The Al Magrahi rumpus – what is it all about?
Ade Sawyerr © London, August 2009
I sat through a 25 minute long speech by the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny Mackaskill that justified the release of Al-Magrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing and wondered why this justification had to be carried live on television. Then I watched the white ‘black maria van’ whisk him out of jail to the airport, saw him board a plane to Libya and just wondered why this circus was being made public.
Now it turns out that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had written to Mummar Ghadafi about the release of this high profile prisoner who had been subject to so much political and diplomatic negotiation even before he was tried. First Secretary Mandleson subsequently wades in to suggest that there was no deal relating to the release and that the trade mission promised was in no way part of the deal to release the prisoner. I then hear that Prince Andrew was meant to lead the trade delegation to Libya on the 40th anniversary of the violent coup d’état that overthrew the established monarchy in Libya. Ex Prime Minister Tony Blair, who cannot stay out of the limelight, waxed lyrical on why Libya needs to be brought back from the cold and that though there was no deal, it was not such a bad deal to have released the guy.
Then Obama comes out to say that the decision was wrong.
Then I realised that there is not much political news to report; parliament is in recess and there is a great need to make political news during this period.
Though there is a tendency for bad news to fill the vacuum when there is no news or when there is no good news and the press will feed us anything what is clear from all this is that there was a deal of sorts, direct, indirect or oblique. But it is really not worthy news at all.
Whatever did anyone expect the Libyans to do? Were the press there because they expected the Libyans to cuff him and put him in jail when he had been released on humanitarian grounds? Was that the reason why they decided to train their cameras when Ghadaffi’s plane landed in Libya? Have we all suddenly forgotten that because of the Lockerbie bombing Libya became a pariah state and sanctions were applied against the country for not giving up the bomber for trial? Have we forgotten that this is not just an individual common criminal who planted a bomb but was part of a state operation to the extent that he was tried in Holland on Scottish soil and sentenced to imprisonment in Scotland and not in England or in America?
I believe that everyone expected that he would be given a heroes welcome, Brown, Blair and Obama all hoped for something else but if democracy is about the authority of the people then they had no business trying to intervene in what happens in Libya.
So who should we blame for the rumpus? As they say in my native Ghana, ‘na who cause am’
Kenny Macaskill should not be blamed. He took a bold decision and he was right. I however suspect that he was pushed. I also suspect that he realised that the trial of this man had been political all along and that there were flaws in the outcome. I am glad that he showed to the Americans that there is such a thing as compassion in the justice system.
Should we blame Gordon Brown? What should we expect of a new labour government that is desperate to improve the economy in a recession and that must clutch at anything possible? So if deals can be done with Libya, the deals must be done. But Brown has this uncanny ability to complicate even the easiest issue. Someone should have told him that you do these deals in secret and you do not attempt to tell Ghadaffi of all people, reformed or not, what he must do.
But why involve the son of our head of state in this business? Was it because Ghaddafi’s son was involved in the deal? To think that the British government was actually going to send Prince Andrew on a trade mission during the 40th anniversary celebration of the toppling of a monarch suggests to me that we are in truly desperate times. But these kinds of deals are always made in secret and not under the full glare of the television cameras.
So what is Obama talking about? Can he just not resist a sound-bite this time round and try and preach to the Scottish people about how to handle prisoners. Who wants to take lessons on democracy and prison treatment from an American president anyway? No one in the civilised world thinks that the America system of justice that always plays to the gallery of public opinion is fair. Why should we listen to a president who at present is defending himself from accusations that he is intent on setting up ‘death panels’ to implement his health reforms? I mean America is the country who operate a barbaric system of sentencing people to death and who would have injected Al-Magrahi with whatever it is they use to kill their prisoners on death row. Obama should be reminded that Libya was bombed by President Clinton to divert attention from his Monica Lewinsky problems and he should know better than even comment on this because the Scottish system of government and justice is not about special interests and he should keep well out of this.
I put the blame squarely on the press who need something to report and during lean periods of political news. Let us show compassion at all times for those who wrong us, let leave Al-Magrahi alone to spend the rest of his life with this family.
Let us concentrate our efforts on doing something about the economy and dealing with the worsening job situation, let us exert our energies on a fairer more equitable system of government in this country and leave Ghadaffi to implement the principles of the ‘Green Book’ to his people.
If and when we have a fairer and inclusive system of government in this country, other countries will be happy to emulate our systems and standards and deals such as have been done would be inconsequential and not fill any space in the newspapers or intrude on our watching good television.
Ade Sawyerr is in partner Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research that focuses on formulating strategies for black and ethnic minority, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or www.equinoxconsulting.net