Let me first say that one of my closest friends lost two of his closest friends in the Pan Am jet and I remember vividly the anguished phone calls as he dashed up to Lockerbie to help identify bodies and property. I am not about to minimize the horror and appalling criminality of the bombing.
I haven't fully made up my mind about the release of the man convicted but I sense that the reaction in America may not fully understand how many people here see things.
What people in America may not realize is this.
1. There is a widespread opinion in the UK that the man in question was put up as a fall guy for various reasons and actually had nothing to do with the Pan Am flight. This opinion is not based on hearsay or guesswork but on the continued strong representations which have been made from various quarters about evidence that wasn't presented, and about various factors which led up to the finger being pointed at Libya rather than, say, Syria or other sources of terrorism. I know the decision to send the man home wasn't based on a retrial or the consideration of such evidence, but we have had that put forward by serious reporters over quite a long time, creating a climate in which many, perhaps the majority in the UK, really do believe that the conviction was, at best, not proven. There was quite a shrewd article in our of our papers today saying that the real shame about his sending back is that there should have been a retrial with the new evidence and he might have been cleared.
2. Many people in the UK see the reaction in the U.S. as being typical U.S. anti-Arab and particularly anti-Libya reaction. Because we are conditioned to be a bit worried about U.S. knee-jerk pro-Israel attitudes we tend to distance ourselves from that kind of position....
1. Timothy Fountain wrote:
I appreciate his input on the different perspectives, but I continue to disagree on three points:
1) Clemency/mercy was already granted - it is built into a UK system that does not impose a death penalty. IOW, Scotland already said, “Yes, you murdered our citizens, but our system will not kill you in retaliation.”
2) Compassion for his terminal condition could have been offered by bringing loved ones to him in some sort of secured hospice set up. There was no compelling need to release him and set up the obscenity of a hero’s welcome in Libya.
3) Still no calling the act what it was: a “crime against humanity.” The bombing of non-combatants, of multiple nationalities on an international flight is not a somewhat-more-serious-crime than shoplifiting. It is the sort of thing for which Nazis and Japanese officials were hanged after WWII.
August 26, 9:54 am | [comment link]
2. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:
I understand Bishop Wright’s comments on differing attitudes here in the US from the perceptions in the UK. But I would take exception to his and others claims that a retrial might have exonerated this man. If so, then retrial or flat our pardon was what should have been done.
I’m with Fr. Tim in comment 1. I understand the compassionate grounds for letting him live his last few months somewhere other than Maximum Security. I think what hacks people off about this whole affair is the hero’s welcome he received, no doubt he will spend the rest of his life, albeit short, in some cushy palace owned by Ghaddafi. I think leniency given his health conditions could have been recognized without the need of sending him back to Libya. They have prison hospitals and such, maybe even in a “neutral country” secured hospice.
But the fact of the matter is that without a retrial or pardon, the issue of innocence or guilt will not never be known. Without that definitive ruling, many people see this as a poke in the eye of Justice.
I do agree with what Bishop Wright saying that I believe there is some merit as to the fact that this was done for some form of political deal by big whigs on both sides. As I recall the news before the release of this man, the news was reporting that after the outcry, he withdrew his petition for release/clemency. And yet, it was granted anyway by the Scottish courts. Maybe its different in the Scottish system, but usually if a pleading or petition is withdrawn, then the courts no longer have jurisdiction to act on it. The fact that they did seems to qualify for “judicial activism” as we call it in the states.
If so, that begs the question of why? If they were acting in the issues of fairness and justice, then they would have issued a pardon or retrial. But since they didn’t, that gives credence to the argument that some sort of sweetheart deal was made with Libya. The courts were getting pressure from somewhere, and you can well believe it wasn’t mass opinion.
The whole thing just seems fishy to me, as the good Bishop seems to suggest.
August 26, 10:15 am | [comment link]
3. Jeffersonian wrote:
If the fellow was indeed a “fall guy,” innocent of the charges for which he was convicted, then keeping him in prison one day longer was a grave injustice and needed to be rectified immediately. If he was guilty, then ever letting him see the outside of a prison again was also a grave injustice.
August 26, 10:23 am | [comment link]
4. phil swain wrote:
What Wright is insinuating is a moral equivalency between this prisoner’s act and the acts of US gov’t in its war on Islamic terrorism. Wright doesn’t care about helping Americans understand UK attitudes. This is just another opportunity for him to criticize America. The man is shameless in his anti-American bromides. The bottom line is that had the prisoner been an IRA terrorist, he’d still be in prison.
August 26, 10:41 am | [comment link]
5. Sarah1 wrote:
It’s an odd piece—because of course the outcry in Britain and Scotland have been intense as well. So it’s a bit strange that Bishop Wright is somehow making the claim that *our singular [sic] outcry* over here in the states is “different” because of cultural reasons.
All I see is that that 1) many folks who are socially liberal support it and 2) many folks who are socially conservative find it morally reprehensible.
August 26, 10:52 am | [comment link]
6. Pageantmaster [KJS to Coventry] wrote:
Who knows what would have happened if there had been a successful appeal? You don’t change treatment of people on the basis of speculation. There has been no regret expressed or attempt to cooperate with allowing the families of victims to know what happened, either from the convicted man or from Libya.
People here are just as insensed as people elsewhere. There is little else on the news or in the newspapers and Gordon Brown speaking out of both sides of his mouth has not allayed concerns about his view or involvement. It is the failing Scottish system which has messed up; today comes the news that the Scots NHS has spent £1.5m on sex-change operations when they are not paying for expensive cancer treatment and this is just typical of the mad mad world of devolved and unaccountable government set up by Blair and Brown.
So it is not just Americans, the outcry has been international and domestic as well. More than that, just what sort of message does this send to would-be hijackers and terrorists? Is this what our young people in Afghanistan and Iraq are dying for?
August 26, 11:00 am | [comment link]
7. Katherine wrote:
Oh, thank you for chiming in, Pageantmaster. If there was indeed a miscarriage of justice, a new trial, appeal, and/or pardon based on overwhelming evidence that the trial court was wrong would have been the right thing to do. Lacking that, al Meghrahi should have been treated in prison and his body shipped home for burial.
August 26, 11:15 am | [comment link]
8. Londoner wrote:
er no….phil….some of those are now getting fat salaries in govt positions…...and remember that they were were very successful in raising funds in the US when they were attacking people in London…..
POINT 1: the Scottish Nationalist government had jurisdiction…..think of a state not caring what the President says but following its own rules….this is key to understanding what happened.
POINT 2: a politician made a decision….no vote…..not much evidence that his decision has much support in Scotland, let alone the rest of the UK
August 26, 11:20 am | [comment link]
9. Philip Snyder wrote:
There have been four reasons I’ve heard set forth
1. The Official Word - the prison was granted clemency because of humane concerns
2. The BP Conspiracy - the release was part of a deal with Libya to open more business for BP
3. The Innocence Conspiracy - the man was really innocent and the Government knew it, but didn’t want the embarrasment of having the conviction overturned on appeal
4. The Cost Conspiracy - the man was dying and the government wanted to spare the cost of end of life care.
To those 4, I would like to add a 5th. The Intelligence Conspiracy - Libya gave the UK some intelligence or some other concession (other than purely economic) in return for this person. Note, I have no evidence for this theory. I only note that similar exchanges have been made in the past between governments.
Now I suspect that #4 is specious. As an Anglican, I believe that the best answer to 1, 2, and 3 is “yes!” These all may have played into the decision - to one degree or another. Government bureaucrats are known to be motivated by fear and by pressure from superiors. So, if there was a deal with BP or if the Justice department was afraid of losing the appeal, that could have added incentive to the clemency question and allowed the government to use clemency as its shield. Only in the case of #5 (intelligence or other consideration) would shielding the real reason be a good decision.
August 26, 11:21 am | [comment link]
10. Branford wrote:
And now there’s dispute as to whether al-Megrahi truly has only 3 months to live (and this is from the Scotsman, not a U.S. paper):
Mr MacAskill has said he based his decision to release Megrahi on the opinions of a range of experts.
But this is contradicted by a decisive report sent to Mr MacAskill on 10 August.
While it noted that four prostate cancer specialists – two oncologists and two urologists – were consulted, the summary said: “Whether or not prognosis is more or less than three months, no specialist would be willing to say.”
The report suggests that only one doctor was willing to support the claim that Megrahi had just weeks to live.
The medical report stated that the “less than three months to live” prognosis was: “In the opinion of Megrahi’s (the name or title of the individual was then blanked out] … who has dealt with him prior to, during and following the diagnosis.”
There was also a suggestion that Megrahi might not be as ill as had been claimed. The report said: “Clinicians who have assessed Mr Megrahi have commented on his relative lack of symptoms when considering the severity and stage of underlying disease.”
And suggestions that the doctor who gave the prognosis may have been employed by the Libyan government emerged in the report’s notes. It said that a professor from Libya had been involved in Megrahi’s care and the medical officer who wrote the report had been “working with clinicians from Libya over the past ten months”.
It looks more and more than maybe a oil deal was in the works here.
August 26, 11:23 am | [comment link]
11. Br. Michael wrote:
This just gets more interesting by the minute.
August 26, 11:54 am | [comment link]
12. badman wrote:
Bishop Wright needs to watch his increasing tendency to claim to speak for anyone except himself. The suggestion that, in this article, he speaks for all or even most in Britain is, quite simply, wrong. On the contrary, there has been very widespread condemnation in the UK of the Megrahi release on a variety of grounds.
His primary point - that it was OK to release Megrahi because he might not have been guilty at all - is, as other commenters point out, wrong, because there is a judicial system to decide guilt and, yes, to correct error, and Megrahi actually abandoned his appeal, which would have been the correct way to determine the matter on that basis.
Bishop Wright is a clever, erudite and ambitious man, but his standards are slipping and so is his reputation. He can certainly put that right and I hope that he does.
August 26, 12:12 pm | [comment link]
13. Conchúr wrote:
The bottom line is that had the prisoner been an IRA terrorist, he’d still be in prison.
Eh, no. If he were an IRA prisoner he would have been released years ago under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
August 26, 1:28 pm | [comment link]
14. Steven in Falls Church wrote:
There is so much unfortunate in this essay to comment on, such as:
3. We are also in odd territory when it comes to jurisdiction. Many have thought that it’s strange that a man who, if he committed a crime, did so by planting a bomb a long way away, killing people many of whom were from the States, should be held in Scotland just because that’s where the plane came down.
So set the guy free over jurisdictional concerns? I don’t get it. It’s a longstanding principle of law that crimes get prosecuted where they occur, and that people serve time where they are convicted. Plus, it’s not like the plane went down off the coast of Scotland; it crashed in a Scots village, killing 11 on the ground and injuring more. Do they not count?
August 26, 1:40 pm | [comment link]
15. phil swain wrote:
badman, as a Bishop of the COE, Wright does speak for more than himself in matters eclessiastical. Further, Wright did not say it was okay to release Megrahi because he might not have been guilty. What Wright has done is to use this sorry incident to score anti-American points and that was his purpose.
Londoner, I hold no brief for the IRA. Whatever is the “key to understanding” the decision was not Wright’s point. He has presented a convoluted explanation of UK attitudes as a mask for his all too typical anti-American jabs.
August 26, 1:44 pm | [comment link]
16. phil swain wrote:
Conor, your are right. I should have said,”... would still be in prison had it not been for a political deal.” It wouldn’t have been because of mercy nor questions about guilt and jurisdiction.
August 26, 1:56 pm | [comment link]
17. Mark Johnson wrote:
Bishop Wright seems far more interested these days in criticizing Americans. Things must be quite dandy these days in Durham that he has the time and interest in doing so.
August 26, 4:34 pm | [comment link]
18. episcoanglican wrote:
Ugh. The rhetoric and communication style of this article by Bp. Wright sounds so much like liberal theology. It tears down standards of belief and then gives nothing in return once things are town down. For instance, said new evidence MAY suggest that the dying convict was a fall guy (Grima Wormtongue—psst, he isn’t really guilty…”). Well then that speaks to a court problem not the issue of clemency granted lightly for someone convicted against crimes against humanity. It’s akin to using the prevalence of divorce to justify gay marriage. Marriage really isn’t marriage now any more is it, so why the bother? Justice in the courts really isn’t justice—- at least that is how we FEEL about it on this side of the pond. drivle, drivle.
And just because the Brits have had their confidence eroded in the courts of justice does not mean we should accept it, except, that is, through a correction in the courts of law. Otherwise we have nothing. What is the old saying about two wrongs not making a right? Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
August 26, 4:46 pm | [comment link]
19. Pageantmaster [KJS to Coventry] wrote:
Before people get too excited it is worth saying that Bishop Wright’s piece bears careful reading. It is not anti-American and he does make it very clear that he has not made up his mind on the rights and wrongs of releasing Al-Megrahi.
What he does do, is to put a series of views that are held in some parts of the chattering classes, particularly the Guardian, favored by teachers, junior civil servants and deadbeat ‘60’s college lecturers as well as apparently a few people up north. If anything they are views held more strongly in parts of Europe. Fair enough to put them to explain something of the local aspect to Americans as he does writing in the Washington Post, but I expect this will come as no surprise to Americans who are avid readers of our newspapers online apparently [there are more US readers than UK I heard]. There are certainly concerns about US foreign policy. Things are rather sensitive here at the moment because of the revelation that despite years of denial, our government was actually involved in permitting use of UK facilities/airspace for ‘rendition flights’.
That said I do not think these views featured in UK thinking much, exept perhaps in the daft Scottish executive. People have been horrified by what happened with the release of Al-Megrahi to Libya. Further there is a sense that the considerable effort made by US senators including personal appeals by Hilary Clinton were not US interference but letting us know how deeply concerned the US is about the issue, and quite rightly too. I don’t think other factors come into it, although I accept Bishop Wright’s concern to try to explain them.
This thing is rumbling on and there is a serious amount of recrimination and back-covering going on. The latest is a row between the Scottish politicians and the Scottish Police who are making it clear that attempts to use them as a screen to hide behind are not going to work:
The wrangling continues:
I think finally the Scottish administration are waking up to what they have done. Their reasoning is being looked at and found wanting and they are showing their yellow snivelling streak blaming everybody else and they dive for cover. It looks if anything as if the storm is growing.
August 26, 6:58 pm | [comment link]
20. Tired of Hypocrisy wrote:
I agree with Sarah1, what an odd piece. I’m astounded that Wright feels compelled to use the thin justification of cultural differences to “explain” this decision. So, people have opinions in the UK. And people have opinions elsewhere. How revealing (not). Was the man convicted or wasn’t he? Furthermore, almost anyone could have predicted that Libya would exploit this for propaganda. But, why is Wright chiming in here? I’m so tired of know-it-all bishops and priests feeling their political commentary is necessary or helpful. I’m even more irritated with Wright’s presumptuous assessment of what constitutes a “typical” U.S. attitude. How Euro of him.
August 26, 10:57 pm | [comment link]
21. MargaretG wrote:
I agree with Pagentmaster that Wright is not being anti-American. He is however trying to explain some of the differences between America and Britain. Yes there has been some outcry in the UK—but not the rhetoric or intensity that comes from America.
I too come from a non-American, heavily influenced by British ideals, society—New Zealand. Like Bishop Wright I too find it impossible to understand how Christian people in America justify the death penalty. condone Guantanamo Bay or the emotional and physical torture of prisoners. Clearly many here on this list feel differently. I hope at least you are willing to consider that conservative Christians in other parts of the world find your views at best “odd” and at worst contrary to the New Testament teaching of our Lord and Saviour.
August 27, 12:40 am | [comment link]
22. Londoner wrote:
phil swain . . ... you assert that +Wright is being anti American….any evidence in this piece? As I said, ask te Scottish National Party government why it has done what it has…...despite not having much support even in Scotland….politics may be involved!
badman does not like +Wright’s stance in the AC, the Windsor Report or his influence with Rowan Williams…..so he attacks him here and asserts his reputation is diminishing…... but the attack lacks substance. Thankfully, Rowan Williams has much more respect for +Wright than badman…....that respect can be seen in ++Rowan’s assessment of TEC recently…...not what the badman wanted to hear from Lambeth Palace! So, +Wright gets attacked personally…. but the battle is lost if even Rowan Williams is not supporting the “inch at a time” liberalisation of the AC
[Slightly edited by Elf]
August 27, 2:32 am | [comment link]
23. fathersdaughter wrote:
I didn’t find Wright’s piece anit-American at all, merely expository. I think some folks are looking for insults where none are meant. That being said, and Wright’s points understood, I still think I have to agree with Timothy Fountain on the matter. Whatever the true reasons behind this, it was badly mismanaged and should have been dealt with very differently.
August 27, 3:58 am | [comment link]
24. Tired of Hypocrisy wrote:
In my church, in my family, in my neighborhood, there are widely divergent opinions among people who consider themselves Christians about the death penalty, the definition and/or appropriateness of torture, etc. That is why the notion that someone would feel compelled to point out where “America” as a lump is different from “Britain” seems incredibly misguided and frankly somewhat insulting. Wouldn’t Wright feel the same way if I presumed to say, “here is where you Europeans just don’t get it.” But really, the question of whether someone who is responsible or at least complicit in a mass murder should be released from prison for a celebratory homecoming is a completely different matter.
August 27, 11:17 pm | [comment link]