Cardinal says Scots fed up with U.S. over Lockerbie

LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland launched a scathing attack on U.S. politicians on Sunday saying they were in no moral position to lecture Scottish ministers over the Lockerbie bomber’s release.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said there was a “culture of vengeance” in the United States and that many Americans were more interested in retribution than justice.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted of the 1988 bombings of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, was freed last year on compassionate grounds by Scottish authorities because they believed he had three months to live. He is still alive.

Most of the 270 people killed were Americans and Megrahi’s release and subsequent triumphant homecoming in Libya provoked an outcry in the United States.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is examining the circumstances surrounding the decision, but Scottish officials and Britain’s former justice minister have all declined to appear, generating further condemnation.

Last week four senators wrote to Britain’s foreign secretary saying it appeared British trade interests had “won out over justice” over the release.

“I think I’m speaking for many, many Scots people when I say we’re just getting a bit fed up of being lectured to by the United States of America as to how to administer justice,” O’Brien told BBC radio.

U.S. anger over the release resurfaced following suggestions British energy giant BP Plc had lobbied for Megrahi’s release. Both BP and Scottish ministers deny the accusations.

Questions about a possible BP role in the bomber’s release have complicated U.S.-British relations already frayed by the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

O’Brien contrasted Megrahi’s release with the use of the death penalty in United States, saying only Saudi Arabia, China, Iraq and Iran had executed more people since 1976.

He said U.S. politicians should direct their gaze inwards, rather than scrutinising the Scottish justice system.

“Here in Scotland we have what we might call a culture of compassion, judging the guilty with care and compassion and certainly not executing them,” he said. “Whereas in America there is a culture of vengeance ... in so many states.”

The cardinal said nothing could diminish the horror of the bombing but said he did not like to think Americans would be joyful at Megrahi’s death.

“I wouldn’t like to think so in a so-called Christian country,” he said, describing Megrahi as the “alleged murderer.”

“I’m just saying what many, many others have said that it’s alleged that he was the perpetrator of this crime,” he added.

“Courts have decided various things in Britain and America which have since been proved wrong. I’m not saying a mistake was made, I just don’t know enough about the law.”

Editing by Jon Hemming