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.
Sikora later revealed that he gave his dire assessment of al-Megrahi’s condition under pressure from British officials, and that he knew al-Megrahi was not dying:
There was always a chance he could live for 10 years, 20 years … But it’s very unusual. It was clear that three months was what they were aiming for. Three months was the critical point. On the balance of probabilities, I felt I could sort of justify [that]….It is embarrassing that he’s gone on for so long.
It is embarrassing for more than just Sikora. In September 2009, the British Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, admitted that al-Megrahi’s release had been tied to an oil deal with Libya – a manifest and shameful betrayal of the people al-Megrahi murdered in his jihad attack.
And so the key question that should be posed to Barack Obama today is why he believed that “compassionate” release was preferable for this remorseless mass murderer than time in a Libyan jail. And if his administration approved of al-Megrahi’s “compassionate” release, or at least had green-lighted it as a possibility before it occurred, why were U.S. officials “surprised, disappointed and angry” when it actually happened? Were any quid pro quos involved, either from Libya, whose strongman Muammar Gaddafi has lavishly praised Obama, or from Great Britain?
Obama should also be asked, if the White House press corps were not so anxious to further the President’s agenda, why this monster deserved any kind of compassion whatsoever, even if the reports about his terminal cancer had been true. Why should Abdelbeset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, of all people, not die in prison for his pitiless crime of blowing an airplane out of the sky four days before Christmas and killing everyone on board? Isn’t even the contemplation of “compassionate release” for such a man a miscarriage of justice for those who were killed, and an indication of a moral myopia staggering in its severity on the part of British authorities and Obama?
Given Obama’s oft-repeated desire to establish relations with the Islamic world on the basis of a “mutual respect” that remains ever-elusive from the Islamic side, as shown in the new book I have written with Pamela Geller, The Post-American Presidency, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he directed U.S. officials to approve of al-Megrahi’s “compassionate release” as yet another gesture of good will toward the Islamic world. Yet these gestures of good will remain unreciprocated. Al-Megrahi is free, his crime unpunished. Will anyone ask Barack Obama why?
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