Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is the Libyan man convicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, in which 270 people died. The Scottish government's decision to return him to his home country on compassionate grounds (he has terminal prostate cancer) has generated a lot of noise on both sides of the Scottish border and both sides of the Atlantic.
The FBI has condemned Megrahi's release, telling Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill: “Your action in releasing Megrahi makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world”. The Scottish Parliament has voted to condemn the decision.
The first thing to say is that the Scottish government's decision is, in itself, perfectly reasonable. Why shouldn't a dying man, imprisoned thousands of miles from his home country, be returned home for his last few months?
Beyond that, there has been a lack of openness and evidence of manipulation about the whole case, from start to finish. We are not qualified to assess the claims made by some on the left, by John Pilger for instance, that Megrahi was framed according to the needs of US and British alliances in the Middle East. It is possible. The British government gives every impression of having something to hide.
Many of the families of the Lockerbie victims have been demanding a public enquiry for years. It does not look like they'll get one.
The background to Megrahi's release is the growing links between the Libyan regime and international, including British, capital.
Both Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown have had repeated discusions over trade with Libya in recent months. Prince Andrew, "Britain's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment", visited Libya three times last year. There is a "Libyan British Business Council" which includes BP, Barclays, GlaxoSmithKline and British American Tobacco.
The UK imported £1 billion of petroleum from Libya in 2008, a 66 percent increase on 2007, and the export of goods from Britain to Libya rose nearly 50 percent in the first half of 2009. In 2007 BP signed a £545.5 million deal allowing it to search for Libyan gas both on and offshore.
The Gaddafi regime, previously at daggers drawn with the Western powers, has now been brought in from the cold. No one should imagine, however, that it was ever anything other than a nationalist dictatorship.
The "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" (the last word means "state ruled by the masses", something like "people's republic") was established forty years ago, after a coup by nationalist army officers in September 1969. Claiming to chart a middle-way between Stalinism and capitalism, its ruler colonel Muammar Gaddafi indulged in ornate rhetoric about creating a state ruled by grassroots people's committees - while in fact creating a militarised autocracy. He has not held any formal position in the state since 1979, but in reality continues to exercise power under titles like "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution".
Arbitrary arrest and detention, and prisoners held incommunicado and for long periods of time without charge or trial, are common in Libya. In May, Fathi Eljahmi, the country's most prominent democratic dissident, died in Jordan, where he had been rushed for treatment after falling into a coma in custody. He had spent most of the previous seven years in prison.
Naturally, there are no independent trade unions. The National Trade Unions' Federation is controlled by the state. The International Centre for Trade Union Rights says that "no strikes have been reported for many years. According to the government, workers may strike but do not need to because they control their enterprises. External sources, however, reject this assessment."
Brown, Mandelson and co. may be happy to overlook Libya's human rights record in the interests of trade. We are not.