Inexplicable (?) ignorance in the FBI

FBI Director Robert S Mueller III has sent a public letter to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill criticising the latter's decision to release Abdelbaset Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, on compassionate grounds.  The remarkably emotional – and sadly error-strewn – letter can be read here on the FBI website.

The first error is that Mueller seems to think that MacAskill is a prosecutor, which suggests that the close collaboration in the Lockerbie investigation between US and Scottish prosecutors and police to which the letter refers has not given Mueller any clear understanding of the Scottish prosecuting – or constitutional – structure.  Then, apart from the point that Megrahi was not convicted by jury, the suggestion that MacAskill's decision is "inexplicable" is simply nonsense.  As was very fully explained by the Justice Secretary, the Scottish legal system provides for the compassionate release of prisoners who are terminally ill and medically certified as likely to die within three months.  It does not require the prisoner in question to accept guilt or express remorse.  (No more is that the case, it might be added, in the English legal system, as illustrated in the recent compassionate release of the unrepentant Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs).  It is not a pardon or a decision that the prisoner was not guilty, and there is nothing "opaque" in references to compassion, since that is the legal basis of the decision to be taken.  So Mueller's opening claim to be "familiar" with the relevant law is clearly a misapprehension on his part.  Further, the Justice Secretary did not give "the back of his hand" to the families of the victims, but consulted them in both the USA and the UK.  Mueller's letter also takes no account of the publicly stated positions of several of the UK victims' families on the matter.  Again, the release was not made under the UK-Libya prisoner transfer agreement; to transfer to the Scottish decision cynicism about that agreement (which in the context of UK interests in Libyan oil may well be justified) is simply unsustainable.  Finally, the "jubilant welcome in Tripoli" has indeed been made much of in the media, but as previously suggested here in this blog, a lot of that appears to have been puffed up by those who want to score political points and to bear little relationship to the reality of the few seconds' footage that has been available so far.

A fascinating little insight is also provided by Mueller's opening comment that "only the prosecutor handling the case has all the facts and the law before him in reaching the appropriate decision."  That rather suggests we don't need judges, juries or defence lawyers in the criminal process.  But one can be sure – can't one? – that the Director of the FBI doesn't really think that.