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Viewing cable 09TRIPOLI65, PAN AM BOMBER AL-MEGRAHI: THE VIEW FROM TRIPOLI

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TRIPOLI65 2009-01-28 17:05 2010-12-07 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Tripoli
VZCZCXRO7211
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHTRO #0065/01 0281700
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 281700Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4377
INFO RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON IMMEDIATE 0991
RUEHSW/AMEMBASSY BERN IMMEDIATE 0033
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS IMMEDIATE 0678
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4901
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000065 

NOFORN 

SIPDIS 

LONDON FOR TSOU, PARIS FOR WALLER 

EO 12958 DECL:  1/28/2019 
TAGS PREL, PGOV, PTER, LY, UK 
SUBJECT: PAN AM BOMBER AL-MEGRAHI: THE VIEW FROM TRIPOLI 

REF: A) LONDON 209, B) 06 TRIPOLI 0055, C) 08 TRIPOLI 994

CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy - Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C/NF) Summary: While Libya has a number of other pressing foreign policy issues on its plate, the case of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi is arguably the regime’s most sensitive political subject, in part because it involves a firm timeline in the form of the ailing el-Megrahi’s approaching death. Through remarks by senior officials suggesting that al-Megrahi is innocent and a steady diet of publicity about his case, the regime has limited its room for political maneuver. U.K. Embassy interlocutors here are planning for a scenario in which the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement is ratified in early March and the GOL makes application shortly thereafter for al-Megrahi’s transfer to Libya. The U.K. Embassy expects a sharply negative GOL reaction if al-Megrahi dies in prison or if the Scottish Executive and/or FCO oppose his transfer. The U.K. Embassy has recommended dramatic pre-emptive measures, to include drawing down their mission in Tripoli, if either of those possibilities occurs. If the USG publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release - or is perceived to be complicit in a decision that results in al-Megrahi remaining in prison - the U.S. Embassy and private Americans in Libya could face similar consequences. End summary.

AL-MEGRAHI’S CASE IS THE GOL’S MOST SENSITIVE AT PRESENT

2. (C/NF) Consistent with information reported reftel, U.K. Emboffs here have interpreted the lengthy and repeated visits to the U.K. by MFA A/S-equivalent for European Affairs Abdulati Obeidi and External Security Organization Director Musa Kusa in connection with the matter of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi as reflecting the great political importance the GOL attaches to successfully resolving (from the GOL’s perspective) the case. Contacts here have told us that Ahmed el-Msellati, a senior regime legal adviser/fixer who played a pivotal role in finalizing and implementing the U.S.-Libya claims compensation agreement, has also visited the U.K. to consult with al-Megrahi’s defense team and FCO officials. While the GOL has a number of other pressing foreign policy issues on its plate - moving forward with re-established U.S.-Libya ties, reacting to the Gaza crisis, managing its role as the only current Arab member of the UNSC, mediating between Chad and Sudan, resolving its contretemps with the Swiss, and initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa - al-Megrahi’s case is arguably the most critical and sensitive political subject at present. That is so because the regime has widely publicized developments in his case and because, unlike other foreign policy priorities, al-Megrahi’s situation involves an immutable timeline in the form of his approaching death from cancer. In media interviews last August, senior regime figure Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi said al-Megrahi was innocent and that Libya had accepted responsibility for Pan Am 103 and allowed al-Megrahi and co-defendant al-Amin Khalifah Fhima to be tried in order to facilitate Libya’s re-assimilation into the international community after years of isolation under international sanctions. Those comments, together with a steady diet of articles in Libyan state-owned newspapers about al-Megrahi’s case and the travails of his family in Glasgow, have raised expectations among ordinary Libyans that the regime will secure his release, and have limited the GOL’s room for political maneuver.

U.K. EMBASSY FOCUSED ON TRANSFER UNDER PTA AND SECURITY POSTURE

 3. (C/NF) U.K. Embassy interlocutors here tell us they are planning for a scenario in which the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) is ratified in early March and the GOL makes application shortly thereafter for al-Megrahi’s transfer to Libya. They do not anticipate that GOL officials will pursue another application for bail, and said they had no information from the FCO to suggest that al-Megrahi’s application for compassionate release, which was denied in November, would be re-submitted in light of his deteriorating medical condition. U.K. Emboffs began consulting with us in December about deliberations concerning their security posture and tripwires for action should al-Megrahi die in Scottish prison. Consistent with information reported reftel, GOL officials have warned U.K. Emboffs in demarches here that the consequences for the U.K.-Libya bilateral relationship would be “dire” were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison. Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all U.K. commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official U.K. facilities. GOL officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk.

4. (C/NF) Citing demonstrations in Benghazi against the Italian  consulate in 2006 that rapidly turned violent (ref B) and the quick curtailment of direct air links in the ongoing Swiss-Libyan dispute (ref C), the U.K. Embassy has reportedly recommended to London that the following pre-emptive measures be taken immediately if al-Megrahi were to die in prison or if the transfer under the PTA were to be denied: 1) close the British School; 2) close the British Council; 3) issue a travel advisory/warden message-equivalent advising British nationals to exercise extreme caution and/or leave Libya; and 4) draw the U.K. mission down to only essential personnel. The failure of Switzerland and Libya to resolve the dispute prompted by the arrest of Muammar al-Qadhafi’s son, Hannibal, last July has convinced U.K. Emboffs that the consequences if al-Megrahi were to die in prison or if the transfer under the PTA were denied would be harsh, immediate and not easily remedied.

IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. INTERESTS

5. (C/NF) If the USG publicly opposes al-Megrahi’s release (or is perceived to be complicit in a decision to keep al-Megrahi in prison), Post judges that U.S. interests could face similar consequences, including regime-orchestrated demonstrations against the Embassy, retaliation against U.S. business interests and possible obstruction of the travel of official and private Americans, as occurred in the case of the Swiss. (Note: Unlike recent demonstrations against the Swiss (Swiss-Libyan dispute) and Egyptian embassies (in connection with Gaza), in which the regime mustered crowds that dutifully went through the paces, al-Megrahi’s case is a genuinely emotive one for ordinary Libyans; demonstrations would likely be more energetic and harder for the GOL to control. End note.) Some variation of that scenario is possible, though not as likely, if al-Megrahi were to die in prison without the USG having declared a position. The fact that the GOL did not orchestrate and apparently did not sanction protests against U.S. facilities in connection with events in Gaza gives cause for cautious optimism that the GOL might distinguish between U.S. and U.K. interests in such a case, although the GOL essentially views the Pan Am 103 case as a joint U.S.-U.K. issue.

6. (C/NF) Comment: Despite the GOL’s strategic decision in 2003 to take steps to facilitate its acceptance back into the community of nations, the regime remains essentially thuggish in its approach, particularly on issues it perceives to involve domestic political equities. The over-reaction of Muammar al-Qadhafi to what amounted to a matter of pride involving a verbal spat with then-Crown Prince Abdullah at the 2003 Arab League Summit, together with the more recent deterioration of Swiss-Libyan ties, are illustrative of what may happen should al-Megrahi die in prison. The regime understands that we have equities in this case: on the margins of the former Secretary’s visit to Tripoli in September, senior regime figure Abdullah Sanussi asked former NEA A/S David Welch to influence Pan Am 103 families not to oppose al-Megrahi’s transfer (Welch demurred). The issue of al-Megrahi is sensitive enough for the regime that there may be repercussions for our interests here even if we remain neutral; there will almost certainly be consequences if we publicly take a position opposing his transfer. By contrast with the Swiss problem, which is seen as an issue over the reprehensible behavior of Hannibal al-Qadhafi, al-Megrahi is effectively viewed as something of a folks hero in the eyes of the regime and many ordinary Libyans. End comment. 

CRETZ