The sequence of events leading to and following the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi turned out to be all too predictable. The families of the 189 Americans killed back in 1988 were outraged.
The US government roundly criticized the decision of the Scottish government to free him on compassionate grounds. And Megrahi was flown home to Libya on a VIP configured jet to a hero’s welcome.
What bears close examination here is the very notion of compassion, as practiced by the Scottish government and opposed by so many others. Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer, and, doctors say, three months to live.
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill explained the decision he made in literate, and some might say compelling terms.
Which might lead some to ask, what is the difference between the way Americans view compassion and the way Scots do (taking into account not all Scots agree with the decision)? Kenny MacAskill made his choice knowing it wouldn’t be popular, and he must have figured Megrahi would return to a hero’s welcome in Libya.
So what drove his decision? Was it, as some cynics argue, the new relationship between the UK and Libya, one that promises OIL RICHES for big business on both sides of the Atlantic? You certainly can’t blame people for thinking it’s possible.
And what of the contention that Megrahi should have been confined to die in Scotland, and returned to Libya as a corpse? Would that have blunted the joyous reaction to his release in Tripoli? Probably not. He’d just have been seen as a martyr.
And so, people from all sides in the controversy speak out. President Obama says he opposed the release, as did his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Conservative talk show hosts blather about some sort of economic retribution against Scottish goods in the US.
And the families express their legitimate pain and outrage at what they see as justice denied.
And some in Britain, including some of the families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, contend that Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi is innocent, a scapegoat whose trial and conviction masks the real culprits in the bombing, now nearly 21 years old. Perhaps this is one of those times when there is no right, no wrong, no winning side to be on.
One can say, however, that the joy in Libya at Megrahi’s release and arrival there was the wrong reaction. It says to the world that Libyans condone planting a bomb on a plane, and taking 270 innocent lives. Such jubilation could have consequences down the road, no matter how much oil Muammar el-Qaddafi is sitting on.
What do you think? Was Scotland wrong to free the Lockerbie bomber?