Today’s news has been pretty much filled with items about the decision to allow Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man jailed for blowing up a US airliner over Lockerbie in 1988, to go home to die. al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer and, according to some reports at least, has about three months to live. It is probably unsurprising that this release has generated a lot of vox pop about what an “outrage” it is that he be allowed home to die. One of the terms of his release is that al-Megrahi dropped his series of appeals against his conviction, saving the UK taxpayer a large amount of money; however I can only assume that he still thinks he is innocent (or at least has a chance of being found innocent) but no longer had the will to fight this.
In the UK a life sentence doesn’t actually mean you are expected to die in jail. The criminal justice system is, in theory at least, based upon the principles of removing an offender from society as long as they present a danger to society, while providing correctional education to allow them to reintegrate to society upon release.
Equally, in the UK (and the US I am fairly sure) there are frequent cases where a prisoner is released from jail on compassionate grounds. There is nothing specifically unusual about this case.
The biggest difference here is that this is a person who has killed Americans. As a result, President Obama felt the urge to pressurise the “Scottish Government” (hmm) to change its mind about al-Megrahi’s release. President Obamba is not alone in this, almost every US politician has tried to convince the Scottish Justice Minister to change his mind. The UK radio and TV news is running headlines about how this has “all been ignored” – as if the requests of US politicians should carry some weight in this matter. I notice that previously the US government fell over itself to listen to pleas from UK politicians about the treatment of Gary McKinnon… Or not.
All this is only mildly interesting. I notice with more interest, and a lot of amusement, that the same parts of the British media objecting to this were crying for the release of the convicted Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. Obviously there are differences, Biggs is unrepentant, proud of his crime and white so the objections of Jack Mill‘s son went largely ignored.
Unusually for a missive from WhyDontYou Towers, I have no real opinion one way or another over the treatment and final disposal of al-Megrahi other than to wish there was some actual justice and consistency in the UK Criminal Justice system. Justice is not about revenge. Fair treatment includes compassion. Nothing that happens to al-Megrahi will bring back the dead or turn the clock back to before the murders. If justice is allowed to become revenge, then Al Qaeda can give up, we’ve destroyed western society ourselves. There can be no doubt that al-Megrahi showed his victims no compassion, but so what? Do two wrongs make a right? Does anyone honestly think al-Megrahi remains a danger to society? The news is showing traumatic footage of the night Pan Am Flight 103 went down – what can this do other than inflame people about the decision, which I think is at least consistent with the UK criminal justice policy.
As is always the case, the BBC is an example of the odd responses. There is the frequently wrong idea that those who are emotionally entangled can give a just and reasoned opinion – the BBC website has an entire page devoted to “Reaction – Lockerbie Bomber Set Free.” Show the effects of emotional involvement, the sister of a victim understandably says:
I don’t know how you show compassion to someone who has shown no remorse for what he has done and as Mr MacAskill praised the justice system and the investigation and the trial, how do you then show this person compassion? It’s just utterly despicable. I think he should have died in prison. Why should he be returned to Libya? That’s not what we were promised. We were always told he would serve out his full sentence in Scotland.
It is understandable, but wrong. I cant begin to imagine the suffering this person has undergone, but that is not grounds for a policy decision. This is why in the Dark Ages we moved away from blood feuds and instituted a system of courts and laws. While she may not, yet, see it, the only way to show compassion is in situations like this. There is no compassion in being nice to nice people you like. Compassion involves doing what is right even when you dont want to.
The inherently evil David Cameron gives us a sign of the Criminal Justice system we can look forward to if the Tories come to power:
This man was convicted of murdering 270 people, he showed no compassion to them, they weren’t allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed and I think this is a very bad decision
Ah, an eye for an eye eh? Does the body count matter? If he had killed just one, would he be objecting? Is the only reason to keep him in jail the fact that 270 families were torn apart rather than one or two? I suspect that if you are a grieving family member, the pain is not reduced simply because no one else died.
The Scottish Labour Leader has shown a tendency towards fluid politics that is characteristic of the Labour Party in general:
While one can have sympathy for the family of a gravely ill prisoner, on balance, our duty is to honour and respect the victims of Lockerbie and have compassion for them. The SNP’s handling of this case has let down Scotland
Yes, have compassion for the victims. Making someone suffer because not doing so would upset the families is not compassionate. It is pretty much a cowardly response.
Annoyingly for a committed Atheist, the Reverend Ian Galloway (Church of Scotland) says what is, IMHO, the right thing:
We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy? This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful. I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims’ families and I respect their views, but to them, I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge.
Infuriatingly I cant help but agree with everything he has said here.
If you want to read some genuinely insane arguments on this matter have a look at the BBC “Have Your Say” Pages. Here the hatred really flows. The whole of Europe is called “Cowardly” because the Scottish National Party stood up to American pressure. The irony is amusing, if the ranting is disturbing.
It saddens me that people are still suffering to such an extent about this. Their suffering will not be changed by this persons release, nor would their suffering end if he had died in jail. That political figures in both countries are making so much capital out of this is an example of how craven politics really is. When I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a Church of Scotland Reverend, its time to lie down.