Friday, August 21, 2009

Not very assuring

One interesting angle in the decision of the Scottish executive to give compassionate release to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi is the part of the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's statement where he comes close to accusing the UK Home Office of lying --

The United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, was in fact deputy Attorney General to Janet Reno at the time of the pre-trial negotiations. He was adamant that assurances had been given to the United States Government that any person convicted would serve his sentence in Scotland. Many of the American families spoke of the comfort that they placed upon these assurances over the past ten years. That clear understanding was reiterated to me, by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

I sought the views of the United Kingdom Government. I offered them the right to make representations or provide information. They declined to do so. They simply informed me that they saw no legal barrier to transfer and that they gave no assurances to the US Government at the time. They have declined to offer a full explanation as to what was discussed during this time, or to provide any information to substantiate their view. I find that highly regrettable.

I therefore do not know what the exact nature of those discussions was, nor what may have been agreed between Governments. However, I am certain of the clear understanding of the American families and the American Government.

Therefore it appears to me that the American families and Government either had an expectation, or were led to believe, that there would be no prisoner transfer and the sentence would be served in Scotland.

Note that a Home/Justice "assurance" has been a standard procedure in the controversial UK-US extradition cases, where they typically concern something that can't in fact be guaranteed or is already an option under existing law. Isn't there now enough evidence that any such assurances should be put in writing?

UPDATE: Just for the record, one curious angle is emerging on the release -- the possible role of Qatar in the process.

FINAL UPDATE: Just to collect a few more links. In this bewildering interview (which does serve as a reminder of how good John Humphrys is), UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband says that there were other issues with the use of the prisoner transfer agreement (as opposed to question of implicit assurances) but also that there was no role of the London government in the decision. But well-credentialed correspondent Kristofer Harrison tells Powerline's "Trunk" that the machinations were directed from the Foreign Office.

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