A huge crowd welcomes Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bombing convict, who was freed from a Scottish prison on 'compassionate grounds.' Standing beside him is the son of Libyan despot Mouammar Qadaffi, Seif al-Islam Qadaffi. The release highlights some key differences between European and American justice.
The release of
the Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi is remarkable. It's not often that a convicted mass murderer is set
free. In 2001, Megrahi was found guilty for participating in the 1988 attack on
a Pan-Am Boeing aircraft that killed 270 people.
His conviction depended
primarily on circumstantial evidence. In Malta, Megrahi is said to have purchased the clothing
in which the bomb was wrapped. Megrahi - and Libya - have always denied involvement.
In the years since 2001 there has been mounting evidence that the evidence may
have been tampered with. The shopkeeper identified him as the buyer of the
clothing after Megrahi's face was published in the press, and then it came out
that the American CIA had offered him money. There are also rumblings that timer
of the bomb was tinkered with.
Megrahi lost his
first appeal, but would soon have begun his second. Because of his illness, Libyan
halted the process, which was a condition of his release. As a result, there
will never be complete judicial clarity in regard to the Lockerbie affair. This
is especially sad for the families of the victims.
They and others fear
that Libya is being rewarded with the release because of its significantly improved
international behavior, the attractiveness of its oil, and its 2007 release of
the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor. Issues like these are always a
hive for theories.
The American families
of the victims and the U.S. administration insist that Megrahi should have remained
in this cell until the end. Why let him die with his family when their loved ones
aboard that Boeing aircraft were denied the chance? This expressed desire for
revenge is much stronger in American judicial culture than it is in Europe.
This is also reflected in the American use of capital punishment.
Scottish Justice Minister
Kenny MacAskill has rightly
resisted this pressure: beyond revenge, the stay of the Libyan in a
Scottish prison no longer served any purpose. For similar reasons, The
Netherlands has ultimately decided to release war criminals like the “Trio of Breda.”
[Editor's Note: The
Trio of Breda was convicted of deporting Dutch Jews to Nazi concentration camps
during WW II.]
dramatic decisions that are painful for many. But allowing such offenders to go
home to die is a sign of strength. It is a gesture that shows how the civilization that the condemned sought to undermine has proven stronger than they are.