Richard Ingrams’s Week: Awkward questions over Lockerbie won't go away

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The Independent Online

There will be strenuous denials that any kind of deal has been done with the so-called Lockerbie bomber Abdul al-Megrahi whereby he agrees to drop his appeal against conviction in return for being allowed to return to Libya.

All the same, it will come as a great relief in government circles that the appeal case is unlikely to proceed – not just because of the awkward facts that might emerge but because of the enormous damage that would be done to the system if it was shown that Megrahi had been wrongly convicted.

The Justice Minister Jack Straw is old enough to know that we have a long and shameful tradition, where terrorism is concerned, of imprisoning the wrong people. And the notorious Irish cases in the 1970s and 80s wreaked havoc with the reputation of the police, the intelligence services and the judges.

The offence of which Megrahi was – almost certainly wrongly – convicted after a trial lasting six months before three distinguished Scottish judges was far more serious than anything the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six were accused of doing. Resulting in the deaths of 280 innocent people, it was far and away the most serious act of terrorism in our history. So, what if Megrahi's appeal succeeded and it was shown that yet again the security forces and the judges had got it wrong – and this at a time when the Government is trying to introduce more and more draconian measures to deal with the supposed threat of terrorism?

Opposition to giving the police yet more powers would inevitably be boosted and the awkward question would be raised – if not Megrahi then who did it? The official hope, now that Megrahi has applied to drop his appeal, is that we can finally draw a line under Lockerbie and move on.

Politics, not religion, is the issue

My friend Maureen Lipman wrote recently to The Independent berating me for referring to the religion of the Jewish historians Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, both members of Gordon Brown's recently appointed Iraq war inquiry.

But it was their political sympathies, not their religion, that I was interested in. Since it is now recognised that the security of Israel was of prime concern to the American neocons who for years campaigned for the invasion of Iraq, this seems a perfectly valid issue for me to raise, even at the risk of incurring the usual charge of anti-Semitism from Maureen and others.

Maureen also wants to know what evidence there is that the two historians supported the war. Well, as far as Gilbert is concerned, we have his astonishing comment that in years to come Bush and Blair maybe deemed the Churchill and Roosevelt of their day. As for Freedman, you can read in John Kampfner's book Blair's Wars how he supplied the bones of the speech Blair made in Chicago in 1999 justifying military intervention in countries where human rights were being violated. Later on Channel 4, Freedman referred in a giveaway phrase to the "rather noble criteria" underlying the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Then we find Freedman in 2008 addressing a gathering of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at Herzliya, Israel, and sharing a platform with one of the most hawkish of the neocons, Dr Daniel Pipes, who has campaigned to blacklist American academics found guilty of criticism of Israel. Nothing conclusive, I admit, but if I were Blair I wouldn't be losing sleep worrying about being cross-examined by these two gentlemen.

Lessons for would-be statesmen

A would-be politician could do worse than study the opinions of Adolf Hitler who for all his many crimes has to be commended for his political skill. Who else, in our time, has managed to secure the lasting support of so many millions of voters for so long a time?

Hitler provided many useful tips for the would-be statesman. One was that you should always address political meetings in the evening. The reason was simple – after a hard day's work the audience would be tired and would therefore listen less critically to all the lies you planned to tell them. (Hitler would surely have agreed with the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard, who once said that "the only way to control people is to lie to them".)

Another of Hitler's wise edicts was that no politician should ever be photographed in a bathing costume. But many of today's statesman ignore this central piece of advice, so keen are they to show off their physique like Mr Sarkozy who has been flaunting himself on the beach with his shapely wife Carla, above.

Peter Mandelson has also been snapped on his recent visit to Corfu where, luckily for him, the picture, taken with a long-distance lens, was somewhat blurred and indistinct.

The worst of all was Vladimir Putin, though in his case he was not sunbathing but riding topless on a horse through the gloomy Russian landscape and exhibiting a pair of unsightly man-boobs. Russians are funny people but even so I imagine this off-putting display will have done little to improve his image.

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