Not for the first time the Lockerbie narrative is being distorted out of all recognition for political ends, first by the US-UK governments in the 1990s, then by the UK Government and the Scottish Executive in 2009, and now by Cameron in his statement to the Commons yesterday. Cameron’s line was that the previous Labour Government “had done all it could to facilitate” the release of al-Megrahi by the Scottish Executive. What he didn’t say was what conceivable motive Labour might have had to act in that way: since Megrahi was held responsible for the deaths of 270 people, why should Labour go out of its way to get him released? Gus O’Donnell records a meeting with the Libyans on 27 October 2008 at which “the Libyans made clear that Megrahi’s death in custody would have very serious implications to UK/Libya relations”. But again, why should the UK submit to crude blackmail of this kind from Libya – unless it had its own ulterior motive? It did.
The Lockerbie saga must surely be one of the most contorted propaganda stories in modern politics. The Libyans had no motive whatever for bringing down Pan Am flight 103. The evidence used to convict Megrahi is, in the view of independent observers including the assiduous campaigner Jim Swire who lost a daughter on the flight and who attended the trial in the Netherlands, seriously flawed in terms of the key witness from Malta, Tony Gauci, who repeatedly changed his evidence, the question of a CIA plant of incriminating evidence, and of course the motive. Megrahi is almost certainly innocent. However that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been made a pawn in international politics. He has.
Those who did have a compelling motive were the Iranians whose civil airline carrying some 259 passengers had been brought down on 3 July 1988 by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, in the Gulf. The Lockerbie bombing was clearly long planned and there are good grounds for believing that they commissioned the task to the Palestinian Ahmed Gibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an offshoot of the PLO. In the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing however the US was seeking to build a Middle East alliance against the expansionism of Saddam Hussein and didnot want to pick a major quarrel with the Arab States. Libya however was a sworn enemy of the US after Gadaffi overthrew Libya’s Anglo-American puppet king, kicked the Americans out of the Wheeler AirForce base and began buying Soviet equipment and weapons. Libya denied involvement and the Security Council imposed sanctions in 1992, notably a ban on air links to Libya and on the sale to Libya of arms and oil-drilling equipment which Libya claims cost it £31bn over the next 7 years.
Libya therefore had a motive to regain acceptance by the international community. Britain also had a motive to help them to do so. BP had long been lobbying to gain access to the vast Libyan oilfields. However much the UK Government and the FCO try to cover up the truth, it was the prospect of Libyan oil that caused UK Ministers to reopen official contacts with Libya in 2005 that ledt to Blair’s visit to Gadaffi a year later and ultimately to the release of Megrahi.