3 August 2009

MacAskill’s Two-Track Railroad: part 1/10
3 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.

Next: 5 August >>

One year ago today, "Lockerbie bomber" Abdelbaset al Megrahi was still imprisoned in Scotland, convicted for the murder of 270, with an appeal of that endlessly stalled, and advanced prostate cancer drawing the grave closer to him. He was desperate to return home to Libya before the end, and the Libyan government was nearly as set on getting him back.

One way home had presented itself up to that point - a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) that had been Libya's brainchild, sponsored by Libya-UK business interests, and adopted by the UK government. One of the keen provisions of the PTA was that all legal proceedings - like Megrahi's dangerous second appeal - had to be closed first.

Another provision of the agreement, ratified on 5 May 2009, was its 90-day life span [1], which expired on this day last year, August 3. But Justice Secrtary Kenny MacAskill, had already "extended the deadline of the prisoner transfer request,” despite its being implausible to execute. [2]

Curiously, the same day one track was slated to stop (but didn't), a second way home came within reach. Megrahi had formally applied for Compassionate Release less than two weeks earlier, in late July. His original prognosis had been only in September 2008, when he was given “an informal mid-estimate of 18-24 months.” [3] Compassionate Release rules, first set-up in 1993, have no firm life expectancy standard, but do cite three months as a reasonable guideline.

By some time in July 2009, a "firm consensus" was reached by "a range of specialists" that Megrahi's cancer had become "hormone resistant," and so the prognosis has "has now moved to the lower end of expectations from ten months ago." [3] That had been 18-24 months, so minus ten from the low end leaves about eight months left.

An unnamed consulting doctor for the Scottosh Prison Service (SPS) looked Megrahi over again a year ago today [3]. This is widely believed to be Karol Sikora,  but is apparently not. [4] (see also comments, below) Having last seen the prisoner on 26 July, the specialist - not paid by Libya that we know of - reported an alarming deterioration in the short interim. A report from a week later explained "the clinical assessment, therefore, is that a 3 month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate for this patient." [3]

The 10 August report that passes this on was from Scottish Prison Services health director, and expressed his own and a general agreement that the prisoner was suitable for compassionate release. There was no other specific agreement with three months offered. And of course none was needed; as explained above, that  benchmark is a guideline, not a requirement.

But it was an important guideline, and it was on the record to inform the choice in Mr. MacAskill's hands alone. He had two tracks to consider now, one of which (the PTA) would cost Megrhi's appeal if used, and the other of which (compassion) could leave the way open to challenge the tenuous conviction...

[1] http://www.libya-watanona.com/news/n2009/may/0509nwsc.htm
[2] Times Online. 21 August 2009. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article6804645.ece
[3] Medical Report, 10 August 2009. PDF download page: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/legal/lockerbie/CompassionateReleasePro/medical-report
[4] STV. 6 Sept.2009. http://news.stv.tv/scotland/121060-scots-govt-libyan-paid-doctors-did-not-influence-megrahi-release/


Jo G said...

A separate news report from 6 September 2009 confirms the following.

"The Scottish Government has flatly denied reports they considered the medical opinions of three doctors paid by the Libyan government in releasing the Lockerbie bomber.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Libyans had paid for the medical advice of three doctors and "encouraged" them to form the opinion that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi had just three months to live.

The Scottish Government said the prognosis of the three medics - Britons Karol Sikora and Jonathan Waxman and Libyan Ibrahim Sherif - was not taken into account when Kenny MacAskill decided to free the 57-year-old on compassionate grounds last month.

A spokesman said: "This report is false and factually incorrect.

“The Director of Health and Care at the Scottish Prison Service drew on expert advice from a number of cancer specialists in coming to his clinical assessment that a three month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate for the patient.

These included two consultant oncologists, two consultant urologists and a number of other specialists, including a palliative care team, who had reviewed and contributed to the clinical management of the patient.

They did not include Karol Sikora, Jonathan Waxman or Ibrahim Sherif, whose assessments played no part in considerations – including no part in the report submitted by the Scottish Prison Service Director of Health and Care.

Caustic Logic said...

Hi, Jo! I've been enjoying your posts at the Lockerbie Case, and glad to have you here.

I have to confess I'm writing from a position of some ignorance. That article you cite makes it quite clear and would seem hard to refute.

Media reports have overwhelmingly cited Sikora as THE 3-month doctor (not that I should cite that as an excuse). His name and hospital do seem to fit for one of the redacted oncologists, and some redacted doctor did say three months, as Sikora brags he did.

These things aside, it would be a stupid thing to do for the Justice dept., they're quite clear he was on a different team. I'm having a hard time getting over the hump between these two versions, and at the least we've got a curiously thick veil of confusion over this.

Caustic Logic said...

So, thanks for the kick in the pants here. I'll need to come back to this and figure out just how to fix it, and maybe wait a day or two to learn anything else that pops up.

Hey... there's so much confusion over this, it deserves an article to contrast the vast myth and its blind repetition with the established reality, explained clearly. Jo G could do it excellently! Always open to contributors...

Caustic Logic said...

Fore reference, the post originally read

"An unnamed doctor, apparently Karol Sikora - paid by Libya and pressured to deliver a 3-month prognosis - looked Megrahi over again a year ago today."

Now reads:
"An unnamed consulting doctor for the Scottosh Prison Service (SPS) looked Megrahi over again a year ago today. This is widely believed to be Karol Sikora, but is apparently not (see also comments, below) Having last seen the prisoner on 26 July, the specialist - not paid by Libya that we know of - ...

Apologies for my sloppiness in accepting repetition as the basis for giving credit to a notion that, in retrospect, is pretty silly. I admit my skepticism of the whole prognosis-release-appeal situation left me too susceptible to this illusion that that chatterbox Sikora was really behind it all.

So why don't the US media and senators notice that it would be nuts for Scotland to use Sikora's advice? Aren't they supposed to be smarter than me? This whole confused mess needs to be sorted out and having just been tangled in it myself, I don't feel up to it. ('nother nudge)

Happy Sunday!