- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

ANGRY SCOT

The leader of the Scottish government this week angrily criticized U.S. senators who continue to question Scotland’s decision to release the Libyan terrorist convicted in the Lockerbie bombing.

Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland, accused the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of conducting a “contrived” inquiry into the release of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi last year on what the Scottish government called “compassionate” grounds because he supposedly was dying of cancer and had only three months to live.

However, the man convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 — killing all 259 people on board, including 190 Americans, and another 11 in the village of Lockerbie, Scotland — is still alive in Libya.

Mr. Salmond said the senators’ continued inquiry “calls into question your ability to conduct any credible and impartial investigation.”

He complained that the senators are “unable or unwilling to understand” that Scotland acted out of compassion and not under pressure from the British government, which was arranging a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya at the same time that the British energy giant BP was negotiating a massive oil contract.

However, Mr. Salmond’s letter apparently was sent to the wrong office in Washington. A spokesman for the Foreign Relations Committee said Tuesday that the Senate is no longer conducting any investigation into Megrahi’s release, after Scottish officials refused to attend a committee hearing on the scandal in August.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a committee member, is pressing ahead with his own inquiry, the spokesman said. The New Jersey Democrat sent a representative to Scotland this week to try to interview British or Scottish government officials, but they refused to meet with his investigator, according to British news reports.

Mr. Salmond last month also refused to release medical records used to grant Megrahi’s release, after Mr. Menendez requested the records be made public. He was joined in his request by Democratic Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer of New York.

A member of the opposition British Labor Party, Richard Baker, told reporters that he would meet with Mr. Menendez’s representative in Edinburgh on Thursday. He also called on Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to release Megrahi’s medical report.

“Kenny MacAskill and other SNP [Scottish National Party] ministers took the decision to release Megrahi, and the medical evidence they relied on has not be published,” he said.

CHANGE IN TURKEY

Foreign policy officials in Washington were reassured when Turkish voters over the weekend approved constitutional reforms aimed at improving human rights, although analysts remain worried that the ruling Islamist party might abuse its new power.

“The people of Turkey have made clear their desire for change,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Tuesday. The Maryland Democrat added his hopes that the reforms “will lead to real improvements in peoples lives, including Turkeys beleaguered ethnic and religious minorities.”

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, the commission’s co-chairman, was concerned about the new government powers over the courts.

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