Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, has been living the good life in Libya ever since the United Kingdom sent him home in 2009. He was supposedly close to death from cancer, which is still a stupid reason to send him anywhere except the end of a rope, but his release was actually part of an embarrassing attempt to curry favor with Moammar Qaddafi. The true illness that prompted his release was an acute inflammation of petro-dollars. As the Times of London put it, in August 2009:
The release of the Lockerbie bomber from prison would liberate Britain’s largest industrial company from a string of problems hampering its $900 million (£546 million) Libyan gas projects, industry sources claimed last night.
BP, the oil giant, signed a deal with Libya in 2007 to explore for gas in the west of the country and offshore. But since then it has faced a string of bureaucratic obstacles, including delays securing official permits and approvals to import equipment through Libyan customs, the sources said.
They added that BP’s work programme, conducting geological studies on the Sitre basin, an offshore block the size of Belgium, had been hit by delays securing official paperwork for the next scheduled phase of work. “Now that al-Megrahi is released, BP expects to get the go-ahead,” said one source in Libya.
Of course, once he arrived in Tripoli, Megrahi made a “miraculous recovery,” and became a celebrated hero of the Qaddafi regime. With the collapse of that regime, it would seem only natural to take him back into custody. Last week, Mitt Romney became the first GOP presidential candidate to demand Megrahi’s return, as reported by The Hill:
"It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law," Romney said in as statement. "As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done.”
In an interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox News, Romney said he wanted Megrahi extradited to the United States for trial:
We would try him here and see that justice is done. This is a person responsible for the lives of hundreds of people. This is an individual who was convicted in Scotland, but then set free on humanitarian basis. And now, two years later, he’s still alive. He received a hero’s welcome in Tripoli. It’s unacceptable, in my view, that this person does not face justice.
So I’d like to see him face justice as one of the first acts of a new government, hopefully a more democratic, representative form of government, a modern government. Let’s - let’s get al-Megrahi back to a court and - and - and seeking the real justice he deserves.
It looks like we could have the Lockerbie bomber all to ourselves, because Reuters reports that Scotland has no plans to demand his extradition, although the British government has been mumbling about what a terrible mistake it was to release him.
But no dice, say the new rulers of Libya. From a Fox News report:
With the fall of Qaddafi’s regime eminent, many have been calling for Megrahi’s extradition. Rebel leaders, however, who have begun to set up a government in Tripoli, said they would reject any attempt to return Megrahi to prison in Scotland.
Hassan al Sagheer, a member of the Transitional National Council and a legal expert, said, "Libya has never extradited or handed over its citizens to a foreign country. We shall continue with this principle."
That is despite the U.K. and Libya having ratified an extradition treaty in 2009.
A senior judge who took part in the early stages of the uprising against Qaddafi emphasized another reason why Megrahi would not be sent to Britain or even the U.S.—the bomber is a member of one of the largest tribes that sided with Qaddafi during the revolt.
"Any move to hand him back would cause internal conflict at a time when we are trying to bridge differences," the judge said.
Of course, there are once again reports that Megrahi is deathly ill… just as there were in December 2010, the last time Megrahi’s hero status prompted anger in the West. There’s no reason to listen to another word about his deteriorating medical condition. If we can wheel him before a firing squad, he’s healthy enough.
Why on Earth are we talking about this now?
The fate of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi should have been a Day One non-negotiable condition for NATO assistance to the Libyan rebellion. That it was left as an afterthought, and became a hesitant request the new Libyan government feels comfortable waving off, tells you a lot about the failure of leadership that gave us this horribly botched war… and it doesn’t paint a rosy picture of what we can expect from post-Qaddafi Libya. No government or tribe that would protect this blood-soaked monster deserves a seat in the high councils of civilization.