The fate of a Libyan officer, Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, imprisoned for his involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombings, is in the hands of the Scottish justice system. Scotland’s possible decision to release him for medical reasons has come against strong opposition from the United States. Out of 270 persons who perished in the Pan Am airline disaster, 189 of them were American nationals.
Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, 57, is on his deathbed and counting on the leniency of the Scottish courts. The senior Libyan secret service agent was sentenced to at least 27 years in prison in 2001 for masterminding an attack against Pan Am airline flight 103 from the U.S. The plane, which exploded in mid air in 1988 over the city of Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people, including 189 U.S. citizens.
Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, who has been serving his sentence in that country, could be released following the High Court of Justice’s decision, Tuesday, to reject a second appeal. This decision could pave the way for a release, which has come under strongly objection from by United States. For the Americans, al-Megrahi must serve out his sentence, despite his condition of health. The BBC announced last Thursday that the Libyan officer would soon be released by virtue of a pardon accorded on compassionate grounds.
“A decision very soon”
Abdelbasset al-Megrahi is in the terminal stages of a long battle with prostate cancer. According to the Times, he has only three months to live. His lawyers have indicated that the man wants to spend his final days in his country, Libya, and hopes to be released for humanitarian reasons. However, a fast decision to enable him recover his freedom risks offending families of victims.
At present, the only alternative will be a prisoner transfer agreement between Britain and the Libyan state. The Scottish Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill is expected to announce his decision within ten days. “He has cancelled all engagements in order to give his full attention to the issue,” said a spokesperson.
This full attention is needed particularly because of pressure from the United States. A list of U.S. Senators, including Democrat Edward Kennedy, Monday, urged the Scottish authorities to reconsider their position. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also expressed a similar view last week during a telephone conversation with Kenny MacAskill. The latter, according to sources, had decided to transfer Abdelbasset al-Megrahi this week. However, still according to the Times, the process had been delayed by U.S. intervention.
It is reported that although many Americans believe the Libyan man is guilty, most British think that his judgement was flawed and should therefore be released. The High Court of Justice in Scotland is expected to meet in three weeks to finalize the cancellation procedure for the appeal.