Let me say up front that I agree with David Cameron: Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi should not have been released from prison. I think he was a fall guy for what was a Libyan government planned and executed operation, but he was convicted and barring a successful appeal, he should have stayed in prison. However, I think the U.S. Senate is way out of line in investigating his release.
This goes back to my most recent post: it is consistently the view of the US government – at least of the Executive and Legislative branches – that the sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests. The Senate has invited Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, Scottish prison health director Andrew Fraser, former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair to appear before it to answer questions as to how and why Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate ground. (This despite the fact that Blair had been out of office for nearly two years at the time of the release.)
Though I have no political affinity to any of the Brits invited, I have to agree with the assessment of Jack Straw:
“It is, in my experience, highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state, including, as in this case, decisions by a devolved administration on the release of a prisoner. There are therefore important issues of principle here which could affect UK governments of any party, and which will need carefully to be considered before I come to a final view.”
In other words, it is none of their business. The crime occurred over Scottish airspace. Even if the bomb was put on the plane somewhere else, at no time in question was the plane in the United States or its airspace. Neither was it even in international airspace, as the death of 11 Scots killed on the ground in Lockerbie made clear. Scotland had jurisdiction then and it has jurisdiction now. It may come as a shock to a lot of Americans, but killing Americans somewhere in the world does not give the government of the United States jurisdiction over that place or the power to investigate their killing. If Americans leave the sovereign territory of the United States, they assume the risk that they may come to harm without the US Government having the right to vindicate their cause.
Perhaps it is David Cameron’s admission that the UK is the junior partner in the Special Relationship both now and for at least the past 70 years that has emboldened the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to think its senior status carries some sort of weight.
Even if, as has been strongly insinuated by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, BP lobbied – or even, as has been suggested – bribed UK or Scottish officials or ministers, it is not the business of the US Senate. That is true even though BP is responsible for that terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently needs to be punished further, whatever excuse can be found. If there has been impropriety, it is for the UK government to investigate.
Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, since 67 British people died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker, has been tortured and charges against him have been dropped, re-instated, and dropped again. Should the British Government open an inquiry and invite US officials to appear before it to answer for how they have dealt with it? Should British parliamentarians and ministers be demanding explanantions? If the American public learned of such an inquiry – that is, if the American press even took it seriously enough to report it – the public would be everything from bemused to outraged that another country would think it had jurisdiction to demand American officials explain themselves.
Sovereignty is sovereignty. It’s time the US respected the sovereignty of other nations to the extent it demands respect for its own.