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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scottish Justice and Compassion

I watch the remarkable address by Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill this morning when he announced the compassionate release of Abdelbast Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber of the plane, Pan Am 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In his speech he laid out the circumstances of the bombing, the wide variety of consultations he made with interested parties and the bases for his final decision to grant al-Megrahi a compassionate release so he might return home to die from his terminal illness.

MacAskill resisted pressure from the United States to leave him in jail. Hilary Clinton at least twice demanded it. I am sure he also heard pleas from many of the relatives of the 270 victums of the bombing. He even asked the British government for their opinion which they largely declined except to say there was no legal barrier to Scotland granting compassionate release. I take it that the British parliament see the release as a right of the Scottish parliament. (Similar to States' Rights in the US. )

MacAskill accepts the judgement of al-Megrahi's conviction even though he had been granted a second appeal based of their being some ground for overturning his conviction. Some believe he was a scapegoat.

In the end, MacAskill accepted the advice of doctors, and visited al-Megrahi in jail to see for himself the state of his health. He exercised his pregrogative and made his decision on the basis that Magrahi had only about 3 months to live and qualified for compassionate release.

I find the MacAskill reason for granting compassionate release quite remarkable reflecting a very high level of legal judgement within a legal system. He began by saying his decision is based on the humanity of the Scottish people. The application of the law includes not only justice but compassion. "Our justice system dmands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available."

He then said,

"Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them,

"But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days."

In Scottish justice, compassion and mercy have a real and important place. Justice is not just punishment or retribution. This is a remakable high standard for a legal system. We in North American do not even come close. with our vindictive legal system always seeking harsher punishment for more crimes, trying to satify those who seek to "throw people in jail and throw away the key." Then there are our Security Certicates and withholding habeus corpus from "enemy combatants, and , of course, defense of capital punishiment, the ultimate lack of compassion.

The Scottish view is in stark contrast with The US Supreme Court Justice Scalia's recent opinion in the Davis case, which I take to mean that it is legally OK to put an innocent man to death by the State. Once one has had his Constitution right to "Life. . . ." taken away if cannot be regained legally by proving ones innocence.

"Justice Scalia, in a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the hearing would be “a fool’s errand,” because Mr. Davis’s factual claims were “a sure loser.”
He went on to say that the federal courts would be powerless to assist Mr. Davis even if he could categorically establish his innocence.
“This court has never held,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

MacAskill made the Scottish case without reference to religion, only to humanity. It would have been so easy to say "as a Christian people. . . .". Compassion and mercy are not the preprogative of Christianity but of humanity. It is always amazing to me that those countries that so often couch their social convictions in Christian terms so often have the harshest forms of justice.

The decision by MacAskill acknowledges compassion and mercy have little to do with those who are granted it, but , says so much about those that show mercy. It is an act of grace grated another without condition It is not a "tit for tat" deal. The person may not deserve mercy or compassion but the individual is called to grant it out of his own deep felt values. I think this point will be missed by many in the next few days as thay rant against this decision.

If I were Scottish, I would stand proud and tall in the face of this decision of the Scottish Secretary of Justice, Kenny MacAskill.

If you want to hear the summation of his address visit here,


At 12:30 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

You're such an interesting guy with such interesting posts. And I think we share some similar ideals.

At 1:28 p.m., Blogger KGMom said...

It's a tough call, though, isn't it. Compassionate release has merit, but many of the families are devastated by the determination.
I recall when the Pan Am bombing occurred hearing about parents whose only child was on that plane.
Our daughter applied to Syracuse--and when we visited the school, we saw a large plaque listing the name of all the students.
As I said--it is a tough call.

At 6:35 p.m., Blogger Navigator said...

I think compassion is like respect. It is something that is earned. If the judge could have found some humanity in the guy to on which to base his compassionate ruling then I would have no difficulty with the decision. Most courts or parole boards, when they pass sentence, or consider appeals for early release, like to be satisfied that the accused understands and accepts the criminality of his actions and is truly remorseful for what he has wrought. You mention a lot of philosophical stuff regarding this decision, but you don't seem to mention anything about the accused being remorseful.

At 6:45 p.m., Blogger Navigator said...

One other thing that occurred to me. When Chile's brutal, murdering dictator, General Pinochet, was being detained in Britain pending charges of crimes against humanity, he suffered an apparent heart attack and was released to go home to Chile on compassionate grounds. With great show he was rolled up to the airplane in a wheelchair. When the flight arrived in Santiago, our good friend Pinochet walked away from the plane without any difficulty, apparently having made a miraculous recovery in mid-flight. No doubt he believes in Jesus, and that always helps.

At 6:49 a.m., Blogger Julie said...

As a good friend once told me, it's always important to remember what it is one has in mind, is it justice or is it revenge when a sentence is rendered.. and we are a society who can be labeled by what they do to the 'least' of their people (weakest, disenfranchised, etc)

At 7:56 a.m., Blogger possum said...

We cannot force compassion in others nor can we make others understand. The best we can do is have compassion ourselves for everyone. Do Unto others as you would have done to you... Sounds like the judge understood what that meant. Al-Megrahi will answer for what he did to a judge higher than any of us. Whether you believe in God or Karma, we all pay for what we do. Personally, I would like to think I was paying for too much compassion!

At 4:47 a.m., Blogger Tom said...

Hi Philip..
It seems this story is far from over as now questions are being asked from all directions. I would have liked to have seen another court hearing before he was released... and I also think his 'heros' welcome home was a disgrace to all the families who lost members. It will be interesting to see how this pans out...
As for the British government not being involved... I'm far from sure thats right.....
I admire you for your compassion and I know yours is from the heart... but when it come to goverments I am not to sure.

A great post thats sure to have many thinking about this.

On a lighter note Philip..:O)

If you get time stop by and met Ammon Wrigley then read his poem The Homestead

At 7:45 a.m., Blogger Gretchen said...

I always am torn in cases like this. While I think people should pay for their crimes, how much is enough? Can he ever truly be punished enough?

I'm so glad I will never have to be the one to make the decisions like this.


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