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On The Release of the Lockerbie Bomber August 21, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Criminal Justice, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, ethics of care.
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Via BBC:

The man convicted of killing 270 people in the 1988 bombing of a Pam Am flight over the Scottish town in Lockerbie, has been released from prison on compassionate grounds. Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi is already on his way home to Libya, where it is believed he will die of prostate cancer within three months.

This, of course, is an enormously controversial decision that has provoked outrage in the U.S., and understandably, among the families of victims of this terrible act. And, as the linked story reports, some people question the motives of the U.K. in agreeing to the release. And there are also serious questions raised about whether the original conviction was correct.

But assuming compassion was the over-riding reason, the Scottish decision raises lots of questions about when mercy is justified and what justifies it.

I need to think more about this, but it seems to me that mercy is not a part of justice but is a consideration independent of justice. So it wasn’t fair or just that Al-Megrahi was released. The aim of mercy is not to achieve justice but to bring to bear values other than justice.

Nevertheless there must be a reason to support claims to mercy, and the question here is whether the fact that Al-Megrahi is dying is a sufficient reason to support mercy.

Of course, all prisoners sentenced to life in prison will end up dying in prison if the sentence is carried out. If nearing death is a sufficient justification for mercy, that suggests that there ought to be a blanket release of all prisoners over a certain age. As far as I know that is not the policy in the U.K.

So what is special about this case that warrants mercy? Perhaps doubts about the original conviction? But that seems to be an argument for more investigation, not mercy.

I think compassion is enormously important and something our political and legal systems must encourage. So was the Scottish Minister correct in his judgment here?

I’m not sure. I will probably have more to say when I have thought about it more.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. jonolan - August 21, 2009

If they wanted to end itssuffering they SHOULD have shoved a porkchop down his throat then put a bullet in passes for its brain.

2. Vince Reardon - September 6, 2009

I’m in favor of showing mercy in the form of compassionate release for some prisoners. There are hundreds of elderly prisoners in California prisons, many of them women, who have been incarcerated for lengthy prison sentences for non-violent crimes, typically drug-related, due to their addiction. I think we should release them in exchange for attendance at mandatory drug-treatment and job training programs.

I draw the line, however, on releasing mass murderers such as Al-Megrahi. I don’t believe for a minute his release had anything to do with compassion. It was a cynical behind-the-scenes grab by the U.K. for better trade, i.e., oil, with Libya. Such behavior at the highest reaches of British power, an ally, is deplorable.

3. Dwight Furrow - September 8, 2009


You are right. According to news coming out of the U.K. it looks like this had nothing to do with mercy. And it is deplorable.

4. jonolan - September 9, 2009

Strangely, that is was nothing but a trade deal makes me feel a little better about the whole thing. It being counter to US interests bothers me though, but the UK and the US are allies, not necessarily friends and allies must look to their own well-being first before considering the sensitivities of the other.

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