Washington - In a letter to the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, William Hague, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) continue to push for details related to the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The letter is part of an investigation the Senators have launched into whether BP and other British business interests played any role in the decision to release the convicted terrorist.
"As we have previously said, our concern is due not only to our compassion for American and other nations' victims and their loved ones, but also to our concern that if justice for victims of terrorism is undermined in this case, it may be placed at risk in future cases," the Senators write. "Therefore, we lay out for you the facts that leave a strong public impression that trade interests won out over justice. It would behoove all of us if you can bring greater transparency to these matters."
The Senators' full letter:
The Right Honorable William Hague, MP
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
Dear Foreign Secretary,
While we are disappointed with your government's decision to not appear before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we appreciate your continued engagement with our offices so that we may understand the full reasoning behind the release of Mr. al-Megrahi to freedom in Libya.
As we have previously said, our concern is due not only to our compassion for American and other nations' victims and their loved ones, but also to our concern that if justice for victims of terrorism is undermined in this case, it may be placed at risk in future cases. Therefore, we lay out for you the facts that leave a strong public impression that trade interests won out over justice. It would behoove all of us if you can bring greater transparency to these matters.
1. In your July 22, 2010 letter to Chairman Kerry, you state that "the final veto on any transfer or release of any prisoner in Scotland always rests with Scottish Ministers." However, we understand that given that foreign policy matters are specifically reserved for the United Kingdom, rather than Scotland, the UK could have prevented Mr. al-Megrahi from being transferred to Libya even if he were released from prison. Is that true, and did the absence of a UK protest to Mr. al-Megrahi's overseas transfer indicate that the UK favored his release?
2. In fact, it appears that the UK government was concerned that a failure to release Mr. al-Megrahi would hurt British business interests. Then Foreign Secretary Miliband stated "British interests, including those of UK nationals, British businesses, and possibly security co-operation, would be damaged - perhaps badly - if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison." Wouldn't such a statement from the Foreign Secretary influence Scottish Ministers charged with the task of deciding Mr. al-Megrahi's fate?
3. Additional public documents also lead to the conclusion that the decision to send Mr. al-Megrahi to Libya was motivated by trade considerations. This was made explicit in a letter from Lord Trefgarne to Minister MacAskill, which specifically urges Mr. al-Megrahi's release, based on any process available. Lord Trefgarne is writing both as a Member of the House of Lords and Chairman of the Libyan British Business Council, which included BP in its top level membership. His prior involvement in the authorization of arms sales to Iraq when he had served as a Cabinet Minister - an affair that led to an inquiry by your Parliament - adds to the public pall over this entire matter.[i] Despite the fact that Minister MacAskill wrote back that the arguments posed by Lord Trefgarne would not be grounds for the Scottish decision making, isn't the Trefgarne letter further evidence of UK pressure on Scottish authorities to release Mr. al-Megrahi based on business considerations?
4. Furthermore, an examination of British-Libyan trade and investment interests before and after the al-Megrahi release provides a picture of increased economic cooperation. For example, six months after his release, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) announced plans to invest 5 billion pounds ($8 billion) in the U.K. [ii] Within a week of the decision, LIA opened an office in London.[iii] According to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the government body that promotes trade between Britain and other countries, British exports to Libya was worth £423m in 2009 - 51 per cent more than in 2008.[iv] These trends, along with BP's $900 million drilling agreement off Libya's coast, leave a very negative impression about motivations behind Mr. al-Megrahi's release to Libya. Isn't it true that the release of Mr. al-Megrahi did, in fact, lead to further economic cooperation between British business interests and Libya? Weren't these the same business interests cited by then Foreign Secretary Miliband and Lord Trefgane as reasons to release Mr. al-Megrahi? This evidence when viewed along with BP's admitted lobbying for a Prisoner Transfer Agreement between the UK and Libya leave a clear impression that trade was a central consideration in the UK government's efforts to influence the decision to enter the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and to influence the decision to ultimately release Mr. al-Megrahi. Is that correct?
5. Furthermore, UKTI representatives' negotiations with Libyan army and Libyan arms procurement officials to discuss potential military equipment deals increased around the time of Mr. al-Megrahi's release, and British arms sales to Libya increased thereafter.[v] This suggests that in its dealings with Libya the UK government might have been motivated by the desire to sell military equipment in addition to energy interests. Is that correct?
We hope you appreciate our request to bring more light to these decisions and events surrounding them in an effort to improve our ability to guard against potential future efforts to circumvent justice in such critical national and international security cases.
[i] Mark Phythian, "Hutton and Scott: A Tale of Two Inquires," Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 58 No. 1, 2005, pp. 124-137.
[ii] Robert Hutton, "Libya Plans $8 Billion Investment in U.K., Official Tells Brown," Bloomberg News, February 22, 2010.
[iii]Robert Mendick, "Special Report: the Libya Investment Firm and the Release of the Lockerbie Bomber," Telegraph, July 24 2010.
[iv] Alistair Dawber, "Britain and Libya Become Best of Friends in Business," The Independent, June 16 2010.
[v]Ben Quinn, "Lockerbie Bomber's Release Linked to Surge in UK Arms Deal Talks," The Guardian, July 15 2010.