Lockerbie victim's father praises compassion for dying bomber

By Ecumenical News International
September 2, 2009

The father of one of the victims of the 1988 air disaster over southern Scotland has praised the Scottish government for acting in a Christian way by releasing from prison the Libyan man known throughout the world as the Lockerbie bomber - writes Peter Kenny.

"I believe that the Scottish Justice Secretary Mr Kenny MacAskill's decision to release the Lockerbie bomber chimed with the Christian principle of attempting to extend love and mercy, even to one's presumed enemies," Dr Jim Swire was quoted as saying in the Scottish daily newspaper, The Herald.

The medical practitioner's daughter, Flora Swire, was one of the passengers aboard the doomed Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December 1988.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was the only person convicted for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people in the air and on the ground, in the Scottish town of Lockerbie. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2001.

On the release Swire said, "It is a tough doctrine to embrace if you believe the man to have been guilty but easier for those of us who suspect the verdict was wrong. The Church of Scotland has publicly supported Megrahi's return to his family, whether guilty or not."

He added: "By a humbler standard, I cannot understand how forcing Megrahi to die in prison when there was provision to extend him mercy could make anyone feel better. Since when have two wrongs made a right?"

The condition of Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, has deteriorated rapidly since his release, news agencies quoted a senior Libyan official saying on 1 September 2009.

Swire strongly criticised the head of the FBI in the United States, Robert Mueller, who had attacked as a "mockery of the rule of law" the decision of the Scottish Government, which is run by the pro-independence Scottish National Party, to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

"The United States has no provision in its justice system for compassion for those found guilty" said Swire, in an article headlined "FBI chief cannot grasp the Christian ethos".

Swire said, "As a result it must be difficult for the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, to understand that Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, was acting in keeping with an established precedent under Scots law to sanction release when the death of a prisoner is imminent."

In an interview with the Roman Catholic weekly magazine The Tablet on 29 August, Swire declared, "I am a Christian. So I would hope that, even if I was convinced that Megrahi was guilty, my Christian compassion and forgiveness would extend to wanting to see him die with his family around him in Libya. But I am convinced Megrahi is innocent."

Key figures in the Catholic Church in Scotland supported the Scottish government's decision to release and return to Libya the convicted bomber.

The archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, said, "I personally, and many others in the Catholic community, admired the decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on grounds of compassion which is, after all, one of the principles inscribed on the mace of the Scottish Parliament by which Scotland's Government should operate. The showing of mercy in any situation is not a sign of weakness. Indeed in this situation, with the pressures and circumstances of the case, it seemed to me a sign of manifest strength."

The Rev David Fergusson, an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland and a professor of divinity at the University of Edinburgh, told Ecumenical News International, "I have no argument about compassion, but I do think that the way the government of Scotland handled this could have been better."

He added, "Many people believe that the manner in which it was done gave the impression of an acquittal rather than a release. It might have been the wrong course of action but was obviously a very tight call for the minister [of justice]. The tumultuous reception he received in Libya should have been anticipated."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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