Justice and mercy: al-Megrahi

I’ve been away most of the last two weeks with just a few days at home in between.  However, just before I was first away I heard the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announce the release of al-Megrahi.  The decision was clearly hard and arbitrating the balance between justice and compassion is an unenviable task.

Whether the final decision was right or wrong, hearing MacAskill’s explanation of his decisions made me proud to be living in Scotland. Rather than bowing to the clear political pressure he was under, instead he kept his focus on what justice means in a land where compassion is at the heart of who we are.  In a world often ravaged by war and terror, suffering under human cruelty, and governed by the twins of aggression and revenge, MacAskill put himself under a  higher order and demonstrated the clear difference between a country still under the influence of its Christian past and those, from all sides, who besmirch the names of their own countries and religions by terror and violence.

Since then the grubby world of UK deals over oil and US deals over billions of dollars of compensation payments have both been aired, but it appears that MacAskill’s decision stood against pressure from all sides.

It was perhaps inevitable that the release would provoke some controversy, but disappointing nonetheless; one always hopes that integrity will triumph over knee-jerk reactions.  However, it has been especially galling to hear US voices raised in protest, a country which for so many years acted as safe haven for IRA fund raising; bankrolling the London bombings of the 1970s and beyond.  While Gaddafi supplied the weapons, the US public supplied the dollars1.  I was only young at the time, but these were vicious attacks in crowded tube trains and on the streets of London and elsewhere, designed specifically to cause maximum death and injury; and all the while, in the US, the IRA were allowed to operate freely due to political support in high places.

Obama came to power with the promise of a new attitude and a principled approach to politics, so it is doubly disappointing that he has failed this early test of principle over public opinion.  If the current White House staff cannot accept the independence of the Scottish justice system over politics, what hope in other parts of the world.

  1. Of course, while the Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie bombing and al-Megrahi’s guilt have been a matter of debate, the involvement of Libya in IRA terrorism was indisputable.   Since those days the IRA have become part of the Northern Ireland political process and Libya itself has been welcomed into the allied camp of the ‘war on terror’.  Whether in India, Israel or Ireland, yesterday’s terrorists become today’s politicians.  This makes the focus on al-Megrahi seem even more like that of a scapegoat.[back]