My thoughts on Lockerbie ‘bomber’ release

Today, Abdul-Basit Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of planting the bomb which destroyed a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, was released on compassionate grounds as he is terminally ill with prostate cancer. This has understandably provoked a whole lot of controversy. Brett at Harry’s Place says that if you kill 270 people, you should die in jail.

I would agree, if I was absolutely convinced that Megrahi was guilty. In this case, there is a whole lot of doubt about whether he really did the deed; there has been much speculation that the real guilty party might have been Hizbullah or Abu Nidal. Not all of the people who say this are, as alleged in today’s Guardian, people making up conspiracy theories in desperate grief. If I was convinced he was guilty, his old age and illness would be no grounds for compassion, as I have argued in the past regarding child abusers who are brought to justice when old and sick. If he had served 20 years, it would be different, but he has been in jail for about 10 years, including the time he spent in detention while being tried. In the UK, although we rarely pass whole-life sentences, the minimum jail time for murder is usually 12 or 15 years, and that is when there is only one victim and no aggravating factors such as armed robbery, terrorism or sexual assault.

Even if he is guilty, the main perpetrators are still free and, indeed, western governments want to buy oil from and sell arms to them. Kill one person, you’re a murderer. Kill many more and you’re a politician. Myra Hindley was left to die in jail; General Pinochet was allowed to come to London for years to buy weapons until Labour came to power.

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