Cablegate: Conflicting Messages On Pending Release of Abdel Bassett
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0663/01 2281540
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P R 161540Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5161
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1122
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0795
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 0564
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5702
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000663
STATE FOR NEA/MAG, EUR/WE, H, AND L
EO 12958 DECL: 8/16/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, UK, LY
SUBJECT: CONFLICTING MESSAGES ON PENDING RELEASE OF ABDEL BASSETT
REF: TRIPOLI 662
TRIPOLI 00000663 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Joan Polaschik, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa told the British Ambassador August 15 that convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Bassett al Megrahi is a very ill man, too ill for anything but a quiet return to his family. While the British Ambassador, who had raised the Megrahi case on instructions from London, was encouraged by Kusa’s comments, he also noted that only one man -- Muammar al-Qadhafi -- would decide Megrahi’s true reception in Libya. Building on Qadhafi’s comments to CODEL McCain (ref), the Executive Director of the Qadhafi Development Foundation (QDF) told us August 16 that the Libyan Government “as a democracy” could not control any spontaneous demonstrations by the people in support of Megrahi’s return. The Libyan Government may be gearing up for a two-pronged approach on Megrahi’s return: an official policy of no celebrations, coupled with a disingenuous denial of any involvement in “spontaneous” celebrations that could erupt upon Megrahi’s return. It may be useful to engage Foreign Minister Musa Kusa on this issue. End summary.
UK AMBASSADOR: MUSA KUSA INDICATES A QUIET RETURN
2. (C) UK Ambassador Sir Vincent Fean told the Charge August 15 that he had met Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa earlier on the same day, on instructions from London, to discuss the potential release from a Scottish prison of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Bassett al Megrahi. Stressing that he had addressed the issue as a hypothetical scenario, Fean said that he had urged the Libyan Government to handle Megrahi’s possible release in a very low-profile manner. According to Fean, Kusa responded that Megrahi is a very sick man, and is too ill for anything but a quiet return to his family. While the British Ambassador interpreted Kusa’s response as positive, he also noted that only one man -- Muammar al-Qadhafi -- would determine Megrahi’s true reception in Libya. He expects to receive a personal letter from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Qadhafi on this issue, for delivery this week.
3. (C) The British Ambassador expressed relief that Megrahi likely would be returned to Libya under the compassionate release program. He noted that a refusal of Megrahi’s request could have had disastrous implications for British interests in Libya. “They could have cut us off at the knees, just like the Swiss,” Fean bluntly said. He also expressed hope that the Megrahi issue would not have a negative impact on U.S.-UK relations, commenting that “we have lots of other issues on the agenda right now.” The Ambassador stressed that he had no further information on timing for Megrahi’s possible release but said that he expected a decision “soon.”
QADHAFI FOUNDATION: THE PEOPLE WILL DECIDE HOW MEGRAHI IS RECEIVED
4. (C) During an August 16 meeting, QDF Executive Director Yusuf Sawani passionately argued on behalf of Megrahi’s right to receive compassionate release from the Scottish judicial system. Stating that “everyone in Libya was more than surprised by the official USG reaction on the issue,” he argued that the United States, as a civilized, democratic nation, should not stand in the way of an official decision made by the Scottish judicial system. He described the U.S. justice system as infamous for making mistakes and jailing innocent people but emphasized that even convicted criminals were entitled to certain rights within the U.S. legal system. Referring to CODEL McCain’s recent press statements, he said that he understood that U.S. congressmen must respond to the positions of their constituencies, but he did not understand why members of the U.S. Administration would object to Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds. He accused the U.S. Administration of attempting to interfere politically with the Scottish judicial system, in an effort to exact “revenge” on Megrahi for his crimes.
5. (C) The Charge reminded Sawani that the U.S. position remained unchanged: while we will not interfere in the Scottish procedures, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out the remainder of his life sentence in a Scottish prison. Noting that the repatriation of Megrahi was recently unveiled by the QDF as one of its three priority objectives, the Charge strongly urged Sawani and the QDF to treat Megrahi’s potential return in a low-key manner. Sawani expressed agreement that the official Libyan Government response to a Megrahi release should be quiet, but he insisted that the Libyan people would ultimately decide how to react to Megrahi’s return. Although he denied that the QDF would play any role in organizing any demonstrations in support of Megrahi, Sawani asked heatedly whether the U.S. would demand that the Libyan Government set up barricades and send police to quell demonstrations in honor of Megrahi’s return. “No one can object to Libyans expressing their feelings if Megrahi comes back,” he said, “this is democracy.” Sawani warned that U.S. objections to Megrahi’s release would resurrect Libyans’ former views of the U.S. as a “tyrant nation,” to which the Charge responded that a hero’s welcome for Megrahi undoubtedly would elicit a similarly strong reaction among the American people. Sawani conceded that it would be important for both sides to carefully manage this extremely sensitive issue.
6. (C) Comment: Based on comments from Kusa and Sawani, the Libyan Government may be gearing up for a two-pronged approach on Megrahi’s return: an official policy of no celebrations, coupled with a disingenuous denial of any involvement in “spontaneous” celebrations that could erupt upon Megrahi’s return. The latter scenario makes sense in the context of Muammar and Muatassim al-Qadhafi’s comments to CODEL McCain that the GOL could not prevent the Libyan people from giving Megrahi a hero’s welcome (ref). Given Foreign Minister Musa Kusa’s pragmatic understanding of the broader strategic interests at stake, it may be useful to engage him on this issue. End comment