Close Guantanamo, Edinburgh, January 2007A year ago today, President Obama launched the most recent of his initiatives to close Guantánamo. He was speaking at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington DC. It was an awkward moment for a major defence policy speech.

Drone strikes had put a strain on US relations with Pakistan. For nearly 6 weeks, the US had been observing an undeclared drone ceasefire in Pakistan, apparently out of respect for the elections there. The end of the ceasefire was less than a week away. At Guantánamo, the prisoners’ hunger strike was at a peak and had received a good deal of media attention. So a careful speech was needed, combining robust defence of US policy with a convincing acknowledgement of the suffering that it created.

Barack Obama’s speech was a good one, in its way. The kind of speech that a patriotic but idealistic student might have delivered in a debate at an Ivy League university.

Maybe Obama’s speechwriters don’t spend too much time talking to his policy advisers

Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour Conference 2014

In honour of Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and with apologies to David Bowie, who seems for the moment to be suffering from a touch of Leader Jo syndrome himself

“My party is blue and there’s nothing I can do”

Ground control to Leader Jo Ground control to Leader Jo Take your prozac pills and put your helmet on Ground control to Leader Jo Commencing countdown, mikes are on Check the levels and may Ed's love be with you

Lockerbie disaster memorial (Lockerbie cemetery)

The 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing is prompting renewed  interest in who – or perhaps who else besides Abdelbaset al Megrahi – could have been responsible for the crime. Some of this may turn out to be  important. But irrespective of any leads pointing to other suspects, it’s time to recognise that Megrahi cannot reasonably be held to be guilty.

Scotland’s Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland says he welcomes the recent announcement that Libya has appointed two prosecutors to work with the Scottish and US authorities over the bombing.

They will be seeking to establish whether there are people in Libya who could be brought to trial in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. Libyan citizen Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who died last year, is the only person to have so far been convicted for the attack.

The bombing cost the lives of all of the 259 people on board the aircraft and 11 people from the town of Lockerbie. It was, and remains, by far the deadliest act of terrorism ever to have occurred in the UK.

The problem with the ongoing Scottish investigation into the bombing  is that it is built on a legal fiction. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 by three judges sitting in a specially built court operating under Scots law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. He should not have been found guilty on the evidence presented to the court

Mandela Place, Glasgow

RIP Nelson Mandela, 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013

Just one action made Nelson Mandela the titanic figure he became. Without that one step, he would have been a footnote in history. His triumph was that he refused to disown armed struggle (aka terrorism) in exchange for his personal freedom

Gleneagles 2005
This article was originally published in 2006 in the book “Whose Justice? The Law and the Left” edited by Colin Fox, Gregor Gall and John Scott. A few new footnotes have been added to provide additional background and  updates. The issues raised in the article have still to be addressed. I hope they become part of the discussion surrounding Scottish independence.

Home and Abroad: How Britain’s foreign policy reshaped justice in Scotland

I found myself in the mind of the Masquerade. I saw the world through its eyes. I surveyed its extensive, universal kingdom of fear. Dread for those who oppose, protection for supporters, nightmares for the silent. I saw far across the lands, into the hearts of nations whose heartbeats had accelerated and been taken over by the powers of fear.” Ben Okri, Songs of Enchantment, 1993

A week before the Christmas of 2002 three Edinburgh men – Algerian expatriates as it happened – were woken by armed police and driven off to places the press described as “secret locations in Scotland.” A fourth man was arrested later in the day when he turned up at one of the flats where the earlier arrests had been made. Another four men were arrested in London and brought up to those “secret locations in Scotland.” And then a ninth man was arrested in Scotland. The men were all charged with offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.

An MI5 “source” told Scotland on Sunday newspaper that there was a plot to bomb Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party. Official police sources flatly denied any “specific threat.” By the time the men’s bail hearings came up on 14 March 2003, it was clear that there was no evidence against them at all. But the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was just 6 days away. Tony Blair was getting ready to tell Parliament that terrorist groups and the Iraqi regime jointly constituted “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.” It would have taken a brave Procurator Fiscal to shrug and drop the charges. So the men went home on police bail but the charges weren’t dropped until the following December.