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does the ‘lockerbie bomber’ deserve compassion?

August 22, 2009

Reflecting on the news that the only man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 returned home to Libya to die after he was released from a Scottish prison Thursday, I can’t say that I’m as outraged as most people seem to be. Call me a ‘bleeding-heart liberal,’ but I think showing compassion is a good thing.

A friend of mine asked, “The family members of people he killed didn’t get to say good-bye to their families, why should he?” That’s a good question. Why?

My first thought was that compassion and forgiveness are human emotions we should try to develop more deeply, not bury them away in the back of our minds until they’re completely bred out of existence.

Another reason was that a 2007 review of his case raised the prospect that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. It’s a tragedy that so many people were killed in such a horrible fashion, but, in my eyes, condemning a potentially innocent man to die in prison isn’t any better or more just.

In addition to this, Scotland has a long-standing policy in place which, according to Oliver Smith, dictates that, “if you have a terminal illness and have three months or less to live then you will be released from prison on compassionate grounds. This applies to all convicts in Scotland, regardless of their age, their gender, religion, crime or any other factor.”

Nevertheless, most people I’ve talked to about this issue generally agree that al-Megrahi should rot in jail until he dies in the event that he’s actually guilty. That might be what’s best, but at the same time, I can’t help but hope that humanity as a whole is eventually able to move beyond an eye-for-an-eye model of justice and morality.

I understand that the idea of having compassion for a murderer is difficult to fathom, and I know that many will probably find the very thought distasteful, but I happen to agree with Scotland’s policy of releasing terminally ill prisoners in the spirit compassion. Just because a person commits a cruel act doesn’t mean that society should act equally as cruel.

It also makes me wonder if there was as much outrage when Pres. Nixon reduced the sentence of William Calley — the only person who was ever convicted in connection with the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai — from a life sentence to three years house arrest.

On a related side note, my girlfriend said:

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s only been 8 years since he’s been in prison–after getting a life sentence. And the people who had loved ones who were killed due to his actions? And what if they’re using him to secure more oil? Is he really just a scapegoat, when he was convicted at the beginning? This issue isn’t black and white to me. And I’m not sure they’re really showing compassion, even if that’s what they say.

If he was released in exchange for economic opportunities (e.g., in order to secure more oil), I think that sure tells you a lot about the nature of the capitalist system.

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