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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tony Blair, Oil and Libya

There is a fascinating article in yesterday's Independent by Johann Hari setting out clearly the influence of BP over the previous Labour Government and how their financial interests drove the decisions that eventually led to the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

Of course, none of this is new, I blogged on it back in August 2009 following an article in the Sunday Times, which made similar allegations. They reported then that a prisoner transfer deal with Libya was explicitly linked to a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal involving BP.

Johann Hari does not pull any punches:

The oil company BP wanted to be able to drill down into Libya's oil, and tap the profits that would gush forth. Their then-CEO, John Browne, flew to Tripoli in the company of MI6 agents to find out what the dictatorship wanted in return for opening the country's wells. It was, of course, clear that they wanted Megrahi back.

BP has admitted it lobbied Tony Blair to exchange prisoners with Libya. They say they didn't specifically mention Megrahi – but there was no need to: there were no other Libyan prisoners of particular note in Britain.

Blair's administration was so intertwined with the oil company by this point that it was often dubbed "Blair's Petroleum". There was a revolving door between BP and Downing Street: BP execs sat on more government taskforces than all other oil companies combined, while many of Blair's closest confidantes went to work for the corporation. He gave two of its CEOs peerages, and slashed taxes on North Sea oil production. By 2005, he was talking to Lord Browne at Downing Street dinners about what he would do after he left office, with rumours circulating of a move to BP.

Blair responded to BP's lobbying with apparent pleasure. His Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell, assured Libyan officials that Blair did not "want Megrahi to pass away in prison". His Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said a desire for Libya's oil was "an essential part" of this decision. So Straw began negotiating a prisoner swap agreement, and urged the Scottish authorities to release the convict. He told the Scottish Government in a leaked letter that it was "in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom" to let Megrahi go.

It is these links that the US Senate want to investigate but before we get carried away with the idea that America is able to take the morale high-ground here we should not forget, as Hari points out, that 1.2 million people died in the Iraq war, which was essentially about access to that country's oil supplies nor that American foreign policy has been driven by its energy needs for decades.

What I wrote at the time now seems strangely apposite: For what it is worth I believe that the decision was the wrong one. Quite apart from the fact that I have been suspicious of prisoners who are released due to serious illness since Ernest Saunders staged the first ever recovery from Alzheimer's disease I very much regret that it has led to the withdrawal of the appeal against al-Megrahi's conviction because I believe that this was the only opportunity for victims and their families to get the whole truth about what actually happened that night. I also believe that there is a good chance that al-Megrahi may be innocent but if that is the case then this sort of decision is not the way to proceed. His innocence needs to be proved through proper process. Now he will die as the Lockerbie bomber and many questions will remain unanswered.

The question that really needs to be answered is how the SNP Government managed to get itself suckered into cooperating with this cynical and squalid deal. Perhaps Scottish Ministers should give evidence to the US Senate after all so that we can find out.
Rereading Gareth Peirce's essay (thanks to LiberalEngland for the reminder) suggests a different scenario: it was US spooks who persuaded the Scottish administration to repatriate al-Megrahi rather than risk the revelations which an appeal might have produced.

Almost everyone wins. Now, the US presidency can imply and senators assert a disgraceful deal achieved by North America's least favourite company, officially ignorant of what the CIA gets up to. David Cameron can blame the untrustworthy Scots. Alex Salmond and Jack Straw can deny that they were swayed by BP.
"Iraq war, which was essentially about access to that country's oil supplies"

Can you explain this reasoning please?

I am not sure who Iraq supplies with Oil, but Iraq is not a major supplier of oil to the USA.

Perhaps EU countries buy more Iraqi oil than the USA.

The USA imports more oil from, Venezuela and/or Nigeria than Iraq.

The USA gets a massive chunk of its imported oil from its nearest neighour, and that is not Iraq.
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