Broken Sentences

So I heard on the radio this morning that Scotland is releasing Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi, the man held responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. For those that don’t remember, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members in addition to people on the ground who were killed by falling chunks of debris.

Megrahi was sentenced to twenty seven years in prison in 2001. The entire time he maintained that he was innocent. In 2007 his case was referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh. He is being released on compassionate grounds because he has terminal prostate cancer. He will be returning to Libya to die. Apparently some people have a problem with that.

I don’t know if I do or not. Let’s assume a few things. Let’s assume that he’s guilty and that he’s completely healthy. At 57 years of age he would be 76 when released, having served his full term. Odds are good he wouldn’t live very long beyond that. It would be, in effect, a life sentence.

Would serving those extra nineteen years serve any good purpose? They wouldn’t “reform” him. They wouldn’t bring back his alleged victims. The only real purpose it would serve would be to give the families of the victims some sense that the man responsible has lost that which he took away. I think that’s fair. I certainly prefer that to the death penalty.

As it stands right now he has little time left to live. I don’t know how long he has before the cancer takes his life, but if it’s serious enough for them to release him then I would wager not long. If he’s guilty then he has in essence served a life sentence, whether they release him or not. If he’s innocent and is left in jail then there will not be sufficient time to discover that and free him.

So I ask those who have a problem with his early release, what would keeping him in jail do? As President Obama said I also have “deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever.” Would making this man sit in jail for his last few months assuage that loss?

8 Comments »

  • S.M. says:

    Maybe we should concentrate more on if he is innocent or guilty:
    “According to a report by the BBC[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/1872996.stm], Dr Hans Köchler, one of the UN observers at the trial, expressed serious doubts about the fairness of the proceedings and spoke of a “spectacular miscarriage of justice”.”
    He is just a scape goat. The US and the UK needed a way to persecute Libya.
    But nobody cares now …

  • Nobilis says:

    There are those who feel that justice is only served upon some criminals (exactly who depends on who you ask) if they are subjected to a lifetime of degradation and shame followed by an ignominious, squalid death and generations of rebuke placed upon the criminal's family, friends, and countrymen.

    If that's what we want, then that should be called out in the sentencing.

    • spiritualtramp says:

      Yeah, that's not my idea of justice. Prison should be a safe place to either become reformed in the case of lesser crimes or for you to sit out your days cut off from all privileges to reflect on your crimes. All prisoners should be treated fairly and as human beings, whatever their crimes may be.

  • Assuming he's guilty (as I'm not an expert on the case, I can't engage arguments that he might not be), I've got a problem with his release on two grounds:

    1) He's a martyr – and his release will be read by some segments of the Islamic world as a victory over the west. That's grade-a stupid.

    2) The principle of the thing is this: he broke a just law (the “just” part is important) participating in a violent attack upon people and property for the purposes of causing fear, misery, terror, and general distress. His was an act of multiple murder and vandalism. That he later succumbed to the single most common age-related cancer in the world is irrellevant to the case – most murderers sentenced to life don't go home to die with dignity. He was responsible for more deaths than most people who pull life sentences, and it's unjust that he gets a compassion release while murderers with lower body counts haven't a prayer of such.

    Of course, if it turns out he was innocent, I'm all for throwing the jury that convicted him into the klink, or paying massive reparations to his family.

    • spiritualtramp says:

      Ah but he would have been released anyway according to what I read. The reports I saw indicated his was a 27 year sentence, basically a life sentence for a man his age. He basically got a life sentence since he has no meaningful time left. Not releasing him just because some wicked evil people would celebrate is hardly reason to keep him in jail. If he's guilty they are celebrating regardless.

      Assuming guilt you are correct in that he deserves to stay where he is, but sentences get commuted from time to time for humanitarian purposes. Now whether this counts as humanitarian or not is certainly up for debate.

      The problem as I said is, there's no time left to determine his guilt or innocence while he is still alive. So do we err on the side of “compassion” or “justice”? Either answer can be and will be used to make political hay on both sides and the decision, I'm almost certain, wasn't made out of true altruism. There were politic at work here even if I don't understand them.

  • Assuming he's guilty (as I'm not an expert on the case, I can't engage arguments that he might not be), I've got a problem with his release on two grounds:

    1) He's a martyr – and his release will be read by some segments of the Islamic world as a victory over the west. That's grade-a stupid.

    2) The principle of the thing is this: he broke a just law (the “just” part is important) participating in a violent attack upon people and property for the purposes of causing fear, misery, terror, and general distress. His was an act of multiple murder and vandalism. That he later succumbed to the single most common age-related cancer in the world is irrellevant to the case – most murderers sentenced to life don't go home to die with dignity. He was responsible for more deaths than most people who pull life sentences, and it's unjust that he gets a compassion release while murderers with lower body counts haven't a prayer of such.

    Of course, if it turns out he was innocent, I'm all for throwing the jury that convicted him into the klink, or paying massive reparations to his family.

  • spiritualtramp says:

    Ah but he would have been released anyway according to what I read. The reports I saw indicated his was a 27 year sentence, basically a life sentence for a man his age. He basically got a life sentence since he has no meaningful time left. Not releasing him just because some wicked evil people would celebrate is hardly reason to keep him in jail. If he's guilty they are celebrating regardless.

    Assuming guilt you are correct in that he deserves to stay where he is, but sentences get commuted from time to time for humanitarian purposes. Now whether this counts as humanitarian or not is certainly up for debate.

    The problem as I said is, there's no time left to determine his guilt or innocence while he is still alive. So do we err on the side of “compassion” or “justice”? Either answer can be and will be used to make political hay on both sides and the decision, I'm almost certain, wasn't made out of true altruism. There were politic at work here even if I don't understand them.

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