Leading article: A merciful release

Share
Related Topics

There seem to be two diametrically opposite views of the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. One, the predominant view, is that Megrahi is guilty of such a horrendous crime that he should die in jail.

The other is that his conviction in 2001, some 13 years after the explosion on Pan Am flight 103, was unsafe, and that his release on compassionate grounds is the least worst way of bringing one part of an unsatisfactory episode to a conclusion.

It is generally bad practice for a leading article to suggest that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Before this newspaper was founded, The Guardian was much mocked for the tendency of its editorials to use the formula, "on the one hand, and on the other". But needs must.

As it happens, this newspaper is temperamentally inclined to the second, less popular, opinion. There was something not quite right about the case against Megrahi, brought under Scottish law in a Dutch court after a complex series of international deals persuaded the Libyan regime to surrender two suspects. We acknowledge, on the one hand, the view of those such as the liberal barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who are convinced of Megrahi's guilt. On the other hand, many of those with an informed interest in the case, including Jim Swire, the father of one who died in the bombing, are equally convinced of his innocence. At the very least, there were reasonable grounds for Megrahi's further appeals against his conviction.

Those legal actions could have taken their course had it not been for Megrahi's being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. At that point, in our view, the question changed. Inevitably, given the conspiracy theories that have swirled about this case from the start, it has been assumed in some quarters that his release is part of a deal to allow British companies to get their hands on Libyan oil, or to conceal the identity of the true authors of the Lockerbie atrocity. Some have even doubted Megrahi's diagnosis.

So the question then became whether it was right that someone, guilty in the eyes of the law, should be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to die at home. In this, questions of Megrahi's guilt or innocence ought to become irrelevant. The fact is that we do not know whether he did it or not. Pending due legal process, he should be treated as if he did.

Megrahi may well be innocent, then, but the critical point is that, even if he is not, it was right that he should be released when doctors gave him three months to live. In this we find ourselves on the side of Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, who took the decision.

When the question is posed in this form, all the conspiracy theories, summarised by David Randall on pages 8 and 9, become irrelevant. In general, this newspaper is sceptical about the idea that secret deals have been done, by Tony Blair or anyone else. The idea that the Scottish National Party in Edinburgh and the Labour government in Westminster should collude over an issue as sensitive as this lacks a basic plausibility. But again, we simply do not know. All that can be said with some certainty is that it would be wise, from both the Scottish and the British point of view, for our countries' businesses to be seen to profit from the decision.

Equally, the party politics around the issue should be ignored. Gordon Brown's silence on the question is unedifying, to be sure. He transparently hopes that the SNP will lose votes by taking an unpopular decision. But David Cameron's opportunistic demand that Mr Brown "clarify his views" on Megrahi's release is just as tawdry.

Nor should it affect the issue that Megrahi received a hero's welcome in Tripoli, even though everyone should agree with Barack Obama that this was "highly objectionable". (And we might note, in passing, Mr Brown's naivety in thinking that writing a letter to Colonel Gaddafi asking him to avoid a "high-profile return" of Megrahi to Libya would suffice.)

All we need to decide is whether a dying man, even if he is guilty of a terrible crime, should be shown compassion. We were impressed by Mr MacAskill's words when he announced his decision. "Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power," he said. "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." We agree that "our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cabinet Maker / Joiner

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Think I'm living the high life on benefits? Here's what being disabled costs me every day

Hannah Buchanan
 

Like many other black men, I grew up with only women around. Now I'm worried the experience has ‘feminised’ me

Tyrell Williams
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones