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|Outrage in Scotland relevant for United States|
Last week, Scottish officials released Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, responsible for the Lockerbie tragedy where Pan Am flight 103 was blown up, killing 270 people on December 21, 1988.
Megrahi was suffering from terminal cancer and a Scottish judge felt that sending him back to Libya would be seen as a compassionate gesture for a dying man. In 2000-01, Megrahi was tried in the Netherlands, but under Scottish jurisprudence, and then convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The American response was uniformly unsympathetic. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it would be "absolutely wrong" to free him. Also, FBI director Robert Mueller sent a strongly worded letter to the Scottish government claiming that Megrahi's release gave comfort to terrorists. Further, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the decision an "obviously a political decision." President Obama even voiced his disdain. Those within Scotland wondered aloud if this was a sound move.
So, as could be expected, Megrahi was released and returned to Libya where he was greeted like the prodigal son minus the killing of a fatted calf. Actually, it was more like a hero's welcome.
At the heart of this matter is Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill who approved the release of Megrahi. He said the warm homecoming welcome for Megrahi breached assurances from Libyan authorities that "any return would be dealt with in a low-key and sensitive fashion."
How shocking! A country with a history of blowing up innocent civilians in commercial planes would stoop to lying?
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was one of the first to show his disgust. "I was both angry and I was repulsed by the reception of a convicted bomber guilty of a huge terrorist crime," the prime minister said. This outrage by Brown was due to his meeting at the G-8 Conference last month where Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi agreed to down-play the event as part of the latter's attempt to recast Libya as a state ready for business. So much for Gaddafi honoring his word! As a note, Brown may actually have played a larger role behind the scenes that he previously admitted.
This saga demonstrates, inter alia, the complexity of combating international terrorism, in general, and launching international restitution and reparations, specifically. In 2003, the Libyan government established a $2.7 billion fund to compensate (in part) those families that lost loved ones due to this bombing. However, Libya was linked to another terrorist bombing where French UTA airliner was blown up in 1989 over Niger killing 170 people. There, Libyans only shelled out less than 10 percent of what they bargained for in the Lockerbie case.
Now, you may be asking what does all this have to do with me?
Well, we have a whole bunch of accused terrorists just itching to be let go from their Gitmo accommodations in sunny Cuba. Remember: President Obama on his second day in office ordered to close this facility within a year because he wanted the US to be on "moral high ground." He has since retreated from this moral high ground to the safety and sensibility of practical politics.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked the vital question: "What do we do with the 50 to 100 [detainees] who we cannot release and cannot try?"
Maybe Scotland has given us the insight.
What is we simply released these prisoners on their own recognizance? Certainly their home governments would not show further contempt for America. Clearly they would praise our political-legal system for its compassion.
"It is a matter of great regret that Mr. Megrahi was received in such an inappropriate manner," Justice MacAskill said earlier this week after getting a lot of flack over his decision. He still defends the decision but wants everyone to know he has regrets over the celebration at the Tripoli airport.
I hope this lesson is not lost on our decision-makers.
This is a dangerous world and showing blind compassion for those that kill innocent people will not result in their acquiesce; but only their increased scorn and ridicule.
Perhaps more importantly, this action by a lone Scottish judge is the height of disrespect for the families of the victims and is in no way compassionate to those that deserve it. This is not justice.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.