US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has blasted British and Scottish government officials and the oil giant BP for not cooperating with an investigation into the release of the only person convicted in the Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. The release last year of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi to his home country of Libya on compassionate grounds is still angering a number of U.S. lawmakers.
In 2001, al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1988 airliner bombing that killed 270 people, mostly Americans. In August of last year, Scotland freed him on compassionate grounds, saying he was dying of prostate cancer and had just three months to live. Today, 13 months later, al-Megrahi is still alive in Libya. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said families of those killed in the bombing deserve to know why he is free and at home.
"We are here today because it matters to those who lost their lives, to those who represented them and most importantly, it matters to their families," said Senator Menendez. "It matters very much. It matters also in terms of the standards that we set for our fight against terrorism. Do we send a message that a convicted terrorist, a mass murderer, can ultimately, after a period of time, be free and live in the lap of luxury?"
A senior State Department official, Nancy McEldowney, told the Senate panel that President Barack Obama has called for al-Megrahi to be sent back to a Scottish prison.
"It is the view of this administration that the decision by Scottish authorities to release Megrahi and permit his return to Libya was profoundly wrong," said Nancy McEldowney. "It was morally wrong because it was an affront to the victims' families and the memories of those who were killed. It was politically wrong because it undermined a shared international understanding on Megrahi's imprisonment. And it was wrong from a security perspective because it signaled a lack of resolve to ensure terrorists are decisively brought to justice."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is investigating whether the British-based oil company BP had sought to influence the British government to help obtain al-Megrahi's release from Scotland to pave the way for a $900-million exploration contract with Libya. McEldowney said she had not identified any materials, beyond publicly available statements, concerning attempt by BP to influence the release. BP has admitted that it urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but says it did not specify al-Megrahi's case.
Senator Menendez said he was frustrated that he could not get the people he most needed to provide answers to come to Capitol Hill to testify, including the outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward.
"We have asked for cooperation of numerous representatives from the Scottish government, from the United Kingdom government and representatives of BP," he said. "Over 30 people were asked to cooperate with our investigation, all refused."
Menendez said he did not think officials should give any more permits to BP to drill in U.S. waters until the company cooperates with the investigation. He also called on Britain to launch its own inquiry into the release.
Two renowned American oncologists testified to the panel that they would never have given al-Megrahi a prognosis of three months to live.
James Mohler said he has 23 years of experience caring for more than 2000 prostate cancer patients and has read clinical studies that evaluated thousands of patients in similar conditions.
"There is no conceivable way a cancer specialist or anyone familiar with the treatment of prostate cancer could have given Mr. al- Megrahi a three month survival prognosis," said James Mohler.
Both medical doctors at the hearing said the fact that al-Megrahi can be seen at his release climbing up the stairs of the airplane would rule out a diagnosis of only three months to live.
They also noted that this prognosis was given by two general practitioners, and not by the cancer specialists who had been treating him in Scotland.
Scottish officials say they were acting in good faith, based on the medical advice given to them at the time.