Pressure increases on London as Washington releases letter

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The transatlantic row over the release of Al Megrahi took a new twist yesterday when the US bowed to pressure and published the letter sent to the Scottish government prior to the release.
 
The publication follows demands from the Scottish government and members of the Senate committee for disclosure of documents currently being denied publication by the US and UK administrations.


The transatlantic row over the release of Al Megrahi took a new twist yesterday when the US bowed to pressure and published the letter sent to the Scottish government prior to the release.
 
The publication follows demands from the Scottish government and members of the Senate committee for disclosure of documents currently being denied publication by the US and UK administrations.
 
The letter confirms First Minister Alex Salmond’s claims that US officials, whilst not endorsing Megrahi’s release from prison, preferred compassionate release to the Prisoner Transfer Agreement negotiated by the UK Labour government.  The US administration had previously refused to allow the letter to be published, this change of mind is sure to increase the pressure on Westminster to do the same.

The letter makes clear that, if released from prison, the US would have preferred that Megrahi remain in Scotland.  It also detailed concerns that US officials had over the reception that Megrahi may receive on arrival in Tripoli.

However it is the revelation that the Americans were vehemently opposed to the Prisoner Transfer Agreement resulting from Tony Blair’s secret ‘deal in the desert’ that turns attention onto the role of the Westminster government and will lead to renewed demands that London release all documentation relating to Labour’s Libya negotiations and the role of BP.

The letter, sent on August 9th last year said:
“The US is not prepared to support Megrahi’s release on compassionate release or bail.
 
“Nevertheless if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.”

The letter goes on:
“We appreciate the manner in which the Scottish government has handled this difficult situation.  We recognize that the prisoner transfer decision is one that the Scottish government did not invite, but now must take.  We hope that the Scottish government would consider every available alternative before considering the granting of Megrahi’s prisoner transfer application.”

The letter also thanked the Scottish government for it’s handling of the process and  acknowledged Kenny MacAskill’s willingness to listen to the views of the US victims whilst the decision was being considered.

The publication of the letter comes one day after the US ambassador to the UK, Louis Susman, said that there is “no evidence” to support suggestions that the compassionate release of Al-Megrahi was as a result of lobbying by oil giant BP.

Mr Susman went on to say that he hoped a promise from PM David Cameron to review UK government files would go ahead and that the British PM would forward any new information to the US senate hearing to be held on Thursday.

Documentation released by the Scottish government also revealed that Kenny MacAskill rejected a plea by a Conservative politician, Lord Trefgarne, to consider business interests when making his decision.

Trefgarne, who represented the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC) – a group that included BP, asked Mr MacAskill to bring the Megrahi matter to a “swift and “satisfactory conclusion” and warned of the risks it could pose to ties between both countries.

Lord Trefgarne wrote:
“The Libyan authorities have made it clear that should he die in prison in Scotland there will serious implications for UK-Libyan relations. This prospect is of grave concern to LBBC members, not just Scottish ones.”.

However Mr MacAskill responded saying:
“I have made it quite clear that my decision will be one based on judicial grounds alone and that economic and political considerations have no place in the process.”

Other politicians who urged Kenny MacAskill to speed up the decision were Labour’s former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy who described Mr MacAskill’s careful deliberation as “embarrassing”.

The Senate hearing will take place this Thursday at 14:30 Eastern Standard Time.

The US letter can be view here.

All Scottish government documents can be viewed here.