Saturday, 24 July 2010

The al-Megrahi scandal is a product of the profit motive, not just corrupt individuals

BP will begin deepwater drilling off the coast of Libya in the next few weeks. The announcement, and the diplomatic rows surrounding it, display the fatal flaw at the heart of capitalism.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues despite efforts to plug the leak. The environmental damage is enormous, but concerns have also been raised over the company's safety record. Especially after news that the oil rig's warning system was switched off before the blast.

Meanwhile, late last year, the Scottish government got embroiled in a row with the United States after releasing Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. Al-Megrahi had been found guily of the Lockerbie bombing in 2001, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Aside from the outrage over the release by families of the victims, there was also the side issue of oil. At the end of August last year, the Times quoted oil industry sources as saying that "the release of the Lockerbie bomber from prison would liberate Britain’s largest industrial company from a string of problems hampering its $900 million (£546 million) Libyan gas projects."

Thus, BP lobbied the British government, and it appears they were receptive. Leaked letters from then-Justice Secretary Jack Straw to Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill revealed that the British government thought it “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to see al-Megrahi released.

In September, an investigation by the Sunday Telegraph revealed that "medical evidence that helped Megrahi, 57, to be released was paid for by the Libyan government, which encouraged three doctors to say he had only three months to live." This was important "because, under Scottish rules, prisoners can be freed on compassionate grounds only if they are considered to have this amount of time, or less, to live."

Libyan chief spokesperson Abdul Majeed al-Dursi promised that "Britain will find it is rewarded" for the release. With BP now set to begin deepwater drilling, it seems he has lived up to its word.

Sue Cohen, whose daughter Theo died at Lockerbie, told NBC News that "western governments seem to be run by one thing now – the great God money." She's not wrong. Indeed, it adds a new gravity to the argument that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanisatan were motivated by corporate interests.

But we cannot make the mistake of thinking this a new phenomenon, or the fault of only a few, corrupt individuals. The root of this whole saga is the incentive to maximise short-term gains above all else.

It is important to remember this as mainstream debate seeks to hang BP, or its CEO Tony Hayward, as the sole culprit in the affair. Putting profit before people, as I've noted previously, is par for the course in pursuit of petrodollars. Or, for that matter, profit more generally.

Corruption at this level is a symptom of capitalism, not an unfortunate by-product. If we want to stop it happening again, we need to fight to get rid of the underlying cause.