18 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: Part 8/10
18 August 2010 

Note: The posts in this series are not conclusive, but rather what I was able to learn before the anniversary arrived, sporadically updated later. Any suggestions from knowledgeable readers to improve the content will be gladly appreciated.

<< Previous: 13/14 August
Next: 19 August >>

One year ago today, Kenny MacAskill still hadn't decided whether or how how to send Megrahi home - as a dying but essentially free man, or as a prisoner under terms of the Libya-UK PTA. These two options vied for his attention, and he had amassed reams of information and opinions for and against different versions of each.

The families of UK victims had weighed in, largely concerned with Megrahi's appeal, opposing the PTA which would cost the world that chance at truth. American families were interviewed, and opposed any release, transfer, or any relenting in the extraction of justice. The US government sided with the families but were pragmmatic enough to entertain compassionate release. However, under no conditions would they support his return to Libya (see 9 August). The UK position was that the prisoner swap should go ahead and there was no reason not to send Megrahi back to Libya.

Medical experts weighed in with a picture of advancing cancer, set to kill him within months. The estimates ran as short as three months, but tended more like eight under cirumstances as they stood - the return home they proposed was sure to lengthen that (10 August). MacAskill also received legal opinions from W. George Burgess (14 August). These saw no barrier to compassionate release straight out to Libya. Shockingly, Burgess also said the Crown's outstanding appeal for longer sentence was enough to bolock the PTA despite Megrahi's own surrendered appeal. Precisely the sharpest danger that faced him in the surrender process was recognized and suggested in this strategy paper.

The most recent known pieces to fill in MacAskill's puzzle had been Burgess' twin documents on the PTA and compassion angles. By 18 August, the Justice secretary had four days to consider this in light of everything else on file.

And still he hadn't quite made up his mind as one final piece fell into place one year ago today; a panel of three judges ruled that Megrahi's appeal should be closed. He had applied for this six days earlier, for somewhat mysterious reasons related to getting home quicker. A Canadian news story, among many others, seemed to think about the same thing: "A British court will allow convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to drop an appeal, taking him a step closer to being released." CBC, 18 August

Structurally and by normal rules, this could only assist in the Prisoner transfer, not compassionate release. MacAskill had been advised by Burgess that this was still a closed option, due now to the Crown's outstanding appeal for longer sentence. But whatever the prisoner's reasoning and the effects on his repatriation, the formal loss of the appeal had peculiar side effects, vis-a-vis the truth. As British families leader Pamela Dix told the Guardian the following day:
"This is the worst possible decision for the relatives. ... There now seems little chance of this evidence [in the appeal] being heard and scrutinised in public." 
[Source: Guardian, 19 August]
Could it be that was exactly the point of the exercise?

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