What now with Megrahi?

Barak Obama has expressed his disappointment to Gordon Brown. But Gordon Brown continues to insist that he had nothing to do with Megrahi’s release. Who should we believe, what should we think?

Few in the Western world, I think, have any sympathy for the Lockerbie bomber. I certainly don’t.

There are of course many who believe that Megrahi was not the bomber. There are, regrettably, a few who believe that the whole thing was a cynical western plot. Nonetheless, to think that what the bomber did was anything other than one of the most reprehensible acts of cowardly mass murder in recent history is no more nor less than a refusal to face the truth.

However, one of the fundamental principles of justice is that it is blind, and another is that it is not interfered with by politicians or through the political process. Back in the democracies of ancient Greece, citizens wrote on shards of clay pot – ostraka – the names of who they would like to see exiled from the city. Those who ‘won’ this poll were expelled, ostracised. Such a thing surely goes down in history as the clearest early example of the tyranny of the 51% majority. A tyranny indeed, and nothing more than an adult version of the kind of class room bullying which we try to stamp out in schools.

If we had all voted as to whether Megrahi would be released, then he would never have been released. But, on the same basis, if we all voted on every crime and every criminal, the sentences of some would become horrific, while others — celebrities, the media-friendly, the very wealthy who could court our sympathies — would go almost free.

Megrahi’s sentence was passed in a nation which gives compassionate release to those within three months of death from terminal conditions. Why three months? Why not let them die in jail? Scotland may reconsider its laws in the light of the Megrahi affair. But, at the time it passed the sentence, such were the laws. Was Megrahi really so ill? We remember all too well the time when General Pinochet, whose hands were probably no cleaner than Megrahi’s, was not extradited to Spain to stand trial because of his health. Yet Pinochet staged a remarkable recovery on his return to Chile. It is entirely possible that we have had the wool pulled over our eyes.

But justice must remain blind. Nobody, nobody at all, except the justice minister who was charged with reviewing this case, should have applied political pressure, neither before nor after. If we allow political pressure to second-guess justice, then we will end up with the kind of show-trials of Stalin’s Russia, and the kind of injustice that saw a British football supporter jailed in Bulgaria for a sentence of 15 years, even though another man confessed.

Of course Scotland’s justice minister is now deeply unpopular. Of course many people are furious. And of course the entire Western world collectively put its head in its hands when Megrahi appeared to be welcomed back in Libya as some kind of hero or celebrity. But leaders are not leaders if they cannot make unpopular decisions. And Libya’s own decision to take Megrahi back in the manner in which it did has surely done it immeasurable harm in the eyes of the world.

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