Pro tempore – Issue 56

Posted by in September's Magazine

American politicians have been quick to jump on this and accuse the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill of, in the words of one, “making a mockery of the law.” Now wait a minute. Making a mockery of whose law exactly?

I want you to think about something.



If Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had been tried and convicted in the United States for his part in the Lockerbie bombing, he would not have contracted prostate cancer. He wouldn’t have had the time. The American justice system operates in a black and white market in which an eye for an eye is the usual currency. There is little doubt that an American court would have found him guilty and even less doubt that he would have been sentenced to death. That would have been the end of it. Hands washed and we all move on. You may be sitting reading this and nodding your head in agreement. Really? Would such an outcome have alleviated the pain and grief of the relatives of all those killed in the atrocity? Not a chance. Their pain and grief will never go away.

But al-Megrahi wasn’t tried under the United States justice system. He was tried, convicted and sentenced under Scots law, a unique legal system which has been in operation for centuries and which is consistently held to be one of the best systems in the world. Our justice system, unlike the American one, includes provisions for all prisoners who fit the criteria, to be considered for compassionate release. This isn’t, as has been suggested by numerous (ignorant) American politicians, some bleeding-heart liberal approach to dealing with convicted murderers, rapists, armed robbers, et al. It is a provision which permits the authorities to allow those prisoners who have been diagnosed as having a very short time to live to spend the last few weeks or months of their lives outside of prison. American politicians have been quick to jump on this and accuse the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill of, in the words of one, “making a mockery of the law.” Now wait a minute. Making a mockery of whose law exactly? He took a decision based on one of the principles of our legal system and was perfectly entitled to do so.

What the American politicians (and many of their citizens) can’t understand is how the government of a small country like ours could stand up for what it believes to be right in the face of American indignation and fury? This doesn’t usually happen in their black and white world where they simply bully smaller countries into accepting their truths and their ideals. At last, someone has had the courage to say – this is what we believe to be right and while you can criticise us for the decision that we’ve made we won’t bow down to satisfy your demands for what you believe to be right and just. The Americans are furious at what they see as a snub to their (completely misguided) claim to be the moral authority across the globe.

For what it’s worth, I think that Kenny MacAskill made the right decision. Forget the ongoing rumblings about oil deals between the UK government and Libya being the reason for his decision. Deals of this nature go on all the time and while I’m not so naïve as to believe that al-Megrahi’s name never came up in such discussions, the ultimate decision fell to Kenny MacAskill and all he had to guide him in his decision making was the due process of Scots law. People have said to me, quite rightly, what if it had been your daughter on the plane that was bombed and although it’s impossible for me to imagine what that would have done to me as a person, I still think that I would feel the same way about al-Megrahi’s release and here’s why…

If I, like the majority of American politicians and the relatives of those US citizens killed, would have preferred to watch a dying man suffer, and see out his last days alone, in a prison cell, racked with pain and still protesting his innocence, that makes me vengeful and full of hate. I would have become like those terrorists who, without compassion or any sense of human dignity, kill and maim innocent people on a daily basis. And would my sense of loss and grief simply disappear when he no longer existed? I doubt it. When al-Megrahi dies will the American politicians be satisfied? Will the relatives of US citizens killed in the bombing suddenly feel their burden lifted and return to some kind of normality? I doubt it. But they would still have us believe that vengeance is somehow preferable to mercy. And while they continue to believe that, they will be plagued by extremists the world over who are only too happy to ply their evil trade in the black and white world of which the Americans are so proud.

Yours, with a renewed sense of hope and an unshakeable belief that while I’m not always right, I’m never in doubt.
pro tempore

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