WikiLeaks: Lockerbie Bomber Released after Gaddafi’s Threats Against UK
The British government’s deep fears that Libya would take “harsh and immediate” action against UK interests if the convicted Lockerbie bomber died in a Scottish prison are revealed in secret US embassy cables which show London’s full support for the early release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, made explicit and “thuggish” threats to halt all trade deals with Britain and harass embassy staff if Megrahi remained in jail, the cables show. At the same time “a parade of treats” was offered by Libya to the Scottish devolved administration if it agreed to let him go, though the cable says they were turned down.
Document 1: Britain ‘between a rock and a hard place’ over Megrahi.
Document 2: US ambassador to Tripoli says Libyan officials warned the UK of ‘dire consequences’ if Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison. Threats included commercial sanctions, severing of political ties and suggestions that the welfate of British diplomats and citizens would be at risk.
Document 3: Britain feared Libya would ‘cut us off at the knees’ if Megrahi was not released.
Document 4: Scottish government ‘shocked’ by Megrahi outcry.
Document 5: US diplomats voice ‘strong concerns’ over Qatar’s role in Megrahi release.
Document 6: US suspicion surrounds Tony Blair’s visit to Libya.
Document 7: UK feared hero’s funeral for Megrahi.
Read related article “Lockerbie bomber freed after Gaddafi’s ‘thuggish’ threats” in the Guardian here.
Friday, 24 October 2008, 06:45
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002673
STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND L/LEI
EO 12958 DECL: 10/23/2018
TAGS PREL, PGOV, PTER, LY, UK
SUBJECT: PAN AM 103 BOMBER HAS INCURABLE CANCER; LIBYANS
SEEK HIS RELEASE
REF: A. TSOU-NEA EMAILS/TELCONS B. TSOU-L EMAILS/TELCONS
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Richard LeBaron, reasons 1.4 b, d
1. (C/NF) Summary. Convicted Pam Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi has inoperable, incurable cancer, but it is not clear how long he has to live, according to two separate medical opinions obtained by officials at Greenock prison near Glasgow, where Megrahi is currently serving a life sentence. Preparatory hearings for the second appeal of Megrahi’s conviction, meanwhile, are continuing, but the appeal itself will probably not begin until late 2009, according to the Scottish Crown. The Libyan government is therefore pursuing Megrahi’s early release through two other channels, the FCO reports: compassionate release under Scottish law, and the as-yet unsigned UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). HMG has made clear to the Libyans, to Embassy London and to the media that it will take no official position on Megrahi’s early release, but will leave the decision – whether through compassionate release or the PTA – to the devolved Scottish government. At the same time, FCO contacts tell us that HMG is adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not the Scottish. Embassy London is working with the FCO and the Cabinet Office to find a way to represent USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, without making any implicit statement about UK national foreign policy prerogatives.
2. (C/NF) Summary cont. The Libyans have not yet made a formal application for compassionate release for Megrahi, but HMG believes that the Scottish may be inclined to grant the request, when it comes, based on conversations between Scottish First Minister (PM-equivalent) Alex Salmond and UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Although the general practice is to grant compassionate release within three months of end of life, this is not codified in the law, so the release, if granted, could occur sooner rather than later. End summary.
3. (C/NF) Megrahi was first diagnosed on September 23 at Inverclyde Royal Hospital, both the FCO and the Scottish Crown office have told us; the second diagnosis was on October 10. The two diagnoses match: he has prostate cancer that has spread to his bones, the cancer has advanced rapidly, and it is inoperable and incurable. Megrahi could have as long as five years to live, but the average life expectancy of someone of his age with his condition is eighteen months to two years. Doctors are not sure where he is on the time scale, and therefore, how much longer he has to live. He has visibly deteriorated in recent weeks, according to those who have visited him. His visitors have included a Libyan oncologist, who expressed satisfaction with the medical treatment Megrahi has been receiving. FCO North Africa Group Head Rob Dixon told us October 22 that Qadhafi apparently complained about the Scots’ treatment of Megrahi, but that complaint was unspecific and hasn’t been repeated. Megrahi has told his family he is dying, and is receiving regular visits from a imam.
4. (C/NF) The Libyans are pursuing two tracks to obtain Megrahi’s release, apart from the appeal, Dixon told us. The first is the possibility of early release on compassionate grounds. FCO Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell sent Libyan Deputy FM Abdulati al-Obeidi a letter, which was cleared both by HMG and by the Scottish Executive, on October 17 outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release (text of letter sent to NEA and L). It cites Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act of 1993 as the basis for release of prisoners, on license, on compassionate grounds. Although the Scottish Crown informed the families of the Pan Am 103 victims in an email October 21 that the time frame for compassionate release is normally three months from time of death, Dixon stressed to us that the three month time frame is not codified in the law. Although Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill would normally make the final decision, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Jack Straw that he will make the final decision in this case. Salmond told Straw that he would make the decision based on humanitarian grounds, not foreign policy grounds; Dixon told us HMG has interpreted this to mean that Salmond is inclined to grant the request.
Publicly, Salmond has refused to speculate on what decision he might make.
5. (C/NF) The Libyans have not yet requested compassionate release, but have indicated to the FCO that they will. Libyan officials are currently seeking a meeting with the Scottish Executive to discuss the situation. If Megrahi were to be released on compassionate grounds, he would be released into Scotland, but could be transferred back to Libya. According to Dixon, Megrahi does not have to drop his appeal in order to be granted compassionate leave.
Prisoner Transfer Agreement
6. (C/NF) The second track that the Libyans are pursuing to obtain Megrahi’s early release is the UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement. The text of the PTA is not yet concluded between HMG and Libya, although the Libyans are now pushing for this process to be expedited, Dixon tells us. Once the two governments reach agreement on the text, HMG will proceed to clear it with the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Salmond publicly expressed his ire to then-PM Tony Blair for not consulting with Scotland beforehand when HMG announced its intention to pursue a PTA with Libya in 2007; nonetheless, Dixon says the current draft PTA contains standard language that the Scottish have cleared for other countries. Once the three devolved governments agree to the text, Libyan and British officials will sign it. Dixon says the signing will probably take place before Christmas. Once it is signed, under British law the PTA needs to sit for 21 days before the House of Commons and in the Lords before it is enacted, meaning that late January 2009 is the earliest the PTA could come into effect. Megrahi cannot be transferred under the PTA while he has an appeal pending. Dixon says that Megrahi is not specifically mentioned in the text; however, there are no other prisoners currently in the UK prison system to which the PTA would apply.
Status of Megrahi’s Appeal
7. (C/NF) The Scottish High Court’s October 15 decision to allow all grounds for appeal to be considered, including grounds that had been previously rejected by the Scottish Criminal Case Review commission (text sent to NEA/MAG and L/LEI), slows the whole appeal process down, according to Scottish Court Head of Policy John Logue. Logue and Dixon both estimate that the appeal itself probably won’t begin until late 2009, and probably won’t conclude until 2010, Dixon said. Under Scottish law, even if Megrahi dies before the appeal is completed, a third party “with a legitimate interest” can continue the appeal on his behalf. The Scottish Crown is therefore proceeding with the case, Logue said.
UK: Between a Rock and A Hard Place
8. (C/NF) HMG is in an awkward position, Dixon and Cabinet Office North Africa officer Ben Lyons confided to us. The Libyans have told HMG flat out that there will be “enormous repercussions” for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship if Megrahi’s early release is not handled properly. At the same time, in keeping with the practice of devolution, HMG has made clear to the Libyans, to the media, and to us that it will take no official position on Megrahi’s early release, but will leave the decision on early release – whether through compassionate release or the PTA – to the Scottish government, and the decision on the appeal to the Scottish courts. But HMG is also adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not Edinburgh. Added to the mix are Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party, whose stated goal is an independent Scotland, with a referendum on the issue to be held in 2010; Salmond and the SNP will look for opportunities to exploit the Megrahi case for their own advantage. This is the first time HMG has had to deal with a foreign policy issue under devolution, Dixon said, and HMG is feeling its way forward, as are the Scottish; Logue told us that Scotland, for example, has never before granted compassionate release to a foreign national. We noted that while we understand the complexities of the issue for HMG, we need to find a channel for consultation and representation of USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, while taking HMG equities into account. Our HMG interlocutors agreed to explore options with us.
Comment: Devolution and Foreign Policy
9. (C/NF) This is the first time that HMG – and the USG – will face a foreign policy decision made under the constraints of devolution, and the channels that we establish now will set a precedent for future cases. In creating these channels, we will need to take into account sensitivities on the sides of both HMG and the Scottish Executive, while ensuring that whatever position we may want to convey in the Megrahi case gets to the right officials in a timely manner.
10. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.
Visit London’s Classified Website: http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Unit ed_Kingdom
Wednesday, 28 January 2009, 17:00
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000065
LONDON FOR TSOU, PARIS FOR WALLER
EO 12958 DECL: 1/28/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, PTER, LY, UK
SUBJECT: PAN AM BOMBER AL-MEGRAHI: THE VIEW FROM TRIPOLI
REF: A) LONDON 209, B) 06 TRIPOLI 0055, C) 08 TRIPOLI 994
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy – Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C/NF) Summary: While Libya has a number of other pressing foreign policy issues on its plate, the case of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi is arguably the regime’s most sensitive political subject, in part because it involves a firm timeline in the form of the ailing el-Megrahi’s approaching death. Through remarks by senior officials suggesting that al-Megrahi is innocent and a steady diet of publicity about his case, the regime has limited its room for political maneuver. U.K. Embassy interlocutors here are planning for a scenario in which the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement is ratified in early March and the GOL makes application shortly thereafter for al-Megrahi’s transfer to Libya. The U.K. Embassy expects a sharply negative GOL reaction if al-Megrahi dies in prison or if the Scottish Executive and/or FCO oppose his transfer. The U.K. Embassy has recommended dramatic pre-emptive measures, to include drawing down their mission in Tripoli, if either of those possibilities occurs. If the USG publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release – or is perceived to be complicit in a decision that results in al-Megrahi remaining in prison – the U.S. Embassy and private Americans in Libya could face similar consequences. End summary.
AL-MEGRAHI’S CASE IS THE GOL’S MOST SENSITIVE AT PRESENT
2. (C/NF) Consistent with information reported reftel, U.K. Emboffs here have interpreted the lengthy and repeated visits to the U.K. by MFA A/S-equivalent for European Affairs Abdulati Obeidi and External Security Organization Director Musa Kusa in connection with the matter of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi as reflecting the great political importance the GOL attaches to successfully resolving (from the GOL’s perspective) the case. Contacts here have told us that Ahmed el-Msellati, a senior regime legal adviser/fixer who played a pivotal role in finalizing and implementing the U.S.-Libya claims compensation agreement, has also visited the U.K. to consult with al-Megrahi’s defense team and FCO officials. While the GOL has a number of other pressing foreign policy issues on its plate – moving forward with re-established U.S.-Libya ties, reacting to the Gaza crisis, managing its role as the only current Arab member of the UNSC, mediating between Chad and Sudan, resolving its contretemps with the Swiss, and initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa – al-Megrahi’s case is arguably the most critical and sensitive political subject at present. That is so because the regime has widely publicized developments in his case and because, unlike other foreign policy priorities, al-Megrahi’s situation involves an immutable timeline in the form of his approaching death from cancer. In media interviews last August, senior regime figure Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi said al-Megrahi was innocent and that Libya had accepted responsibility for Pan Am 103 and allowed al-Megrahi and co-defendant al-Amin Khalifah Fhima to be tried in order to facilitate Libya’s re-assimilation into the international community after years of isolation under international sanctions. Those comments, together with a steady diet of articles in Libyan state-owned newspapers about al-Megrahi’s case and the travails of his family in Glasgow, have raised expectations among ordinary Libyans that the regime will secure his release, and have limited the GOL’s room for political maneuver.
U.K. EMBASSY FOCUSED ON TRANSFER UNDER PTA AND SECURITY POSTURE
3. (C/NF) U.K. Embassy interlocutors here tell us they are planning for a scenario in which the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) is ratified in early March and the GOL makes application shortly thereafter for al-Megrahi’s transfer to Libya. They do not anticipate that GOL officials will pursue another application for bail, and said they had no information from the FCO to suggest that al-Megrahi’s application for compassionate release, which was denied in November, would be re-submitted in light of his deteriorating medical condition. U.K. Emboffs began consulting with us in December about deliberations concerning their security posture and tripwires for action should al-Megrahi die in Scottish prison. Consistent with information reported reftel, GOL officials have warned U.K. Emboffs in demarches here that the consequences for the U.K.-Libya bilateral relationship would be “dire” were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison. Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all U.K. commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official U.K. facilities. GOL officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk.
4. (C/NF) Citing demonstrations in Benghazi against the Italian consulate in 2006 that rapidly turned violent (ref B) and the quick curtailment of direct air links in the ongoing Swiss-Libyan dispute (ref C), the U.K. Embassy has reportedly recommended to London that the following pre-emptive measures be taken immediately if al-Megrahi were to die in prison or if the transfer under the PTA were to be denied: 1) close the British School; 2) close the British Council; 3) issue a travel advisory/warden message-equivalent advising British nationals to exercise extreme caution and/or leave Libya; and 4) draw the U.K. mission down to only essential personnel. The failure of Switzerland and Libya to resolve the dispute prompted by the arrest of Muammar al-Qadhafi’s son, Hannibal, last July has convinced U.K. Emboffs that the consequences if al-Megrahi were to die in prison or if the transfer under the PTA were denied would be harsh, immediate and not easily remedied.
IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. INTERESTS
5. (C/NF) If the USG publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release (or is perceived to be complicit in a decision to keep al-Megrahi in prison), Post judges that U.S. interests could face similar consequences, including regime-orchestrated demonstrations against the Embassy, retaliation against U.S. business interests and possible obstruction of the travel of official and private Americans, as occurred in the case of the Swiss. (Note: Unlike recent demonstrations against the Swiss (Swiss-Libyan dispute) and Egyptian embassies (in connection with Gaza), in which the regime mustered crowds that dutifully went through the paces, al-Megrahi’s case is a genuinely emotive one for ordinary Libyans; demonstrations would likely be more energetic and harder for the GOL to control. End note.) Some variation of that scenario is possible, though not as likely, if al-Megrahi were to die in prison without the USG having declared a position. The fact that the GOL did not orchestrate and apparently did not sanction protests against U.S. facilities in connection with events in Gaza gives cause for cautious optimism that the GOL might distinguish between U.S. and U.K. interests in such a case, although the GOL essentially views the Pan Am 103 case as a joint U.S.-U.K. issue.
6. (C/NF) Comment: Despite the GOL’s strategic decision in 2003 to take steps to facilitate its acceptance back into the community of nations, the regime remains essentially thuggish in its approach, particularly on issues it perceives to involve domestic political equities. The over-reaction of Muammar al-Qadhafi to what amounted to a matter of pride involving a verbal spat with then-Crown Prince Abdullah at the 2003 Arab League Summit, together with the more recent deterioration of Swiss-Libyan ties, are illustrative of what may happen should al-Megrahi die in prison. The regime understands that we have equities in this case: on the margins of the former Secretary’s visit to Tripoli in September, senior regime figure Abdullah Sanussi asked former NEA A/S David Welch to influence Pan Am 103 families not to oppose al-Megrahi’s transfer (Welch demurred). The issue of al-Megrahi is sensitive enough for the regime that there may be repercussions for our interests here even if we remain neutral; there will almost certainly be consequences if we publicly take a position opposing his transfer. By contrast with the Swiss problem, which is seen as an issue over the reprehensible behavior of Hannibal al-Qadhafi, al-Megrahi is effectively viewed as something of a folks hero in the eyes of the regime and many ordinary Libyans. End comment. CRETZ
Sunday, 16 August 2009, 15:40
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000663
STATE FOR NEA/MAG, EUR/WE, H, AND L
EO 12958 DECL: 8/16/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, UK, LY
SUBJECT: CONFLICTING MESSAGES ON PENDING RELEASE OF ABDEL BASSETT
REF: TRIPOLI 662
TRIPOLI 00000663 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Joan Polaschik, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa told the British Ambassador August 15 that convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Bassett al Megrahi is a very ill man, too ill for anything but a quiet return to his family. While the British Ambassador, who had raised the Megrahi case on instructions from London, was encouraged by Kusa’s comments, he also noted that only one man — Muammar al-Qadhafi — would decide Megrahi’s true reception in Libya. Building on Qadhafi’s comments to CODEL McCain (ref), the Executive Director of the Qadhafi Development Foundation (QDF) told us August 16 that the Libyan Government “as a democracy” could not control any spontaneous demonstrations by the people in support of Megrahi’s return. The Libyan Government may be gearing up for a two-pronged approach on Megrahi’s return: an official policy of no celebrations, coupled with a disingenuous denial of any involvement in “spontaneous” celebrations that could erupt upon Megrahi’s return. It may be useful to engage Foreign Minister Musa Kusa on this issue. End summary.
UK AMBASSADOR: MUSA KUSA INDICATES A QUIET RETURN
2. (C) UK Ambassador Sir Vincent Fean told the Charge August 15 that he had met Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa earlier on the same day, on instructions from London, to discuss the potential release from a Scottish prison of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Bassett al Megrahi. Stressing that he had addressed the issue as a hypothetical scenario, Fean said that he had urged the Libyan Government to handle Megrahi’s possible release in a very low-profile manner. According to Fean, Kusa responded that Megrahi is a very sick man, and is too ill for anything but a quiet return to his family. While the British Ambassador interpreted Kusa’s response as positive, he also noted that only one man — Muammar al-Qadhafi — would determine Megrahi’s true reception in Libya. He expects to receive a personal letter from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Qadhafi on this issue, for delivery this week.
3. (C) The British Ambassador expressed relief that Megrahi likely would be returned to Libya under the compassionate release program. He noted that a refusal of Megrahi’s request could have had disastrous implications for British interests in Libya. “They could have cut us off at the knees, just like the Swiss,” Fean bluntly said. He also expressed hope that the Megrahi issue would not have a negative impact on U.S.-UK relations, commenting that “we have lots of other issues on the agenda right now.” The Ambassador stressed that he had no further information on timing for Megrahi’s possible release but said that he expected a decision “soon.”
QADHAFI FOUNDATION: THE PEOPLE WILL DECIDE HOW MEGRAHI IS RECEIVED
4. (C) During an August 16 meeting, QDF Executive Director Yusuf Sawani passionately argued on behalf of Megrahi’s right to receive compassionate release from the Scottish judicial system. Stating that “everyone in Libya was more than surprised by the official USG reaction on the issue,” he argued that the United States, as a civilized, democratic nation, should not stand in the way of an official decision made by the Scottish judicial system. He described the U.S. justice system as infamous for making mistakes and jailing innocent people but emphasized that even convicted criminals were entitled to certain rights within the U.S. legal system. Referring to CODEL McCain’s recent press statements, he said that he understood that U.S. congressmen must respond to the positions of their constituencies, but he did not understand why members of the U.S. Administration would object to Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds. He accused the U.S. Administration of attempting to interfere politically with the Scottish judicial system, in an effort to exact “revenge” on Megrahi for his crimes.
5. (C) The Charge reminded Sawani that the U.S. position remained unchanged: while we will not interfere in the Scottish procedures, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out the remainder of his life sentence in a Scottish prison. Noting that the repatriation of Megrahi was recently unveiled by the QDF as one of its three priority objectives, the Charge strongly urged Sawani and the QDF to treat Megrahi’s potential return in a low-key manner. Sawani expressed agreement that the official Libyan Government response to a Megrahi release should be quiet, but he insisted that the Libyan people would ultimately decide how to react to Megrahi’s return. Although he denied that the QDF would play any role in organizing any demonstrations in support of Megrahi, Sawani asked heatedly whether the U.S. would demand that the Libyan Government set up barricades and send police to quell demonstrations in honor of Megrahi’s return. “No one can object to Libyans expressing their feelings if Megrahi comes back,” he said, “this is democracy.” Sawani warned that U.S. objections to Megrahi’s release would resurrect Libyans’ former views of the U.S. as a “tyrant nation,” to which the Charge responded that a hero’s welcome for Megrahi undoubtedly would elicit a similarly strong reaction among the American people. Sawani conceded that it would be important for both sides to carefully manage this extremely sensitive issue.
6. (C) Comment: Based on comments from Kusa and Sawani, the Libyan Government may be gearing up for a two-pronged approach on Megrahi’s return: an official policy of no celebrations, coupled with a disingenuous denial of any involvement in “spontaneous” celebrations that could erupt upon Megrahi’s return. The latter scenario makes sense in the context of Muammar and Muatassim al-Qadhafi’s comments to CODEL McCain that the GOL could not prevent the Libyan people from giving Megrahi a hero’s welcome (ref). Given Foreign Minister Musa Kusa’s pragmatic understanding of the broader strategic interests at stake, it may be useful to engage him on this issue. End comment POLASCHIK
Monday, 24 August 2009, 14:05
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 001946
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE AND NEA/MAG
EO 12958 DECL: 08/24/2019
TAGS PREF, PTER, UK, LY
SUBJECT: SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT HOLDS EMERGENCY SESSION AS
DEBATE OVER MEGRAHI DECISION REACHES FEVER PITCH
REF: A. LONDON 1925 AND PREVIOUS B. STATE 80743
Classified By: Ambassador Louis B. Susman, reasons 1.4 (b/d).
1. (C/NF) Summary. The Scottish Government severely underestimated the both USG and UK public reaction to its decision to grant compassionate release to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi on August 20. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has privately indicated that he was “shocked” by FBI Director Mueller’s public letter. The media continue to report U.S. anger over the decision, and concern Scotland will be targeted economically, through reduced U.S. tourism and whiskey boycotts. The media speculate that the UK Government had a hand in the deal to maintain good diplomatic relations with Libya and secure oil and gas deals, which the UK Government has denied as “completely wrong” and “offensive.” Today (August 24), the Scottish Parliament meets to hear Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill’s explanation of his decision. The media speculates that Scottish opposition parties, all of which are on record condemning the decision, may move against the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) minority government in a vote of no confidence, though the two-thirds majority required to secure such a move would be very difficult to obtain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not yet made a statement on Megrahi’s release, with other Cabinet members maintaining that it was a decision for the devolved Scottish Government. Given growing discontent and speculation about a UK Government hand in the deal, Brown may have to make a statement soon. Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are using the issue to call into question the SNP government’s credibility and competence. End summary.
Reaction to USG Statements
2. (C/NF) The UK media have widely reported on FBI Director Mueller’s letter to MacAskill and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen’s comments on the Scottish Government’s decision to grant compassionate release to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. Washington-based Scottish Government Representative Robin Naysmith told CG Edinburgh Sunday, August 24 that Scottish First Minister Salmond was “shocked” by Mueller’s comments, which were “over the top” given that President Obama had already commented on the decision. Naysmith underscored that Scotland received “nothing” for releasing Megrahi (as has been widely suggested in the UK and U.S. media), while the UK Government has gotten everything – a chance to stick it to Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya. (NOTE: We expect Naysmith to be engaging heavily in Washington on these issues. END NOTE.)
3. (C/NF) The media have also reported growing concerns that American anger over the decision will translate into a boycott of Scottish whiskey and reduced American tourism in Scotland, an approximately USD 416 million business annually. In a previous meeting with CG Edinburgh on Friday, August 21, Salmond reiterated that he and his government “had played straight” with both the USG and UK Government, but implied that the UK Government had not. During the meeting, which occurred before the Mueller and Mullen statements, he said he wanted to move beyond the Megrahi issue and deepen Scotland’s relationship with the USG. He said the Libyan Government had offered the Scottish Government “a parade of treats,” all of which were turned down. (NOTE: Roughly fifty percent of Scottish exports go to the U.S., and over 450 U.S. businesses employ over 100,000 Scots in Scotland. END NOTE.)
4. (SBU) Scottish Government statements, including those from Salmond, have acknowledged the “strongly-held views of the American families,” but underscored that those views are not shared by all of the victims’ families (referring primarily to the British families). Salmond defended the decision, saying it was “right in terms of (the Scottish) legal system” and “what (they) are duty-bound to do.” Salmond is also reported in the media to have said that the USG had made clear that, while it opposed Megrahi’s release, it regarded freeing him on compassionate grounds “far preferable” to a transfer under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). (NOTE: While indicating the USG’s preference for compassionate release over a PTA transfer, as described in reftel B, Salmond’s statement does not mention the USG’s strong opposition to any release, particularly one that would allow Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. END NOTE.)
Scottish Parliament Holds Emergency Session
5. (SBU) The Scottish Parliament holds an emergency session Monday at 1430 local time (August 24), calling on Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to explain his decision. All three opposition parties in Scotland (Labour, Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats) have condemned the minority Scottish National Party (SNP) government’s decision to release Megrahi. The media openly speculate that a vote of no confidence will occur if MacAskill does not resign, but it would be difficult for opposition parties to garner the two-thirds majority required (87 of the 129 seats), if the SNP is able to maintain control of its 47 Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs).
6. (SBU) Scottish opposition political figures, like Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray and former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell, have condemned the decision to release Megrahi, calling it a “grave error of judgment.” Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavis Scott said, “The SNP’s credibility at home and abroad is in tatters. Scotland’s must not be allowed to follow with it.”
Compassionate Release for Oil and Gas?
7. (SBU) The UK media widely speculates that the UK Government had a hand in the decision to release Megrahi in order to maintain good diplomatic relations with the Libyans and to secure oil and gas deals, citing the now infamous 2004 “deal in the desert” between former PM Blair and Libyan leader Qaddafi, recent meetings and correspondence between PM Brown and “Muammar,” a recent meeting between Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, and other high-level trade delegations. Qaddafi’s personal thanks to Brown, the Queen, and the British Government after embracing Megrahi in a televised statement have fanned the flames and increased calls for Brown to explain the UK’s involvement in the decision-making process. Mandelson insisted to the media that it is “completely wrong” and “offensive” to suggest that Megrahi’s release was linked to trade deals. A Foreign Office contact reiterated to Poloff August 24 that such speculation is “completely absurd.” He acknowledged that the Libyans had raised Megrahi at every turn in their burgeoning diplomatic relationship, but said that Megrahi’s release was “never directly or implicitly” linked to any deal.
UK Government Reaction
8. (C/NF) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is currently on holiday in Scotland, has refrained from comment. Acting PM Chancellor Alistair Darling has said, “you either devolve the responsibility for criminal justice or you don’t,” a position that Foreign Secretary Miliband supported in interviews on Friday, August 21. Miliband affirmed that “the sight of a a mass-murderer getting a hero’s welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing.” Conservative leader David Cameron has sent Brown a public message condemning the decision and calling on Brown to “make clear his own views” on the decision.
9. (C/NF) Foreign Office North Africa team leader Rob Dixon told Poloff August 24 that the UK has been telling the Libyan Government, through Saif al-Islam and the Foreign Ministry, that the Libyan Government’s handling of its September 1 national day festivities will determine the future of the UK-Libya bilateral relationship. Dixon explained that the UK has explicitly told the Libyans that Megrahi should not be featured in any high-profile way. He said that the UK has also told the Libyans that Qaddafi’s personal thanks to PM Brown and the Queen were “unhelpful” and the UK Government’s “unhappiness” had been communicated “in clear terms.” Dixon said the Foreign Office will take stock after the September 1 festivities.
10. (C/NF) Dixon termed “absurd” MacAskill’s comment (in his original August 20 statement about Megrahi’s release) that the UK Government’s refusal to make representations was “highly regrettable.” Referring to MacAskill’s welcoming of a public inquiry into the case, Dixon said such an undertaking would be “nearly impossible” given the way devolution works. Dixon implied that the comments were designed to blame the UK Government for putting the Scots in a position to have to make a decision. Dixon told Poloff on August 24 that the Foreign Office had had no contact with the Scottish Government since the decision was announced.
11. (C/NF) It is clear that the Scottish Government underestimated the blow-back it would receive in response to Megrahi’s release and is now trying to paint itself as the victim. It seems likely, especially given the increasing speculation that the UK Government had a hand in the decision, that Prime Minister Brown will have to address the issue publicly. Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are trying to undercut the SNP minority government’s credibility as much as possible.
12. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.
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Wednesday, 28 October 2009, 13:58
C O N F I D E N T I A L DOHA 000644
EO 12958 DECL: 10/28/2019
TAGS PREL, PTER, LY, UK, QA
SUBJECT: MFA OFFICIAL: QATAR’S INVOLVEMENT IN AL-MEGRAHI
RELEASE STEMMED FROM ARAB LEAGUE REQUEST TO QATAR AS ARAB LEAGUE PRESIDENT
Classified By: Ambassador Joseph E. LeBaron for reasons 1.4 (b and d).
(C) KEY POINTS
— At an October 28 meeting with MFA Minister of State for International Cooperation Khalid Al-Attiyah, Ambassador raised strong USG concerns about Qatar’s role in the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasit Al-Magrahi.
— Al-Attiyah said that Qatar became involved because Qatar, as 2009 President of the Arab League, had been asked by the Arab League to do so. Al-Magrahi had also petitioned the Amir for help, but Al-Maghrahi’s request was only a secondary factor, Al-Attiyah indicated.
— Al-Attiyah, who was directly involved in the issue, stressed that Qatar had been very careful to abide by Scottish law.
— When pressed by Ambassador over whether financial incentives were involved, Al-Attiyah replied “That is ridiculous. It was not necessary to offer money, and we did not.”
— The Amir does have a history of responding to personal appeals from abroad for mercy, whether from prisoners seeking amnesty or political exiles seeking a home. Doha has several notable exiles. Al-Attiyah’s explanation of the appeal from Al-Megrahi as a motivating factor rings truthful, even if it was of secondary importance.
End Key Points and Comments.
1.(C) During an October 28 meeting with MFA Minister of State for International Cooperation Khalid Al-Attiyah, Ambassador raised the USG’s strong objections to the August 20 release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Adbulbasit Al-Megrahi.
2. (C) Al-Attiyah, who played a direct role in the release, explained that Qatar became involved in the issue for two reasons: first and foremost, the Arab League had asked Qatar, in its capacity as the current chair of the Arab League, to seek Al-Megrahi’s release on humanitarian grounds; second, Al-Megrahi had sent a personal letter to Amir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani pleading for humanitarian intervention.
3. (C) On the basis of these two factors, Al-Attiyah said he was dispatched to Scotland to meet with the Minister of Justice there. He made clear to the Minister that Qatar’s efforts would be conducted entirely within the framework of the Scottish law on humanitarian release of prisoners judged to have just a short time to live. On the basis of that provision, he said, the Minister of Justice rejected Al-Megrahi’s release under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the UK and Libya, but authorized it on humanitarian grounds.
4. (C) Ambassador pressed the issue of whether Qatar had offered any financial or trade incentives to induce Al-Megrahi’s release. Al-Attiyah strongly dismissed such speculation, saying “That is ridiculous.” It was not necessary to offer money. It was all done within Scottish law. We offered no money, investment, or payment of any kind. LeBaron
Sunday, 23 August 2009, 13:34
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000686
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, NEA/PPD, AND EUR/WE
EO 12958 DECL: 8/23/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, ASEC, CASC, KMDR, KPAO, UK, LY
SUBJECT: QADHAFI PERSONALLY WELCOMES LOCKERBIE BOMBER
REF: Tripoli 685
TRIPOLI 00000686 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Joan Polaschik, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi personally met and welcomed convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in the latter’s home in Sebha August 21. In press statements, Qadhafi thanked the Scottish government for its “courage and independence” despite “unnecessary and unacceptable pressure,” and criticized the reaction of the “other side” as “double standard politics,” “encroachment,” and “arrogance and contempt.” Qadhafi’s public, personal involvement will make it extremely difficult for more pragmatic Libyan officials to try to manage the fallout from the mishandling of Megrahi’s return. Separately, the UK Ambassador categorically denied Saif al-Islam’s claims that the UK agreed to Megrahi’s return in exchange for business deals, and said the UK was reconsidering its representation at the 40th anniversary of Qadhafi’s coup September 1. End Summary.
MEGRAHI WELCOMED WITH A WARM EMBRACE
2. (SBU) Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi met convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Bassett al-Megrahi on August 21, in Megrahi’s hometown of Sebha. [Note: Qadhafi had traveled to Sebha on August 19 to review some economic projects, and apparently stayed there until the August 21 meeting. End note.] The widely televised meeting, preceded by a warm embrace between Qadhafi and Megrahi, also included several poems expressing congratulations to Qadhafi on the 40th anniversary of the “Great al-Fatah Revolution,” on the start of Ramadan, and for “the return home of brother, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.” Qadhafi delivered remarks to local and international press after his tete-a-tete with Megrahi, which he addressed to “friends” and “those who objected to these friends.” Qadhafi thanked the Scottish Government, including the PM and FM, for their “courage,” stating that they “have proven to be independent in spite of all unnecessary and unacceptable pressure they faced.” He went on to thank his “friend Brown,” the British Prime Minister, his government, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Andrew, who “against all odds encouraged this brave decision.” Qadhafi noted that the UK efforts would positively affect “exchange” between the two countries.
3. (SBU) Addressing “the other side,” Qadhafi derided comments that the USG had made concerning the sensitivity of Megrahi’s release to the families of Lockerbie victims, stating “Are we without feelings, and they have feelings? Are we donkeys and they are humans?” Qadhafi referred to the U.S. opposition to Megrahi’s release as “double standard politics,” calling it “encroachment” and “arrogance” and “contempt for other nations, their public opinion, and humanity.” Qadhafi further stated that the U.S. position was responsible for injustice and terrorism. He said, “Terrorism has its justifications, which is double standard politics.”
MEGRAHI’S RELEASE AND UK BUSINESS DEALS
4. (C/NF) On August 20 Qadhafi’s son and potential successor to the throne, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi issued a statement through his quasi-governmental organization, the Qadhafi International and Charity Foundation, praising his own efforts and success in achieving Megrahi’s release from prison. He thanked the Scottish and British governments and stated that the friendship between Libya and both nations would be “forever consolidated.” Saif al-Islam went on to address the families of Lockerbie victims, saying that although Megrahi withdrew his appeal, his innocence would one day be proved. During Saif al-Islam’s remarks to his new television station “Al Mutawassit” August 20, which were reprinted August 21 in state-owned newspaper “Oya,” he linked Megrahi’s release to UK business contracts, asserting that Megrahi’s case was raised during all negotiations of UK-Libya commercial, oil, and gas deals. Saif al-Islam implied that former UK PM Tony Blair had raised Megrahi with the Libyan leader in connection with lucrative business deals during Blair’s 2007 visit to Libya. [Note: Rumors that Blair made linkages between Megrahi’s release and trade deals have been longstanding among Embassy contacts. End note.] The UK Ambassador in Tripoli categorically denied the claims during a conversation with the Charge August 21. He also stated that the British government was reconsidering its decision to send Prince Andrew to September 1 events in Libya.
PREPARING FOR A GRANDER AFFAIR?
5. (C) While the Qadhafi family and government officials have not had any public interaction with or comment on Megrahi since the September 21 meeting, banners are being unfurled in Tripoli’s Green Square – the site of the upcoming 40th anniversary celebrations – hailing Megrahi’s homecoming and the Libyan leader’s support of his release. Rumors among Embassy contacts suggest that Megrahi will be honored officially by Qadhafi during the 40th anniversary events. The state-run “Al Watan” website claimed that the Libyan People’s Congress would award Megrahi a medal of honor for his “bravery and patience” in turning himself over to the “states of international arrogance” for the sake of his nation.
6. (C) Comment: Qadhafi’s personal, warm welcome of Megrahi and strongly worded statement critical of U.S. opposition to Megrahi’s release are a powerful indication of the importance that Qadhafi attaches to the issue. Qadhafi likely viewed Megrahi’s return as vital to his own domestic politics: a boon to the influential Megrahi tribe and, more importantly, a major victory for the hardliners who have been critical of his engagement with the West. Qadhafi’s very public, personal involvement in this issue will complicate the efforts of pragmatic Libyan officials seeking to manage the fallout from Megrahi’s return, as they now have very little political cover to make the case for a muted response. We continue to monitor the situation. End Comment. POLASCHIK
Thursday, 25 February 2010, 17:51
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 000450
NEA/MAG FOR NARDI AND KALMBACH
EO 12958 DECL: 02/23/2020
TAGS PGOV, PREL, LY
SUBJECT: UK -LIBYA RELATIONS – IN LIMBO
REF: TRIPOLI 137
Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Greg Berry for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Poloff met with incoming Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) North Africa Director Philippa Saunders on February 23. During a conversation that focused almost entirely on Libya, Saunders explained that fear over how Tripoli will handle Megrahi’s eventual funeral remains a major concern and one that HMG continues to raise regularly. Under the direction of FCO MENA Director Christian Turner the UK Embassy in Tripoli is currently engaged in an effort to identify all possible UK &levers of influence8 with Tripoli. Unfortunately, &there aren,t too many,8 although she mentioned Tony Blair and a private doctor who has a personal relationship with the Gaddafi family. The effort partially originated from the assumption that there will be &maybe a 48-hour window if we,re lucky8 between Megrahi,s eventual death and a funeral and the FCO wants to ensure HMG is in a position to act quickly.
2. (C) Saunders noted that there is “very little political appetite” for engaging with Libya at the moment, further contributing to the sense of being in a holding pattern. She noted that she and the new UK Ambassador designate, along with UK Embassy Tripoli, would be working on developing a new Libya strategy which she predicted would be ready to share with a possible new government following the upcoming UK General elections (expected May 6). Saunders predicted the strategy would likely present a spectrum of engagement possibilities and the various threats associated with each.
3. (C) Saunders, who has only been in her position for a few weeks, said that Libya has taken, and she believes will continue to take, the majority of her time. Summing up the relationship, she described it as being “in limbo” and “lacking clarity” on several fronts. She lamented that the Swiss visa crisis (reftel) was taking most their embassy’s time, quickly adding her belief that the UK Embassy in Tripoli was closely engaged with our Embassy on the issue.
4. MINIMIZED CONSIDERED
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