Menendez Report: Lockerbie Bomber's Release from Prison Not Medically Justified, Was Influenced by Threat of Commercial Warfare
Senators refute basis of “compassionate” release, detail motivations for governments, call for return of bomber to prison
December 21, 2010
Washington – On the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NJ) have concluded in a report that convicted bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release from Scottish prison was not medically justified. Justice Undone: The Release of The Lockerbie Bomber, which follows a five-month investigation spearheaded by Menendez’s office, also details political and commercial motivations that influenced the various governments involved in his release, and it calls for al-Megrahi be returned to prison.
The report’s highlights include:
- An analysis of new and existing information regarding al-Megrahi’s medical treatment and condition show that the three-months-to-live prognosis was unwarranted and, thus, the basis for his release on compassionate grounds was unjustified
- Various political and commercial interests motivated each government involved, including the real threat of commercial warfare by the Libyan government against the UK
- The UK’s actions violated a 1998 justice agreement with the U.S. that was meant to keep anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing inside of Scotland
- The senators call for the return of al-Megrahi to prison, formal apologies to the victims’ families by the Scottish and UK Governments and independent investigations into the release by the UK Government, the US State Department and the US intelligence community
Al-Megrahi was convicted in January, 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, which claimed 270 lives, including 189 Americans. He was serving his life sentence at the HMP Greenrock prison in Scotland until August 20, 2009, when he was released on compassionate grounds. At the time, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny McCaskill said that the convicted terrorist was in his “final days” and that a three month prognosis was a “reasonable estimate.”
Al-Megrahi was greeted with a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Libya, and has been reportedly living in a luxury villa. Despite his three-month prognosis, he is still alive 16 months after his release.
Justice Undone is the most comprehensive report on this matter to date, encompassing all aspects of the decision, including motivations and justification for al-Megrahi’s release. It incorporates new information gathered from interviews of those with knowledge of al-Megrahi’s medical care – some who were interviewed on the condition of confidentiality. It also incorporates analysis from renowned cancer experts.
Menendez’s office undertook the investigation by compiling, reviewing and analyzing all available information about al-Megrahi’s release; contacting experts; making contacts both domestic and abroad; and conducting interviews in the US, Britain and Scotland.
Executive summary of report:
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, 189 of whom were U.S. citizens. Twelve years later, Libyan national, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted of conspiracy for planting the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103, and was sent to a Scottish prison to serve a life sentence. On August 20, 2009, however, Scottish Government officials released al-Megrahi on grounds of compassion given his diagnosis of prostate cancer and a stated prognosis of three months to live. His release directly contradicted an agreement between the U.S. and U.K. governments that anyone convicted in the terrorist bombing would serve out their term in a Scottish prison. At the writing of this report, almost 16 months later, al-Megrahi is still alive.
In June 2010, United States Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), joined by Senators Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Charles Schumer (NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), undertook an investigation of al-Megrahi’s release. The investigation focused on two critical questions:
- Could medical science have supported al-Megrahi’s three-month prognosis?
- If not, what motivated the U.K. and Scottish Governments to release al-Megrahi?
I. No Medical Justification for Release on Compassionate Grounds, Political Influence Evident
The three-month prognosis given to al-Megrahi by Scottish doctors was inaccurate and unsupported by medical science. During the course of this investigation, Scottish officials presented two conflicting factual scenarios: one stating that al-Megrahi did not receive chemotherapy and another stating that he did. Neither scenario supports a three month prognosis.
First, according to prostate cancer experts, his condition at the time of his release did not fit the profile of a patient with just three months to live. He was not bed-ridden nor so physically frail that he could not undergo chemotherapy or other treatments. If, as the Scottish Government states, al-Megrahi had not yet begun standard chemotherapy treatments, then it would be impossible for a three-month prognosis to be accurate. This is because, according to prostate cancer experts, patients in al-Megrahi’s condition who are given chemotherapy live on average 17.5 to 19.2 months longer – much longer than the three months to live prognosis given by the Scottish Government.
Even if, as one Scottish official stated, al-Megrahi had actually begun chemotherapy while in Scottish custody, his three-month prognosis was still medically unjustifiable. Not only do such patients live for an average of a year and a half, but there would not have been enough time to determine whether he had responded to chemotherapy before he was released to Libya.
In addition to the inaccurate prognosis, the process used to determine al-Megrahi’s compassionate release was incredibly flawed. The Scottish Government consulted well-respected cancer specialists on al-Megrahi’s release, but none of them agreed that al-Megrahi had three months or fewer to live. Instead, the Scottish Government based its decision on the opinion of general practitioners without medical training or expertise in prostate cancer.
These same doctors were clearly involved in political, inter-governmental discussions regarding al-Megrahi, raising questions about whether they were influenced to give an incorrect prognosis through contacts with Libyan officials and doctors. In view of the flawed process, we believe that the Scottish Government simply intended to use compassionate release as political cover for returning al-Megrahi to Libya – regardless of whether his physical condition met the requirements.
II. The U.K. and Scotland Had Ample Motivation to Release al-Megrahi, including the threat of commercial warfare by Libya
Given the obviously flawed medical justification for al-Megrahi’s release, this investigation considered the reasons why the U.K. and Scottish Governments might have wanted to return al-Megrahi to Libya. While these governments refused to respond to questions, the investigation revealed that motivations behind releasing al-Megrahi were unique to each government.
The U.K. pushed for the release because of its expanding business ties to Libya. We believe that Scotland was motivated by pressure from the U.K., Libya, and Qatar – as well as its own interest in participating on the international stage.
The U.K. Government played a direct, critical role in al-Megrahi’s release. The U.K. has always been protective of its energy companies, especially BP, which has strong historical and economic ties to the government, and it has a history of intervening with foreign governments on behalf of BP. Libyan oil and natural resources were extremely attractive to U.K. energy companies, and, at the time of al-Megrahi’s release, BP was negotiating a $900 million oil exploration deal that would secure a much-needed reliable source of energy for the U.K. Keeping al-Megrahi in prison threatened this oil agreement, as well as other profitable trade deals and investments with Libya.
The threat of commercial warfare was a motivating factor. The U.K. knew that in order to maintain trade relations with Libya, it had to give into political demands. Faced with the threat of losing the lucrative BP oil deal and other commercial ties, the U.K. agreed to include al-Megrahi’s release in a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) with Libya. Around the same time as al-Megrahi’s release, the U.K. and Libya were moving forward with other lucrative deals. Normalizing relations with Libya – and al-Megrahi’s release – clearly benefited U.K. business interests.
At the same time, we have concluded that a number of political factors played a role in Scotland’s decision to release al-Megrahi.
Evidence suggests that U.K. officials pressured Scotland to facilitate al-Megrahi’s release. The U.K. communicated to the Scottish Government that there were significant national interests in expanding trade relations with Libya. While Scotland has enjoyed a measure of independence from the U.K. since 1998, the U.K. government retains considerable powers over Scottish affairs. Thus, it would not be surprising that the Scottish Government would be susceptible to pressure from the U.K. The Scottish Government may also have been influenced by lobbying from the Qatar government and the opportunity act independently on the world stage.
The U.K.’s actions also violated the 1998 Lockerbie Justice Agreement. This agreement, signed by the U.K. and the United States, held that individuals convicted of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing would serve out their sentences in the U.K. By facilitating al-Megrahi’s release, the U.K. Government violated this carefully negotiated agreement and left the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims without justice.
We are bringing forth a series of recommendations to ensure that justice prevails in this matter. They include: the return of al-Megrahi to prison pending an independent assessment of his health; an apology to victims’ families by the U.K. and Scottish Governments; and independent investigations into al-Megrahi’s release by the U.K. Government and the U.S. State Department.