Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s controversial release
I am completely torn over the highly contentious decision to release on compassionate grounds Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, otherwise known as the “Lockerbie Bomber”, convicted in 2001 for the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie terrorist atrocity. al-Megrahi was the only person ever to be brought to justice for the outrage and has always denied any involvement. Whether this is true or not is not important.
The Scottish Justice Minister responsible for the decision faced a terrible dilemma. On one hand he had a reponsibility to uphold Scottish law regarding the release of terminally ill prisoners, regardless of the nature, scale or notoriety of their crimes. On the other hand he was under immense and almost unbearable pressure from the United States and the bereaved families of the victims. The UK government’s position on the matter is at this point unknown but it is widely believed that it will condemn the decision when parliament is recalled.
Of course, at the end of the day, while the United States is entitled to express an opinion on the matter, they had no control nor should they have expected to have any control over what happened to al-Megrahi. This was a crime that was committed on UK soil and so from start to finish had to be dealt with using the UK and Scottish justice systems, regardless of the predominant nationality of the victims. One might also argue that the United States has no right to comment on the situation since it was largely the United States’ foreign policy which created the motivation for the attack in the first place. Just saying, like.
The reaction of the Libyan government and public on the arrival of al-Megrahi in Tripoli after his release was absolutely abhorrent, however, regardless of whether or not he is truly guilty of the crimes for which he has been convicted. It was made very clear by both the UK and US governments that it would be inappropriate and very bad for diplomatic relations should Libya allow a “hero’s welcome” to take place, which it did anyway. It was distasteful and wrong and I believe that Colonel al-Gaddafi should and will suffer for it in some way. Indeed, a royal visit to the country is already being reconsidered.
Assuming for a minute that he is guilty, and I have to have enough faith in the UK justice system to believe that he is, I think it highly unlikely and therefore highly unfair that he was the only person brought to justice over an atrocity which quite clearly required the involvement of more than just one person. The investigation into the incident should have been more wide reaching and should have brought more people to justice. For this reason it is valid to argue that al-Megrahi has been made a “scapegoat” for the attack, with the world’s anger and rage focussed solely on him. But this does not mean that somehow the laws of the country in which he was brought to justice and imprisoned did not apply to him. He was entitled to apply for and be granted release from prison on compassionate grounds just like any other prisoner in the UK. If we start making exceptions where do we stop? Where do we draw the line before the rights of prisoners become meaningless?
So I really don’t know what to think, it’s a difficult one. As a citizen of this country I feel I have to stand behind and have faith in its justice system, but at the same time I can appreciate the outrage and grief suffered by the families of the victims over what was the world’s worst terrorist atrocity before 9/11. Certainly, having salt rubbed into their wounds by the rapturous reception he received in Tripoli was both unnecessary and cruel and thoroughly undeserved, regardless of the decision to release him.