Verily, the massive Wikileaks document-dump of thousands of US State Department confidential cable-traffic dispatches has turned out to be the sort of pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving. Its sheer size militates against any “instant analysis” of what the materials mean, requiring instead ongoing examination to digest them properly and gradually (and with unpredictable timing) uncover the really interesting stuff. On the other hand, so far their effect has mainly been analogous to the classic case of a politician “misspeaking” – i.e. unwisely letting his guard down in public and actually speaking the truth that everyone knows or assumes, but which never was to be formulated publicly.
Take the “mystery” of Abelbasset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted for planting a bomb on the Pan Am flight that crashed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie back during Christmastime, 1988. He was released from prison by order of the Scottish authorities in August, 2009, free to go back home, because he had only about three months more to live before he would die from cancer anyway. Yet somehow as of this date he is still alive and living in a villa somewhere in the outskirts of Tripoli.
As reported now in the Neue Züricher Zeitung, American diplomatic dispatches unearthed by Wikileaks show that this was but a cover-story. First of all, it was top officials of the UK government in London, not Scottish officials in Edinburgh, who were actually in the driver’s seat in this matter (although al-Megrahi had indeed been convicted in a Scottish court and was incarcerated in a Scottish jail). Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was aware of that from the start, for it was clearly a high-intensity campaign of threats and intimidation from him against these officials which is what sprung al-Megrahi. Whatever levers Qaddafi knew he had available to himself, he used – namely threatening (in case al-Megrahi should ever die in UK custody) not only to cut off all British economic activities in his country, but also to violate the safety and well-being of British nationals there, including diplomatic personnel.
Why would we be finding all of this out necessarily by means of American diplomatic documents? Well, clearly there was an American interest here, in that the vast majority of those killed on that ill-fated Pan Am flight heading to JFK airport in New York City were American nationals. In essence, American authorities were reliant on British/Scottish justice for the conviction and punishment of those people’s murderers. Naturally, then, there was outrage from the American side in August of last year when al-Megrahi was released, including rumors of Congressional hearings on the matter (which faced a substantial obstacle in the fact that the British officials US representatives most wanted to question were under no obligation, as foreign nationals, to appear before them). “He’s about to die anyway” was the main operative fig-leaf trotted out to try to tamp down the outrage – even while, as the released documents further show, no less than the then-UK Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, had secretly admitted the year before to US diplomats that al-Megrahi probably had at least five more years to live.