Justice Undone

Investor’s Business Daily | Aug. 24, 2009

Lockerbie: To Scottish authorities, the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, serving a life sentence for planning the Pan Am jet bombing that killed 270, is a “humanitarian” act. But to any civilized person, it’s an outrage.

Scottish justice officials and Britain’s government should be deeply ashamed. Not only have they let an unrepentant killer go, but also they have advertised the weakness and stupidity of Western European governments when it comes to terrorism.

On returning to Libya, al-Megrahi was given “a hero’s welcome as thousands greeted him at the airport waving flags and posters,” Britain’s Telegraph reported. So much for Libya returning to the fold of civilized nations.

As images of the triumphant return beamed around the world, just imagine the pain and anguish of those who lost loved ones, family members and friends in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Al-Megrahi’s release is a worse affront to decency than anything done at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo.

Scotland’s justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said he released al-Megrahi on “compassionate grounds.” Al-Megrahi had served just eight years of a lifetime sentence, but he has terminal cancer. We wonder, Mr. Secretary, does mercy to one outweigh justice to the 270 dead and their families?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown knew about the release. The U.S. strongly opposed it. Brown could have stopped it, had he decided to make a fuss. He didn’t. So much for the “special relationship” between our two countries.

Remember, this was mainly a crime against Americans, who accounted for 189 of the victims. So it looks like open season on U.S. tourists. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin reckoned, al-Megrahi’s 3,123 days served come out to 11.6 days in prison for each murder. It seems that life, especially American life, is cheap in Britain’s justice system.

Though U.S. leaders strenuously objected to the release, they were ignored. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the crime “heinous,” and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “We continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland.”

Glad they spoke up. Still, we wonder: Is this what was meant when we were told America’s diplomatic prestige would be enhanced in Europe once President Bush was out of office?

In fact, this was a well-telegraphed punch in the gut. Curiously, last November, just after President Obama’s election, Britain’s Parliament passed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya. We say “curious” because it appears the only prisoner it could have related to was al-Megrahi. Was he sick then? If not, why was it passed?

We wonder, and we’re not alone, if this was a deal to curry favor with Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who sent his private jet to pick up al-Megrahi. After all, energy giant BP has contracts and business dealings in Libya and no doubt wants more.

In all this, Britain and Scotland seem to mistake weakness for mercy. Now, knowing penalties will be soft, terrorists will feel emboldened to kill civilians on British soil. What a sad day.

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