The Obama administration has asked Libya's opposition to review the case of the ailing former Libyan intelligence agent convicted of the Lockerbie bombing who has been living in Tripoli since his release from a Scottish prison two years ago, the State Department said Monday.
The department said it wants the opposition to look into the handling and terms of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's return to Libya. Al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 and returned home to a hero's welcome from supporters of Moammar Gadhafi. He is now near death and slipping in and out of consciousness, according to his brother.
His release by Scottish authorities was loudly protested by the U.S., as were the circumstances of his return to Libya.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials have spoken to senior members of Libya's Transitional National Council about the case. She said the council agreed to look into it once it consolidates control over the country and establishes a fully functioning government.
"We asked the [council] to, as soon as it can, take a hard look at what it thinks ought to happen with Mr. Megrahi, and it is committed to do that," she told reporters.
Calls for al-Megrahi to be returned to prison have increased in the U.S. and Europe since rebel forces seized control of Tripoli last week, but it is not clear whether that could happen. The Scottish government says it has no plans to ask for him to be returned, and al-Megrahi's brother says he is so close to death that there would be little point.
New York's two Demoratic senators recently asked Libya's transitional government to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans, including Colleen Brunner, 20, of Hamburg, N.Y.
One of those senators, Charles E. Schumer, insisted Monday that al-Megrahi's health should be independently evaluated and that the opposition should not protect him. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels' decision to shield this convicted terrorist," he said.
Sunday, the rebels' transitional government justice minister, Mohammed al-Alagi, said the renewed demands for punishment had "no meaning" because al-Megrahi had already been tried and convicted. But on Monday, he appeared to backtrack, saying officials knew the issue was important to some governments but that any discussions would have to wait until an elected government was in place.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was a champion for the victims' families when she was a New York senator, has said that al-Megrahi should not have been released. Nuland said Clinton's position had not changed.