The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Schumer: No Libya aid until Lockerbie bomber behind bars

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a halt to U.S. aid to the new Libyan government if it refuses to re-arrest Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a halt to U.S. aid to the new Libyan government if it refuses to re-arrest Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the State Department not to help the National Transitional Council (NTC) -- which is struggling to stand up a government in the wake of the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi -- with either direct aid or by giving them access to frozen Qaddafi funds, unless it jails Megrahi.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a halt to U.S. aid to the new Libyan government if it refuses to re-arrest Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the State Department not to help the National Transitional Council (NTC) — which is struggling to stand up a government in the wake of the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi — with either direct aid or by giving them access to frozen Qaddafi funds, unless it jails Megrahi.

"If the new Libyan government continues to shield this convicted terrorist from justice, then they should not get one more cent of support from the United States," said Schumer. "We put American lives and money on the line to help the Libyan people secure their freedom. It’s time the Libyan government lives up to its commitment to create a free and accountable society by handing over al-Megrahi so that justice can finally be done."

Megrahi was released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds, because he was supposedly dying of cancer. He enjoyed a hero’s welcome when he returned to Libya and has since stubbornly refused to die on schedule. Since the fall of Qaddafi, Schumer, along with several other senators and GOP presidential candidates, have been calling on the NTC to lock him up.

Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, said on Monday that the senators’ request had "no meaning" and that the new Libyan government had no intention of extraditing Megrahi to the United States or anywhere else.

CNN’s Nic Robertson actually found Megrahi and visited him in his Tripoli home this week, where he appeared to be slipping in and out of a coma and near death. But Schumer doesn’t believe the video or the NTC’s claims that Megrahi really is going to die soon.

"This would not be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was in a ‘near death’ state. The American people deserve more verification than the word of local Libyan officials," he said. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels’ decision to shield this convicted terrorist."

Clinton travels to Paris on Thursday for a ministers-level meeting of the Libya Contact Group. The State Department won’t say whether it will press the NTC on the issue but the Justice Department maintains that the Lockerbie investigation is still open and active.

Full text of Schumer’s letter after the jump:

Dear Secretary Clinton:

In anticipation of your scheduled attendance this week at the "International Contact Group on Libya Meeting" in Paris, France, I write to request that the Department of State condition further assistance to the Libyan Transitional Council, including access to frozen Libyan assets, on the re-imprisonment of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan terrorist convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

As you are aware, on December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, en route from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, exploded over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and 11 people on the ground.  Many New Yorkers were among the 189 Americans killed in the bombing.  In 2001, after thirteen long years, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Al-Megrahi was released by the Scottish Government on August 20, 2009 after serving eight years in prison for the 1988 attack on Pan Am Flight 103.  The Scottish Government claimed the release was a compassionate gesture given al-Megrahi’s failing health and he was purportedly expected to have three months to live. There is considerable and well-founded doubt surrounding both this diagnosis and the events that led to al-Megrahi’s release from prison. As of March 2011, almost two and a half years after the diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer was made in September 2008, al-Megrahi still remains alive and media outlets have reported that he has been living at his family’s lavish villa.

Passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which established a no-fly zone and the use of "all means necessary", has gone a long way in protecting Libyan civilians. Additionally, United States mobilization of a strong international coalition securing an international agreement to protect civilians, preventing the advance of a deadly army, establishing a no-fly zone and working to prevent the massacre of innocent life in Libya has enabled opposition forces to achieve their recent victories.

The opposition movement that has demonstrated its goal to live in a free and accountable Libya must demonstrate its commitment to justice by ensuring that a global terrorist like al-Megrahi face those he has victimized and be returned to jail. Recent reports have noted pause on the part of Libyan opposition forces to send al-Meghrahi back to prison, highlighting claims of his failing health.   This would not be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was in a "near death" state. The American people deserve more verification than the word of local Libyan officials. It is for this reason that I request that the Department of State condition further assistance to the Libyan Transitional Council, including access to frozen Libyan assets, on the return of al-Megrahi to prison. There is no justifiable basis for the rebels’ decision to shield this convicted terrorist.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I am eager to work with you to ensure that justice is done.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.