Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Lord

By Megan McArdle

I found myself on the phone last night trying to explain the decision to release Lockerbie terrorist Abdel Baset al-Megrahi so he could go home to Libya to die of cancer.  The rationales didn't sound convincing even to me, and I'm pretty liberal on imprisonment.  I was forced to say, lamely, "Well, the British and the Scottish don't think about crime the way we do."

But of course, that's not exactly true.  Their governments don't think about crime the way we do.  But individual Britons do, and Clive Crook is outraged:


Nobody can accept or even understand the "compassionate release" rationale as laid out by Kenny MacAskill. A convicted mass murderer, found guilty of this most appalling atrocity, is set free as an act of mercy? Have these people gone quite mad? It seems to me a very fair question.

MacAskill, interviewed on US television, radiated the most repellent sanctimony I have ever seen in a politician--and that is saying something. His manner suggested that the whole thing is more about his own implacable self-righteousness than the demands of justice. He was followed on air by victims of the relatives. They were restrained and dignified, but plainly dismayed and distraught, and feeling horribly betrayed. Does the exercise of compassion not also take into account compassion for the victims and their families, one wondered? No, he seemed to argue, for that would be to choose vengeance not justice. False. There is such a thing as just punishment. How could it be unjust for a man guilty of a crime like this to die in prison? I would advise MacAskill not to visit the US for the foreseeable future. Indeed, calculations of justice aside, I wonder if the Scottish government has the smallest inkling of the harm it has done to its standing in the US--not to mention the prospects of future co-operation on security--with this bizarre act.

My mother never did understand it.  "If you'd been on that plane," she said, "I'd be over in Libya right now, looking for a hit man."

Despite all that, I'm pretty sure this isn't going to work.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/08/vengeance-is-mine-sayeth-the-lord/23649/