I hesitate before adding to the commentary on the early release of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi. But I find the whole thing so mystifying. Maybe some of my readers can help me make sense of it.
There do not seem to me to be any compassionate grounds for the early release. The Lockerbie bombers killed more people - all of them innocent civilians - than the number of UK soldiers who have tragically died in Afghanistan trying to make the world safer from terrorism. If that isn't sufficient basis for a life-means-life sentence it is difficult to see what would be. Surely compassion could have been served by the quality of care and conditions al-Megrahi received in prison It didn't require release, a hero's welcome and a disastrously mixed message on terrorism.
So, everyone assumes there is something else going on. The main theory is that there is a big oil and investment deal in the background. A slightly more benign explanation is that this is all part of the continuing process of forming closer ties with the current and future leadership of Libya, a formerly rogue state. It should be noted that this process was, until this episode, hailed as one of the big breakthroughs in recent diplomacy.
If either of the last two explanations, especially the latter, are true there may be a case for the release, ugly though it has been to watch. The problem is that these explanations are being denied by the Scottish Executive and Downing Street.
Which is where the episode starts to look like poor political judgement. For the authorities in Scotland and London to put themselves in the position where they are unable to give the only information that makes their actions understandable or justifiable is either brave or foolish. The problem is not just with the immediate fall out from the USA, the media, hurt relatives and a baffled public. This case will be repeatedly cited whenever the Government claims to be tough on terrorism at home or abroad. Because the Scottish and UK Government are not filling in the gaps in the story critics and conspiracy theorists will.
My hunch is that the release was part of a strategy with the best interest of the country (and the world) at heart. But in today's political and media culture, to pursue such a strategy while also denying it is certain be politically costly.