In an apparent effort to exploit the success of Libya’s rebels for political gain, conservative lawmakers and presidential candidates have been demanding that the administration lean on the fragile post-Qaddafi government to extradite Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, a mastermind of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Last night on Fox News host Greta Van Susteren’s show, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who is considering a presidential bid, said Megrahi should be brought to the U.S. because the Libyans “clearly did not” cooperate with Scotland’s investigation into the bombing. Watch it:
Megrahi, who was convicted in Scotland on 270 murder counts, was controversially returned to Libya several years later after BP leaned on the U.K. government for his release in an effort to secure Libyan oil rights.
While Megrahi’s legal status is perhaps up for debate, to demand his extradition before the rebels have even fully taken Tripoli or established a new government seems aimed more at scoring cheap political points than it does about doing justice. Obama’s measured tone reflected that Qaddafi’s fall was only the first step in rebuilding Libya and both NATO and its allies — including the Libyan transitional government themselves — are up to their necks in other priorities. Braying about the extradition of Megrahi distracts from these other literally life and death issues, at best, and, at worst, has the potential to destabilize the fragile rebel coalition, as some factions are wary of sending Libyans abroad to face justice
But Bolton’s call is particularly disingenuous. He claims the Libyans didn’t cooperate with the Scottish investigation, but that’s not what his former boss, President Bush, told personally told Moammar Qaddafi in a 2008 phone call. The Washington Post reported at the time:
President Bush called Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi yesterday — apparently the first time any president has spoken to the African leader — to voice his satisfaction that Libya had settled a long-standing dispute over terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Scotland, the White House said.
In their conversation, Bush and Gaddafi “discussed that this agreement should help to bring a painful chapter in the history between our two countries closer to closure,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.
Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has led the charge on Megrahi, demanding his extradition in the same statement congratulating the rebels on their success. Like Romney, Bolton’s call for “bring[ing] him to this country” contradicts his earlier demands that terrorists never be tried on U.S soil in criminal courts. Bolton even threatened to move his family out of New York City when the Justice Department was considering trying 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed there. “It’s a major strategic blunder,” Bolton told Fox News at the time, “to put them [terorists] on trial anywhere in the United States.”