Leading British politicians have been running to defend BP from unwarranted American attack and "bashing Britain." First we stole their tea. Now we disparage their oil. The nerve.
Leading the charge was London Mayor Boris Johnson who said there is "something worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America." Next up was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who, in a thinly veiled attack against President Obama, said, "I don't frankly think we will reach a solution to stopping release of oil into the ocean any quicker by allowing this to spiral into a tit for tat political diplomatic spat." The biggest critic was Lord Tebbit, a former Thatcher Cabinet Minister, who called Obama's attitude toward BP "despicable."
Curiously, none of those seeking to paint BP as a victim made reference to its atrocious safety record prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion on 20 April, 2010. An internal BP report of 2004 found "a pattern of the company intimidating workers who raised safety or environmental concerns," and "managers shaved maintenance costs by using aging equipment for as long as possible."
In 2005 an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 people. A ProPublica report found "significant process safety issues exist at all five U.S. refineries, not just Texas City." It added that "the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the firm $87 million for not improving safety at the same Texas plant."
Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen summed it up. "BP is a London-based oil company with one of the worst safety records of any oil company operating in America. In just the last few years, BP has paid $485 million in fines and settlements to the US government for environmental crimes, willful neglect of worker safety rules, and penalties for manipulating energy markets."
So why would the British defend this horrible safety record by insinuating that American rage at BP is "British bashing?" And let's not forget that BP itself changed its name in 2001 from British Petroleum, almost as if it were ashamed of the word "British."
Britain does itself no favors by complaining about a falling share price and lost dividends while eleven Americans lie dead, thousands of Gulf Coast residents have lost their livelihood, and innumerable wildlife wash up ashore drenched in BP guck.
Unfortunately Britain's penchant of putting oil profits ahead of human life has a shameful and recent precedent.
In an act of unforgettable infamy the Scottish government, in August of last year, released convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who murdered 270 people, on "humanitarian grounds," saying that he had only three months to live. The mass-murderer was immediately accorded a hero's welcome by Gadhafi in Tripoli. FBI Director Robert Mueller published an angry letter to the Scottish government that said, "Your action makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world."
From the beginning there was speculation that al-Megrahi's release was brokered by the British government in exchange for lucrative British oil contracts with Libya. Gadhafi himself publicly thanked Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth for facilitating the terrorist's release. "This step," he said, "is in the interest of relations between the two countries...and of the personal friendship between me and them and will be positively reflected for sure in all areas of cooperation between the two countries."
Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam went further, saying that in all his meetings with British officials to discuss oil contracts the subject of the Lockerbie bomber's release was an absolute condition of any deal. "In all British interests regarding Libya, I always put you on the table," he told the killer.
And which British companies were pushing hardest to strike a deal with Gadhafi? Reuters named BP and Shell at the top of the list.
A few weeks after this murky deal was concluded I hosted a protest on my front lawn against Gadhafi who was planning to pitch a tent immediately next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey, in a mansion owned by the Libyan mission to the United Nations. Those attending included New Jersey governor Jon Corzine and Senator Frank Lautenberg. But the standout speakers were families of the victims of Pan Am 103 who described how their lives had been shattered by Gadhafi's atrocity and their outrage at the British and Scots for releasing the bomber after only eight years in prison.
Now comes word via the London Times that Gadhafi plans to pay £2 billion to victims of IRA bombs for his role in supplying shiploads of explosives. "Semtex supplied by Gadhafi's regime," the Times said, "was used by the IRA in at least 10 atrocities, including the bombing of Harrods in 1983 and Enniskillen in 1987. The Real IRA used it at Omagh in 1998, killing 29 people and injuring 220. It was used in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 at Lockerbie, when 270 were killed." The Times revealed that Gordon Brown had initially balked from pressuring Gadhafi to pay the victims "for fear of harming trade."
But Gadhafi has now decided that a grand humanitarian gesture, without any admission of responsibility, "will end the legal actions and build diplomatic and business relations with the UK."
It is now ten months since the Lockerbie bomber's release. It appears that miracles still happen because the previously terminally ill patient is somehow alive and well and, according to Gadhafi's son, 'greatly improved' now that he is home in Libya. As for the reward to Britain, the Daily Mail reported that just five months after the bomber's release "Libya announced plans to invest £5 billion in the UK."
In the aftermath of these shameful British actions, I continue to fight what has become a lonesome battle against Gadhafi's Ambassador living next door to me in a state where 30 people died aboard Pan Am 103. My pleas to Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle and City Council President Scott Reddin to take action against the mission of a terror-sponsoring government living tax-free in a city strapped for cash, and in post 9/11 America, have been met with little response. Most shocking of all Congressman Steve Rothman of New Jersey's Ninth district, now up for reelection, was quoted as saying that he expected us residents to act as "appropriately good neighbors" with the Libyan Ambassador.
Justice be damned.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published "Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life" (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. His website is www.shmuley.com.
Follow Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiShmuley