In UK, doubts about Lockerbie bomber's health prognosis

Furor over Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's release deepened as a Scottish parliamentarian, who is a doctor, cast doubt on the claim that Megrahi has only three months to live.

A Scottish opposition politician who also happens to be a physician specializing in the treatment of cancer, says that medical information provided to support the "compassionate release" by the Scottish government of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi does not in fact confirm that he has around three months to live.

Dr. Richard Simpson, a member of the Scottish Parliament, said that based on records provided, there is "significant doubt" about Mr. Megrahi's prognosis. Libyan intelligence agent Megrahi, convicted of murdering 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, was released after eight years in a Scottish prison so that he could have the comfort of being with friends and family in Libya in his final months. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill justified the decision based on what he said was strong medical evidence that Megrahi has about three months to live and is dying of prostate cancer.

Dr Simpson, who specialised in prostate disease research, said: “It is clear to me from the medical reports and the opinion of the specialists that Megrahi could live for many more months. "Kenny MacAskill released him apparently on the advice of just one doctor whose status is not clear and who is not named.” Dr Simpson, a former member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons' prostate cancer working group, said the minister should have sought a second opinion from a specialist in palliative care.

As we reported yesterday, family members of victims in the US (most of those killed in the attack were from the US) say that neither they, nor the US government, have been provided full medical information that would allow them to determine if Megrahi is in fact as sick as they've been told.

The joyous celebration of his return home has stirred anger not just among the families, but among some American politicians, who are seeking ways to restrict the Libyan dictator's movements when he attends the UN's General Assembly in New York in March, his first visit to the US since the coup that brought him to power 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, the police in Scotland cast doubt on MacAskill's claim that one of the reasons the notion of allowing Megrahi to receive hospice care in Scotland was dismissed was because it would have posed a "severe" security risk. The Times of London reports that local police were never asked for their opinion on whether they could provide necessary protection by MacAskill.

In the Strathclyde Police statement, a spokeswoman said: “If a decision had been made to release Mr. al-Megrahi in Scotland, we would have provided whatever security was required. We were asked how many officers would be required, and we provided that advice. We were asked how many it would take in our opinion, in terms of guidance. We were not asked whether we could do this.”

Writing in Britain's Daily Telegraph, Irwin Stelzer frets that the UK-US "special relationship" has been damaged by Megrahi's release.

More important, the American security services are re-examining their relationship with their counterparts in Scotland and England, since the decision to release Megrahi is only the latest thumb in their eye. The British Government has refused on human rights grounds to extradite six suspected terrorists wanted by American authorities, including a Saudi sought in connection with bomb attacks on US embassies. Remember: this is the same Government that raised no objection when British businessmen were extradited to face trial in the United States on various charges. Apparently, the Scottish desire to show compassion to a mass murderer is matched by a British desire to keep suspected terrorists from facing justice in US courts.

One of Qaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, flew to Scotland to accompany Megrahi home, embraced him before the cheering, flag-waving crowds on the tarmac in Tripoli, and helped organized the hero's welcome. Analysts say he's eager to take credit for Megrahi's release at home, as he's his father's favored successor and did most of the heavy lifting in negotiating Megrahi's return.

Saif has taken the lead on presenting the Libyan position on Lockerbie for some time. In 2008, he told the BBC that while Libya had formally accepted responsibility for the bombing and had paid reparations, that it basically had lied to get out of from under United Nation's sanctions. "We wrote a letter to the Security Council saying we are responsible for the acts of our employees... but it doesn't mean that we did it in fact. We played with words."

He also attacked the families of the Lockerbie victims as more interested in money than justice for their murdered loved ones. "I think they were very greedy and I think they were trading with the blood of their sons and daughters," he said at the time. "The negotiation with them, it was very terrible and very materialistic and was very greedy." (the BBC interview with Saif can be watched here.)

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