US senators letter based on ‘untrue’ Megrahi press reports

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A letter by four US senators that has led to calls for an inquiry into the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is riddled with inaccuracies and serious misunderstandings and may have been influenced by misleading press reports.

The letter was written to Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the UK’s ambassador to the USA, by senators Frank Lautenberg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles E. Schumer and Robert Menendez on 7th July and cites press and media reports as being behind the senators’ concerns.


A letter by four US senators that has led to calls for an inquiry into the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is riddled with inaccuracies and serious misunderstandings and may have been influenced by misleading press reports.

The letter was written to Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the UK’s ambassador to the USA, by senators Frank Lautenberg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles E. Schumer and Robert Menendez on 7th July and cites press and media reports as being behind the senators’ concerns.

Newsnet Scotland has learned that Sir Nigel, in his response to the letter, directly addressed the press coverage saying that he was “troubled by the claims”, Sir Nigel also called called the press allegations “untrue”.

The letter questioned the reasons given for the release of Al Megrahi and urged the UK government to investigate “whether all appropriate judicial steps were followed, and whether any inappropriate considerations were part of the judicial decision to release Mr. Al-Megrahi.”

However it is clear that the letter contains serious flaws and staggering misunderstandings around both the medical evidence and reasons for the actual release.  The wording of the letter seems to imply that the senators have based much of their understanding of the release on ‘misleading’ media reports that may have originated in the UK.

In the letter the senators allege that the medical evidence presented to Kenny MacAskill was “potentially fraudulent” and “inaccurate”.  The senators also write that, at the time of the release, Al-Megrahi had “3 months left to live” and is now “reportedly living in luxury”.

However the most glaring error is their contention that the doctor who provided the medical evidence to Kenny MacAskill had been paid to do so by the Libyan government who were seeking a three months prognosis.  The senators go on to claim that the same doctor has now admitted that Mr Al-Megrahi could live for a further ten years.

These claims eerily echo recent media reports from UK newspapers and broadcasters.  The “3 months to live” claim has been cited on numerous occasions by UK journalists as have attacks on the medical evidence.  Kenny MacAskill’s clear explanation at the time was that the three month prognosis was considered only a “reasonable estimate” and that Mr Al Megrahi could in fact live longer.

The ‘living in luxury’ claim may be based on a Telegraph article from February this year that was headlined ‘Lockerbie bomber Megrahi living in luxury villa six months after being at ‘death’s door’

Indeed many of the misconceptions contained within the letter could easily have been drawn from this one article.

The doctor alluded to in the letter is Professor Karol Sikora who did indeed examine Al-Megrahi on behalf of the Libyan government but who did not contribute to the medical evidence on which Kenny MacAskill based his decision.

It has been reported that Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the recipient of the letter, responded by noting his concerns about the newspaper coverage and clarifying some of the misunderstandings.
 
Sir Nigel wrote:
“I am troubled by the claims made in the press that Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP, and that the medical evidence supporting his release was paid for by the Libyan government.  Both of these allegations are untrue,”

If, and only if, it is the case that the senators have been unwittingly misled by stories that originated in the UK then it calls into question the role of the UK media in this whole diplomatic episode.  It would also raise questions regarding the standard of reporting of matters relating to both the release of Al-Megrahi in 2009 and the separate 2007 ‘Deal in the Desert’ involving BP.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a July 29 hearing into the compassionate release of Mr Megrahi.

The full text of the letter can be read below:

His Excellency Sir Nigel Sheinwald
Ambassador of the United Kingdom
3100 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest Washington, DC 20008

Excellency:

We are very troubled by the press reports this weekend that the 2009 release from jail by a Scottish justice (sic) on compassionate grounds of Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, was based on potentially fraudulent evidence.  Our governments share a concern for the increased incidence of terrorist attacks against our countries and citizens. We are certain that we would all be concerned if it turns out that a convicted terrorist were released based on inaccurate evidence.

As you know, Mr. Al-Megrahi was the only one sentenced in connection with a shocking terrorist attack, impacting both of our countries. A number of our constituents continue to bear the emotional scars and financial burden of losing their loved ones in that attack on Pan Am 103 twenty-two years ago. It was of some consolation to them that at least one culprit was brought to justice.

Close to one year ago, the Scottish court released Mr. Al-Megrahi on the basis of a doctor’s opinion that the Libyan attacker had only 3 months left to live. He had served only eight years of a life sentence. We raised concerns at the time of his release, specifically Libya’s unseemly reception for a convicted murderer and his lack of remorse for his actions.

Mr. Al-Megrahi is still alive and reportedly living in luxury. Furthermore this week, the doctor responsible for the key medical opinion has told the media that not only could Mr. Al-Megrahi live another 10 years, but that the Libyan government had commissioned the doctor to make his assessment, expressly because the Libyan government hoped for a 3-month prognosis. This is outrageous.

These newly revealed details threaten to undermine public trust in due process and justice for the victims of terrorism. Unfortunately, allegations are circulating in the media that the release may have been motivated by political and business considerations. If true, this would significantly undermine the ability of countries that practice the rule of law to bring future terrorists to justice.

We urgently request that a full, transparent and appropriate investigation be conducted into whether all appropriate judicial steps were followed, and whether any inappropriate considerations were part of the judicial decision to release Mr. Al-Megrahi.
 
We appreciate the concern that this must raise for both of our governments and our constituents and hope to hear from you soon about this matter.

Letter ends.

The letter is published on the web site of senator Frank Lautenberg.

Read Newsnet Scotland’s series of articles on the media coverage of the Megrahi issue here.

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