The cat is out of the bag. British justice secretary Jack Straw has admitted that commercial issues “played a very big part” in the decision of British authorities to release ailing Lockerbie mass murderer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.
Straw’s admission falsifies claims by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that neither oil deals nor other commercial considerations were factors in the decision. The Brown government will soon answer to British voters for releasing Megrahi and for misrepresenting its reasons for doing so.
Before the facts were in, I called upon the British people to insist on knowing the truth, and then to hold their government accountable for its actions.I also urged my fellow Americans to join me in demanding answers from our own government. In the light of what we now know about the British government’s motives, it is more urgent than ever that we get to the truth about what our own government did or failed to do.
What did U.S. officials, including President Obama, know, and when did they know it? If the president of the United States did not know in advance of a trusted ally’s plan to release a man who had murdered 180 Americans, who is responsible for his not knowing it? If Barack Obama did know about the plan, what, if anything, did he do to try to stop it? If a president who only weeks earlier had insinuated himself into a local dispute over the disorderly-conduct arrest of a professor in Cambridge, Mass., did not take the trouble to call Prime Minister Brown to insist that Megrahi not be released, the American people deserve to know why.
There is something fishy about the Obama administration’s refusal to provide a full factual account of its conduct in this case. Clearly, some State Department officials knew what the British were thinking about doing. P. J. Crowley, chief spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has stated that “our fundamental point to the Libyans, Scots, and Brits was the same: [Megrahi] should not be released.”
If all the Obama administration did to try to prevent Megrahi from being released was have someone somewhere in the State Department communicate to the British and Libyans the view that “he should not be,” plainly that is insufficient — and scandalously so. It smacks of mere tail-covering.
The U.S. interest in this matter was profound, and everybody involved knew it. The British people and their government care a great deal about the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain and would not be likely to place it in jeopardy — even for potentially lucrative oil deals with North African potentates. That makes it difficult to credit the idea that there was a forceful protest from the U.S. or that President Obama took the steps he was honor bound to the American people, and especially to the families of the Lockerbie victims, to take in order to prevent this moral atrocity.
Nevertheless, I will be perfectly willing to take President Obama at his word if he states publicly that he called Gordon Brown and demanded in the name of Megrahi’s American victims and their families that the British abandon the plan to release the murderer.
If the president is unwilling to speak publicly about what he and his administration did and didn’t do in this matter, at the very least he should permit Scottish authorities to release to the public documents in their possession that apparently shed light on relevant discussions between U.S. and British officials. A Scottish government source told Fox News on September 1 that these documents exist, and that the U.S. government has refused to permit Scotland to release them or reveal details of their contents.
This is appalling. Lockerbie families and, indeed, all Americans are entitled to know whether the U.S. government made anything resembling a serious effort to prevent Megrahi’s release.
After all, Obama once pledged: “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”
Releasing Megrahi in large part on the basis of commercial considerations amounted to a re-victimization of Lockerbie families by the Brown government. The Obama administration must not add to the anguish of the families by stonewalling on the question of what our government did or failed to do to prevent the release.
– Robert P. George is McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and founder of the American Principles Project. He is also an attorney who represents the family of his childhood friend Valerie Canady, who was among the victims of the Lockerbie bombing.