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08.17.11

Lockerbie Bomber: On the Loose, but for How Long?

Two years ago, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was freed by a Scottish court. Is Obama plotting to recapture him?

It’s said that President Obama has already drawn up plans to snatch the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, and bring him back to justice in America.

How the Scottish government must be ruing that it doesn't have its own crack team of commandos so that it could finally cure this running sore that is Megrahi.

This Saturday will see the second anniversary of Megrahi’s release from Greenock prison in Scotland, when a private jet whisked him away to a hero’s welcome in Libya.

If only Megrahi—riddled with terminal prostate cancer and given just three months to live—had stuck to his side of the bargain and dropped dead.

He was released from prison on compassionate grounds, though one does also have a sense that the Scots were trying to prove themselves as a government of both stature and maturity. There was a whiff of grandstanding, like a surly 18-year-old standing up for his rights, as the Scots relished the chance to make a really tough political call.

Two years on, and with the 59-year-old Megrahi not only still going strong, but actually showboating on Libyan TV for the beleaguered Col. Muammar Gaddafi, it is difficult not to let out a hollow laugh.

This is all the more so when one reads the soaring rhetoric that Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill delivered two years ago.

“Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power,” intoned MacAskill, bizarrely deciding to use the honorific and call the convicted killer “Mister.”

He continued: “It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final, and irrevocable. He is going to die.”   

Megrahi has become a living insult to the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bomb, and every day that he remains on this earth is another twist of the knife into their wounds.

One can only imagine MacAskill’s speechwriters beavering away into the night as they came out with all this high-flown bunkum. His language has a slight feel of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities—“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done”—but today, knowing what we know, it sounds risibly pathetic.

For the truth is that Megrahi has become a living insult to the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bomb, and every day that he remains on this earth is another twist of the knife into their wounds.

But along with that, Megrahi’s continued existence is a constant reminder that Scotland is, quite frankly, run by a bunch of political pygmies.

According to MacAskill—and doubtless after considerable ear bending from his boss, Alex Salmond—Megrahi’s release was all done with due process of the law. His hands were tied. Senior medics had given Megrahi just three months to live. There was no option but to release the killer. It was by no means an easy decision to make, but it was the Right Thing to Do. Compassionate. Humanitarian. Setting the Scots on a higher moral plane than the rest of us carping cynics.

It is possible—just—that MacAskill really believed all that hogwash that he spouted two years ago; certainly he’s never once apologized for Megrahi’s release.

But it is difficult to believe that a politician—even a lightweight like MacAskill—could be quite so naive. Megrahi’s release was never for a moment about the rule of law, or “compassion.” Right from the first, it has always been about politics. It was about Scotland’s leaders making an impact, and showing the world that they could do as they pleased—and the Americans be damned if they didn’t like it.

Murkier still, there is always that lingering suspicion of deals within deals and leverage being applied by the British government. What is known for a fact is that former prime minister Tony Blair had several meetings with Gaddafi—and that Megrahi’s release was mentioned at every single one of them.

Not, of course, that the senior Scottish medics didn’t fervently and wholeheartedly believe that Megrahi was going to die within three months. And it’s also just mere tittle-tattle to suggest that his release was driven by oil during Blair’s 2004 "deal in the desert."

But whatever the obscure motives behind Megrahi’s release, it certainly sticks in the craw.

In the West this Saturday, there are no official plans to mark the second anniversary of Megrahi’s freedom—though rest assured that the event will receive wall-to-wall news coverage in America and the U.K., not to mention Libya itself.

For Obama—facing reelection next year—the capture of Megrahi would be every bit as politically helpful as the shooting in May of Osama bin Laden.

And it would also be most helpful for the Scottish government. Since Megrahi doesn’t look as if he’s dying any time soon, the Scottish leadership must be down on their knees praying that the U.S. Special Forces finally manage to get their man.