The general tone of the criticism is shocked, puzzled or angry. Before the decision was announced, Hillary Clinton described the possibility of al-Megrahi's release as "absolutely wrong" [BBC News 19 August 2009]. Following the announcement, Barack Obama has denounced the release as a mistake [Guardian 21 August 2009], the head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a scathing attack on the Scottish government [BBC News 22 August 2009], and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Mike Mullen said: "This is obviously a political decision" [BBC News 23 August 2009]. As if these powerful and (presumably) well-informed people considered the decision to be quite straightforward. Or perhaps they are simply aggrieved that their own wishes haven't prevailed.
Two main lines of conspiracy theory are emerging. One line is that the release is in return for arms sales or some other secret deal. (So that's why the US government are complaining?) The other line is that the authorities have privately conceded that the conviction was unsound (as the UN observer believed at the time, and as Paul Foot documented in great detail in a 2001 Private Eye special report) and now wish to release al-Megrahi before an appeal against the conviction can be heard (as a CIA spook now suggests).
- Hans Köchler: I saw the trial – and the verdict made no sense (Independent 21 August 2009)
- Libyan Takeaway (Private Eye #1243 21 August 2009)
- CIA spook says Megrahi was freed before appeal humiliated justice system (Sunday Mail 23 August 2009)
- Malise Ruthven, Deception Over Lockerbie? (New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 15, 8th October 2009)
Perhaps it's inevitable that people are going to be angry about the decision if they don't know all the facts. And it's easy to criticize from your armchair, if you aren't the one making the tough decisions. As always, my recommendation is to think of a frame in which the decision appears to make sense. Compassion or conspiracy - you choose.
May 2012. Following his death, several papers carry such headlines as "Megrahi takes truth to the grave". This would only be correct if we were to assume Mr al-Megrahi had ever known the truth.
Keelan Balderson, Lockerbie Bomber Was Innocent; New Documents Support the Obvious (29 Feb 2012)
Robert Fisk, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi is dead. Now we'll never know the truth about Lockerbie (The Independent, 21 May 2012)
Francis Kumadoh, When will the truth be told? (21 May 2012)