Abdul Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, has died a free man in his native Libya. The all-encompassing aura of incompetence and subterfuge on the part of the British authorities will not die with him. British officials from top to bottom gave a textbook example of how not to handle issues between themselves and Middle East tyrannies.
Megrahi’s guilt or innocence was a matter for the British police and courts. Instead the government of Tony Blair allowed the Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddhafi to become involved. The case was then open to haggling behind the scene. Justice no longer depended on facts but on the terms that could be struck with Gaddhafi. Dangling lucrative oil contracts, he obtained the release first of another Libyan accused with Megrahi and finally of Megrahi himself. Lockerbie is in Scotland, and a fiction was arranged that the British government had no say when the Scots conveniently sent Megrahi to Libya. A final deal had been struck whereby he obtained freedom in return for withdrawing the appeal for another trial that might have proved his innocence. Adding insult to injury, the three months the doctors gave him to live before his cancer proved fatal turned into three years. By that time, Gaddhafi was dead, and British arms had helped to kill him.
The net result of this episode is that Britain looks venal if not dishonest, shameful, and totally confused between surrender to a Third World dictator and overpowering him. And the families of those murdered in the Lockerbie bombing can be sure only that they have been betrayed.