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U.S. renews campaign against Libya

Published Aug 26, 2009 3:11 PM

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi returned home to Libya Aug. 21 to a hero’s welcome. He had been held in a Scottish prison for eight years in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. All 259 people on board the aircraft were killed plus 11 others on the ground.

Al-Megrahi, who has always maintained his innocence, was released on humanitarian grounds by the Scottish authorities after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

Libya’s Oya newspaper shows
Libyans greeting al-Megrahi
(center) upon his arrival in
Tripoli on Aug. 20.

This political prisoner’s release created the conditions for a renewal of attacks on the North African state of Libya, which since 1969 has been headed by Muammar Qaddafi, a leader with an anti-imperialist history. Qaddafi currently serves as chairman of the African Union. Beginning with the Reagan administration, the U.S. had for years designated Libya under Qaddafi a “terrorist state.”

The U.S. Air Force bombed Libya, which has been a strong advocate of African unity and socialism, on April 14, 1986. The bombings sparked outrage throughout Africa and the world.

U.S. relations with Libya strained

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the escalation of the U.S. so-called “war on terror,” Washington attempted to normalize relations with Libya in an effort to further isolate Iraq, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Sudan and Iran. During the period after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration claimed that Libya had agreed to dismantle and eliminate its purported “weapons of mass destruction” in exchange for greater diplomatic recognition from Washington and London.

In August 2003 the Libyan government agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. In September of the same year, the United Nations Security Council voted to lift sanctions against Libya.

In 2006, Washington restored full diplomatic relations with Libya, opening the door for further economic cooperation. The country was removed from the State Department’s list of governments that allegedly “support terrorism.” During the final days of the Bush administration, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the country.

Libya has also been involved in peace negotiations surrounding the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

During the course of the normalization process, U.S. and British oil firms were allowed to resume economic relations with Libya, which is said to hold the largest oil reserves on the African continent. Yet this apparent thawing in relations between the U.S. and Libya has been jeopardized by the Obama administration’s virulent statements in response to the release of al-Megrahi and his welcoming by the Libyan government and people.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill took responsibility for making the decision to release al-Megrahi from prison. “It is my decision that Mr. al-Megrahi ... be released on compassionate grounds and be returned to Libya to die,” MacAskill said. (Al-Jazeera, Aug. 21)

MacAskill told journalists, “He is a dying man; he is terminally ill. My decision is that he returns home to die.”

Nonetheless, U.S. President Barack Obama, under pressure from the FBI and right-wing political elements inside the country, said that the release of Megrahi was “a mistake” and that the former political prisoner should be held under house arrest in Libya.

In a statement issued on the eve of his release, al-Megrahi said, “As a result of my surrender, and that judgment of the court, I had to spend over 10 years in prison. I cannot find words in my language or yours that give proper expression to the desolation I have felt. This horrible ordeal is not ended by my return to Libya.

“The remaining days of my life are being lived under the shadow of the wrongness of my conviction. I have been faced with an appalling choice: to risk dying in prison in the hope that my name is cleared posthumously or to return home still carrying the weight of the guilty verdict, which will never now be lifted.” (Al-Jazeera, Aug. 20)

Although the U.S. government and prosecutors have claimed that al-Megrahi was a Libyan intelligence officer, he has been consistent in stating that he was an airline executive at the time of the Lockerbie bombing. Evidence of guilt was highly circumstantial and questionable. Another Libyan was also turned over during the late 1990s for trial at a special court in the Netherlands, but he was acquitted of the charges.

A Scottish court rejected an appeal by al-Megrahi in 2002. However, a judicial review of his conviction in 2007 raised a number of questions in regard to the veracity of the evidence used against him during the trial. Particular doubt was cast on the testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper who claimed that clothing purchased in his store by al-Megrahi was found in the wreckage of Pan Am 103.

According to Al-Jazeera, “It was suggested that Gauci may have seen a photo of al-Megrahi in a magazine days before picking him out of line-up.” Al-Megrahi made a decision to drop his appeal when Libya, which has negotiated for his release over many years, reached a deal with the British government to have him released on compassionate grounds.

Behind the agreement

With Libya serving as chair of the African Union and the imperialist countries desiring to access Libya’s vast oil and natural gas reserves, the U.S. and Britain have motives to further normalize relations and enhance existing economic agreements.

These factors were raised in an interview with Seif al-Islam, the son of Muammar Qaddafi, broadcast over Libyan television on Aug. 22. Al-Islam said that the release of al-Megrahi was raised during talks over possible oil and natural gas contracts between the British government and Libya.

Al-Islam described the release of al-Megrahi as “a victory” for the people of Libya. “In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, [Megrahi] was always on the negotiating table,” al-Islam told the Al Mutawasit television channel.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Libya in May 2007 during the signing of an exploration contract with the British oil firm BP for $900 million. Despite these statements by al-Islam and the signing of the 2007 contract, the British Foreign Office has insisted that the release of al-Megrahi was the sole decision of the Scottish government and that “no deal has been made between the UK government and the Libyan government in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interest in the country.” (BBC, Aug. 22)

Al-Megrahi met with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who issued a statement saying in part: “At this moment I would like to send a message to our friends in Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party, the Scottish prime minister ... and I congratulate them on their courage and for having proved their independence despite the unacceptable and unreasonable pressures they faced.” (Jana, Aug. 22)