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Scotland justice minister defends Lockerbie bomber release

[JURIST] Scottish Justice Minister Kennny MacAskill [official profile] defended [statement] his order to release [JURIST report] to Libya convicted Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder] bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi [BBC profile] in front of an emergency session [audio] of the Scottish Parliament Monday. MacAskill faced criticism from several members of parliament, including the leaders of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party [party websites], for his decision to allow Megrahi, the only man convicted in connection with the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, to return to his native Libya for the remaining portion of his life. Megrahi was recently diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, and doctors expect he has only about three months to live. In defending his decision, MacAskill reiterated parts of a statement he gave upon issuing the order to release Megrahi, stating:

In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people. The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.

MacAskill expressed disappointment that Libya had celebrated the return of Megrahi after, promising to treat the event "in a low-key and sensitive fashion." Although there were rumors that a confidence vote of First Minister Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party (SNP) [party website] would take place Monday, no vote was taken. Scottish Tory Justice spokesman Bill Aitken said he expects [Edinburgh Evening News report] a vote to take place soon.

US officials have strongly opposed Megrahi's release. On Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton [official websites] all criticized [JURIST report] Megrahi's release, with Mueller calling it "a mockery of the rule of law." Last week, seven US Senators sent a letter [text, PDF] to MacAskill urging him not to agree to Megrahi's release or transfer. In November, the High Court denied [JURIST report] Megrahi's request to be released on bail during the appeals process. Lawyers for Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, were denied access in March 2008 to a "missing document," that they had sought [JURIST reports] in appealing his conviction. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) [official website] granted an appeal [JURIST report] in Megrahi's case in June 2007 and referred it the High Court after the commission identified six grounds [press release, PDF] for a possible "miscarriage of justice" in his trial and conviction. In 2003, Libya made its final compensation payment [JURIST report] to a US fund for victims' families in November 2008 after agreeing to accept responsibility [US DOS press release] for the 1988 airline bombing that killed all 259 on board [victims website], including 180 Americans.

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