On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb exploded on Pan Am flight 103, blowing it to pieces over Scotland and killing 270 people. Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi of Libya, the convicted mastermind behind the terrorist attack, was sentenced to life in prison by the Scottish judicial system.
The bomber, who still maintains his innocence to this day, is now suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and has three months to live. His condition led to his release last week from Scotland and his return home to die.
The overriding opinion regarding his release in our country, as well as others, has been that of outrage and shock. I, however, see the opposite side of the issue; it actually sends a positive message to the world — a message of mercy and compassion from which we could all learn.
My initial opinion was that the Scottish government should have burnt him at the stake immediately two decades ago. But putting that aside, along with the fact that I had no family or friends on board the plane, I am able to sift through the anger that many are feeling toward the Scottish government and find good in this decision.
I was convinced of this positive message while watching a TV interview on Aug. 20 in which CNN’s Wolf Blitzer challenged Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on his decision to release the terrorist.
Despite repeated interrogation with many questions challenging the release, MacAskill maintained strong, straight-eyed responses explaining the values of the Scottish judicial system — a system that does not have the death penalty.
“Our value system is predicated on seeking to treat people in a matter that is merciful and compassionate, even if they do not show to us as we would wish to show them,” MacAskill said.
Continuing, he related his decision to the values of the Scottish people, saying that they “pride themselves on their humanity as a defining characteristic that will not be compromised no matter how grave the atrocity.”
Since the year 2000, compassionate release has been granted to 30 people in Scotland. When asked if a mass murderer has ever been released, MacAskill responded, “I’ve not had to deal with the question of a mass murderer because, as I’ve said, these matters are few in Scotland.”
Most families of the victims are deeply angered by the release of the terrorist, but some take a more forgiving attitude.
Caroline Stevenson, of Little Rock, Ark., lost her college-age son in the tragedy.
“Whether he’s in jail or whether he’s with his family, it doesn’t impact me,” she said in a CNN interview. “He should be able to be with his family and die in peace. And I hope he has found some peace.”
So it seems to me, in a world where justice is most often based off stubborn vengeance, we can learn from the values of Scotland, as it is a western country with fewer problems than ours who has little bad blood with the rest of the world.
Maybe a system of justice coupled with mercy and compassion makes for a more peaceful nation and should be considered by others.
Ultimately, Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi has been sentenced by natural law that no one can change. He faces a definite and very painful death with pancreatic cancer.
And although there are always the possible political motives behind such a friendly move — seeing how Libya provides almost all of Scotland’s oil — it still sends a positive message to the rest of the world.
In the words of Scottish Justice Secretary MacAskill, “Two wrongs never make a right.”
Andy Kruse is an anthropology graduate student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.