It is a shame that the world population cannot vote in US presidential elections. US President Barack Obama may think that his most excellent adventure in Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden will translate into a re-election slam dunk, yet much of the rest of the world views the military intervention in Libya — which the hawkish dove still insists does not constitute war — as the mother of all deal-breakers.
A report this week by a British tabloid states that Washington has sought a pact with the Libyan rebel leadership to capture Abdelbaset al Megrahi and hand him over to US Special Forces. Indeed, Obama has indicated through intermediaries that continued American support to the rebels is entirely dependent on them sealing this deal.
Al Megrahi was the only person to have been convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that crashed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Although a Scottish court sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2001, he was released in 2009 on ‘compassionate grounds’. He had been diagnosed with terminal prostrate cancer and was thought to have only three months to live. Today, it is believed that he is still alive and kicking in Tripoli. If Obama gets his way, al Megrahi will end up on trial in the US and, if found guilty of the same charges, face life imprisonment without parole.
The reported US rebel deal, which has not been denied by Washington, raises important questions about the motives behind the US agenda in Libya that has secured UN Security Council backing and Nato participation. It suggests that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has single-handedly exploited Qaddafi’s brutal suppression of a civilian uprising against his 42-year authoritarian rule, while betraying Libyans’ democratic aspirations to ruthlessly avenge the bombing of an American airliner over 20 years ago. It also raises questions about British involvement in Libya. Was Britain hoodwinked into supporting Washington on false pretences or did Prime Minister David Cameron decide to sign a secret pact to support the war efforts as compensation for his refusal to kowtow to demands by US senators, back in February, to launch a national inquiry into the al Megrahi release?
While there ought to be no contest between war and an independent probe, much of Cameron’s first year in office has been spent trying to draw lines under the misadventures of the previous government. There has been a fourth inquiry into the Iraq war, as well as a pledge to investigate allegations that MI6 outsourced the torture of British detainees to foreign countries.
Another inquiry would only add to Cameron’s headaches, especially since this one could impact British trade interests. The US accuses the Gordon Brown government of doing its utmost to have al Megrahi sent home in order to secure a $900 million oil exploration contract between British Petroleum and Tripoli.
News of US clandestine manoeuvrings in Libya adds a certain retrospective significance to the march-to-war timeframe. Just weeks after the US senators had met Cameron, Mustafa Abdul Jalil — former Libyan justice minister and now chairman of the anti-Qaddafi National Transitional Council — claimed to have evidence that Qaddafi had personally ordered the bombing. Less than a month later, the Nato-led intervention in Libya, spearheaded by Britain, the US, France and Italy kicked off. Many now believe that this was linked to US fears that Qaddafi could get to al Megrahi before US Special Forces. For this is one terrorist that Washington wants alive. A dead man, after all, would not be able to name Qaddafi as the mastermind behind the Lockerbie bombing.
While this, of course, still remains a story of known-unknowns, one truth remains: The people of the world should not have to suffer yet another war waged on possibly false pretexts. It is time for the US and Britain to come clean.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2011.