Thursday, August 27, 2009

U.S. Renews Attacks on Libya in the Aftermath of the Release of Political Prisoner From Scotland

U.S. Renews Attacks on Libya in the Aftermath of the Release of Political Prisoner From Scotland

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi has always maintained his innocence in the Lockerbie bombing case

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A Libyan man, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, 57, returned home on August 21 to a hero's welcome after being held in a Scottish prison for eight years in connection with the bombing of the Pan Am 103 flight over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. All 259 passengers on board the aircraft were killed including 11 others on the ground.

Al-Megrahi, who has always maintained his innocence, was released on humanitarian grounds by the Scottish authorities after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

The release of this political prisoner has created the conditions for a renewal of attacks on the North African state of Libya, which since 1969 has been headed by Muammar Gaddafi, an anti-imperialist leader who currently serves as Chairman of the African Union. Libya under Gadaffi had been designated as a "terrorist state" dating back to the Reagan administration in the early 1980s.

Libya, which has been a strong advocate of African unity and socialism, was bombed by the United States Airforce on April 14, 1986. The bombings sparked outrage throughout the continent of Africa and the world.

Relations With Libya Imperiled

Since the events of September 11, 2001 and the escalation of the U.S. so-called "war on terrorism", efforts were made to normalize relations with Libya in an effort to further isolate Iraq, Syria, the DPRK, Sudan and Iran. During the period after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration claimed that Libya had agreed to dismantle and eliminate its purported "weapons of mass destruction" in exchange for greater diplomatic recognition from Washington and London.

In August 2003 the Libyan government agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. In September of the same year, the United Nations Security Council voted to lift sanctions against Libya.

In 2006, the United States restored full diplomatic relations with Libya and therefore opening the door for further economic cooperation. The country was removed from the state department list of governments that "support terrorism." During the final days of the Bush administration, former Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice visited the country.

Libya has also been involved in peace negotiations surrounding the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Yet this apparent thawing in relations between the U.S. and Libya has been jeopardized by the virulent statements emanating from the Obama administration in response to the release of al-Megrahi and his welcoming by the Libyan government and people. During the course of the normalization process, U.S. and British oil firms were allowed to resume economic relations with Libya which is said to hold the largest oil reserves on the African continent.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill took responsibility for making the decision to release al-Megrahi from prison. "It is my decision that Mr. released on compassionate grounds and be returned to Libya to die," MacAskill said. (Al Jazeera, August 21)

MacAskill told journalists that "He [al-Megrahi] is a dying man; he is terminally ill. My decision is that he returns home to die."
Nonetheless, U.S. President Barack Obama, under pressure from the FBI and right-wing political elements inside the country, said that the release of Megrahi was a "mistake" and that the former political prisoner should be held under house arrest in Libya.

In a statement issued by al-Megrahi on the eve of his release he states that "As a result of my surrender, and that judgement of the court, I had to spend over 10 years in prison. I cannot find words in my language or yours that give proper expression to the desolation I have felt. This horrible ordeal is not ended by my return to Libya.

"The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction. I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted." (Statement from al-Megrahi published in Al Jazeera, August 20)

Although the United States and prosecutors have claimed that al-Megrahi was a Libyan intelligence officer, he has been consistent in stating that he was an airline executive at the time of the Lockerbie bombing. Evidence of guilt was highly circumstantial and questionable. Another Libyan was also turned over during the late 1990s for trial at a special court in the Netherlands, but he was acquitted of the charges.

An appeal by al-Megrahi was rejected by a Scottish court in 2002. However, a judicial review of his conviction in 2007 raised a number of questions in regard to the veracity of the evidence used against him during the trial. Particular doubt was cast on the testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed that clothing purchased in his store by al-Megrahi was found in the wreckage of the Pan Am 103.

According to Al Jazeera, "It was suggested that Gauci may have seen a photo of al-Megrahi in a magazine days before picking him out of line-up." Al-Megrahi made a decision to drop his appeal when Libya, which has negotiated for his release over many years, reached a deal with the British government to have him released on compassionate grounds.

Behind the Agreement to Release al-Megrahi

With Libya serving as chair of the continental organization the African Union as well as the desire on the part of the imperialist countries to access the nation's vast oil and natural gas reserves, there has been an increased willingness of both the United States and Britain to further normalize relations and enhance existing economic agreements.

These factors were raised in an interview with Seif al-Islam, the son of Muammar Gadaffi, that was broadcast over Libyan Television on August 22. Al-Islam said that the release of al-Megrahi was raised during talks over possible oil and natural gas contracts between the British government and Libya.

Al-Islam described the release of al-Megrahi as a "victory" for the people of Libya. He went on further to state that "In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, (Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table", the Libyan told the Al Mutawasit television channel.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Libya in May 2007 amid the signing of an exploration contract with the United Kingdom oil firm BP for $900 million. Despite these statements by al-Islam and the signing of the 2007 contract, the British Foreign Office has insisted that the release of al-Megrahi was the sole decision of the Scottish government.

A British Foreign Office spokesperson said that "No deal has been made between the UK government and the Libyan government in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interest in the country." (BBC, August 22)

Later Foreign Secretary David Miliband disputed any suggestion that the release of the Libyan political prisoner was designed to improve relations with the Gadaffi government. He stated that any claim of this was merely "a slur on both myself and the government." (BBC, August 22)

Al-Megrahi met with Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi upon his return. Gadaffi issued a statement in response to the return of al-Megrahi which stated in part that "At this moment I would like to send a message to our friends in Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party, the Scottish prime minister... and I congratulate them on their courage and for having proved their independence despite the unacceptable and unreasonable pressures they faced." (Jana, August 22)
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

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