Scotland’s release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of killing 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, is an interesting story. The stated reason for the release is that al-Megrahi, who is 57, has terminal prostate cancer, and he was released on “compassionate grounds.” As a result, al-Megrahi served only 10 years of a life sentence. After his release he flew home to Libya, where he received a hero’s welcome.
The reaction to the release has been swift and, not surprisingly, harshly critical. I must confess I cannot accept the justification for the release. Doesn’t “life” mean, in fact, “life”? What difference does it make whether Al-Megrahi lived to a ripe old age before dying in a dank Scottish prison cell, or died in that same dank cell at an earlier age, due to prostate cancer? The whole idea of a life sentence, in this case, was to deprive a-Megrahi of his freedom forever because he deprived 270 innocent people of their lives.
One of the ongoing debates after 9/11 is whether terrorists should be dealt with by the military, through the criminal justice system, or in some other fashion. al-Megrahi’s release after serving only 10 years seems to make a mockery of the argument that the criminal justice system is the right means to determine and impose the punishment of terrorists. Scotland gave al-Megrahi compassion that he did not deserve and that he never showed to the people he killed. The relatives of the people he killed, and other civilized nations that are working desperately to thwart terrorism, have every right to be outraged.
Thever Lockerbie, Scotland, is carrying out the Lockerbie bombing that killed hundreds of people, is an interesting one.