Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Conditional compassion

With the mounting controversy surrounding Kenny MacAskill's forthcoming decision over whether to release the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, I had a peek last night at the Victims of Pan Am 103 site. This is obviously a very difficult area to pass comment on, because the founders of that site have clearly been through unimaginable grief and are sincere both in their absolute belief in Megrahi's guilt, and in their belief that any early release would represent an appalling injustice. However, following one or two of the links on the site, to commentary made by those who are not relatives of the victims, it struck me once again the extent to which Americans in general are a people of 'conviction' - often starting with an unshakeable belief in the truth of something, and then working backwards to amass supporting evidence, and to rubbish any contrary evidence. (That's perhaps how creationism and a denial of global warming have such an unusually strong hold in the US.)

Witness the curious logic of Richard Marquise, billed as 'a former FBI agent who investigated the bombing', in a rebuttal piece that was apparently also published in the Herald's letters page. In it, he takes great exception to the newspaper's implication that the relatives of UK victims are more inclined to show compassion to Megrahi. "Americans are a very compassionate people" he assures us loftily, "but we also believe in justice". Neatly glossing over the reality (as clearly stated by the Herald) that the different approach to Megrahi displayed by many of the UK relatives is based almost entirely on the fact that they have learned over the years there is considerable doubt about the Libyan's guilt - they simply believe in a profound injustice being righted. More to the point, they know this represents the only way of getting to the real truth of what actually happened in 1988 - which, however unbearably painful it might be to have to go back to square one, is ultimately in the best interests of all those touched by the tragedy. For as long as Megrahi's guilt remains nominally a 'legal fact' (and unfortunately MacAskill's decision cannot change that one jot) very little progress can be made in the search for answers.

So what does Megrahi have to do to earn the compassion that Marquise says is very much on offer from Americans? Simply admit his guilt. Compassion for a dying man who is the victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice is apparently not even a theoretical option. 'Facts' are simply 'facts', and Megrahi's guilt is one of those facts, whatever the evidence might show. Curiously, Marquise lists a number of questions that Megrahi has failed to answer, and apparently satisfactory responses to these questions is something that's also required to satisfy the criteria for American compassion. Quite what the point of Megrahi responding to these questions would be when the answers are supposedly already long-established fact is a bit of a mystery. In reality, of course, there are probably any number of reasons why a Libyan intelligence official would not want to answer awkward questions about his actions or the actions of his colleagues in the late 1980s - which needn't have anything to do with Pan Am flight 103.

It's also a bit much to see Marquise ripping into the Herald journalist for mistakes she apparently made about the respective functions of different American agencies. "A reporter should have a basic understanding" of the US system, he snorts. Hmmm. I've rarely seen American reporters take anything other than a "fill in the blanks as we go along" approach to the more alien aspects of other countries' systems.


  1. This is excellent. I have been trying to persuade Mr Marquise he is wrong for several years. I have spent nearly 20 years trying to understand Lockerbie - my brother died on UT-772 of 1989 and my belief is the CIA did it together with an Iranian.

    What's mor I believe it can be proved with the information in the public domaon.

    Please contact me CBNorrie AT

  2. What…are we now giving out FREE Lunches? Since when??? Hey, I’m sorry for his cancer, but one never knows truly how much longer they can live…his last death wish may even be to do another “killing of Americans” deed. These people don’t care, but only to KILL America. They hate us…

  3. Jason, his 'last wish' may be any number of things for all that you or I know, but decisions of this sort can only be made on the basis of facts, not wild fantasies. Speaking personally, I do not lie awake at night worrying about the danger posed to national security by a dying man 2000 miles away.

    On the broader issue, based on what we now know it really isn't good enough to just take Megrahi's guilt as a given. It makes the high-minded moral certainties of you and others a lot easier, but just not good enough. Indeed, I'd say the same to Kenny MacAskill, who made the same assumption. I'd urge you to read the detailed findings of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission investigation, which highlighted grounds for believing there may have been a miscarriage of justice.