It was supposed to be a final act of compassion for a terminally ill man. Instead it was a terrible mistake, indeed an error of epic proportion that should never again be repeated
Two years ago, on Aug. 20, the Scottish government released Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence agent and terrorist convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Megrahi had served just eight years of his 27-year prison sentence.
Under normal circumstances Megrahi wouldn’t have been eligible for release until at least 2030. But some in the Scottish government felt that this terrorist mastermind had a right to compassionate treatment. Megrahi had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.
After judging that he had about three months to live, the Scottish authorities decided he should be afforded the right to spend what little time he had left on this earth with his family in his homeland of Libya.
In other words, a right was afforded to Megrahi that his victims in the Lockerbie bombing would never have the chance to enjoy.
It was obvious to most of the world that this was a terribly considered and ill-advised decision. Over the loud protests of the United States and the families of the victims of Lockerbie, this international terrorist responsible for the murder of 270 people, including 189 Americans, was at once released and flown to Tripoli, where he was given a hero’s welcome amid scenes of jubilation. He was later seen in a television appearance with Libyan dictator Muammar Kaddafy.
But instead of the three-month prognosis for his survival given by the Scottish government, Megrahi has — surprise, surprise — greatly surpassed all expectations for his longevity. He has now enjoyed his freedom for going on two years, and potentially could live on for several more.
While rarely seen in public since his 2009 release, Megrahi is now emerging as a perverse propaganda tool for the Kaddafy government as it continues to kill and repress its own people in an effort to stave off the inexorable forces of the Arab Spring.
Despite reports last December that he had slipped into a coma and was very near death, Megrahi seems to have miraculously rallied. On July 27 the Lockerbie terrorist appeared in remarkably good health and spirits, albeit in a wheelchair, during a pro-government rally in support of Col. Kaddafy in Tripoli. During the event, reportedly broadcast live on Libyan television, Megrahi was introduced and, after the national anthem was performed, announced that his conviction was the result of a “conspiracy” (so much for his “apology” to the families of the Lockerbie victims just prior to his release).
It goes without saying: This is a man who should never been given his freedom. Megrahi, to the insult of those who lost loved ones in the Pan Am disaster, has become a symbol — not only of justice aborted for victims of terrorism, but also for efforts to prop up a corrupt and despotic regime.
Scotland’s mistake in pardoning a terrorist will now haunt those who set him free so long as Megrahi lives out his remaining days in relative comfort, surrounded by family and friends.
To treat such a violent terrorist with “sensitivity” and allow him to rejoin society was to extend to him a right that he had permanently denied his victims. For the families and friends of those who perished, as well as victims of terrorism everywhere, his release reopened painful wounds and deprived them of a sense of closure.
The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was a terrible tragedy that served as a wake-up call to the danger of international terrorism. Libya ultimately accepted responsibility, but Megrahi has never once expressed remorse or accepted full responsibility for his actions.
His freedom should serve as a reminder to those governments responsible for pursuing and ensuring justice against terrorists that clemency for perpetrators of violent terrorism should not be an option, no matter how much remorse they might express for their actions later.
Like others who have been caught and convicted, Megrahi should have lived out his sentence in prison. Let us hope that as NATO continues to defend the Libyan people from their corrupt regime that they will also find a way to bring Megrahi back to justice. n
Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of, most recently, “Jews & Money: The Story of a Stereotype.”