Today the man convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing was released from his Scottish prison. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi’s horrifying crime destroyed a Pan Am Boing 747 in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. He has been released because of his terminal illness, and has now returned home to Libya to be with his family.
Reaction from the U.S. (home to many of the victims) was swift and severe: President Barack Obama has labelled the decision a “mistake”, and the US Attorney General said “There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist whose actions took the lives of 270 individuals, including 189 Americans.”
The incident reminds me of one a couple of years ago, when convicted Australian mass murderer Ivan Milat was given a TV in prison, which provoked outrage from the families of his victims and was overturned by the NSW state government.
The bible speaks of a God thus: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34). The apostle James says “Mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2.13b).
It is distressingly true that al-Megrahi remains unrepentant, and claims the guilty verdict was a “disgrace.” He was welcomed by a large crowd on his arrival in his home country.
The first half of that verse from James, in a passage encouraging Christians not to judge one-another but show mercy, says “judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy” (James 2.13a).
The Scottish Justice Secretary has said “Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown.”
I for one can’t help being impressed by the compassion shown to this man. Compassion is so often lacking in our justice systems. Nevertheless, the guilty man’s own lack of mercy makes the decision troubling.
Who is right? Should mercy be shown in this case?
UPDATE: The Scottish Justice Minister continues to defend his decision against heavy opposition. Read and see his speech to parliament here. Notable quotes:
The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.
Mr. al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.