This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: August 22, 2009): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Americans’ expectations that they will be treated decently at least by their friends abroad took a sharp elbow to the chin this week. Accustomed to seeing our flag burned in too many capitals, we have found comfort among a small handful of true allies in recent years. Scotland was among the last places where we would expect a deliberate poke in the eye, but from Scotland this week came an outrage that is likely to engender a boycott of that land’s famed whiskey if not all its other products.
Like every miscarriage of justice, there is a background story here about which the young among us may not yet be aware. Two hundred fifty-nine Americans were murdered a bit more than twenty years ago (December 21, 1988) by a bomb planted on a U.S. passenger jet, PanAm 103, as it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland. It was the largest civilian death toll of Americans killed by an act of terrorism prior to 9/11. Forty-five of the dead were U.S. college students coming home for the holidays, the largest group (35) from Syracuse University. Murderous terrorists cut all these lives short, and lived freely for some years thereafter. The anguish of the victims’ families wound on and on across the 1990’s, as investigations met evasive non-cooperation from those in a position to aid justice. Frustrated, they filed civil lawsuits against those they felt responsible: the Government of Libya.
Finally in January 2001, the sole perpetrator ever convicted in the criminal case, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was given a life sentence by a Scottish court. Despite this, and without any finding of actual innocence or error in his trial, on August 20, 2009, he was released and flown home to Libya in that nation’s Presidential Jet. Eight years served for killing 270 people (259 on the plane, 11 on the ground in Scotland)!
The Scottish authorities have explained this outrage on the thin basis that Al Megrahi is sick, so sick with cancer that “compassion” required him to be sent home to die, rather than finish his time on this earth where his trial earlier had determined he forever belonged: in jail. Though it never has fully accepted responsibility for the crime, the Government of Libya, al Megrahi’s employer at the time of the crime, in October 2008 settled the civil case, and began paying $1.8 billion in compensation to the families of the victims. But no true contrition accompanied these transfers of cash: Saif al-Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s ruler, also told the BBC in 2008 that the payments were simply a way to get trade sanctions against his country removed.
While the Obama Administration loudly has expressed its displeasure over the release of Al Megrahi, no re-examination of its preferred response to other captured terrorists has been audible. The Obama team seems to remain in a rush to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and to transfer many of the detainees to allies for trial. Hopefully, most will remain incarcerated in jails. But the Lockerbie case highlights the key overall flaw in this strategy for handling dangerous terrorists: allies simply do not value American lives the way American juries would. Indeed, many of our European friends grow more concerned about American courts that are capable and willing to hand down death sentences than they worry about the release of terrorists. The release this week of Mr. Al Megrahi on order of a Scottish court ought to make all Americans rethink their reluctance to house terrorist convicts in American prisons.
Written: August 20, 2009
Gordon L. Bowen
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