The worst terrorists are in power, not prison

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The release of al-Megrahi, like the Lockerbie bombing, like his trial, was a matter of high politics for imperialist powers, or - what amounts to much the same thing - low commercial interests for Britain. How could it have been anything else?

While terrorist murders have only increased in the last 21 years, what remains unique about Lockerbie is the rapprochement between Libya and the West following the atrocity. The FBI, with Scottish police as their junior partner, named al-Megrahi and another Libyan intelligence agent as suspects, and more than 10 years and much diplomacy later they were handed over for trial. This, plus payment of compensation for the victims and admission of "responsibility for the actions of its officials" earned Libya improved international relations, lifting of sanctions and immunity from compensation lawsuits.

Allowing for all the legal niceties, his future, the fact that it would be against British national interests if he were specifically excluded from the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, and disastrous for commercial interests if he died in a Scottish jail, were the subject of discussions at diplomatic meetings at the highest level.

For all the condemnation of the decision to release the only man ever convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, there has been no concern shown for the bereaved relatives. Some undoubtedly feel - and have been any number of politicians ready to make political capital out of this - that they have been let down by his release.

The 20th anniversary of the airline bombing last December, as well as the release of al-Megrahi, was the occasion for many reminders of this horrific terrorist attack that killed 270 people, including 11 on the ground. None of this has reminded us of some of the more disturbing background elements, such as the fact that there had been a warning in Helsinki shortly beforehand, and that those in the know were avoiding Pan Am flights, withempty seats being sold dirt cheap.

Nor is the media ever likely to make an analysis of the extent to which terrorism has become a weapon in conflicts between imperialist powers, particularly since the latter decades of the 20th Century. We have only to look at the origins of the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to draw out some of the clearest examples. During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan the USA and its allies in the western bloc armed the Mujahadin groups, including al-Qaida, and these groups have since returned to haunt them - freedom fighters when on USA and Britain's side, terrorists when they turn against their former masters. Of course states have always used the terror of their military hardware against civilian populations to defend the national interest, particularly since aerial bombing became an essential part of warfare in the Second World War. This has since been repeated in every war, including Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan. And they have also been perfectly willing to welcome former terrorists as statesmen, leaders and prime ministers when they become powerful enough: from the ANC in South Africa, Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, to former leaders of the Irgun in Israel...

Today however states are more willing than ever to manipulate shadowy terrorist groups in order to carry out terrorist attacks against the citizens of a rival power. Lockerbie is only one example, attributed to and grudgingly admitted by Libya. But even when terrorist outrages are not directly commissioned by one state in its conflicts with another, the ruling class has no hesitation in making maximum propaganda use of terrorist attacks against its own citizens, even to the point of complicity with the terrorists. There have been strong suspicions that the FSB, the Russian state agency that succeeded the KGB, was involved in the 1999 Moscow bombings, blamed on Chechen terrorists and used to justify Russia's subsequent invasion of Chechnya. Similarly, the 9/11 attacks in the USA provided the pretext for an assault on Afghanistan that had already been planned. Again, there is reason to suspect that the US was prepared to allow al-Qaida considerable leeway in preparing some kind of attack on American soil.

For our rulers, terror, terrorism and campaigns denouncing mass murder are a question of pragmatism and hypocrisy, not principle.

Alex 5/9/9