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Freeing the Lockerbie Killer in the Name of ‘Compassion’

The same leaders appalled by al-Megrahi's release have pushed Israel to release thousands of prisoners as "humanitarian gestures."

by
Eli Bernstein

Bio

August 27, 2009 - 12:55 am

“Highly objectionable,” said Obama. “Outrageous and disgusting,” came the White House response. “Incredibly offensive to Americans,” came yet another.

FBI Director Robert Mueller wrote that it was “as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice,” that the action “makes a mockery of the rule of law” and “gives comfort to terrorists around the world.”

What riled everyone up last week was the release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who was serving a sentence due to expire no sooner than 2026. Meanwhile, al-Megrahi is himself due to expire in three months. The cause: prostate cancer. “Mr. Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.” These were the words of Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill stating his reasons for releasing the convicted terrorist on compassionate grounds. He went on to state:

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.

Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.

For these reasons — and these reasons alone — it is my decision that Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.

It is worth noting that al-Megrahi at all times denied his involvement and was scheduled to commence an appeal this year which would have likely lasted into 2010, well beyond the time he had left on this earth. It is also worth noting that he had a decent chance at winning his appeal after some doubt arose (perhaps even “reasonable doubt”) regarding a key piece of evidence linking al-Megrahi to the bombing (a Mebo MST-13 timer). Added to this were questions relating to the testimony and credibility of key witnesses and arguments relating to proper process.

In this light, in the absence of time for a proper appeal process to be completed, a compassionate release does not seem so unreasonable.

Contrast this to the unreasonable demands made on Israel by the U.S. and the international community for the release of terrorists, many with blood on their hands, as “humanitarian gestures.” Unlike al-Megrahi, these men’s guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt, these men are likely to live many more years, and these men are likely to strike again. And they have.

Israel released one thousand al-Megrahis in 1985, 429 in 1997, 200 in 1998, 600 in 1999, 500 in 2005, and 422 in 2008 (and this list is not exhaustive). Shortly after release in 1985, a Palestinian terrorist — three days into freedom — turned up in an Israeli hospital bed having blown himself up while preparing an improvised explosive device.

As well as the concessional releases on humanitarian grounds, Israel has chosen to release thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in prisoner swaps. The table below shows the lengths that Israel will go for the sake of one of its men, a fact that did not go unobserved by Samir Kuntar, that most notorious of terrorists who commented in an interview to Hezbollah’s satellite television network:

I’m jealous of the Zionists, who don’t spare any effort in bringing back captured soldiers or soldiers’ bodies. Seriously, we are jealous of our enemy and its care for a [body] and how it goes to the end of the world in order to return it, and of its concerns for captives and how it will go to the very edge to bring them back.

Year Arab Israeli
1983 4,600 6
1985 1,150 3
1991 51 Proof of death of 1 soldier
1996 65 2 remains
2004 436 & 59 remains 1 & 3 remains
2008 5 & 200 remains 2 remains
2009 (anticipated) ~450 1

In 1992, Israel expelled 400 terrorist leaders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the no-man’s land on its northern border. In 1993, following international pressure, Israel allowed them to return to the West Bank. They returned with technical and organizational expertise imparted by Hezbollah and upped the ante in the Middle East conflict. It is very reasonable to contend that, if not for this “compassionate act,” the terrorism wave of the mid-90s would not have occurred, a Palestinian state would have been established by now, and many thousands more on both sides would be alive to tuck their children to sleep tonight.

Unjustified international pressure tends to lead to unintended consequences.

Unlike the men Israel is forced to release, al-Megrahi will meet his own death before he causes the death of another. Those critical of al-Megrahi’s release should stop and examine what they ask Israel to do year after year.

No international leader decries that this action “makes a mockery of the rule of law,” as it does; that this action “gives comfort to terrorists around the world,” as it surely does; or that it makes “a mockery of the emotions, passions, and pathos of all those affected by [terror].”

As any victim will confirm.

Perhaps the story of Smadar Haran best highlights the painful sacrifices Israel has made in this regard. In a Washington Post article titled “The World Should Know What He Did to My Family,” she tells her story:

It had been a peaceful Sabbath day. My husband, Danny, and I had picnicked with our little girls, Einat, 4, and Yael, 2, on the beach not far from our home in Nahariya, a city on the northern coast of Israel, about six miles south of the Lebanese border. Around midnight, we were asleep in our apartment when four terrorists, sent by Abu Abbas from Lebanon, landed in a rubber boat on the beach two blocks away. Gunfire and exploding grenades awakened us as the terrorists burst into our building. They had already killed a police officer. As they charged up to the floor above ours, I opened the door to our apartment. In the moment before the hall light went off, they turned and saw me. As they moved on, our neighbor from the upper floor came running down the stairs. I grabbed her and pushed her inside our apartment and slammed the door.

Outside, we could hear the men storming about. Desperately, we sought to hide. Danny helped our neighbor climb into a crawl space above our bedroom; I went in behind her with Yael in my arms. Then Danny grabbed Einat and was dashing out the front door to take refuge in an underground shelter when the terrorists came crashing into our flat. They held Danny and Einat while they searched for me and Yael, knowing there were more people in the apartment. I will never forget the joy and the hatred in their voices as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades. I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space and we would be killed. So I kept my hand over her mouth, hoping she could breathe. As I lay there, I remembered my mother telling me how she had hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust. “This is just like what happened to my mother,” I thought.

As police began to arrive, the terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to eyewitnesses, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl’s skull in against a rock with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar.

By the time we were rescued from the crawl space, hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives, I had smothered her.

On May 26, 2008, that basher of baby skulls, that great hero of the Palestinian struggle, walked free across the Lebanese border. He received a hero’s welcome, had the red carpet rolled out for him, had a national holiday declared in his honor, was greeted by the prime minister, president, speaker of the house, and the leader of Hezbollah. He later met with the Syrian president and was awarded Syria’s highest medal, the Syrian Order of Merit. On the day of celebration, they hung banners throughout Lebanon stating: “Israel is shedding tears of pain while Lebanon is shedding tears of joy.” No one in Israel will deny that.

Next time you are riled at the reception that al-Megrahi received in Libya, imagine what Smadar had to go through watching the man who destroyed her family wave to his adoring fans.

I am well aware that the choices made by Israeli prime ministers are not easy and that prisoner releases and swaps are amongst the most emotionally draining decisions. Indeed, like his predecessor, Netanyahu is standing now on the verge of yet another such tough choice of paying a heavy price to secure the release of Gilad Shalit in a deal that is likely to include the release of Marwan Barghouti — a five-count murderer and future Palestinian leader.

Maybe justice is the price of peace. Maybe the innocent do have to watch the guilty roam free so they may gain their own freedom.

What is certain is that America must stop and reflect next time it pressures Israel into such compromises so that it does not impose on others what it does not desire for itself.

Eli Bernstein is a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs and Energy Economics. He can be contacted at eli.bernstein@gmail.com.
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