LONDON – A British minister briefed his Libyan counterpart on the procedure for securing the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi shortly following his 2008 cancer diagnosis, according to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable cited in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Middle East minister Bill Rammell wrote to his Libyan counterpart "outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release" only days after al-Megrahi was diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to the U.S. State Department memo quoted in the Telegraph.
The Telegraph gave Rammell's letter front-page billing, although its import wasn't clear.
The letter doesn't seem to offer more than a recap of Scottish law, which can be easily found using a simple Internet search. The U.S. cable also shows that British officials told their U.S. counterparts about the letter's contents, suggesting that no one saw anything untoward about giving Libyan officials a primer on Scotland's prisoner-release rules.
Still, the cable does shed a bit more light on the high-level exchanges which preceded the release of al-Megrahi, a move Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had long lobbied for.
Scottish authorities insist that the decision to free al-Megrahi was taken on humanitarian grounds alone, but the release has long been clouded by allegations that U.K. and Scottish governments arranged the release to safeguard British business interests in Libya. U.S. cables previously published by WikiLeaks show that the British government feared a furious Libyan reaction if the bomber wasn't freed.
A contact number for Rammell, a Labour Party lawmaker who lost his parliamentary seat in last year's general election, could not immediately be located. Rammell's website was down, while Labour said it could not reach him late Monday.
Britain's Foreign Office also declined comment.
Whatever the letter's importance, its appearance in the right-leaning Telegraph newspaper gave a hint of WikiLeaks' evolving media strategy. The secret-spilling site is engaged in an increasingly bitter feud with the two English-language papers — the Guardian and The New York Times — with which it previously worked to release the U.S. State Department documents.
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Julian Assange said he was working to involve an increasing number of other publications with his website, aiming to distribute the secret cables among as many as 60 different media outlets within the next few months.
The Telegraph's story: http://bit.ly/iiQ4K9