On Wednesday, December 21, 1988, a Pan American jumbo jet flying over Scotland exploded in a tremendous fireball, killing all 259 souls aboard as well as 11 more on the ground beneath.
On January 31, 2001 - more than twelve years later - Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was convicted of an act of terrorism, being found guilty of planting the bomb that blew up the plane. Mr. Megrahi was no ordinary terrorist, though - he was a former Libyan intelligence officer as well as head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, well familiar both with bomb-making and with airline security.
The world concluded that, once again, Libya had been the state sponsor of an act of terrorism against the United States; previous Libyan terrorist attacks had resulted in President Reagan bombing Tripoli not long before the Pan Am atrocity. At the time, Libya's dictator Col. Muammar Ghaddafi was an international pariah.
A lot has changed since the late 1980s. By 2001, Ghaddafi and Libya were not exactly card-carrying members of the international community in good standing but seemed to be heading in that direction.
After the Second Gulf War, Ghaddafi apparently decided that it was too risky to be an open enemy of the United States: he signed an agreement taking responsibility for the Pan Am bombing and other terrorist acts, paid compensation to the victims' families, and turned over his entire nuclear program to American officials for removal and destruction. As national acts of contrition go, that's about as convincing as one can reasonably expect.
|Apparently no big deal.|
Then, on August 20, 2009, the Scottish government released the convicted Mr. Megrahi to the Libyan government, who whisked him home on a chartered jet to a hero's welcome. Megrahi had served not even half of his sentence, but reportedly is dying of terminal cancer and has but a short time to live. Scotland's justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said he was "bound by Scottish values to release him" as a gesture of compassion and mercy.
Today, Megrahi sits a free man in his own home in Libya wondering whether he'll really die as soon as the British doctors think he will. Meanwhile, the British government is discussing lucrative petroleum concessions with the Libyan government.
Was there a deal cut? A great many Brits think there was, and think it stinks. Prime Minister Brown's Labour government was already on the rocks before this incident, and now it is sinking fast; so is the National Party government of Scotland.
Some say Megrahi was wrongfully convicted, and is in fact innocent; since he's dropped his appeal, and considering that it's been twenty years, we'll never know. But he wasn't released by a politician who was willing to pardon him as not guilty; he was let go ostensibly for purposes of "compassion" because he is dying.
That this argument could even be made with a straight face reveals the rottenness eating through Western culture. For two thousand years, Western tradition has honored mercy; but it's also honored justice. What is just about releasing a convicted killer who, far from expressing the slightest shred of remorse, steadfastly claims to have done nothing wrong?
It's a powerful part of the Western tradition to feel the stirrings of mercy for a broken, sobbing criminal who has come to understand the evil he's done and swears to go and sin no more. Recidivism statistics show such vows are rarely worth they paper they aren't written on; still, at least for that one moment, the criminal's heart is in the right place.
But Megrahi demonstrated not even a faked contrition; from Day One, he's claimed total innocence despite all the evidence presented. While he may have a legitimate complaint in being named the fall guy - he was the only one convicted, but there's no doubt he had full state support from Libya and plenty of assistance - that only makes him and his sponsor Ghaddafi all the more guilty and evil.
The appalled reaction of the British person in the street to his unconditional "compassionate" release shows that the common people still understand true justice, regardless of the back-dealing of their leaders. When yet another Libyan-government-sponsored murderer was returned freely to his home country, the chairman of the British police federation told the Prime Minister:
The timing of the agreement would suggest your government was prepared to sell its soul for trade deals.
Just so, and he is merely expressing what vast numbers of his countrymen feel; we trust that they will loudly express their disgust at the upcoming election.
Crowds such as the one that welcomed Mr. Megrahi don't gather spontaneously in a police state like Libya; the lavish expressions of welcome obviously reflected the sentiment of the government and suggest that the Libyan government regards Mr. Megrahi as the perpetrator of a job well done. So much for the credibility of those who believe in his innocence.
What's most important about this incident is that anyone not blinkered by dollar signs can see that the Libyan government hasn't changed its attitude toward terrorism and thinks of successful terrorists as national heroes. The welcome given Mr. Megrahi will be a most effective recruiting tool in the future: "Even if you're caught, your country will pull all kinds of strings to get you back and reward you properly."
Col. Ghaddafi renounced his nuclear program, but only because he was afraid he'd be taken out by Mr. Bush if he didn't. Now that Mr. Obama has visibly taken violence off the table in his negotiations with Iran, there's no reason for Ghaddafi not to pick up where he left off.
While Mr. Bush's minions spirited away all the nuclear equipment Ghaddafi had managed to collect, one assumes that his Rolodex retains the phone numbers of the folks he bought it from. And now that the Brits have shown that they value oil deals more highly than punishing terrorists, there's no reason for him not to resume terrorism, too.
Yes, Obama and the State Department sent a strong letter of protest; no doubt Ghaddafi will use this note to dry his tears of sympathy. Not!
The world situation doesn't bode well for Mr. Obama's Panglossian view that all problems can be solved through negotiation. For Ghaddafi, in contrast, he can surely believe that all his problems can be solved through negotiation: it's working beautifully so far.
What Mr. Obama doesn't yet understand is that negotiation works pretty well when you're negotiating with suckers, but when you are a sucker, force works a lot better.