Lockerbie Families Outraged Over Details of Prison Exchange Deal

U.S., U.K. politicians pass buck and point fingers over released terrorist.

July 19, 2010, 3:02 PM

July 19, 2010— -- When British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives in WashingtonTuesday on his first official visit to the U.S. he will step into a maelstrom, as outrage grows over the Lockerbie bomber's thriving health and the possible role of BP in negotiating his release from a Scottish prison last year.

"This is despicable. It's unethical. It's immoral and it is illegal," said Bert Ammerman of River Vale, N.J., whose brother Tom was killed in the bombing perpetrated by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, but which many beileve was orchestrated by the Libyan government.

"I said this a year ago when they released him. I said it was for oil and that big business was pushing the release. I said it everywhere last year, everyone denied it. Now the truth starts coming out," Ammerman told today.

Nearly a year since Scotland released Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he was said to have had only weeks to live, the terrorist is alive and well in Tripoli, Libya, where he is celebrated as a hero.

In addition to watching Megrahi celebrate a year of freedom, the 270 families whose loved ones were killed in the 1988 PanAm bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, were dealt an additional blow in recent days when it was disclosed that oil giant BP may have pressured the U.K. government to cut a deal in order to gain lucrative oil contracts in Libya.

Politicians from both sides of the Atlantic, seeing the outrage grow anew, condemned Megrahi's release today and called for investigations into the role BP may have played.

"We have read the reports of the correspondence between the former British government and the Scottish government with respect to negotiations with the Government of Libya, particularly whether the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) would include Mr. al-Megrahi. We have also been dismayed to hear from a BP representative that the company actively lobbied the previous government on behalf of the PTA, and media reports suggest BP even tried to address the release of this individual," Sen. Chuck Schumer, N.Y., wrote to Cameron in a letter released today.

British PM Cameron Calls Libyan's Release 'Utterly Wrong'

Schumer along with Sens. Kirsten Gellibrand, D-N.Y., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J, have called for congressional hearings later this month and called on Cameron to launch an inquiry.

Sen. Menendez will chair a Senate hearing on on Megrahi's release on July 29.

Cameron has already signaled that he likely will not meet with those senators asking for a sit-down.

In anticipation of being questioned on the topic when he arrives in the U.S. Tuesday, Cameron issued a statement today saying, "As leader of the opposition, I couldn't have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong."

But the words of American and British politicians are little consolation to Ammerman and other family members.

"All you get is rhetoric," Ammerman said. "This is great rhetoric, but where's the substance. I want to know who is involved. Cameron and Obama should both say: 'I want answers.'"

"There is a big rat in this situation," Ammerman said. "It is incumbent on both governments to find that rat. Heads should role in both governments," he said.

BP admitted last week that it asked the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it did not specifically discuss al-Megrahi's case during those talks.

Ammerman said BP's failure to mention Megrahi by name was a semantic device to give the company the cover of plausible deniability.

The U.K.'s growing business relationship with Libya, including the $900 million deal brokered by BP to explore for oil in the North African nation, has been under increased scrutiny since Megrahi's release in August 2009.

British officials say the prisoner transfer was part of a broader diplomatic effort aimed at opening Libya to the West.

Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill ordered Megrahi's release after he served just eight years – or 11 days per victim – after doctors said he was days from dying of advanced prostate cancer. Now doctors say the self-professed terrorist could live another 10 or 20 years.

The current British government has placed the blame squarely on shoulders of the semi-autonomous Scottish government.

Lockerbie Attack Killed 270 People

"The new British government is clear that Megrahi's release was a mistake," said British Ambassador to Washington Sir Nigel Sheinwald. "However, under U.K. law, it fell solely to the Scottish executive to consider Megrahi's case."

The 1988 attack killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Thirty-five of the passengers killed were Syracuse University students. Megrahi was sentenced in 2001 to at least 20 years in prison before he could be eligible for parole.

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