Senators, Families Want More Information About Release of Lockerbie Bomber

Monday, July 26, 2010

United States Senators from New York and New Jersey are pressing for British and Scottish officials to testify before the Foreign Relations Committee, following more questions about the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee originally scheduled a hearing for Thursday, but it was cancelled late Wednesday night. According to the Associated Press, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez accused British and Scottish officials of blocking efforts to get to more information on al-Megrahi's release. A new date for the hearing has not yet been set.

Earlier this week, a letter surfaced showing a British-Libyan business council that includes BP and other oil companies pressed for al-Megrahi's release in 2009. Scottish officials have insisted he was released to Libya solely on humanitarian grounds because he had cancer.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Robert Menendez, D-NJ, had called on British and Scottish officials to appear at the hearing this Thursday, but so far they’ve declined. The Democratic senators were joined by family members of the victims at a Times Square press conference Monday. Two hundred and seventy people died in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

Gillibrand said there are still too many questions about Megrahi’s release in what she described as a possible “blood for money” deal. “It is very important that we know whether BP had its hand in making sure that Megrahi was released so it could sign a deal with Libya in order to drill for oil,” she said, referring to a $900 million deal that was signed at around the time of the convicted bomber’s release in 2009.

New Jersey Senator Menendez called on the British and Scottish officials to change their minds about appearing before the Foreign Relations Committee hearing. The committee has asked for testimony from the doctor who said Megrahi was dying of cancer, along with former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, who was responsible for Megrahi’s release.

“I certainly understand they don't feel compelled to give answers to a foreign government,” said Menendez. “They are not bound to do so and maybe that is not a common practice. But this is not a common case either.”

Menendez also said BP’s Chief Executive Tony Hayward should testify, even though he’ll be stepping down from his post this fall. “I understand that Mr. Hayward may be in the process of negotiating his golden parachute to leave BP, but that does not excuse him from the request for his participation.”

Both Menendez and Gillibrand read from a letter that was written last summer by the Lord David Trefgarne of the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC) to Scottish Justice Minister MacAskill lobbying for Megrahi’s release. The group includes BP as well as other oil companies. Lord Trefgarne’s letter to MacAskill says “the Libyan authorities have made it clear that should [Megrahi] die in prison in Scotland there will be serious implications for UK-Libyan relations” and said this prospect “is of grave concern to LBBC members, not just Scottish ones.” The letter circulated in British media last year.

New Yorker Brian Flynn, 41, who lost his older brother JP in the bombing, says the fact that Megrahi is still alive almost a year later suggests he was never as sick as he was portrayed at the time of his humanitarian release to Libya.

“Where there's smoke there's fire,” he said, about the refusal of British and Scottish officials to speak at the Senate hearing. “I can't understand why if there was nothing to hide, if he was legitimately sick and going to die in three months, or even if they thought that was the case, show us the evidence that led them to that conclusion.”

Eileen Walsh of New Jersey, who lost her brother, her sister and her husband, called Megrahi’s conviction “the one crumb of justice” in the bombing.

“Justice was served and justice was taken away when they released him,” she said.

Asked what one question she most wants answered now, Walsh replied “I want to know the truth. I want to know who was involved, who pressured whom for the release, and why they did it,” she said.

UPDATE SINCE THIS STORY WAS FIRST POSTED: This story has been updated to include new information that Thursday's hearing has been cancelled.

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