argument or this overview in The Guardian.
Foot, who followed the case avidly from 1988 until the trial in 2001, said that the trial slipped “again and again into the same sort of reckless assumptions which led to the great British injustices south of the border of the last thirty years – the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Judy Ward, the Bridgewater Four and countless others”.
And it is not just a few journalists who suspect that the conviction was potentially unsound. Crucially a number of British family members of those killed in Lockerbie consistently refused to believe that Al-Megrahi was guilty, with many believing that it was a Syrian/Iranian plot. When the issue of his possible release first resurfaced in 2009 bereaved family members even went on television to argue that the conviction was unsafe and he should be released.
This view has now disappeared altogether from the media discussion of Al-Megrahi. While I accept that this was not the reason he was released (this was ‘compassionate leave’ as he was ‘dying’ of cancer), the fact that he was coming up for appeal and would have stood a good chance of winning undoubtedly forced the government’s hand.
Why is this perspective being completely ignored by the media in its hysteria to blame someone for his release? The answer, I think, is that by and large this story is being dictated by the American media and the public Stateside never had the same critical approach to the Al-Megrahi trial.
American senators and congressmen have really been putting pressure on the Brits to ‘do something’ about this, and so the media debate has been squeezed into a different dynamic which is no longer self-questioning and analytical. Instead the debate has become purely about who’s fault it was that he was released.