Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I waited so I wouldn't rant. Some sober thoughts on the morality of the Lockerbie mass murderer's release.

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.


Anonymous said...

Reasoned,thoughtful, brilliant.

The Underground Pewster said...

Correct, those who fight "western imperialism" are considered "freedom fighters" and are thus morally exempt.

In addition, the liberal mindset demands that we view things through the perpetrator's lenses. As the perpetrator in this case does not see anything wrong in the act, and in fact views the act as a moral good and pleasing to Allah, the liberal must accept the possibility that the criminal may be correct, and that is why we see such outrageous comments coming from the left as those noted over at SF today.

Anonymous said...

Mercy and compassion did not require al-Megrahi's release
Perhaps not. But these rules are routinely applied to terminally ill prisoners in the UK. Notably, last week, Ronnie Biggs, celebrity murderer, was also released for the same reason.

Scotland should not have been in position to make a unilateral decision... The fact that no international jurisdiction emerged shows the moral bankruptcy of entities like the United Nations.
Oh come on! Such international jurisdiction as there is, notably the Internaional Criminal Court, is hamstrung not because of the UN's moral bankruptcy but because the USA refuses to sign up! When the US is ready to sign up to the international accords that do exists, then you may have some complaint about other jurisdictions that have not yet "emerged".

Western liberal moral chaos is on display in this case
Not really, apart from the HoBD list - but we know that they are non-Christian idiots anyway. There is a robust debate within Scotland and the UK; apparently the Libyans reneged on an agreement that he wouldn't receive a hero's welcome. But even if he did receive a hero's welcome, that should not influence the criteria used to decide cases of release of terminally ill prisoners on compassionate grounds.

dstein42 said...

The release had little to do with mercy and a lot to do with realpolitik. Release al-Megrahi - and British oil companies can play in Libya; hold al-Megrahi - and they have to sit on the sidelines while someone else pumps oil.


TLF+ said...

Thanks for the passionate comments, all.

anonymous: the Allies managed to define, prosecute and punish "crimes against humanity" well in advance of the UN or World Court.

I hear your complaint about the US not signing on to several international agreements - but the US is also the main cash cow for the UN and always has been. So there's a strange love/hate relationship going on and that probably bedevils some efforts.

Yet I don't hear much international uproar against terrorists as "criminals against the human race." There seems to be a considerable agreement that what they do is sad but really just criminal behavior - an extreme form of shoplifting - or possibly even justifiable as their cultural style of resisting Western hegemony or something. (There's always the excuse that terror somehow helps the Palestinians, although somebody needs to explain to them that US academia, media and public opinion were all shifting their way and Islamic terror has actually set them back). But I digress...

I think you make a good point about the idiocy of some not deterring the rest of us from acting on our values. But as I argued in the post, Scotland already extended considerable mercy as a sovereign state by not executing the murderer of its citizens. And compassion could have been shown by a discreetly handled visit from the dying man's loved ones. I think the point you are articulating is that we should resist terror by not letting our anger make us act below our values... a very good point and certainly one that is on the table in the US right now with the discussion of interrogation techniques.

I think the celebrity killer you mentioned should have been handled the same way - if he had loved ones left they should have been brought to him discreetly, sans media hoopla. I don't think release is the necessary expression of compassion and it carries unintended consequences.

dstein42 - if the oil angle is true - and I honestly don't know much more than that some people are asserting it - then the immorality of the release is almost beyond words. But everything involving the Middle East is blamed on oil, so I am going to have to read more of the UK coverage before I start to form an opinion.