- North Africa
- United Kingdom - United States
- Diplomacy - Oil
Libya tears United States and United Kingdom apart
A U.S. Senate hearing over the release of the Libyan spy, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi scheduled for Thursday was postponed after "key witnesses" failed to appear before the U.S. Congress. The hearing sought to question BP boss and other prominent English and Scottish leaders over the reasons behind the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. The U.S. suspects that a petrol deal could have influenced the spy’s release. This affair, which comes in the backdrop of the BP oil spill, has contributed to recent deteriorating relations between London and Washington. The U.S. Senate plans to launch an investigation into the affair.
Did Oil giant BP put pressure on British authorities for the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in exchange for oil concessions in Libya? The U.S. Senate is highly suspicious over allegations that a BP oil deal could have led to the release, in August 2009, of a Libyan spy who was serving a life sentence in Scotland for his involvement in the deadly 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which left 270 people dead.
As such, the Senate foreign relations committee sought to question, Thursday, several people connected to the case: Scottish ministers and advisers, former British Secretary for Justice, Jack Straw, and top BP personalities, including the outgoing chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward — who retires in October after he was widely criticized for his handling of the oil spill that polluted the U.S. coast from Louisiana to Florida. All the key witnesses invited to the hearing failed to appear before the Senate. BP said that it would instead send Peter Mather, the company’s chief of UK operations to appear before the Senate hearing.
But, with no knowledge of any agreement between the oil company and Libya, Mr. Mather’s appearance was not acceptable to the U.S. senators. On the other hand, BP has refused to allow Sir Mark Allen, a former MI6 official and an adviser to the oil company who is believed to have helped with negotiations during a highly lucrative oil contract between BP and Colonel Gaddafi, Libya’s leader, to appear at the hearing. Sir Allen is also believed to have discussed a UK-Libya prisoner transfer agreement with the Justice secretary, Mr Straw.
For some U.S. senators, this refusal to cooperate suggests that the key witnesses are concealing vital information. "It is utterly disappointing and I think pretty outrageous that none of these key witnesses will cooperate with our request to answer questions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They have stonewalled," said Sen. Robert Menendez after announcing the postponement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to a "near future" date.
Sentenced to life in prison in Scotland since 2001, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, 58, was released in August, 2009, on compassionate grounds after he had sought a judicial pardon, to return to his country to die. Al Megrahi had been diagnosed with a terminal prostate cancer.
"Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed, but that compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but that mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, and about remaining true to our values as a people, no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated." Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Minister for Justice explained to justify al-Megrahi’s release last year.
The United States, which lost 189 citizens in the bombing of the Pan Am airline over Lockerbie, Scotland, strongly opposed the release which was deemed an "error" by the Ambassador of Great Britain to the U.S. Nigel Sheinwald. Soon after his release, it was rumored that a secret BP oil deal estimated at several billion euros between London and Tripoli may have played a part in the release of al-Megrahi.
And although the British and Scottish governments have denied any deals with the Libyan government, it is under such stifled conditions the new occupant of 10 Downing Street, David Cameroon, was hosted last week in the U.S. on his first official visit as Prime Minister to the United States.
David Cameroon had to veer from his agenda to meet with four representatives of the U.S. Senate who led investigations into the role of BP in the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. Whilst denying that BP had any role in the release of the Libyan spy, he called it an utter "error" whilst revealing that he is not opposed to an investigation into the release. As the BP oil spill continues to poison relations between London and Washington, the U.S. Senate’s decision to continue investigating this Libyan affair could dig the dagger deeper.