Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has decided to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi (the Libyan who was convicted for the Lockerbie bombing) on compassionate grounds. I don’t envy MacAskill – this was surely a difficult decision for him to make. He has been condemned for releasing Megrahi; I am sure that he would have been criticised if he had decided not to release him.
What are we to make of this situation?
Firstly, we must remember that Megrahi remains guilty of the crime. He has had two unsuccessful appeal cases heard, and he withdrew his latest appeal.
Some objectors have stated that this decision means that the victims’ families can’t have closure. While I understand that this decision must be difficult, since it brings painful memories back to the surface, I don’t see how it affects individual closure. Megrahi is still guilty, he is dying. Would keeping him in prison really help?
I find the statements from Hillary Clinton (“absolutely wrong”) and Barack Obama (“ a mistake”) unhelpful. In my view, there are no absolutes here.
It’s difficult, but I tend to agree with MacAskill when he said:
"Our justice system demands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available.”
I’m glad that our justice system has the scope to be compassionate, and on balance I’d rather that we made ‘mistakes’ through being compassionate, than through being vengeful.