Lockerbie: full marks to Scotland’s Mr MacAskill
I have no doubt that the Scottish National Party’s Mr MacAskill, Justice Secretary in the devolved government of Scotland, was right to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of complicity in the Lockerbie bombing, from prison in Scotland to enable him to spend his last few weeks on earth in his own country with his family.
A friend who has been giving television interviews about the case has also supported Kenny MacAskill’s decision. I sent him a message of congratulations, copying it to a number of others of varying political views. In this message I commented that I couldn’t help relishing the spectacle of this Scottish National Party Cabinet minister, of whom none of us had ever heard until last week, defiantly rejecting the pressures from the seven misguided Senators, an interfering Hillary Clinton and a sorrowful White House to make a decent, humane decision (lucky for Megrahi it wasn’t Jack Straw!).
In my view far too much exposure has been given by the media in recent weeks to the views of the victims’ families, especially those clamouring for Megrahi to be left to die in his Scottish prison cell. It seems to me that their perfectly natural emotional involvement disqualifies their wishes from being given special weight, rather than entitling their views to be treated as paramount. Our judicial system is designed to take justice out of the hands of victims with, in many cases, their natural desire for vengeance, and to ensure an objectivity of judgement that no-one should ask or expect of them. We can and should feel the utmost sympathy for them in their loss, but they should all be invited to read the Oresteia and ponder its lessons, available to us ever since 458 BC. It’s also a pity that attention has been concentrated on the outrage expressed by the American victims’ families (who are of course the majority) at Megrahi’s release, with relatively little attention paid to some of the British families whose spokespersons have in some cases welcomed the decision, often also expressing grave doubts about whether Megrahi’s conviction was safe. As a BBC report says, ‘Doctor Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the Lockerbie bombing, has praised the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill for his ”brave” decision in releasing Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi from jail on compassionate grounds.’ You can listen to Dr Swire’s admirably humane interview here.
Perhaps an adjustment is needed to the moral compasses of those, including David Cameron, who have been arguing that because Megrahi showed no compassion to his Lockerbie victims (assuming that he was responsible for their deaths), no compassion should have been shown to him by the Scottish judicial system. I suppose by the same token these revenge freaks would like to see torturers judically tortured. It’s a strange ethical philosophy that wants society to adopt the morals of a mass murderer (which is what those concerned believe Megrahi to be), principally, apparently, in the hope that it might make some of the victims’ families feel better.
Several reports have hinted heavily that the whole thing has been a dark conspiracy by the British government, presumably in league with the Scottish National Party, to protect BP’s and Shell’s Libyan oil interests. No evidence has so far been produced in support of this, and indeed it would have been wrong to allow such mercenary considerations to influence a quasi-judicial decision, although personally I would feel more indignant about any such impropriety had political or commercial considerations led to Megrahi’s release being refused instead of allowed. Anyway, I can’t see anything wrong in principle with governments doing what they properly can to protect their countries’ oil interests. It would be scandalous if they didn’t. (By the same token, I was always uneasy about the proposition, a propos the Iraq war, that the US was behaving wickedly in seeking to protect the security of its Iraqi and other middle east oil supplies, although obviously that legitimate concern couldn’t justify the unprovoked aggression against and occupation of a sovereign independent country.)
Where I do sympathise with some of the victims’ families is in their desire to get to the bottom of what really happened in 1988 and to establish who (plural) were responsible for it. When the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission rules, after exhaustive review of the evidence, that there are grounds for an appeal against Megrahi’s conviction, one has to take note and start to ask questions. Even if he was personally involved, it’s clear that others were too. It’s regrettable that Megrahi’s appeal had to be dropped as a condition of his release on compassionate grounds (as I understand it). But the likelihood is that even if the appeal had been heard, we wouldn’t have got satisfactory answers to all the questions still hanging in the air. The same probably applies to any judicial inquiry, even in the unlikely event of any government agreeing to set one up. I wonder whether anyone apart from Gadaffi — or even Gadaffi, indeed! — really knows what happened. I suppose it’s just going to be another Mary [sic] Celeste.
As a matter of interest, of the 15 or 20 responses to my pro-release e-mail message, only two have so far disagreed, arguing that Megrahi should have been left to die in prison in Scotland. A selection of those responses is on my website, here.
 “Initially, in their role as avengers of bloodshed, the Erinyes are classical equivalents to the Code of Hammurabi and the Torah, which demand “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Thus, they initially embody the concept of lex talionis, or “law of retribution”. The change from an archaic self-help justice by personal revenge or vendetta to administration of justice by trial symbolises the passage from a primitive society governed by instincts, to a modern society governed by reason: justice is decided by a jury of peers, representing the citizen body and its values, and the gods themselves sanction this transition by taking part in the judicial procedure, arguing and voting on an equal footing with the mortals. This theme of the polis self-governed by consent through lawful institutions, as opposed to tribalism and superstition, recurs in Greek art and thought.” [Emphasis added]