Recently released documents concerning the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi show how the Libyan government was able to intimidate the United Kingdom into releasing the terrorist, who was later given a hero's welcome in his home country of Libya. Reading the documents it seems that the only reason that Libya wanted to sign a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with the UK in the first place was to get Al Megrahi out of prison.
From the outset of the discussions of the diplomatic relations with Libya (which began with a Memorandum of Understanding that stated that the UK and Libya would engage in ongoing negotiations, including a PTA) London made it clear that the final decision "to transfer any prisoner held in a Scottish Prison is a matter for the Scottish Ministers." But that does not mean that London was a bystander in negotiations.
In letters dated July 26, 2007 and September 23, 2007 Jack Straw (English Secretary of State for Justice) stated that the British government intended to pursue a clause in the Prisoner Transfer Agreement that precluded Al Megrahi and anyone else involved in the terrorist attack that killed 270 people. However, in a letter dated December 19, 2007 Straw backpedaled, saying "The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom I have agreed that in this instance the PTA should be in thestandard form and not mention any individual." When pressed by Edinburgh to clarify what "national interests" would leave the door open to release a convicted terrorists, Straw stated that a Libya that was reintegrated into the international community was good for the UK, plus Tripoli had voluntarily dismantled their WMDs (under sanctions) and might be able to "stem the flow of illegal migrants to the EU and to the UK." In reality, on December 23, 2007 (four days after Straw's reversal on precluding Lockerbie bombers from the PTA) Britain's largest company, BP, gained Libya's approval for a large oil contract in the Northern African country. How's that for national interests?
Beyond all of this, the United Kingdom had actually promised in a letter prior to the trial of Al Megrahi that if convicted, any Libyan national handed to the British for a trial would serve their time on British soil. "If found guilty, the two accused will serve their sentence in the United Kingdom." Additionally, a UN Security Council Resolution was adopted that regarded the letter. This was not forgotten by London, as a letter from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) dated July 3, 2009 stated that Edinburgh had asked about the UK-US letter and the UN Resolution. Despite the plain language in the letter stating that either suspect would serve their time in the UK should they be convicted, the FCO stated that they did not "consider the either the joint UK-US letter, UN Security Council Resolution 1192 (1998) or the accompanying discussions between the UK Government and the United States Government regarding implementation of the trial initiative as set out in the joint letter, present an international law bar to such a transfer under the PTA where it is consistent with Scots law."
But as the British said, any transfer of a Scottish prisoner was up to the Scottish ministers. Except the Scottish ministers did not seem clear on the legality of allowing Al Megrahi a transfer to Libya. The Scottish government wanted access to documents from the negotiations that sent Al Megrahi from Libya to the Netherlands for trial in the late 1990s. The latest letter from those released on the subject state that the Scots never got the documents. On top of this, it is clear from their letters that Edinburgh did not want Al- Megrahi to be transferred to Libya under the PTA. In a letter dated October 25, 2008 they stated that they didn't even want Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi in the country. And the assurances of Jack Straw that Scottish officials would have final say in any prisoner transfer regarding anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing turned out to be hunches, not based on fact, according to a March 18, 2008 letter from Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland. Salmond's tone in that letter conveys that he is less than pleased, for obvious reasons.
So while the UK government kept saying that the PTA would not include Al Megrahi, it ended up including the convicted terrorist. While the UK said that legitimate governmental interests and allowing Libya back into the international community was the main goal of giving up certain exclusions in the PTA, in reality UK's largest company got a sweet oil deal four days after Jack Straw's reversal on the Al Megrahi exclusion clause in the PTA with Libya. When the UK told the Scots that their ministers would have the final say in any PTA request, they did not really mean it. It's clear that London had little to no intention of legitimately including the Scottish government in their dealings with Tripoli. Instead, the British were bullied into the release of the one man convicted in the worst terrorist attack in British history to Libya, where he was welcomed home like some kind of national hero, saying that they were sympathetic to Al Megrahi's being terminally ill. Al Megrahi made the decision to kill 270 people that day on orders from the Libyan government, so whether he died of cancer at a younger age than expected or lived to be three hundred years old, it should have been behind bars. Peace.
Photos - Al Megrahi (The Independent), One of the iconic images of the Lockerbie tragedy, which took the lives of 270 people (Daily Mail), Al Megrahi's hero's welcome back in Libya follow his transfer (The Guardian)