Lest we forget, that fellowship of formidable certainty, that band of speculative doubters Senators Menendez, Gillibrand, Lautenberg and Schumer are still about their alchemical business of transforming tragedy into political stature. Alas, their fortunes do not prosper well. Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary William Hague denied their "investigative team" access to British officials, presumably those with some knowledge of what transpired in the Prisoner Transfer Agreement negotiation. "So much for British hospitality" pouts the New York Daily News. After all their pomp, it is notable that none of the four American politicians have condescended to cross the water themselves and press their cases and pursue their doubts - however eccentric or conspiratorial - in person. No doubt they are busy folk, given the American Congressional Election in November.
Presumably as a consequence of their reluctance to substantiate their allegations in person, the Senators' questing creatures will not meet Scottish Ministers but instead will merely encounter officials. I imagine these may be staff associated with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice with some insight into the compassionate release process. No doubt to their significant illumination, the group will also meet Richard Baker, Labour's liveried Swine Pursuivant in Justice matters. Heaven knows what he hopes to tell them. Still, a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit is always welcome. Presaging these encounters, Alex Salmond sent the following letter to all four Senators late last week. In the spirit of public record, I copy the correspondence below. It is easily the most combative of Eck's epistles to this gang of four and for those of us who have looked with scorn on their demeaning speculations and stubborn conspiracy-theorising clowneries, its politely direct but sternly and frankly rebuking terms make for quiet joy.
10 September 2010
Dear Senators Menendez, Gillibrand, Lautenberg and Schumer,
Thank you for your letters of 19 and 20 August 2010.
Your letter of 19 August attempts to suggest that there is circumstantial evidence that commercial interests played a role in the release of Al-Megrahi. This seems to be a considerable weakening of your original position, but is still totally wrong. There is no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that links decisions made by the Scottish Government to commercial interests. Indeed, the substantial evidence that does exist shows that the Scottish Government specifically rejected any attempt to bring commercial or business considerations into the decision-making process on compassionate release, and stated that decisions would be based on judicial grounds alone.
I am also concerned that, in your letter of 20 August, you once again quote from letters published by the Scottish Government setting out the representations that were made to us, without drawing attention to the responses which make clear that commercial considerations would play no part in the decision-making process. To then accuse the Scottish Government of selectively publishing correspondence, when it is you who are selectively quoting from material published proactively by the Scottish Government, significantly undermines your credibility.
The evidence of commercial influence that does exist relates to the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) that the UK Government signed with Libya. Indeed, you quote Saif Gaddaffi as publicly commenting that the commercial issues were related to the PTA.
As I highlighted in my letter of 2 August, it was the Scottish Government, on 7 June 2007, which first drew attention to the UK Government's negotiations with the Libyan Government, highlighting our strong opposition to them. I asked you, in my letter of 15 August, for copies of any public comments on this important issue which you may have made at the time, either individually or collectively. It appears that when the Scottish Government was using every means at its disposal to oppose the PTA between the UK and Libya, you were silent.
You refer to extensive correspondence between the Scottish and UK Governments regarding the PTA. Once again, however, you fail to mention that this shows the Scottish Government consistently opposing the signing of any PTA unless it specifically excluded AI-Megrahi. This, and the fact that the application for prisoner transfer was rejected, fatally undermines your line of argument.
You refer to comments that the Scottish Government would have to deal with the consequences of the UK's decision not to exclude AI-Megrahi from the PTA with Libya. This is a statement of fact. The UK Government had gone against our wishes and left the Scottish Government to deal with any application for prisoner transfer that was submitted, a situation that it is clear we were and are very unhappy with. You suggest that it is uncertain how the Scottish Government dealt with those consequences. This is simply not true. The consideration and rejection of the prisoner transfer application are matters of public record and to pretend otherwise, as you attempt to do, appears very contrived.
Your letter of 19 August goes on to conflate the process of application for prisoner transfer with the quite separate process of applying for compassionate release. I have explained these separate processes at some length in our previous correspondence. It is of great concern that, despite these explanations, you seem unable or unwilling to understand the nature of these separate legal processes.
On some of the points of detail you raise, I would note that the only redaction from the letter of 22 June to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office was the name of the UK Government official to whom it was addressed. Permission to publish this name has been refused by the UK Government and, in any event, has absolutely no bearing on the facts of the matter. In the 16 July 2009 letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to the UK Foreign Secretary, the only passage that has been redacted is due to the US Government withholding permission to release material relating to it. Finally, the letter from the Qatari Minister which was attached to correspondence from the Qatari Embassy in London dated 31 July 2009 is available on the Scottish Government website. The letter from Khalid Bin Mohamed al-Attiyah, dated 17 July 2009, was also received direct and therefore appears twice in the correspondence on the website.
Given the consistent and compelling information I have now provided, I would ask you to confirm you accept that:
The Scottish Government had no contact with BP in relation to decisions made about AI-Megrahi; The Scottish Government consistently opposed the signing of a PTA between the UK and Libyan Governments unless AI-Megrahi was excluded; and The Scottish Government made the decision on compassionate release on judicial grounds alone and made this clear to those who made representations to us.
If you are not able to accept these irrefutable and well-evidenced facts, which I have set out clearly in our correspondence and are supported by extensive documentation, it calls into question your ability to conduct any credible and impartial investigation into these matters.
I am aware that staff from Senator Menendez's office have been in contact with my office to try to arrange meetings with Scottish Government Ministers and officials. As I have said previously, the Scottish Government has nothing to hide and nothing to fear from any properly constituted inquiry, but the Scottish Government is rightly accountable to the Scottish Parliament and not to the US Senate. Nevertheless, as a matter of courtesy, I would be willing to make appropriate officials available to meet staff from your offices should they decide to visit Scotland. The purpose of any such meeting would be to provide whatever further background information may be helpful to your understanding of these matters. Officials would not be giving evidence in any formal context.
There are other points of detail in your 19 August 2010 letter, but none of these raises any new issues of substance or challenge the view that the decisions the Scottish Government made in relation to AI-Megrahi were made with integrity and according to the due process of Scots Law.
I believe that the Scottish Government has given every assistance to you and to the Foreign Relations Committee on this matter and, as noted above, I am content to offer the courtesy of an official level meeting if staff from your offices visit Scotland. However, as your recent letters raise no new issues of substance, I am now drawing a line under this correspondence.