Lockerbie Bomber Release
Outspoken cardinal Keith O’Brien described Scottish government decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi as ‘merciful’
Cardinal Keith O’Brien has hit out at US senators criticising the Scottish government’s decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Â Megrahi was freed on the understanding that he had only a short time to live, but has now spent nearly a year at home with his family.
- US, UK agree Lockerbie bomber release was mistake (ABC News)
The leader ofÂ Scotland‘s Roman Catholic church waded into the furious international row today, launching a caustic attack on US politicians who have criticised the early release of the Lockerbie bomber.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien contrasted the “merciful” decision of the Scottish government to releaseÂ Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds with the culture of “vengeance and retribution” which permeated the US justice system. Writing in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, he also said Scottish ministers were right to decline a US request to give evidence to senators investigating Megrahi’s release. “We shouldn’t be crawling out to America, or having them come here and questioning us on our own territory,” he said.
The Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, released Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, after being told that three months was a reasonable estimate of his life expectancy. Almost a year later, Megrahi is still alive and living with his family in the Libyan capital Tripoli, provoking anger in the US â€“ home to the majority of the 270 passengers killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. Megrahi was convicted of mass murder in 2001 for his part in the bombing.
Four senators wrote recently to the foreign secretary, William Hague, saying it appeared that British trade interests had “won out over justice” â€“ a reference to suggestions that the oil company BP lobbied for Megrahi’s release. The accusation, denied by BP and Scottish ministers, has put further strain on US-British relations, already tense after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“In Scotland over many years we have cultivated through our justice system what I hope can be described as a ‘culture of compassion’,” O’Brien said. “On the other hand, there still exists in many parts of the US, if not nationally, an attitude towards the concept of justice which can only be described as a ‘culture of vengeance’.”
He accepted that Megrahi was guilty of gratuitous barbarity but said Scottish ministers were right “to affirm our own humanity” and said he was glad to live in a country where justice was tempered with mercy.
O’Brien has been dubbed the “cardinal of controversy” for his outspoken views.
The cardinal urged US senators wanting to question Scottish and British ministers to instead “direct their gaze inwards”. Highlighting the 1,226 people executed in the US since 1976, he added: “Perhaps the consciences of some Americans, especially members of the US Senate, should be stirred by the ways in which ‘justice’ is administered in so many of their own states.”
A spokesman for the Scottish justice secretary welcomed O’Brien’s “thoughtful and considered contribution”. He said: “The justice secretary … granted compassionate release to al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots law. And as the cardinal correctly observes, it is to the Scottish parliament and people that Holyrood ministers are accountable, not the US Senate.”