The Lockerbie bomber

Reaction in the US to this–both to the fact of the early release, and now to the scenes in Tripoli–is a mixture of astonishment, incomprehension, and disgust. Nobody seems able to accept what has happened at face value. It must be some sordid deal about oil between the US, Scottish and UK governments, surely. Or do they know he’s really innocent, as some of the victims’ relatives believe? Is that what’s going on? Nobody can accept or even understand the “compassionate release” rationale as laid out by Kenny MacAskill. A convicted mass murderer, found guilty of this most appalling atrocity, is set free as an act of mercy? Have these people gone quite mad? It seems to me a very fair question.

MacAskill, interviewed on US television, radiated the most repellent sanctimony I have ever seen in a politician–and that is saying something. His manner suggested that the whole thing is more about his own implacable self-righteousness than the demands of justice. He was followed on air by victims of the relatives. They were restrained and dignified, but plainly dismayed and distraught, and feeling horribly betrayed. Does the exercise of compassion not also take into account compassion for the victims and their families, one wondered? No, he seemed to argue, for that would be to choose vengeance not justice. False. There is such a thing as just punishment. How could it be unjust for a man guilty of a crime like this to die in prison? I would advise MacAskill not to visit the US for the foreseeable future. Indeed, calculations of justice aside, I wonder if the Scottish government has the smallest inkling of the harm it has done to its standing in the US–not to mention the prospects of future co-operation on security–with this bizarre act.

Incidentally, Obama comes out of it none too well, either. Why didn’t he do something to stop this lunacy, people are asking? And his tepid reaction–”‘deeply regrets the decision”; once Megrahi is back in Libya, “he should be kept under house arrest”–has bewildered many Americans almost as much as the original decision.

Update:

This isn’t something you see every day.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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