Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blood for Oil: Yes, Britain Did Release a Mass-Murdering Terrorist in Exchange for an Oil Deal

By Barry Rubin

On the face of it, growing evidence that the British government released a terrorist who murdered 270 people in exchange for an oil deal is shockingly loathsome.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Here’s the worst of it: Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was not a free-lance terrorist but a Libyan intelligence officer. And the bombing of the Lockerbie plane was a large-scale operation, ordered and organized by the Libyan government and, first and foremost, its madcap dictator Muammar Qadhafi.

So Britain didn’t just release a murderer in exchange for a good oil deal, it released a murderer who had shielded his Mafia kingpin—Qadhafi—so that London could make a deal with the chief terrorist himself, who is soon to arrive at the UN as an honored speaker. Moreover, Megrahi, far from deserving any compassion, had refused to cooperate with the investigation all along. He “took the rap” but then helped make it impossible to catch and punish those most responsible.

Or to put it another way, Britain released a foot soldier who was a cog in the terrorist implementation team in order to make a deal with the man directly responsible for ordering the murders of 270 passengers and many other acts of terrorism, too.

True, it can be pointed out that lots of countries deal with Libya and that Qadhafi's decision to abandon his secret nuclear weapons' program was an element in ending the sanctions against Libya. But part of the price for Libya's escape from isolation was the turning over of Megrahi. So the message is consistent with other Western actions: In the end, we will give you what you want without your having to give up anything (or much).

(My scenario: Tell Megrahi he will never get out and will die in prison unless he spills the beans on the involvement of Qadhafi and other Libyan leaders in the attack. Even then, though, he probably wouldn't say anything. Why, ideological loyalty? No, probably the fact that his family back in Libya would face a pretty grim fate if he told the truth.)   

Basically, the release took place after negotiations between Libya and British Petroleum because, said documents from the prime minister’s office, it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom.” Obviously, a humanitarian decision to release a dying man in order to make his last days more comfortable is not going to be described as in the overwhelming national interest.

Apparently what happened, based on the leaked documents, is that the Libyan government made it clear that unless he was released there would be no deal. Qadhafi was showing gratitude to the man who had protected him from being subjected to charges on the Lockerbie business.

Once the British backed down and agreed to release him, Libya quickly ratified the oil deal.

There are various unconvincing denials that this was a real blood for oil arrangement.

Even approaching this issue from a cynical Middle East perspective, the British government’s behavior is despicable. This follows close on a decision to stop an investigation of a case--BAE Systems
(British Aerospace)--where high-up Saudis were involved in bribery lest this damage UK-Saudi economic relations.

And of course there is the obsessive anti-Israel stances taken (though more by other European states than by Britain) which relate to profits as well. Upcoming is the decision on commercial profits versus higher sanctions on Iran.

Rather than the West—as some rather naively dreamed—spreading democracy, free speech, and tolerance to the Middle East, the Middle East seems to be spreading undemocratic practices, a muzzling of speech, and intolerance to the West.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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