[This is the headline over Ian Bell's article in tomorrow's edition of The Sunday Herald. The last section reads as follows:]
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man to be convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, is released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds with three months left to live. The staged celebrations upon his return to Libya anger some people. His appeal against conviction - feasible even for a dead man, but pointless - has already been withdrawn, angering others. Some are desperate for the truth; others suspect a political fix. But America's fury appears boundless.
Consider that. Scottish jurisdiction is not disputed. Nor is it news to Washington that Tony Blair stitched up a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya's Colonel Gaddafi in 2007 when only one Libyan was held in Britain. Nevertheless, Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice secretary, rejects that mechanism explicitly. Yet suddenly the whereabouts of the prisoner in the last dozen miserable weeks of his life matters hugely. And the word compassion causes unbridled anger.
Scotland is treated to the thoughts, none kind, of Obama, Hillary Clinton and that dying paragon, Ted Kennedy. MacAskill and Alex Salmond don't raise the possibility that Megrahi's conviction was unsafe. No-one mentions the many efforts expended by Kennedy on behalf of Irish Republicanism.
No-one asks how many Americans were convicted after the USS Vincennes brought down Iran Air flight 655 in 1986 with the loss of 290 lives. Guantanamo, Iraq, secret CIA torture prisons, the carnage in Afghanistan: Scotland's government remains circumspect.
Then a cop intervenes. I say "cop"; I mean Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, a man with a shaky grasp of the Scottish system but every confidence in his all-American right to give a foreign government a dressing-down. He's "outraged", says his letter to Caledonia. "Your action makes a mockery of the rule of law," he tells MacAskill. "Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world".
There is little comfort, though, for anyone still harbouring illusions over American attitudes to American power. So now the head of the FBI, an institution with a fascinating history in the civil rights field, is laying down his law to someone else's democracy, to the country that gave the US many of the notions that fleshed out its constitution? Let's say we'll cope.
In other parts, predictably, the Scottish cringe is at work. MacAskill has outraged "the world" ("To reprieve a seriously ill prisoner is an act of humanity" - Frankfurter Allgemeine, Germany). Tourists will scorn us; whisky sales will suffer; and Jack McConnell will have to do penance for our "shame". In other words, we will lose the essential friendship of America thanks to the unforgiveable crime of compassion.
What is that sort of friendship worth? And what sort of friendship is it that loads rights on one side and responsibilities, defined unilaterally, on the other? Does it occur to no-one that some of America's actions have looked rather more heinous lately, and certainly more costly to human life, than a single ministerial decision? All that stirring talk of democracy sounds a little hollow, and not for the first time.
MacAskill might be wrong, and those of us who have agreed with him might turn out to be wrong. I happen to believe Obama is wrong about Afghanistan: how many lives lost so far? But if the minister has erred, what is the nature of the error? You could say - though I do not - that he has been played for a dupe by London and Washington. The motives at work in the larger game stand little scrutiny, as usual. But MacAskill has made a moral choice: imagine. Those can go wrong.
Megrahi, convicted of mass murder, may enjoy a startling recovery. If that happens the justice secretary and several doctors will look very stupid.
They will not become culpable, however, and they will not have deserved the insults that flow from the likes of Mueller. We do things differently. In this regard, I'm certain, we do them better.
It is America's curse that it finds the possibility inconceivable.
[An opinion piece headed "MacAskill’s crime wasn’t to release a murderer but to disobey America" in The Sunday Herald by writer and lawyer Paul Laverty contains the following sentence:
'I suspect MacAskill is castigated not so much for the release a dying man, but because he has refused to obey. US politicians expect their UK and Scottish counterparts to take up automatic poodle position just as Straw and Blair have always done. True to form New Labour in Scotland do the same; they seem more concerned with parochial point scoring or whisky sales in the US than any genuine concern for the understandable feelings of hurt on part of the families of the victims. But the great tragedy revealed by this circus is how we have collectively sacrificed our critical faculties, our sense of history, and replaced them with spineless humiliating subservience to the powerful. MacAskill's decision is a brave exception, but it is a disgrace to see him so cornered while the nauseating hypocrisy of the US goes virtually unexamined.'
An article headed "Freeing the Lockerbie bomber was the right thing to do" on the US website The Presbyterian Outlook by a Florida pastor shows that American reaction to Megrahi's repatriation is not unanimously hostile.
This is also demonstrated in two articles on the Antiwar website entitled "From My Lai to Lockerbie" and "Apologies, Anger, and Apathy" both of which can be read here.]