Scottish minister stands by decision to free Lockerbie bomber

By Anna Tomforde

LONDON – Scotland’s Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, on Thursday defended his controversial decision to free the convicted Lockerbie bomber on health grounds a year ago, saying that predicting how long a cancer patient might live is “not an exact science.”

MacAskill also said the Scottish government had “nothing to fear” from a new inquiry by United States senators into the release of Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, and he would be prepared to meet the senators if they came to Scotland.
MacAskill and other Scottish and British politicians had earlier made clear that they would not go to the U.S. to give evidence for the inquiry.

Friday marks the first anniversary of the release of al- Megrahi, who was freed from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds after prison doctors said it was “reasonable” to expect that he had just three months to live.

The 58-year-old former Libyan intelligence agent, who is suffering from prostate cancer, is still alive and receiving chemotherapy treatment in his native country.

He is the only man to have been convicted of the 1988 bombing of a PanAm airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

Al-Megrahi served just eight years of a life sentence issued by a special court in 2001.

The anniversary, and the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, have rekindled doubts in the U.S. about the motives and circumstances of al-Megrahi’s release. Questions have been raised about a possible link between British oil interests in Libya and al- Megrahi’s release.

The U.S. Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee has launched a fresh inquiry, led by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey.

In an interview with BBC Scotland on Thursday, MacAskill said he would speak to senators if they came to Scotland.

“I respect the right of the senators to make inquiries, but the government of Scotland has nothing to fear,” he said.
When asked whether al-Megrahi would have been freed if it had been known that he would still be alive a year on, MacAskill said: “Well, he wouldn’t have met the criteria and, accordingly, the decision would not have been made.”

However, the decision to free al-Megrahi was “not based on political, economic or diplomatic considerations, whether from Libya, whether from the United States, whether from within Scotland or without,” he said.
“It was the right decision for the right reasons. It’s not a matter of regrets, it’s a matter of responsibility,” he added.