Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Tuesday in the Chicago Tribune.
On Aug. 20, 2009, a notorious terrorist walked out of a Scottish prison and onto a plane bound for his home country of Libya, where he received a hero's welcome.
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, had served only eight years of a life sentence for his role in killing 270 people, including 189 Americans. But Scottish authorities, saying he had terminal cancer and would be dead in three months, chose to free him on humanitarian grounds. Nearly a year later, he is still alive, and so is the controversy over his release.
A Senate committee is investigating claims that the oil giant BP lobbied the British government to let al-Megrahi go in order to win oil contracts from the Libyan government. The Foreign Secretary's office confirmed that in 2007, BP had meetings with British officials "over fears that disputes about a prisoner transfer agreement could damage its oil exploration contracts with Libya," as The Herald of Glasgow reported.
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Another cause for interest arose when a British newspaper published correspondence between the U.S. and British governments suggesting that the Obama administration did not want to see al-Megrahi leave prison but was grudgingly open to compassionate release in Scotland. This news is hard to square with what the White House said at the time -- that it was "surprised, disappointed and angry" at his release.
BP denies lobbying for his release, though it admits urging the completion of a prisoner transfer agreement. The White House, meanwhile, released the full text of a 2009 letter in which it told Scottish authorities that because of the "heinous nature" and "devastating impact" of his crime, al-Megrahi should serve out his life sentence.
Failing that, it said, he should be let out to die "while remaining in Scotland under supervision," not returned to Libya. The impression left by the letter: the administration opposed the release but could have been much more vigorous in trying to prevent it.
The case for freeing this convicted terrorist looks even worse in retrospect than it did when it happened. Impending death is a weak excuse for commuting the sentence of someone responsible for such wanton slaughter. And it turns out that, at best, the killer was a good distance from death's door.
Clearly, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should have plenty to investigate. If the British and U.S. governments are not afraid of the truth, they should be willing to turn over all the relevant documents about these matters.
Whatever it heard from BP or the administration, the ultimate blame for this vile decision lies with the government in Glasgow. But the public ought to know if others deserve a share of the disgrace.