Monday, August 24, 2009

Lockerbie Bomb Suspect Released

I'm sure all of you have already heard the news that the Scottish justice secretary released the only man convicted of the Pan Am 103 bombing on compassionate grounds. The decision is causing quite a stir on both sides of the Atlantic, as the UK, US, and parts of the Scottish government and victims' families all are voicing their contempt and anguish while Libyans gave al Megrahi a hero's welcome. Kenny MacAskill, the sole man responsible for the decision to release the suspected terrorist, is standing his ground.

I am personally unsure of how to feel about this latest development in the bombing that hurled the Western world into shocked understanding of global terrorism. As a person, I am horrified that someone who was a direct participant in the act is being set free. I am enraged that Libyans danced in joy at his return to his homeland. But I also have another side of me, full of tolerance and forgiveness, that understands why this decision was made; this side of me is the hardest to understand.

I graduated from Syracuse University, where the Pan Am 103 tragedy holds an extremely sensitive and emotional significance: thirty-five SU students were on Pan Am 103, returning from a semester abroad right before Christmas in 1989. A scholarship fund was established in their honor, and I was awarded one of the thirty-five annual scholarships my senior year. As a Remembrance Scholar, each of us was asked to learn about the bombing and acts of terrorism, and to participate in campus-wide activities that educated students about tolerance. The program helped me gain a better understanding of the world, people's attitudes and behaviors, and most importantly how to temper my own strong opinion with an openness to others. In this respect, I can completely understand why Mr. MacAskill made the decision to release al-Megrahi.

I can't even imagine the anguish that the parents and loved ones of the thirty-five lost students - as well as the family members of all the victims - must feel at this legal decision. To have the only person responsible for the crime be released well before his sentence is up, to die in peace in his homeland, and have that homeland celebrate his return, must be a fresh tear in an old aching wound. I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone.

There are many in the UK who question al-Megrahi's guilt, however, and anyone who has seen a person die of terminal cancer knows the suffering he will surely experience. Healthcare in Libya cannot possibly rival that in the UK, and sending a guilty man to his certain death in the desert rather than providing hospice in Scotland may be, in some ways, adequate rewards. Had al-Megrahi remained in Scotland, the government would have had to provide essential care and ease his pain and suffering. Let Libya do that now, rather than forcing Scotspeople to comfort the man who assaulted their people and land.

I agree with Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, who are calling al-Megrahi's release and subsequent welcome in Libya "highly objectionable". I agree with the members of Scottish Parliament who reconvened during their recess to question MacAskill about his decision. But I don't blame Scotland, or the UK, or even MacAskill. The Pan Am 103 tragedy has hurt too many people, ruined too many lives, and caused too much heartache to create even more hate in this world.

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