WASHINGTON — FBI director Robert Mueller sharply criticized Scotland's justice minister for releasing the Lockerbie bomber, an act that "gives comfort to terrorists" all over the world.
Mueller sent a letter to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who cited compassionate grounds in his decision to let Abdel Baset al-Megrahi return to Libya because he has prostate cancer and was given only months to live by British doctors. The angry tone of the letter is out of character with the normally reserved Mueller, indicating his outrage is personal as well as professional. He also sent copies to the families of the Lockerbie victims.
"I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors," Mueller wrote. "Your decision to release Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice in this case. I do so because I am familiar with the facts, and the law. … And I do so because I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of 'compassion.' "
Before he became FBI director, Mueller spent years as a Justice Department lawyer leading the investigation into the 1988 airplane bombing that killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
Mueller's letter was dated Friday, and was made public Saturday. Releasing the convicted bomber "gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation … the terrorist will be freed by one man's exercise of 'compassion.' "
A statement from Scotland's government on Saturday noted Mueller has "strong views" because of his involvement in the case. "But he should also be aware that while many families have opposed Mr. MacAskill's decision, many others have supported it," the statement said.
"Your action," Mueller wrote to MacAskill, "makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988."
He ended the Lockerbie letter with a frustrated question: "Where, I ask, is the justice?"
Britain, meanwhile, rejected any suggestion it had struck a deal with Libya to free the Lockerbie bomber — questions that arose when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi publicly thanked British officials.
But British officials insisted they did not tell Scottish justice officials what to do — and in any case, they could not, because the decision was not theirs to make.