- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2010


President Obama’s top counterterrorism aide denounced Scotland’s decision last year to release the Lockerbie bomber as a “travesty” and categorically denied a widespread report that the United States secretly endorsed the decision to free the Libyan terrorist, who was sentenced to life in prison.

Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Scotland were further strained over the Scottish government’s refusal to send officials to testify at a Senate hearing in Washington on Thursday on whether the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was tied to a $900 million oil deal between Libya and the London-based BP PLC.

The dispute led the Scottish affairs office at the British Embassy to postpone a reception Wednesday to release a plan on the future of U.S.-Scottish relations.

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, this week wrote Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, in response to a major British newspaper’s report Sunday that the Obama administration “secretly” agreed to al-Megrahi’s release.

Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of planning the bombing of the American airliner that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, killing 270 people including 189 Americans.

The Sunday Times of London based its story on a letter dated Aug. 12, 2009, from Richard LeBaron, the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in London at the time, and Alex Salmond, the first minister of the Scottish government. Conservative talk-show hosts in the United States picked up the story the next day and accused Mr. Obama of being soft on terrorism.

Mr. Brennan sent Mr. Duggan a copy of the LeBaron letter, and the State Department released the document Monday to show that the United States never acquiesced in al-Megrahi’s release.

Mr. Brennan said he personally made that position clear to Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, who freed al-Megrahi on “compassionate” grounds because of a cancer diagnosis that gave him only three months to live. Al-Megrahi received a hero’s welcome on his return to Libya and remains alive.

Al-Megrahi’s “crime was unforgivable and his sentence was just, and MacAskill’s decision was a travesty that should be strongly denounced by all,” Mr. Brennan said.

Mr. Duggan on Tuesday praised the Obama administration for quickly releasing the letter.

“The administration and the State Department went all out to put this phony story to rest,” he told Embassy Row.

The LeBaron letter says: “The United States maintains its view that in light of the scope of Megrahi’s crime, its heinous nature and its continued and devastating impact on the victims and their families, it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain imprisoned for the entirety of his sentence.”

The letter recognized that Scotland, which has wide autonomy within the United Kingdom, had the power to decide on al-Megrahi’s future. However, it asked that al-Megrahi be confined to Scotland should he be released.

Mr. Salmond last week called on the United States to release all of its documentation on the Lockerbie bombing and claimed that the LeBaron letter “vindicates” Scotland’s decision to release al-Megrahi.

The Scottish leader also refused a request from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to send officials to Washington for a hearing on the new issues raised in the al-Megrahi case. Senators were outraged last week over British reports that the release might have been tied to BP’s efforts to secure an oil contract with Libya.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited Mr. Obama last week, also met with senators to deny that the BP deal had any effect on the decision. Mr. Salmond also denied that his government was influenced by the BP deal.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail [email protected]

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