A Senate foreign relations committee investigating a possible link between BP's lobbying and Scotland's compassionate release of the so-called Lockerbie Bomber Abdul Baset Al Megrahi has asked the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, and Britain's former justice secretary, Jack Straw, to appear before it.
MacAskill has turned down the request on the grounds that Scotland is not responsible to the US Senate and its committees. Straw's first reaction was such a demand is "highly unusual", but he later rejected the "kind invitation", saying he played no part in freeing the Libyan.
Tony Blair is said to have initially appeared on the Committee's witness list, as he was allegedly instrumental in arranging an oil deal between BP and Libya that coincided with Al Megrahi's homecoming, but the Committee now says that was a mistake. However, that's hardly surprising since not only does Blair have powerful friends in high places, he has achieved hero-status with American voters for his shoulder-to-shoulder stance on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Straw and MacAskill were right in not offering themselves up to be humiliated. And especially when Britain's ongoing Iraq inquiry has to make do without testimony from a single former Bush administration official and British courts investigating torture allegations receive little or no cooperation from Washington in terms of witnesses or documentation.
Pretext for new inquiry
There are so many nasty aspects to the revived US furore over a Libyan terminal prostrate cancer-sufferer who refused to die within six months that I hardly know where to begin. Concern for the feelings of Lockerbie victims' loved ones is the pretext for the new Senate inquiry.
UK doctors had predicted that Al Megrahi had only six months to live, following his release, but, thus far, he hasn't obliged. His lack of compliance has prompted Senate calls for Britain to demand he be brought back to Scotland to die behind bars. Libya might have something to say about that.
Al Megrahi has already spent ten years in jail and $2.7 billion (Dh9.93 billion) has been paid to the families of the 270 victims ($10 million per family). Moreover, despite accepting responsibility for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 to free Libya from UN and US sanctions, the Libyan leadership has always protested Al Megrahi's innocence. And, indeed, a host of legal experts backed by some families of the Scottish victims have characterised his conviction as "unsafe".
If the Senate is truly interested in truth and justice, it should launch a new investigation into Lockerbie or request Al Megrahi's retrial. But let's not be stupidly naive. That's the last thing Washington wants. How embarrassing would it be if such an investigation or retrial proved Libya's non-involvement?
In truth, the erstwhile gentlemen in Washington who use hushed tones and sarcasms to go after the jugular of witnesses, such as the BP boss, Tony Hayward, are out for BP's blood. There is widespread fury in the US over the accidental BP oil spill that has devastated the Gulf of Mexico.
Never mind that BP is willing to pay for the clean-up and compensation to those who have incurred losses, the White House wants the heads of BP top executives to roll without considering the hardship that would be experienced by millions of pensioners if the company were to be brought down.
So now that BP is generally viewed by the US public as the embodiment of big oil evil, Senate committee members have launched a vote-getting investigation designed to exact revenge. I have no idea whether or not BP lobbied the British government to release Al Megrahi, but even if that were the case, the multinational's first loyalty is towards its shareholders. The buck ultimately stops with the Scottish Justice Minister, who is adamant that he strictly abided by Scottish law when considering the Libyan's release.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, doesn't come out of this mess smelling like roses either. During his recent visit to Washington, he displayed gross disloyalty towards his predecessor, Gordon Brown, as well as to the Scottish government by announcing that their decision to free Al Megrahi was "completely wrong" when, by his own admission, he has never been privy to the paperwork.
Then, despite his earlier avowal never to be a White House lapdog, he proudly announces on US TV that his country is America's "junior partner". Thanks to his grovelling performance, he managed to avoid becoming a target of US government and media ire. In short, he saved his own skin by talking down Britain and flagellating others for wrong decision-making.
In the great scheme of things it should matter little whether Al Megrahi manages to cling to life for a little while longer or whether BP benefited from his release. The US has done a few quid pro quo deals itself, not least its recent spy swap with Russia.
Far more pressing are investigations into the illegal war waged by Washington and its "junior partner" in Iraq and how much compensation should be paid to the up to one million victims of that. But in a world where those with the biggest guns are automatically assumed to have the cleanest hands, "justice" is just a word in the dictionary.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at email@example.com