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Senators question Scotland's release of Pan Am Bomber

By Laurie Ure, CNN
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Pan Am bomber alive 13 months later
  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, says Abdelbeset al-Megrahi is not dying of cancer
  • Menendez is spearheading a probe into Scotland's release of al-Megrahi
  • A urologist testifies that no one with advanced prostate cancer would get chemo
  • Convicted in the 1988 Pan Am bombing, al-Megrahi served 8 years in prison

Washington (CNN) -- Convicted Pan Am Flight 103 bomber Abdelbeset al-Megrahi, released from a Scottish prison last year on humanitarian grounds, is not terminally ill, a New Jersey senator asserted Wednesday.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, apologized for "inconveniencing those who would rather sweep this into the dustbin of history," but said he wanted to shed light on the "troubling circumstances" surrounding al-Megrahi's release by the Scottish government last year on the grounds that he had cancer and was not likely to live more than three more months.

Menendez is spearheading an investigation looking into the circumstances of the al-Megrahi's release. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on the matter.

"Instead of living three months, he's lived 13 months and counting," Menendez said.

Menendez questioned what he characterized as contradictory medical information from the Scottish government. He said a medical report released by Scottish officials does not state that al-Megrahi received chemotherapy, but a Scottish government official closely involved in the case said the convicted Lockerbie bomber started chemotherapy in July 2009, a month before his prison release -- another indicator that al-Megrahi wasn't terminally ill, Menendez said.

Dr. James Mohler, a urologist at Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, testified that a patient with such an advanced case of prostate cancer would generally not be given chemotherapy, but would be left to spend his remaining days as comfortably as possible.

Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, killing 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground.

Most of the dead were Americans. The flight was heading to New York from Frankfurt, Germany, via London, England, when it blew up.

Menendez played a videotape at the hearing showing al-Megrahi walking up a flight of stairs to board a plane to Libya after his prison release, despite allegedly being near death.

Dr. James Mohler, testified that "It would be very difficult to give a prognosis of three months to a prostate cancer patient who was able to negotiate a flight of stairs."

"The biggest problem here is that the Scottish authorities in the prisons were still exploring therapies, and in fact indicate in their records that in July they added or a new hormone treatment," suggesting that the Lockerbie bomber had a more promising prognosis, Mohler said. Mohler has had no access to the released prisoner.

A State Department official testified that commercial concerns may have influenced Scottish consideration of al-Megrahi's release.

"There were political, security and economic considerations that were involved in the decision making," said Nancy McEldowney, the deputy assistant secretary of European affairs at the State Department.

McEldowney said the United States never supported the decision of releasing al-Megrahi.

Menendez said he asked representatives from oil giant BP, including chief executive Tony Hayward, to testify at the hearing regarding allegations that the British company urged the Scottish government to release al-Megrahi in exchange for a multimillion-dollar oil deal with Libya. No one from BP would testify, Menendez said.

"I'm concerned, given their refusal to testify and tell us what they know about their lobbying efforts and advocacy for Mr. al-Megrahi's release," Menendez said. "Hiding information from this committee, I find reprehensible."

A special Scottish court in the Netherlands convicted al-Megrahi in 2001.

Released in August 2009 after serving eight years of his life sentence, he returned to Libya. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, said last week al-Megrahi is sick but alive and that he saw him in Libya in early September.