So Abdel Basset al-Megrahi has been released and the world is busy dividing itself over the rights and wrongs of this decision. Considering the serious weight of this topic the debate was being conducted rather respectfully I thought, until Peter Mandelson upset everyone by appearing on the television, immediately lowering the tone by opening his mouth. There will never be a greater chance for poetic irony than Mandy going in for an op while the NHS was under attack, but it was not to be. Somehow the Queen of Darkness was back already, denying something or other about trade deals, Gaddafi and al-Megrahi’s release. It hadn’t occurred to me until he denied it; now I’m sure it’s true.
However, I have chosen to ignore that particular angle because researching it would involve me listening to Mandy speak, reading things he has said and considering them; I would rather have observed his operation. So my query regarding the whole affair concerns Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who said something rather odd during his explanation for al-Megrahi’s release.
“Mr Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them. But, that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.”
Bad paragraphing and grammar aside (because I’m probably guilty of the same), this is borderline self-contradictory. That second sentence is precisely the reason he was in prison in the first place. The third and first sentences are reasons to deny someone their appeals. Together they are absolutely a reason to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days. Initially I felt this was a tussle between Old and New Testament morals, but on reflection I wonder whether it’s actually guilt that lies at the heart of this decision.
Many believed al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted. The evidence was sketchy, the key witness’ identification of him extremely questionable, and one UN Observer at the trial described it as a “spectacular miscarriage of justice”. Similarly, MacAskill’s decision has been described as “making a mockery of justice” by the head of the FBI. Perhaps in his heart of hearts MacAskill feels this was the right move because it mitigates an injustice. It’s the last chance anyone has of righting a wrong, if they believe that to be the case.
I know I’m assuming his position and then criticising it, but I can see no other reason behind his decision. The whole point of justice, or ‘justice’, is that it is final. People are not sentenced provisionally and then left to see how they get on; at least they shouldn’t be. (I don’t have the stamina or requisite knowledge to take on the many failings of our justice system, so I’m talking about the ideal concept of it rather than the reality.) Moreover, what does this decision mean for the thousands of terminally ill prisoners who are not released?
It looks to me as though deep-rooted guilt for his justice system pinning the Lockerbie bombing on the wrong guy lead MacAskill to make (what he therefore sees as) the right decision and if this is the case then he is wrong. The right decision has got to be the one made by the court, whatever you might think of it; otherwise you do make a mockery of justice by treating it subjectively and imposing your version of it on the objective model. As we all know, equality under the law is a basic human right, not one man’s plaster for another’s old wound.
I feel sorry for MacAskill. I think he believes he’s genuinely doing the right thing, and in that sense at least it is forgivable. I just hope that really is the case and that if Mandelson sees fit to involve himself in any way, someone tells him to butt out.