The limits of compassion

My political views tend to be a bit scattershot. While it's generally a pretty good bet that I'm going to come down on the liberal side of things, every so often a conservative view will poke its head up and expose itself to scrutiny.

One such area is crime and punishment. While I am not a supporter of capital punishment, I object more on the grounds that it is often unjustly and imperfectly applied than that it is invariably wrong. I am certainly moved by the arguments of opponents like Sister Helen Prejean, sufficient to make me agnostic on the issue. But I didn't shed any tears when Timothy McVeigh was executed, and I lack the conviction to protest the death sentences handed down for heinous crimes.

With that in mind, I am utterly horrified at the release on "compassionate grounds" of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland and cost 270 people their lives. For this mind-bogglingly horrible and inhuman crime, he was sentenced to life in prison. Unless I am gravely mistaken, there is little doubt over his guilt. Rather, he was released because he is dying of cancer, and was sent home to spend his waning days in freedom.

I share the reactions of Clive Crook and Freddie. This was an appallingly, shockingly bad decision. I am hard-pressed to come up with a more reprehensible, vile crime than this one. When he was sentenced to life in prison, that included (by definition) the end thereof. A man who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people has no right to spend a single moment of his remaining years in freedom. This is what "punishment" means. He was doomed to die of something sometime, and I have no clue as to why the particular circumstances of his imminent death justify his release.

Compassion is a wonderful virtue, and one I try to cultivate within myself. It is something to be lauded in individual human beings. But in a case such as this, the compassion being meted out is controversial, at best, and causes both real emotional harm to the survivors of those killed in the bombing and tactical harm to the on-going efforts to combat international terrorism, as well as undermining the profundity of the sentence per se. (al-Megrahi's hero's welcome back in Libya turns my stomach.) In the face of such incontrovertible evil, arbitrary displays of compassion by a few public officials on behalf of a stridently dissenting public are misbegotten and wrong.

Update: Beloved frequent commenter Charo has pointed out in the comments that serious questions apparently persist with regard to his guilt. If that is, indeed, the true basis for his release, then it obviously tempers the heat of my objection.


  1. read the Jerusalem Posts article about this. There are some geniune questions about his innocence. That said, I think he should have been released to a hospice in Scotland to die, which would have been merciful, and allowed him to continue his appeal up to the moment of his death. You simply can not trust the Brits on this, British jails have been full of innocent Irish who were scapegoated as IRA terrorists. the chain of evidence linking him to the crime is pretty tenous. If the Mossad has doubts about his guilt...


  2. Innocence was never hinted at, as a reason for release.

    Scottish compassion is humanitarian cruelty
    Dudley Sharp, victims advocate, death penalty expert

    Scottish Justice Secretary Kenneth MacAskill gave a long speech as to why compassionate release was appropriate for the cancer stricken Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the unrepentant mass murderer of 270 innocents in the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing.

    al-Megrahi has been imprisoned for the crime since 2001.

    MacAskill's speech was an insult to compassion.

    What he should have said.

    "Scots desire justice and want justice to be tempered by compassion and mercy. Therefore, we will continue to do what we always have, that is support justice by honoring the deserved sentence of the court, while providing the compassion and mercy so exemplified by the caring physicians, counselors and religious advisors that are part of our criminal justice system.

    When a justice system considers the important role of compassion and mercy it can never be in the sole context of the guilty criminal.

    It is an insult to justice, compassion and mercy to ever minimize the gravity of the victims suffering - in this case, the 270 innocents murdered and the thousands who so loved them and suffer so much from the tragic, cruel taking of those they cherished.

    Just because God has chosen to serve a cancerous death sentence upon this murderer, that gives us no foundation for early release based upon compassion. We all die. And, accordingly, I will not be the judge as to why God has chosen that route for this murderous, unrepentant man.

    I decline to insult the 270 innocents murdered and the thousands of innocents so hurt by those deaths by releasing this criminal. Compassion and mercy must be upheld. And Scotland will do so.

    Only a cruel cynic would give more weight to compassion and mercy for an unrepentant mass murderer than to the justice for the innocents murdered and the mercy and compassion due the loved ones left behind.

    Justice, compassion and mercy are all best served by this mass murderer remaining in prison. And so he will remain. May he repent.

    Blessings to the innocent murdered and their bereaved loved ones. I wish I could do more for them."

  3. dudleysharp, innocence would never be hinted at if the release was a way to stop the appeals process from going forward, there is a greater chance of a coverup than you imagine. The mossad believes it was the Palestinians financed by the Iranians, and there is a banking deposit trail that is pretty damn suspicious.

    He could have been released to hospice care in Scotland, which would have allowed the appeal process to continue and would have been just as merciful since his family certainly could have visisted him in a better environment. No, his being released to Libya is fishy and has very little to do with mercy.