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Last week, Barack Obama said that his administration had been “surprised, disappointed and angry” in August 2009 when the British government freed the Islamic jihadist Abdelbeset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, who murdered 270 people by bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. But Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said Sunday that while Obama’s expression of surprise, disappointment and anger was “a fair description of the American Government’s position,” as “they didn’t want al-Megrahi to be released,” nevertheless, “if he was to be released, they thought it was far preferable for compassionate release as opposed to the prisoner transfer agreement.”
In other words, the Obama administration, while ostensibly opposing any arrangement for al-Megrahi’s release, nonetheless favored releasing him over transferring him from a Scottish prison to a Libyan one. In a letter to Salmond written a week before al-Megrahi was released, Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US embassy in London, wrote that “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.” U.S. officials tried, but failed to keep LeBaron’s letter secret.
Why they opposed further prison time for al-Megrahi remains unexplained. At the time of his release, al-Megrahi, 58, had only served eight years for 270 counts of murder, but he was reported to be terminally ill with prostate cancer. Professor Karol Sikora, dean of medicine at Buckingham University and medical director of CancerPartnersUK, examined him and gave him three months to live. Al-Megrahi returned to his native Libya, where he was given a hero’s welcome, and has been in excellent health ever since.
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