The debate about the release of the (only) man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, is gathering pace this morning. The Scottish Parliament has been recalled and there has been a serious appeal for a public inquiry into the decision to release the terminally-ill prisoner. All this will now take its course and, hopefully – this being a democracy, of course – we will find out what were the criteria for making the legal judgement to release him on compassionate grounds. In other words, we should discover if any deals were done (all denied) or any pressure applied.
However, to pick up on the theme of my last post and a good deal of Twitter traffic in the UK, there is a certain degree of what might be called ‘incredulity’ at the American political response (exploitation?) of this matter. Following the FBI Director’s bizarre letter to the Scottish Justice Minister, one correspondent wrote:
I don’t think I really get past the feeling of outrage that the director of the FBI presumes to talk about justice … I assume that Mueller well knows that Leonard Peltier, just denied parole after 33 years inside, was framed by the FBI … Also just in the news: a first apology for the My Lai massacre from the one man convicted for it – pardoned after 4.5 months! … What justice or compassion did the US show when the Vincennes shot down that Iranian airliner? … why do we still allow the US to define not only who are terrorists but also what is justice?
Not everyone will want to agree with this explosion of outrage, but the US needs to grasp that it isn’t always seen as the ‘Land of the Free’ outside of the USA itself. Continuing questions about Afghanistan, Iraq, the ‘War on Terror’, Guantanamo and the US practice of denying justice to ‘inconvenient’ people (only now giving details to the Red Cross of men held in secret captivity in Iraq and Afghanistan) cause many of us to listen with a certain degree of cynicism to proclamations from Washington. And that is not a healthy state of affairs.
Two reports in this morning’s media deserve comment:
1. The BBC website quotes ABC’s Radio Corrspondent in the UK, Tom Rivers, saying:
…it was “highly unusual” for the director of the FBI to talk about political issues … Mueller was an assistant Attorney General in the early 90s, looking at specifically the Lockerbie case, so it was very close and personal from his point of view … And that is being felt across the board in America. You’ve got American websites saying unless Britain does something there’s talk of a boycott of British and Scottish goods, and also urging people not to come to Britain on tourist trips.”
Now, that really is worrying. Since when was the Director of the FBI supposed to be motivated by ‘personal’ stuff? Isn’t ‘justice’ supposed to be impartial and exercised on the basis of more than emotion? (‘Compassion’ is actually more than ‘mere emotion’, is it not?) This may work in Hollywood, but it is disturbing in the context of politics or law. A boycott will expose more than the Americans might expect.
2. James Rubin, a policy adviser to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said on the BBC this morning:
I think the cause of those who have seen criminal courts and the criminal process as a way to deal with terrorism has been greatly set back. There have been many who have emphasised how the court system and international law is the best tool to deal with the threat of international terrorism – often in criticising the US for its approach – I think that cause has been greatly set back.
Well, he is entitled to his opinion, but there is a worrying assumption here that is not shared by a huge number of people on this side of the Atlantic. Has not one of the problems in the last fifty years been that the US has tried to enforce on some countries of the world (by undemocratic and unlawful means?) a model of democracy that only creates cynicism on those being ‘helped’? Is Rubin really suggesting that we can encourage a world to take seriously the fundamental importance of the rule of law by threatening to abandon it when ‘convenient’ to the powerful?
These reactions need to be further unpacked – and, no doubt, they will be as the day goes on and the weeks roll by. But, I think I will just continue to think it through and see what happens in Scotland today as MSPs convene to debate the matter.