We noted yesterday the controversy over the Obama administration’s reaction to Scotland’s proposed release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohment al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, i.e., the claim that he was about to die. Foreign newspapers quoted a letter from a U.S. Embassy official in London, Richard LeBaron, which said that the U.S. would prefer that Megrahi not be released, but that if he were to be let go, the Obama administration thought it was “far preferable” to free Megrahi than have him transferred to a Libyan jail. On its face, this preference seemed odd; many wondered whether the notoriously pliable Obama administration had used Megrahi’s alleged illness as another opportunity for “outreach.” But, as I noted last night, the full text of LeBaron’s letter had not been made public, so it was difficult to judge.
Today the State Department did release the full text of LeBaron’s letter. In my opinion, it answers the questions we asked yesterday and reflects credit on the State Department and the Obama administration. The relevant portions are as follows:
– Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the U.S. position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.
– If a decision were made by Scotland to grant conditional release, two conditions would be very important to the United States and would partially mitigate the concerns of the American victims’ families. First, any such release should only come after the results of independent and comprehensive medical exams clearly establishing that Megrahi’s life expectancy is less than three months. The results of these exams should be made available to the United States and the families of the victims of Pan Am 103. The justification of releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds would be more severely undercut the longer he is free before his actual death.
– Second, the United States would strongly oppose any release that would permit Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. We believe that the welcoming reception that Megrahi might receive if he is permitted to travel abroad would be extremely inappropriate given Megrahi’s conviction for a heinous crime that continues to have a deep and profound impact on so many. As such, compassionate release or bail should be conditioned on Megrahi remaining in Scotland.
– Again, while we are not able to endorse the early release of Megrahi under any scenario, we believe that granting compassionate release or bail under the conditions described (i.e. release with a life expectancy or less than three months and with Megrahi remaining in Scotland under supervision) would mitigate a number of the strong concerns that we have expressed with respect to Megrahi’s release.
There you have it: an entirely appropriate expression of concern on behalf of the American people that Megrahi be demonstrably near death–something that turned out not to be true–and under no circumstances be turned into a jihadist hero back in Libya–something that did happen, but not as a result of American policy.
So, 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.