Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi arrives at Glasgow airport to board a plane after arriving from Greenock Prison on August 20, 2009 in Glasgow, Scotland.
What if they held a hearing and nobody came?
That's the potential problem facing U.S. Senators and relatives of Pam Am Flight 103 victims who believe that a British Petroleum oil deal may have been behind the Lockerbie bomber's release.
Against the noisy backdrop of Times Square, victims' family members and lawmakers urged key witnesses Monday to testify at an upcoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing into Scotland's controversial release last year of Libyan terrorist Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.
"I feel BP was involved," said Eileen Walsh of Glen Rock, New Jersey, who lost her father, brother and sister on the doomed flight. "I feel that justice for 270 murdered victims of that plane was sold for an oil trade."
"We want transparency," said Mary Kay Stratis of Montvale, NJ, whose husband died in the fiery explosion over the Scottish countryside on December 21, 1988.
Menendez released a letter that he said suggests BP was lobbying the Scottish government last summer for al-Megrahi's freedom, a charge the company has denied. Saying "speed is of the essence," the July 2009 letter from a member of the Libyan British Business Council urged Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to quickly release the terrorist or risk "serious implications for UK-Libyan relations." Menendez said BP belongs to that business council. The oil giant has a $900 million offshore drilling deal with Libya.
"Once the oil starts flowing, the answers from BP will be slow to trickle in," said Menendez.
BP has not said whether it will testify at Thursday's hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while British and Scottish officials have already declined, said Menendez.
So far, only the Obama Administration is sending somebody to Thursday's hearing, the senator said. That witness will probably be grilled over a recently leaked letter written last summer by an American diplomat in London to Scottish authorities that seems to undercut the President's statement last week that Americans were surprised al-Megrahi's release.
The letter, while saying the U.S. opposed the release, said freeing him on compassionate grounds in Scotland was "far preferable" to sending him to a Libyan jail. He was transferred to Libya, where he arrived last year to a hero's welcome.
MacAskill said he released al-Megrahi on "compassionate grounds" because he was dying of cancer, a prognosis backed by a British doctor, Andrew Fraser, who gave him only months to live. However he is alive and reportedly in good healh.
"We would like to know how you could get it so wrong," said Menendez, who said MacAskill, Fraser and former British Justice Secretary Jack Straw have all said no to testifying.