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Friday, August 21, 2009

Justice? Compassion? al Megrahi in News

The man convicted of murdering 270 people by blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, two decades ago received a boisterous welcome from a large crowd, waving flags and honking horns at the military airport in Tripoli when his plane landed in his native Libya on Thursday. Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who is suffering from terminal cancer, was freed from prison in Scotland, with Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill citing compassionate grounds for the release and saying al Megrahi was "going home to die."

Reportedly, the 57-year-old has three months to live, according to Scottish authorities. "Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion available," MacAskill said. "Our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown." The justice secretary said he decided not to transfer al Megrahi to a Libyan prison, even though a prisoner transfer agreement exists between the United Kingdom and Libya, but instead chose to set him free on compassionate grounds.

al Megrahi was convicted of murder in January 2001 at a trial held under Scottish law in the Netherlands. His first appeal against that verdict was rejected the following year. However, in 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission granted him a second appeal.

It subsequently emerged he was suffering from terminal cancer but a bid to have him granted bail was refused. His second appeal got under way this year but shortly afterwards applications were made for both his transfer to a Libyan jail and release on compassionate grounds.

al Megrahi dropped his appeal against conviction earlier this week. Scottish prosecutors at the Crown Office have now confirmed they have also dropped an appeal against his "unduly lenient" sentence.

British relatives' spokesman Dr. Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the atrocity, said he believed Megrahi had "nothing to do with" the bombing. Dr. Swire said, "I feel despondent that the west and Scotland didn't have the guts to allow this man's second appeal to continue because I am convinced had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him."

Mr. MacAskill had been under intense pressure from the US government to keep Megrahi behind bars, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying his release would be "absolutely wrong."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had specifically asked Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi not to give al Megrahi a celebratory welcome. President Barack Obama said the Scottish decision to free terminally ill Abdel Baset al Megrahi on compassionate grounds was a mistake and said he should be under house arrest. Obama warned Libya not to give him a hero's welcome, but despite the warnings, thousands did.

al Megrahi was accompanied by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. Gadhafi pledged last year to bring al Megrahi home and raised his hand in victory as he exited the plane. The younger Gaddafi stated that there was a "considerable amount of new evidence" to show Megrahi was innocent. al Megrahi is believed to have been resting at his family home after his journey from Scotland.

The FBI said in a statement it was "deeply disappointed" over the decision to release al Megrahi. "In a case of mass murder over Lockerbie, Mr. Megrahi served less than 14 days per victim," FBI director Robert Mueller said in the statement. He served only eight years.

Compassion may be defined as "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it." Many feel al Megrahi showed no remorse, so he didn't have the right to expect compassion in being freed from prison.

Another opinion on compassion contends that al Megrahi was already shown compassion when he received life imprisonment and not capital punishment, which Scotland doesn't have.

Still others view the turn of events as a "give-Gadhafi-what-he-wants-so-we-can-have-the-oil"scheme. These people insist the timing is perfect because in 12 days' time Libya celebrates the 40th anniversary of the revolution that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power.

Whatever the case, al Megrahi is a free man. Despite efforts to keep Libya from making him a hero, the United States and Britain failed miserably in their negotiations. A life sentence has been lifted without successful appeal, and the Scottish justice system seems to be weak-kneed and ineffective. My sincere condolences go to the families and friends of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

"We don't give our criminals much punishment, but we sure give 'em plenty of publicity." ~Will Rogers

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