Lockerbie Bomber Released

As has been anticipated, the man who murdered 270 people by bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, has been given a compassionate release from prison so that he may spend his dying days with his family.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (L) walks up the stairs to a waiting jet at Glasgow airport August 20, 2009.  The Scottish government decided on Thursday to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds as he is suffering from advanced prostate cancer and he will return home to Libya. Megrahi was sentenced to 27 years in prison in 2001 for his part in blowing up New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, killing 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.  REUTERS/David Moir    (BRITAIN CRIME LAW POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (L) walks up the stairs to a waiting jet at Glasgow airport August 20, 2009. The Scottish government decided on Thursday to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds as he is suffering from advanced prostate cancer and he will return home to Libya. Megrahi was sentenced to 27 years in prison in 2001 for his part in blowing up New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, killing 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. REUTERS/David Moir (BRITAIN CRIME LAW POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

I’ve written a lengthy roundup of the matter, “Lockerbie Bomber Released Over U.S. Objections,” for New Atlanticist.

Alex Massie argues that there’s nothing gained by keeping Abdelbaset al-Megrahi locked up, especially since we’re pretty sure he didn’t act alone.

Perhaps. Then again, he is the only person to actually be convicted in the mass murder of these 270 people. Surely, his part in that merits spending more than eight years in prison.

The decision, of course, is rightly with the UK Scots.  They, not the United States, have the jurisdiction here and, while our government has every right to express its wishes, they have the right to carry out the policy they think best.  Certainly, al-Megrahi would have been allowed to rot in prison were he in American custody; indeed, he may well have been executed for his crimes.  Despite our common law origins, there is quite a bit of divergence in the criminal justice cultures of the two countries and, indeed, within the Western democracies generally.

Also, is it just me or is it rather surreal that he’s flying home on a commercial airliner (not Pan American, which ceased operations long before al-Megrahi ever went to trial) and climbing stairs saying “Next time …Relax before you fly”?

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has a nice roundup as well.

UPDATE II: I have corrected the above to note that the sovereignty here is with the Scots, not the UK central government.  Interestingly, all of the papers cited in the piece — mostly British but also the American Christian Science Monitor — treat the subject otherwise, writing about it in terms of US-UK relations and US-UK cultural disparity.

Photo: Reuters Pictures.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    Very surreal. I’m glad you mentioned it to rule out the possibility of fakery. Did you know Obama doesn’t actually look like the Joker or Hitler?

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    How touching he gets the comfort of his family as he dies. Of course those killed in the bombing had no such comfort and many likely died terrified.

    This is stupid and deserves to be called stupid.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    It seems to me that this entire matter tends to undermine the case against capital punishment. When a sentence of 27 years becomes 7 and compassionate release, doesn’t it become harder to argue for lengthy incarceration in the next case?

  4. Charlotte says:

    Right on, Steve.

    He’ll probably spend the last days of his life planning to kill others [but he just won’t be able to carry that out…since he will be DEAD]

    Hell is waiting for you, sir. Come right on down!

  5. Triumph says:

    Thanks a Obama. This is exactly what happened when Hitler started. The first thing he did was release his friends from prison. The second thing he did was try and reform health care. The third thing Hitler did was impose a cap and tax scheme on Germany.

    This is not a good sign.

  6. legion says:

    I actually agree with Steve P – there may be cases for a sympathy release, but this surely ain’t it. And the vilest part is that – from what I’ve read – sympathy actually has nothing to do with the UK’s decision here. They’re doing it as part of an oil rights deal with Libya. If true, this is disgusting, and the Brits will reap what they sow…

  7. PD Shaw says:

    In the United States we do early release for people facing severely fading health. I don’t believe it’s sympathy though, it’s avoidance of medical care costs. (and murderers aren’t eligible)

  8. mpw280 says:

    Too bad they couldn’t put him in a small plane with remote control and then just as he is going to land in Libya blow it up as his family watches. Would be justice well served, but civilized people don’t do that, just think it. mpw

  9. My own rather utilitarian response is that Scotland is saving some money not having to pay for his care as he approaches his demise.

    (I see PD Shaw made a similar comment).

  10. dutchmarbel says:

    AFAIK the decision wasn’t with the UK but with Scotland. He was jailed by a Scottish court under Scottish law (I remember that we had to declare a piece of the Netherlands temporarily Scottish for the trial, not British) and is being released under Scottish law by a Scottish minister in a Scottish government.

  11. William Shakespeare says:

    The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
    ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown;
    His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
    But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
    When mercy seasons justice.

  12. James Joyner says:

    AFAIK the decision wasn’t with the UK but with Scotland.

    Scotland is part of the UK, albeit with some limited autonomy over local matters.

  13. dutchmarbel says:

    Scotland is part of the UK, albeit with some limited autonomy over local matters

    Local matters such as their laws, which happened to be the area you were commenting on. Wikipedia says it better than I do:

    Scotland has partial self-government within the United Kingdom as well as representation in the UK Parliament. Executive and legislative powers have been devolved to, respectively, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh. The United Kingdom Parliament retains power over a set list of areas explicitly specified in the Scotland Act 1998 as reserved matters, including, for example, levels of UK taxes, social security, defence, international relations and broadcasting.

    The Scottish Parliament has legislative authority for all other areas relating to Scotland, as well as limited power to vary income tax, a power it has yet to exercise. The Prime Minister, in a BBC Scotland interview, has indicated that the Scottish Parliament could be given more tax-raising powers.

  14. Eneils Bailey says:

    I like Tammy Bruce’s take on the situation:

    This murderer of 270 people, mostly Americans, has been released on ‘compassionate’ grounds because he has cancer. In a world with no moral leadership, and certainly none from American so-called leadership, the death of right and wrong marches on.

    Maybe Obama could go to Libya, meet with Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, apologize for the United States, give him two billion dollars to drill for oil, and al-Gaddafi could give him a book. Then we would be on the road to “Hope and Change.” in international affairs.

  15. davod says:

    The icing on the cake would be for this guy to live a long and healthy life with the cancer in remission due to the change in climate.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    re: Eneils Bailey August 20, 2009 17:35

    That really was pathetic, especially since the president opposes letting this person go free…but I guess I understand how some people are so desperate to slam this president that they will use any piece of news, even something that has nothing to do with him or something he actually opposes, to try to smear him with…do carry on…

  17. Steve Hynd says:

    James, this was definitely the decision of the Scottish Executive. Nothing to do with the national UK government which is run by an altogether different political party(and the two are mutually hostile).

    That said, I agree with the decision. Perhaps its a difference in opinion about what prison is menat to be about – rehabilitation or punishment. Since there’s no chance of either now that the guy is on his last legs however, to keep him jailed is simply vindictiveness with no good reason. Steve Plunk misses something with his “eye for an eye” biblical zeal: no-one ever claimed the moral high ground with “but they’re just as bad”.

    Regards, Steve

    PS Is no-one going to call triumph on his ridiculous assertion that ObamaHitler somehow ordered the Scottish government to release a “friend” of his?

  18. Eneils Bailey says:

    Almost as repulsive as only getting a 27 year sentence(one year for ten people) for murdering 270 people is getting released after 8 years.
    And then the trip to Tripoli, on his arrival, he was hailed as a national hero. Could he become more of an inspiration to a new batch of terrorists by living out his last few years in Libya? Would his dying in a jail in Scotland inspire the terrorist? They certainly seem to have this belief that dying for their cause sends them to a better place with lots of young virgins.
    I think something not to be ignored here is that Scotland may have just got cold feet and looked at repercussions to his dying in a jail in Scotland. Hate to think they caved due to the lack of a spine.

  19. dutchmarbel says:

    Apart from the fact wether one agrees with the decision or not (which indeed has to do with different opinions about what prison is about) it is totally a matter of the Scots. The UK doesn’t really have anything to do with it and the Scots seem to mostly agree with their minister.

    Frankly, the American ‘outrage’ seems less sincere in view of how William Calley was treated, or in view of the effort taken to punish the guys who shot flight 655 from Iran by giving them a medal. Justice for relatives of the victims seems less important when they are not American.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    What a sad ******* joke this world has become.

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    desperate to slam this president

    lol…..

  22. anjin-san says:

    Maybe Obama could go to Libya, meet with Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, apologize for the United States, give him two billion dollars to drill for oil, and al-Gaddafi could give him a book. Then we would be on the road to “Hope and Change.” in international affairs.

    Or maybe you could say something intelligent. Doubtful, but anything is possible.

  23. Bill H says:

    is it rather surreal that he’s flying home on a commercial airliner

    Actually, I believe that is a private plane belonging to Gaddafi.

  24. Steve Hynd says: