Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more palatable than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison.
The intervention, which has angered US relatives of those who died in the attack, was made by Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US embassy in London, a week before Megrahi was freed in August last year on grounds that he had terminal cancer.
The document, acquired by a well-placed US source, threatens to undermine US President Barack Obama’s claim last week that all Americans were “surprised, disappointed and angry” to learn of Megrahi’s release.
Scottish ministers viewed the level of US resistance to compassionate release as “half-hearted” and a sign it would be accepted.
The US has tried to keep the letter secret, refusing to give permission to the Scottish authorities to publish it on the grounds it would prevent future “frank and open communications” with other governments.
If this is true (and it sounds like it is, since a major newspaper claims to have the correspondence), this is absolutely sickening. It’s one thing to have backed the release. But it’s quite another, having backed the release, then to pretend to be shocked and dismayed.
UPDATE: Originally I mistakenly said it was the Australian that had the correspondence, rather than the London Times. I’ve corrected the error.
Unless some contrary information comes to light, I consider this a non-controversy in which the State Department and the Obama administration acted honorably and appropriately.
I disagree. One can argue that the administration’s position, preferring compassionate release to prisoner transfer, is justified. However, the letter clearly failed to convey our opposition to Megrahi being released from Scottish custody at all. “The United States is not prepared to support” hardly sounds like full-throated opposition. I admit, I don’t speak Diplomat, but for a translation you can look to the Scottish reaction that found our opposition to Megrahi’s release to be “half-hearted”. So while the administration’s position may have been justifiable, it’s execution was certainly incompetent.
But all this is beside the point! It’s one thing for the administration to have reluctantly accepted the release. It’s quite another, once it happened, to pretend to be shocked and dismayed by it. That was neither honorable nor appropriate. It damaged our relations with the UK (again) for no reason other than to offer the Obama administration a little temporary cover.