Last week, Scotland released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, convicted of murdering 270 civilian, non-combatant, multinational men, women and children in the 1988 bombing of Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The release was based on compassion, as al-Megrahi is terminally ill. He returned to his native Libya, where he received a hero's welcome and official reception by Libya's governing family.
Many families of al-Megrahi's victims were understandably wounded and outraged. Many of their comments have appeared in media reports, and I will not rehash these. Instead, I want to offer three criticisms of how the whole matter was handled, and raise some moral questions with them.
1. Mercy and compassion did not require al-Megrahi's release. First, mercy was already shown when he did not face execution for his vile acts. Second, compassion for his last days could have been demonstrated by bringing some of his family to visit him in Scotland, discreetly in some sort of hospice setting, without a media show. The demonstration in Libya made the whole episode disgustingly unmerciful. To see al-Megrahi completing a safe homecoming from an airliner was nothing less than a form of torture against his victims' loved ones. In other words, the means used by Scotland to show mercy and compassion were flawed. They resulted in an unmerciful lack of compassion toward truly victimized people and nations.
2. Scotland should not have been in position to make a unilateral decision. While the trial in Scotland might have been the expedient way to resolve issues of legal jurisdiction, the bombing was an attack on an international civilian flight with victims from several nations. This was, by any sane definition, a "crime against humanity." The fact that no international jurisdiction emerged shows the moral bankruptcy of entities like the United Nations.
3. Western liberal moral chaos is on display in this case. Mass murdering terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the U.S. Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was executed without much delay and with little if any of the usual anti-death penalty protests. McVeigh's problem seemed to be that he was just some White American male - he did not fall into a certified victim category that would exempt him from moral responsibility. (He was an atheist - but the "New Atheists" vogue had not commenced in time to let him plead that as a morally exempted class). al-Megrahi is Muslim, which in the West makes him part of a certified, morally exempt "victim" group.
Last week's actions were complete moral failures.