The end of the Gaddafi era in Libya was always likely to leave much unfinished business. It is now apparent that this includes the fate of many migrant workers, and perhaps mercenaries, from elsewhere in Africa. But especially for the US and Britain, it also includes the truth about the Lockerbie bombing and the culpability of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who served eight years for the crime in a Scottish prison. As the Gaddafi regime crumbled, calls multiplied for Megrahi, who was returned to Libya on compassionate grounds two years ago, to be returned to Scotland to complete his sentence.
It is to be hoped that those calls will now subside. The spectacle of a television crew arriving at the home of a dying man and interviewing his family is uncomfortable. At least, though, it may help to dispel some of the more scurrilous rumours that surrounded Megrahi's release. At the time there were suggestions not only that Scottish ministers and the Scottish justice system had been exploited by the UK government to smooth relations with Libya – a theory that need not be excluded even now – but that the gravity of Megrahi's illness had been exaggerated, perhaps even invented, to serve that purpose.
Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie bombing, both said yesterday that the Libyan should be left to die in peace. For each, of course, there was vindication in the CNN report from Libya. Dr Swire has long insisted on Megrahi's innocence. Mr Salmond does not want to be seen as the fall-guy for ministers in London. In asking that Megrahi should be allowed to die peacefully at home, however, they were right. This is neither the time nor the place to renew calls for revenge.
But there is another, equally compelling, reason why the calls for Megrahi to be returned to Scotland were ill-judged, even before the latest revelations about his health. The Transitional National Council, which is progressively taking over power from the collapsing Gaddafi regime, already has its work cut out, and more. The battles for Libya are not yet fully won; Sirte remains in the hands of Gaddafi supporters. And although the fighting in Tripoli has died down, supplies of food, water and electricity remain disrupted. Unless services can be restored to an acceptable level, violence could erupt again; the capital is awash with firearms.
The last thing the TNC needs at a time when it is still struggling to establish its authority is a barrage of requests from foreign countries, each with its own Gaddafi-era grievance. This is not to belittle the atrocity of the bomb that exploded over Lockerbie 23 years ago, but to understand that Libya's new government has yet to establish itself. And to do this, it cannot appear to be the creature of Western, or any other foreign, powers.
There is no way the TNC, in its current embryonic form, could, or should, have promised to hand over Megrahi. Just as it cannot be expected, right now, to track down and hand over the man who killed WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1983. There may yet be justice for her, as for the victims of Lockerbie, but not until there is a government in Tripoli that is secure enough to tackle what remain, for Libya, highly sensitive aspects of diplomacy.Reuse content