It’s not as large a download as Wikileaks and Lady Gaga isn’t protesting it, but 270 people died when Pan Am 103 was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and 190 of those killed were Americans. Under increased criticism for its role in Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s return to Libya last year — where he received a hero’s welcome — the Obama administration released a letter last week that it hoped would exonerate it, demonstrating that it wasn’t happy about the release. Princeton’s Robert P. George, who represents the family of his childhood friend, Valerie Canady, who was murdered by al-Megrahi, is not satisfied with the Obama administration’s lack of outrage and is not moving on.
Q: Why doesn’t the letter to the Brits released last week get the Obama administration off the hook?
A: Anyone with even a perfunctory knowledge of diplomatic communication will be struck immediately by the weakness of the opposition to Megrahi’s release expressed in the letter. President Obama and State Department officials in his administration know perfectly well how to make clear to an ally that a move it is contemplating is unacceptable. Just ask the Israelis. The failure of the Obama administration, beginning with the president himself, to make clear to U.K. authorities that Megrahi’s release was unacceptable was disgraceful.
Moreover, the letter reveals that the Obama administration (and, one must assume, the president himself) knew that the U.K. was going to release Megrahi from prison in Scotland. When President Obama said that “all Americans were surprised,” he was dissembling. The cold, hard, and shameful truth is that the Obama administration was in on discussions regarding Megrahi’s release and failed to forcefully oppose it.
Q: Could the Obama administration have stopped the release?
A: Yes. The Brown administration in the U.K., like its predecessors, valued the “special relationship” with the U.S. It was President Obama’s solemn duty to call Gordon Brown on the telephone and inform him that the release of a mass murderer who had brutally slaughtered American civilians (among many others) was unacceptable. Obama could easily have made clear to Brown that releasing Megrahi would strain the special relationship past the breaking point. Faced with a choice between Libyan oil contracts for British companies and his country’s historic alliance with the United States of America, Brown would have held Megrahi in prison, where he belonged.
Why did the president not put through that phone call to his British counterpart? That is the question we should be hearing from the four liberal Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey — Lautenberg, Menendez, Schumer, and Gillibrand — who have loudly (and rightly) criticized the British. So long as they continue to ignore the delinquency of President Obama on this issue, they simply cannot be taken seriously. They are merely grandstanding. After all, around the time of discussions of Megrahi’s possible release, the president had taken the trouble to insinuate himself into a minor dispute between a Cambridge, Mass., police officer and a Harvard professor who happened to be a friend of his. He even got them together at the famous White House beer summit. If that was a matter of sufficient importance to deserve the president’s attention, why did he not pick up the phone, call Gordon Brown, and inform him that the release of the murderer Megrahi is unacceptable to the United States? Had he done that, Megrahi would be in jail in Scotland, and not enjoying life in Libya, where he is being treated as a national hero. Instead, Brown and other British officials interpreted the Obama administration as signaling that releasing Megrahi, while not “the most appropriate” thing to do, was something the U.S. could live with. Alas, that was not at all an unreasonable interpretation.
Q: Why aren’t more people as outraged as you are?
A: The families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 murders are every bit as outraged as I am. So are many other Americans. I know that from the e-mail messages I am receiving. Of course, many people do not know the facts. They innocently suppose that the U.K. released Megrahi without the knowledge of the Obama administration (after all, President Obama told them that all Americans were not only disappointed by the murderer’s release but “surprised” by it) or that it was done despite forceful opposition from U.S. officials. The truth is that it would not have been done in the face of forceful opposition from the U.S. That is a truth that I am seeking to make more widely known.
Q: What can be done at this point? By President Obama?
A: Megrahi is free and will remain so. That atrocity against justice cannot be undone.
We can make sure that such atrocities do not happen in the future. The best way to do that is by holding politicians accountable at the ballot box. The president should be held accountable for his administration’s failure forcefully to oppose Megrahi’s release and for his own failure to call Gordon Brown to say that it would be unacceptable to the United States. Politicians such as my own senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, should be held accountable for failing to demand an explanation from the president for the weakness of his administration’s opposition to releasing Megrahi and for his own delinquency in failing to do what was necessary to stop it.