Fresh revelations from the Wikileaks website have exposed Labour party deceit after it emerged that shortly after Abdelbaset Al Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal cancer a UK Foreign Office Minister secretly informed the Libyans that the illness could be used to set him free.
Confidential files published by Wikileaks show that within one week of Al Megrahi’s terminal illness being confirmed, Bill Rammell, a junior Foreign Office minister, wrote to his Libyan counterpart Abdulati al-Obeidi advising him of the compassionate release process under Scots law.
The revelation casts serious doubt on assurances given by senior Labour party ministers that the then Labour government was never involved in matters surrounding the release. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has always denied there was any attempt by the Labour government to interfere in the process.
Al Megrahi was released in 2009 on grounds of compassion after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. At the time opposition politicians at Holyrood condemned the move with Labour’s Iain Gray demanding the resignation of Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
The leaked documents now show that Labour politicians were claiming publicly to be against the release of Mr Megrahi while privately the Labour leadership were in fact favouring it.
The extent of Al Mergahi’s illness has always been questioned by opposition politicians and media reporters alike. Last September, BBC Scotland’s Raymond Buchanan, in a news item showing Megrahi’s return to Libya, said: “It was said that he was likely to die within three months, this is the moment more than a year ago Abdelbasset Al Megrahi returned home. But does this scene also show something else; proof the Libyan wasn’t as sick as we’d been told?”
Labour’s leader at Holyrood, Iain Gray described the medical evidence supplied by Scottish NHS doctors as “flawed” and his justice spokesman MSP Richard Baker joined with US Senators in a call for the medical files to be released saying:
“They [the US Senators] will get answers if they join with us in calling for the Scottish government to release all the medical evidence which was used by Kenny MacAskill to make the decision on Megrahi’s compassionate release.”
However the secret files now confirm that as far back as October 2008 both the UK Labour government and the US authorities were already aware that tests proved Megrahi had terminal cancer. The Wikileaks cables show that the UK Labour government was also concerned about possible dire repercussions should Megrahi die in a Scottish prison:
“GOL [Government of Libya] officials have warned UK Emboffs [embassy officials] in demarches here that the consequences for the UK-Libya bilateral relationship would be “dire” were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison. Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all UK commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official UK facilities. GOL officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of UK diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk.”
The secret files also reveal how Labour ministers defiantly told the Americans that London was in charge of foreign policy, “not the Scottish”. They also show the UK Cabinet Office was secretly facilitating a way for the US to lobby the Scottish government on the issue.
“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 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.”
Further cables from the US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, show that the US position was to resist voicing opposition to Megrahi’s release at the time so as not to risk Libyan retaliation against US interests.
Mr Cretz warned the US itself should keep quiet in order to protect its interests: “If the [US government] publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release or is perceived to be complicit in a decision to keep al-Megrahi in prison, [America’s Libyan diplomatic] post judges that US interests could face similar consequences.”
The revelations are a major embarrassment to the Labour party and a blow to the Scottish contingent who are preparing for May’s Holyrood elections.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The cables confirm what we always said – that our only interest was taking a justice decision based on Scots Law without fear or favour, which was exactly what was done, and that our public position was identical to our private one.
“The cables also show that the former UK government were playing false on the issue, with a different public position from their private one – which must be deeply embarrassing for the Labour Party in Scotland – and that the US government was fully aware of the pressure being applied to the UK government.”