The disclosure of the previously confidential documents, intended to clear the Scottish administration of any complicity, does reveal embarrassments.
The release by the Scottish government of letters, memoranda and meeting minutes regarding the release from prison of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, helps us understand that the Scottish minister of justice took advice from the governor of Greenock prison, the Parole Board and doctors before deciding to grant the convicted murderer’s request for his freedom on compassionate grounds.
This would appear to eliminate suspicion that some back-channel deal had been made to send the Libyan back to Tripoli, perhaps in an attempt to support British commercial interests.
However, the disclosure of the previously confidential documents, intended to clear the Scottish administration of any complicity, does reveal embarrassments. One was David Milliband’s private assurance to the Libyans that the British authorities did not wish the terrorist to die in prison, and the second was his predecessor.
Jack Straw’s sudden reversal regarding the retrospective nature of a prisoner repatriation scheme which was never intended to be retrospective or to cover someone, such as al-Megrahi, convicted of a crime prior to implementation of the agreement.
No wonder Gordon Brown has been so silent on the entire issue and has declined to express his opinion on the release publicly. We now known that a junior Foreign Office minister expressed the view in private to the Libyans that neither the prime minister nor the foreign secretary wanted the prisoner to die in a Scottish gaol.
Indeed, the Libyans threatened that such an event would have a “catastrophic” impact on relations between the two countries. Considering the regime’s long history of participation in international terrorism, should that remark be interpreted as a threat to blow up another airliner?
What were the overwhelming issues of national interest that persuaded Jack Straw to change his mind on such a fundamental principle? The documents may only have been intended to clear Alex Salmond’s colleagues, but their effect has been to implicate Brown, Milliband and Straw.