Afternoon Inquisition

AI: We Sentence You to Life in Prison, Unless . . .

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi of Libya killed 270 people by blowing Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky above the Scottish town of Lockerbie two decades ago. He was convicted earlier this decade, and sentenced to life in prison in the UK.

In September 2008, al Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, and medical officials now say his condition is rapidly deteriorating. According to doctors, he has about three months to live.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who intitially supported the sentence, recently ordered al Megrahi’s release on compassionate grounds, and today the 57 year-old bomber was put on a plane back to Libya to be allowed to die at home.

What are your thoughts on compassion for people who commit such heinous crimes? Do they deserve compassion? Would you do the same if you were in MacAskill’s position? Is this decision by officials in the UK fair to the family members of the victims?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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115 Comments

  1. Short answer:

    Compassion is about the giver, not the receiver. If you have to evaluate whether or not someone deserves your compassion or not, you’re not actually compassionate.

    I might do the same as MacAskill if I were in his position, but then I’d be a completely different person, so I can’t be sure.

    It may not be fair to the victims’ family members, but then again no rulings will give them back what they lost.

  2. Overall I am in favor of compassion toward prisoners, though releasing someone who has killed so many people is going too far. I would have considered extra visiting hours more than enough compassion in these circumstances.

  3. I’ll take the unpopular position and admit that I think it was OK to let him go. He’s no longer a threat to society and revenge or punishment aren’t really relevant anymore, since he’ll be dead in 3 months. He’ll suffer terribly in prison or out, but at least his family will get to see him one last time.

  4. He is a mass murder and an outright asshole but he’s still a person. I have no problem with him going home to die.

    As far as is it fair to the victims family. I don’t know. Was any of it really fair? Did locking him in prison really comfort them? Maybe I’m just not a vindictive person but even if someone hurt someone I loved I wouldn’t want them to suffer. My pain doesn’t justify pain in another. I understand that people who hurt other people should be taken out of society so they can’t hurt more but I don’t want them treated cruelly. I just want to know they can’t do it again. I don’t think he’ll be blowing up any more planes as he dies a slow death from caner.

  5. I understand both sides of this argument, part of me says let him rot, I also have compassion for the ill. I understand and would encourage special rights for the dying, however releasing him from prison all together seems to be going too far, especially for this guy.

  6. Two points here. Firstly, the ability to show compassion and mercy, even to those who don’t deserve it, is something to be valued. It’s one Christian teaching that I, a rabid atheist, subscribe to.

    Secondly, the investigation and trial were a total mess. Maybe he did it, maybe he didn’t. Many of the families of the victims think al Megrahi should never have been convicted and they are upset that his appeal will now be cancelled. It is likely that key lines of enquiry that were wrongly closed will ever now be re-opened and so we will not learn the truth about the bombing.

  7. I believe that all people, indeed, all beings, deserve compassion. But, as I told a friend of mine recently, forgiveness is given, redemption is earned.

    Has al Megrahi demonstrated remorse for his actions? Has he recognized and acknowledged his guilt? Has he come to terms with his crime? Has he made any effort to seek redemption? If so, then letting him spend his last days at home, (under supervision, if necessary) might be reasonable. But if not, then let him die in his cell, or shackled to a hospital bed.

    Compassion doesn’t have to come in the form of a get out of jail free card. It can come in the form of a kind nurse fluffing his pillow, and bringing him a blanket.

  8. I see nothing wrong with letting him go home to die. I see jail as a way to keep violent individuals from causing any additional harm to society and as a form of deterrent. I doubt the deterrent factor of imprisonment will be reduced much due to this ruling or that Megrahi will cause any more damage to society at this point. Perhaps it is not fair to the victims of his crime for him to be set free but nothing would be fair to them at this point. Whether or not Megrahi dies in prison or with his family, those lives he took are still lost and there is nothing we can do about that. There is nothing we can do about the suffering he has already caused but we can do something to ease his suffering, though he really doesn’t deserve it.

  9. In this epic struggle of GOOD vs EVIL we have: On one side, “people” who would happily execute fellow humans for as little as penning a cartoon of a PIMP that they consider a prophet, on the other side we have a people who show compassion to an individual reponsible for the death of hundreds of innocents. If it were up to me, this terrorist would spend the rest of his short life suffering in excruchiating pain, but it isn’t…. But dont expect ANY good to come from the other side, evil remains evil, regardless of how much compassion is shown to them.

  10. When I heard about this story this morning, I wondered if it would end up as the AI.

    I don’t know how I feel about this. Part of me thinks that justice won’t be served any more than it has already by keeping a dying man in prison three more months. Another part of me wants to watch him rot in his cell.

    On the whole, though, I think I like the former part of me better than the latter.

  11. Everyone will die of something and in all manner of ways from all manner of diseases. I have no problem with life sentences with no chance of parole and in this case the only apparent mitigation was that the convicted mass murder had cancer and is about to suffer a premature death. So what, he was sentenced to stay in prison until his death. His family can travel to Scotland for a goodby visit.

    I visited Lockerbie thirteen years ago on my way to the Edinburgh Festival to drink, laugh and experience some life with my wife. Visiting Lockerbie was a moment of perspective to say the least. This man was responsible for taking away 270 peoples chance to experience any moments of life again. He does not deserve to experience a moment of life back in his family home.

  12. @Godless Steve: I completely agree, except for one thing. I am very skeptical about the actual deterrent value of incarceration (or any other form of criminal punishment, for that matter). I really doubt that criminals are thinking ahead to the possible legal consequences of their actions when committing crimes. That goes double for ideologically-motivated crimes, as getting punished by the infidels or capitalist pigs or whoever you’re against is a sign that you really got to them plus it makes you a bit of a martyr.

  13. None of those people on the plane had a chance to go home to die. I have all kinds of compassion for people who – through no fault of their own – are suffering. He chose to do what he did and all that came after. He chose blow up that plane and therefore chose to make his family suffer while he was incarcerated. “Life” meant he was supposed to die in prison anyway, why should it be different because it’s not a quick death?

    As far as letting people out when they’re too old or infirm to hurt others anymore, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of sentencing lengths?

  14. @AttorneyAdam:

    I completely agree, but I didn’t want to be the one to derail the thread with this subject. Punishment in general is not as effective at deterring behavior as it seems it should be, largely because people aren’t always rational and think they won’t get caught.

  15. Criminal justice is not for the victims or the families of the victims. If that were so then the perpetrator of nearly every crime would be met with life in prison. It sounds heartless, but the thoughts and feelings of the victim’s families have no place when it comes to deciding whether to terminate a sentence like this. I’ll also add that “life in prison” is rarely actually a life sentence. This is not the first or last time a murderer has been released from prison when they are old and sick.

    Compassion is about the giver, not the receiver. If you have to evaluate whether or not someone deserves your compassion or not, you’re not actually compassionate.

    This, exactly. I simultaneously feel compassion for the victims, their families, and for the perpetrator.

  16. @James Fox wrote:

    That is part of the equation; he was also in prison as punishment for his acts.

    True, but what is the point of punishing him and is that purpose better served by keeping him in prison for the next 3 months?

    @spellwight wrote:

    As far as letting people out when they’re too old or infirm to hurt others anymore, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of sentencing lengths?

    Maybe, but what is that purpose?

  17. I am rather surprised at some of the vitriolic comments here. I thought it was fairly common knowledge that this was a highly controversial conviction and quite possibly a gross miscarriage of justice. You guys talk like he definitely killed those people. What is certain is that we cannot be sure.
    I’m not usually given to conspiracy theories but in this case the conviction and the premature release were both politically expedient.

  18. The real reason they have released him is that they believe he is probably innocent. Many of the British families of the victims have been saying he was innocent and calling for his appeal and release for a long time. The pressure to keep him in has come from the US.

    It’s very telling that he had to drop his appeal to get released. The authorities really didn’t want that appeal going ahead because a lot of very embarrassing information was going to be highlighted.

  19. So, if this terrorist had been dying of cancer back when he blew the plane up, he would have simply been sent home rather than having to serve any time at all?

    I guess I just don’t get it. If you put someone in prison for life, doesn’t that mean – be definition – you expect them to die there?

    Fairness isn’t really an issue. He was not put in prison to be fair to the families of the victims. He was put in prison because he murdered people and we frown on that, regardless of who the victims are related to.

  20. @James Fox: That makes sense, but it leaves me with 2 more questions. First, why is it important to have consistent structured social reactions to crimes? Don’t get me wrong–my gut fully agrees with you that punishing criminals is a good idea, but I’m having trouble justifying that feeling on an intellectual level.

    Second, would it be inconsistent with that rationale for punishing criminals to let Megrahi (or a hypothetical definitely-guilty guy in the same position) die of cancer in Libya rather than a Scottish prison?

  21. You are in prison for life; not until really, really sick. And why limit it to sick? Is it really compassionate to allow someone to die in a different place? Death is ugly and sucks; you don’t die with dignity and it’s not pleasant. Compassionate would be allowing this guy out when he can function. Actually, letting him free now is probably less compassionate because he’s pretty much an invalid. When the doctors give you “three months”, you aren’t walking around and fine and then just all of a sudden die. Now, he has less resources to receive care.

    Letting this guy out is beyond dumb. He’s not innocent now that he’s sick.

    @waltdakind: Since when were terrorists making logical conclusions about who they hate? We can be nice as hell and it still will not stop crazies from being crazy. They did not reach to blowing up planes of random people with little to no global influence as a logical conclusion.

  22. No, i think that is so ridiculous! Anyone who murders people carelessly like that does not deserve to be the exception to the law. You do the crime then you do the time! He should have to live out the rest of his life in prison no matter what. If they’re opening up to giving people a break who have cancer now then they may start making exceptions for all prisoners who become sick.

  23. @Sam Ogden

    Of course. Maybe I’m biased. My first job was in a prison, and it didn’t take me long to start seeing criminals as people, rather than evil bogeymen. Although one or two of them may have been evil, the prisoner at the jail who was considered the most evil bogeyman, Vincent Hickey, turned out to be innocent.

  24. From what I heard there is a provision in Scottish Law that allows any prisoner to be freed on compassionate grounds.

    Maybe the law was enacted with some other reason in mind. But when this guy meets the conditions to be eligible for compassionate release he cannot be detained.

    From a legal stand point (again, if I understood correctly) , he has to be released. If someone doesn’t like it then have the laws changed (These would not take effect retroactively, so he would still be eligible).

    Personally, I don’t think he should be released, if he is in fact guilty; but if the law is supposed to be “the same for everyone” I wont suggest that we make an exeption with him.

  25. I don’t see why one would let this guy out of prison to “die at home” – he didn’t give the victims of his attrocity the chance to die at home. If I were to put him on an airplane, it might be so that I could shove him out of the hatch at 37,000 feet and see how he likes to fall to his death as most of his victims did….

    Dying of cancer in prison after such a short time seems far too lenient….

  26. All this stuff about a life sentence meaning life in prison is very odd. It’s not meant that in Britain for over 40 years. Here it means a life under supervision, some or all of which may be in prison.

    Releasing terminally ill life prisoners is very common. Apart from anything else, it saves a lot of money.

  27. @AttorneyAdam: As much as I value my personal freedoms and liberty, these notions are only an option in an otherwise civil society. At times civil behavior needs to provide consequences to avoid anarchy. Notions of fairness and justice demand the consequences be reasonable and consistent. Pretty self evident notions I would think… , especially for a parent.

    Transfer of a criminal to a ‘prison’ in his home country seems a not uncommon practice from what I’ve read. Nix on the go home option though.

  28. @James Fox wrote:

    As much as I value my personal freedoms and liberty, these notions are only an option in an otherwise civil society. At times civil behavior needs to provide consequences to avoid anarchy. Notions of fairness and justice demand the consequences be reasonable and consistent. Pretty self evident notions I would think… , especially for a parent.

    I tend to agree. As an attorney, the rule of law is pretty much my bread and butter. However, I think you’ve just justified punishment for the sake of deterrence, not punishment for the sake of punishment. I don’t think that you punish your children simply to pay back bad behavior with something they doesn’t like, but rather to teach them that the bad behavior is bad and should not be repeated. Punishing a child serves the dual purposes of highlighting which behaviors are bad and deterring future similar behavior by letting the child know that bad things will happen to them if the behavior is repeated.

    The same rationale doesn’t apply very well to criminals. They generally already know that they are doing something wrong and they are likely not really considering the consequences of their actions when they commit their crimes. In my opinion, the strongest reason to punish criminals is to incapacitate them. A criminal in jail is not committing any further harm to society. I think that there is a weaker reason (and maybe this is what you’re talking about as punishment being an end in itself), which is to give the community an outlet for the outrage that a crime generates. In some sense, the entire community is harmed when a crime is committed against a member of the community and it will assuage that harm to some degree to see the criminal punished.

  29. There is big question about his actual guilt and has been appealing his conviction.

    He was identified by a man who recognised his face from a magazine and may never have actually met him to sell him the clothes that were found alongside the bomb.

    That aside, I’m actually quite shocked by the number of otherwise rational posters who seem to subscribe to justice-as-vengence (though I’m not that suprised they’re mainly a
    Americans given the depth of seepage of religion into the US general culture)

    Allowing Al Magrahi to go home and die in peace with his family is the right and just thing to do. I know it’s not the death the Lockerbie victims had (questions of guilt aside) but even if he did murder those people, inflicting an horrendous death on him serves only to satisfy a shameful public bloodlust.

  30. @Attorney Adam. I am assuming that you are asking these questions to stimulate rhetorical debate. The purpose of sentences is to define the consequences of one’s acts. If you practice Criminal Law, you are well aware of the sliding scale of punishments that a judge refers to when passing sentence. That sliding scale is the purpose of the sentencing phase of a trial. However, the final determination of sentence goes something like this: “You are sentenced to life in prison.” It doesn’t include, “…well unless you get kinda sick or don’t like the food, or Bubba was mean to you.”

    To suggest that Prostate Cancer is an excuse to defeat the sentence passed by the court is to deny the authority of the court, even if it is the same judge in both instances. A case for reconsideration? O.K. Reversal on appeal? Good. Oh, you’re sick? So?

    I, too, have prostate cancer. If that is an excuse to escape punishment, I’m gonna go out and rob me some liquor stores, maybe a bank or two. I have the ready-made defense: I know it was wrong but, hey, I get a High-scoring PSA Pass. And anyway, it would be cruel to make my wife leave home to visit me. Oh, and as I lay dying, it will be such a comfort to know everyone is being “compassionate.”

  31. No compassion whatsoever. Compassion is for those who have been unjustly treated severely, not for giving amnesty to every single bloody murderer out there because we have to satisfy some religiously irrational appreciation for their lives. Dangerous dogs are euthanized daily.

  32. @AttorneyAdam: Have you read George Walden’s “God won’t save America”? In it he outlines a thesis that Puritanism (or puritan ideas) informs almost all aspects of american culture.

    In the chapter on law and justice he outlines the thesis that the puritan/calvenist concept of predistination, that “losers” are born losers and criminals should be excluded from society perminantly as they can’t be reformed.

    Interestingly, when compared to other western countries, America has a higher prison population, lower rate of reform and higher costs of running the equvilent justice system.

  33. @Old Geezer:

    I, too, have prostate cancer. If that is an excuse to escape punishment, I’m gonna go out and rob me some liquor stores, maybe a bank or two.

    Honestly, do you think that the reason most people don’t rob liquor stores and banks is because they fear the punishment? I’m sure it acts to discourage a few people, but most people would not (I hope) rob stores even if they knew they wouldn’t face prison or any kind of criminal justice. If your fear of going to prison truly is the only thing stopping you from committing crimes, then I would worry about you. While threat of prison certainly deters a few criminals, I don’t think it’s the biggest factor that makes people behave, the same way I disagree with certain religious people who claim that fear of Hell is what makes people behave. Certainly the threat of prison is not useless in deterrence, but I don’t think it’s the biggest factor in effecting people’s behavior. And in this case, I doubt there is any person thinking, “Hmm, I would be willing to kill 127 people if only I knew that I could get out of prison a few months early if I get cancer”.

  34. I heard one of the victim’s relatives on NPR earlier… I personally am conflicted, but could see her point. If it had been a family member of mine, I am sure I would want revenge (I know, it’s not a use of critical thinking). However, I am human, and sometimes my emotions win out over logic.

  35. Showing compassion toward a fellow human being is the ethical thing to do regardless of the crimes they’ve commited.

    Morals should trump any emotional need to seek revenge. However, even if we were to decide that “punishing” this man was the right thing to do, he *is* being punished regardless of whether or not he stays in prison. The man is not going home to throw a beer bust….he’s going home to suffer and die.

    If I were the judge, I would have done the same thing. Vengance is animalistic and, unless a punishment is going to yield some greater good for society, then that punishment is nothing more than an exercise in indulging our baser instincts. So, I don’t understand the concept of punishing someone just for the sake of punishing them.

    What good would be gained from keeping a terminally ill man in prison the last 3 months of his life? It won’t bring the victims back to life, it won’t end their families pain. Criminal aren’t going to start commiting more crimes because they can start using their “get out of jail free with cancer” cards.

    As for the families…no it isn’t fair to them. But, this isn’t about fairness. When peoples lives have been taken away, it is inherently unfair and there’s nothing that can be done to truly fix that. The best anyone can do is acknowledge how horrible the whole thing is and try to go on living as compassionate human beings.

    I’d rather not live in a society that is willing to throw away its humanity because of the inhumane acts of a small segment of the population.

  36. @catgirl:
    I feel you have slipped into the “I wouldn’t do it so no one else would” mode. There are any number of 14 year-olds who commit murder or hold weapons for their older friends simply because they know that they face far lesser consequences due to their age.

    There is a great difference between what “most people” would do than what might be done by those who inhabit the fringe of society.

    Giving everyone a free pass will not force those who share your ethical standards to go against them. That said, criminals who decide to commit crimes usually run away, not because they suddenly see the error of their ways or want compassion for their untoward circumstances, but because they don’t want to be locked up.

  37. @russellsugden: I have not read that particular book, but I am generally familiar with the idea that Puritan ideas have a disproportionate influence on modern American attitudes. That’s something I think we Americans will continue to struggle with for some time yet. I hadn’t thought about tying predestination to the treatment of criminals. That’s an interesting thought. It might explain why the current American justice system has very few features aimed at reform. Locking someone up for a while will not turn them from a criminal into a law-abiding citizen. That would require figuring out why the criminal committed a crime and addressing the root cause, which is much more difficult than locking him up for a while. Given that the current justice system does not really provide many useful tools to reform criminals, I would stand by my earlier judgment of the reasons to punish criminals.

    @catgirl: Stole the words right out of my keyboard. ;)

  38. @LadyMitris:
    I am curious about the number of people who think that staying in prison will result in horrible suffering and that going home will allow him to die in peace. As you rightly point out, he will die a horrible, painful death no matter the venue. Well, maybe not. In the UK (I assume) there is modern medicine even in prisons. Since we are all speculating on how wonderful it will be for him to be able to die at home, I’m going to speculate on what his at-home circumstances will be. He was not, as I understand it, a wealthy member of society. I speculate that his access to palliative care may be somewhat less at home than it is right there in prison.

    The only difference, as I see it, is that he will spend the last three, six or nine months preaching hatred for the infidel and blaming the rest of us for his getting cancer. The result will be a new group of bombers ready to act upon his valuable teachings.

  39. @Old Geezer:

    I feel you have slipped into the “I wouldn’t do it so no one else would” mode.

    No, I never said that no-one else would commit a crime in the absence of punishment. I think that most people would not, but maybe I’m just being naive. Am I really the only person who has never thought, “I would be perfectly willing to kill that person if it weren’t for the threat of jail/Hell”? As for the people on the fringe, threat of punishment is somewhat effective as a deterrent, but not nearly as effective as you would expect it to be. It tends to encourage people to try to avoid getting caught rather than avoid committing the crime.

    Also, I never said anything at all about giving everyone (or anyone) a “free pass”. Where did you get that idea? It’s not like this man will get out of suffering, if that’s really what’s important to you. He has freaking terminal cancer. However, I honestly think that keeping him in prison for another few months would not deter anyone from committing a similar crime.

    @LadyMitris:

    Criminal aren’t going to start commiting more crimes because they can start using their “get out of jail free with cancer” cards.

    You said it better than I could.

  40. Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi has just received a hero’s welcome at an airport in Libya complete with cheering crowds led by the flag waving son of Kaddafi. Knowing that this spectacle would take place alone should have kept our terrorist/mass murder in prison.

  41. This is a very interesting discussion, and presents to me two quite obvious differences between the US and UK/Australian style justice systems.

    It is quite common here for prisoners to be released where they are terminally ill or very old. It’s not considered that it serves any useful purpose for people to die in jail where they pose no threat. And I believe most Australians support that view. So this release is not particularly controversial and media from the UK seems to show a similar Attitude in the UK.

    I think this episode has also shown a real difference in what is seen as the purpose of incarceration. Many of the comments here suggest that punishment is the purpose whereas in Australia we consider punishment to be important, reform is also important. I think most would agree the prison system isn’t very good at this, but it contributes to the general agreement that compassion in certain cases is desireable.

    Finally, I am surprised at the level ofpersonal responsibility people here are placing on this man. Even if he is guilty of putting that bomb on the plane, and to me it is not clear that he is responsible – remember Libya turned him over – he was almost certainly acting, if not under the direct orders, with the complicity of the Libyan government. I don’t really understand why so many here seem to so easily overlook this?

  42. Point 1-If you are found guilty, the you are to spend the full sentance, without regard to health. The crime you committed was done without regard to the health of the victim.

    Point 2 If there is a reasonable chance you may be innocent, you should be afforded a new trial. I would much rather try a guilty man 100 times than allow an innocent man to spend time in prison.

    And, yes, in case you are wondering, I am talking about these guys

  43. @catgirl:
    He was not sentenced to life in prison in order to “suffer.” He was sentenced to confinement for the rest of his life. I am not arguing that he should be made to “suffer” more because he has cancer. In fact, as I’ve said above, I think he might well suffer less with palliative care available at the prison.

    What I am most interested in here is the idea that prison sentences are meant to be indeterminate, compassionate, flexible, or whatever not based upon the crime committed, but upon how good a story the criminal can come up with later.

    In the U.S. there is the ability to impose sequential sentencing. It is not unusual for someone who is convicted of, say, ten murders to be sentenced to ten life terms. The object of that is to make it clear that multiple murder is even worse than a single murder and that this person should not be back on the street. No one expects the criminal to be held for nine reincarnations as punishment.

    But 270 murders? Let’s be sad for him and send him home. Why bother? Tell each murderer that he is a bad boy and send him home.

  44. @Peregrine: OK as far as it goes.
    To be compassionate or forgiving is my choice. Redemption is his choice.
    If I base my choice on what he chooses, I am giving him a measure of control over my choices.
    I don’t choose to give my power away that easily.

  45. I don’t know too much about this case. Were there alleged religious motivations? He’s now getting a heroes welcome, maybe he could achieve more. If there were religious reasons for the bombing, what’s to stop him from deciding to go out as a martyr, strapping a bomb on and killing some more people. If you are going to die soon anyway might as well get a bunch of virgins when you arrive.

  46. I agree with Secretary MacAskill’s decision, and I think he is a courageous man to make such an unpopular decision on principal. I’ve probably pissed off a few people at CNN by posting my views, but that’s okay. What this killer did was terrible and hurtful to many people, and I have no love for him. But letting him die in prison will not help anyone. I believe that we should be compassionate to all people simply because they are people, sentient beings capable of suffering. In my opinion, the statement, “He showed no compassion for his victims, and therefore he should receive no compassion,” just doesn’t follow. We should not be cruel to someone just because they are cruel. This is the reason why, while I believe in retribution, I think it is over-rated. While no one should be allowed to get away with murder, excessive retribution is like trying to turn two wrongs into a right. It’s saying, “You caused other people to suffer, so we’re going to add your suffering to the mix, and maybe that will magically make things better.” I just don’t see the point of such punishments.

  47. @Skepotter: Agreed. Redemption is sort of a subjective thing. How does a person on the outside looking in measure another person’s remorse? A victim might have a completely different opinion on the matter than an uninvolved observer.

    Like my friend who was assaulted. Not as bad as blowing up a plain full of people, but still a pretty rotten thing to do to another person. Her attacker has made no indication of remorse or any attempt to make amends, to the point of blatantly denying any wrongdoing. And has repeatedly slapped away any offer of forgiveness from her, which only makes her emotional turmoil worse. Obviously, to her and her friends, he’s a despicable sleezebag. While to his friends, he’s apparently a swell guy, and fun to be around.

    But it’s in my nature, and hers too, to hold out hope that he’s not beyond redemption. It won’t absolve him of any responsibility. The story of Angulimala reminds us that while no one is beyond redemption, they are still responsible for the consequences of their actions.

    Some people get let out of jail to go die in their home country whether they deserve it or not. Some people get million dollar contracts to play professional sports whether they deserve it or not. Some people even get off scott free whether they deserve it or not.

    In the case of al Megrahi, all we can do is hope the judge made the right call.

  48. The guy is going to die, why punish his grieving family more by not letting them be with him at the end? I see that as compassionate and appropriate towards his family (they may or may not approve of what he did but they didn’t do it).

    On another level, the message of kindness and compassion this release shows was probably very intentional. Harder to say the UK is pure evil when they send a sick man to be with his family in his final weeks.

  49. We must decide whether we want to be better than terrorist and murders. Are we going to reach for our noblers selves if we are always trying to be more brutal than the evil people. We are poorly served by vengance. He is going to die and I will not mourne his passing. He committed an act of extreme evil. But we do not acheive justice by keeping him in prison for the next few months until he dies of natural causes. If I was a family member of one of the victims I would want to kill him myself but not for justice I would want revenge. The state killing him or holding him to his death would not in any way satisfy that desire. There is no justice for these families they will not get their loved ones back.

  50. I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a clergyman.

    Rev. Ian Galloway, Church of Scotland, said:
    “We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy?
    “This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful.
    “I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims’ families and I respect their views, but to them, I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy.
    “Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge.”

  51. @catgirl: You know what? My personal experience is somewhat different here.

    I personally, though I am not proud to admit it, would certainly perform various acts of robbery and shoplifting if there were no dedicated societal opponents to such acts. Just because I wouldn’t kill anyone (at least anyone I’ve met) if there were no police, etc., doesn’t mean I wouldn’t make life and society more difficult for those around me. The fact of the matter is, punishment deters me from stealing wine from grocery stores, not morals.

    I’m not proud; I can admit I’m not a very good person. And I would not expect most people to be better than me.

    Maybe this person’s circumstances really are extraordinary, in which case it’s worth considering whether the punishment set on him is even relevant in the first place; but you shouldn’t switch things up halfway through without extenuating circumstances. Unless, of course, you are in the middle of changing the whole of the legal ramifications of breaking relevant laws.

  52. To step aside from the emotional language being used for a moment….
    Firstly, it seems there is cause to review his conviction. He may be incarcerated unfairly.
    Secondly, prisons cost money. Particularly when a prisoner is a high profile offender, and in need of expensive medical care and attention.
    Thirdly, the Scottish prison system is under the eyeglass on a regular basis as one of the most overcrowded and outdated prisonservices around. It is out of capacity and many facilities are out of date.

    Why should the UK public continue to fund not only a prison place, but the medical care and attention that this man needs, when his conviction may be shaky and he will be dead soon anyway?

  53. As an ex-airline professional, I say “Let him rot” unless there is very strong and convincing evidence to overturn his conviction. Let his sentence serve as a lesson for those that turn to terrorism. Blowing up innocent people to make a political point is abhorrent to me beyond words. One has to ask where compassion and mercy were the day the Lockerbie flight was brought down.

    Though I knew no one on the Lockerbie flight, I’ve lost too many friends and acquaintances in that industry. A few acquaintances of friends of mine were working the 9/11 flights. I know of airline employees that were so frightened and scarred by the 9/11 hijackings that they suffered recurrent anxiety attacks and had to leave the airline business. There are many people today that fear to set foot on a flight because they are so anxious about another attempt.

    I feel that some acts are so henious that the perpetrator doesn’t deserve mercy, such as torture, terrorism, child molestation, rape, cold-blooded murder, etc.

    I can appreciate the motives of those above to be merciful to someone that will die soon anyway. If he were guilty of a lesser crime, I might well take their side. But not this one. The only way I would budge on this is if all of the victim’s families agree to allowing him out.

  54. my best friend’s dad was on the Lockerbie flight, and she called me yesterday very distraught about the whole situation. she was only like 4 when it happened, but she’s been dealing with the repercussions of this man’s actions her whole life. she and her family didn’t want him released, and maybe I’m too lose to her to see how this man could diverse any compassion. why should he get to see his family or home again when he deprived so many people of those things?

  55. @QuestionAuthority said:

    One has to ask where compassion and mercy were the day the Lockerbie flight was brought down.

    Perhaps. But we don’t give out compassion for Browny points. Compassion is not a beneficent eye-for-an-eye campaign.

    And in our so-called enlightened, civilized society one of the very fundamental points of compassion is to offer it in the face of lesser behaviour.

    If we only gave out compassion to those who gave it first, would there be any point? Would it have any meaning at all?

  56. My confusion is how his personal health alters the equation of justice. If being sentenced to die in prison is a just sentence, how does it become unjust when we add prostate cancer? Does the same equation apply to simple old age? Why have the sentence of life without parole in the first place, if you don’t actually intend to carry it out?

  57. @ZachTP: I’m not proud; I can admit I’m not a very good person. And I would not expect most people to be better than me.

    —————

    Well, unless the state is actually preventing you from purchasing wine, I think that the adjective you want is evil, not bad. But that aside, it’s probably not true that most people are only deterred from stealing by the threat of punishment. A quick literature search didn’t give me any solid answers, but at least one study suggested that morality, and not opportunity, is the best predictor of whether a person will steal.

  58. @LadyMitris:
    What good would be gained from keeping a terminally ill man in prison the last 3 months of his life? It won’t bring the victims back to life…

    —-

    I don’t remember anyone ever saying that the purpose of putting criminals in prison is to bring their victims back to life, yet this phrase for some reason pops up in every discussion of prison or capital punishment. Pretty sure there’s nothing in this reality that WILL bring the dead back to life, anyway, except for zombie viruses. And is that really “life?”

    The “purpose” of prison, in my opinion:
    NOT vengeance, rehabilitation, or punishment; at least not totally. When you commit a crime against society, you owe society a debt; a debt that is to be paid by spending some time of your life behind bars. This man was found guilty of blowing up a plane, which resulted in the deaths of some 270 innocent individuals. The debt he owed, according to the court that had jurisdiction, was the rest of his life. Letting him out early for any reason (excepting for new evidence of innocence) leaves that debt unpaid. Again, in my opinion.

  59. I don’t think it has anything to do with him paying his debt to society.

    In my opinion, prison only serves two purposes; prevent that criminal from comitting another crime and trying to rehabilitate the criminal. If a criminal has been rehabilitated, it doesn’t matter how long he’s been kept in prison; release him. If he hasn’t been rehabilitated, keep his ass locked up. Paying your debt to society might work for shoplifting or some kind of petty theft, but certainly not for something like blowing up an airliner. How do you do the math on that?

    If there is another terrorist plot and it turns out this guy had a hand in it, I hope whoever signed off on his release is willing to present him or herself before the victims families and hear what they have to say. Personally, I don’t think he should have been let out. If it’s about quality of life, then give him better care while he’s in prison. I pay taxes and I’m all for that (except he’s not in a US prison, but still.. I’m willing) If it’s about letting him die at home, it comes down to letting him die at home vs the possibility that he’ll do something that will cost lives before he dies. It’s not worth the risk.

    Of course I’m in favor of the death penalty, and I don’t believe this guy should be alive right now. We certainly wouldn’t have to worry about these sorts of questions now… would we?

  60. @SicPreFix: If we only gave out compassion to those who gave it first, would there be any point? Would it have any meaning at all?

    ———-

    Of course, she never said you should. She simply asked where the compassion and mercy were at the time a heinous crime was committed. That is, it isn’t so much that the criminal in question didn’t give compassion as that they murdered a lot of people that they had no compassion for. At least, that’s the crime they were convicted of.

    And no, compassion is not a beneficent eye-for-eye campaign. But again, it wasn’t suggested that it should be, nor is this a zero sum game where those are the only options.

    I hope that you are not implying–as you certainly would appear to be by your words–that murdering over a hundred people is merely a “lesser” behavior than showing compassion for them. Because that would just be freaking disgusting. If you were saying that, as you appear to be.

    Now, I’m certainly not following in your footsteps in the above comment, and putting words in your mouth. I’m just pointing out that a strict reading of your comment has that information content.

  61. I’m going to throw a spanner in the works here because i’m mortified that some commenters have included this crime in the general, more recent spate of what’s often called “Muslim extremism” terrorism.

    I think we’ve forgotten is that this act was very likey a state sponsored response to the US military shooting down a plane full of innocent people.

    Very short memories.

  62. @wavingcat: I think we’ve forgotten is that this act was very likey a state sponsored response to the US military shooting down a plane full of innocent people.

    ———-

    Why on earth would this matter at all? I mean, if its true, I can see it as a reason to declare war on Libya, but I can’t imagine why it should effect this particular person’s sentence.

  63. @sethmanapio:

    I hope that you are not implying … that murdering over a hundred people is merely a “lesser” behavior than showing compassion for them.

    No. I was generalizing. Most of my post was just generalized rhetoric; not so much topic-specific as topic-general.

  64. @SicPreFix: “””If we only gave out compassion to those who gave it first, would there be any point?”””

    I do think we must show more or less compassion depending on the previous behavior of the other. I do not see how temporal precedence matters, that is, why it is meaningless if we ask for compassion from the other prior to us giving out compassion, if he’s the one carrying out the aggression. That someone shows compassion does not mean that the person doesn’t do anything bad at all, but only that one doesn’t do all the harm that is possible. I can agree with a number of uses of force, but I cannot agree with blindly trying the most damaging thing you can come up with.

    Actually, that’s one of the differences between terrorism and regular war: terrorism maximizes fear by mass murdering random targets, whereas regular war spares the lives of most non-fighters. Therefore, people who engage in military conflicts the usual way are being pretty compassionate as opposed to e.g. terrorists like this one. I can understand being compassionate with an enemy soldier who killed our soldiers and has been captured, as long as his behavior is noble, but I wouldn’t show any compassion to e.g. an enemy soldier known to have killed civilians on purpose.

    So, we can definitely give out compassion to someone if that person has not engaged in the craziest thing he could and, therefore, has showed some sensibility even when attacking us. Actually, the alternative is what does not seem right: giving compassion only to people who show no compassion at all? In that case we may probably not even be there to make the decision.

    Compassion has to be administered proportionately, the same as force. Justice can never lack compassion, or it would not be just. Being legally imprisoned is simply a well-deserved punishment, and already as compassionate as that guy could reasonably expect. I think enough compassion was given to him each day he was legally allowed to outlive his victims.

  65. @SicPreFix: Well, it was a general statement that was neither specifically relevant nor not specifically relevant to this case.

    ——-

    Wow, Sic. I have to admit I’m surprised at your reticence here. I mean, you wrote a vitriolic, dishones, ad hominem diatribe earlier because I dared to think you meant what you wrote. I would have thought you jump at the chance to clarify what you meant.

    But, no matter. So, that clears up two paragraphs: neither the second or third paragraph pertains to the comment you are quoting in any direct way, and neither bears directly on the question in the AI–if I understand you correctly.

    So what about the first statement? Are you implying–as you seem to be stating explicitly–that to withhold the accordance of a privilege from a mass murderer because they are a mass murderer is tatamount to requiring brownie points for compassion?

  66. @sethmanapio:

    I would have thought you jump at the chance to clarify what you meant.

    Clarify it for you? Can’t be done.

    … if I understand you correctly.

    I don’t think you do.

    Are you implying … that to withhold the accordance of a privilege from a mass murderer because they are a mass murderer is tatamount to requiring brownie points for compassion?

    No.

    Why does all this matter so much to you? What’s sticking in your craw?

  67. @SicPreFix: I don’t think you do.

    ———

    You seem to be contradicting yourself here. Let me ask again: Does your comment “And in our so-called enlightened, civilized society one of the very fundamental points of compassion is to offer it in the face of lesser behaviour.” relate directly to the quote from QA or doesn’t it?

  68. @SicPreFix: Hmm. When/where didja ast that one in the first place?

    —————

    Directly? I haven’t. But I’ve mentioned it twice and you’ve responded twice, and both of my mentions contained conditional statements: that is, I said “If I understand you” and “I hope you are not implying”. These phrases, while not direct questions, are clear invitations for comment and correction. In one response you said that you were generalizing, and did not mean that statement as topic specific. However, you said here that you didn’t think I understood you, when I said that that statement was not meant to be specific to QA’s comment or the AI itself.

    So, in order to clarify this, and avoid the confusion that comes from a seeming contradiction, I asked: Does your comment “And in our so-called enlightened, civilized society one of the very fundamental points of compassion is to offer it in the face of lesser behaviour.” relate directly to the quote from QA or doesn’t it?

  69. @sethmanapio:

    My comment, the one you are so hooked on, to wit:

    And in our so-called enlightened, civilized society one of the very fundamental points of compassion is to offer it in the face of lesser behaviour…

    relates in part to two of Sam’s original questions:

    What are your thoughts on compassion for people who commit such heinous crimes? Do they deserve compassion?

    and also relates in a more general sense to @QuestionAuthority‘s comment. It is an observation on social behaviour and/or mores that was in response to that comment.

    The comment:

    One has to ask where compassion and mercy were the day the Lockerbie flight was brought down.

    is, in this instance, one of those emotionally compelling, but nonetheless empty rhetorical question statements for which there is and can be no satisfactory, meaningful answer.

    For example, one way that rhetorical question could be answered would be to switch sides and say that compassion was being expressed toward all the civilian passengers on Iran Air flight 655 who died when the Americans shot it down:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655

  70. For example, one way that rhetorical question could be answered would be to switch sides and say that compassion was being expressed toward all the civilian passengers on Iran Air flight 655 who died when the Americans shot it down

    ————

    I see. Sic, it is so amazingly obscene to suggest that you can show compassion to the dead by murdering innocent people that I can’t even comment on it. Unless, of course, you didn’t mean to suggest that murder of innocents could be an expression of compassion to the dead when you said “compassion was being expressed toward all the civilian passengers on Iran Air flight 655 who died”. I wouldn’t want to assume that you meant what you said.

    In any case, I’m still not sure about your comment. Did you, or did you not, mean to imply that the murder of innocent people is merely a “lesser” form of behavior than showing compassion towards them?

  71. Stop being so damn silly seth. If you cannot understand hypothetical and rhetorical side switching (as in taking sides in a debate) to present an example of how “the other side” may rationalize their own actions, you’re a moron.

    And as I am pretty sure you are not a moron, then that suggests to me that I was right in the first place: you do not want clarification. You just want to beat this to death and try, endlessly, to find ways to trip me up.

    Man, carrying on a discussion with you is like dancing with a manic-depressive, shizophrenic.

    In a mine field.

    Blindfolded.

    In the dark.

    Did you, or did you not, mean to imply that the murder of innocent people is merely a “lesser” form of behavior than showing compassion towards them?

    No. I did not mean to imply that the murder of innocent people is merely a “lesser” form of behavior than showing compassion towards them?

    Yes I did mean to imply that that the murder of innocent people is … a “lesser” form of behavior than showing compassion towards them — as in a reduced sense of respect for humanity in general.

    Only you, in your characteristic attempt to redirect my intent, have assigned a specific, dogmatic degree of meaning to my comment by adding the word “merely” to the sentence and inaccurately modifying the word lesser to a set level or degree of meaning that was not present in my origical comment.

    Bad diction choice on my behalf. Do you want to tar and feather me now? Or can I have lunch first?

  72. Only you, in your characteristic attempt to redirect my intent,

    ———

    Have you noticed how often you claim to be able to divine my intentions? Here I am, asking you to clarify your meaning in order to avoid one of your absurd and unfair character assassinations, and you are just fighting me tooth and nail on answering even simple questions about your intent, while simultaneously claiming that I’m trying to twist your intent.

    Dude, chill. I don’t know what weird-ass bogeyman you’ve constructed and labeled “sethmanapio”, but whatever it is, it isn’t me.

  73. I’ve answered your question, and clarified my intent, in some smallish detail, twice.

    Here: @SicPreFix

    And here: @SicPreFix

    What more do you want?

    seth, your questions C&P.

    Version 1

    So, in this particular instance of this particular murderer, your question “If we only gave out compassion to those who gave it first, would there be any point?” doesn’t have any meaning?

    Well, that’s not really a question but something of a leading assumption sort of masquerading as a question with a confusing negative conclusion. So it is rather difficult to respond to. However, in my view my question does have meaning “in this particular instance of this particular murderer”.

    Version 2:

    So, again: is your question “If we only gave out compassion to those who gave it first, would there be any point?” meant to be relevant to this particular murderer?

    Well, for one thing it was not “So, again …” as you put it, because it was a rephrased and therefore changed version of your intitial question; hence a new question, which I answered; I’m not sure you accepted the answer though. (“… it was a general statement that was neither specifically relevant nor not specifically relevant to this case.” In other words, it was a general rhetorical comment that is nonetheless relevant to the present discussion, in my opinion.)

    Version 3:

    Are you implying–as you seem to be stating explicitly–that to withhold the accordance of a privilege from a mass murderer because they are a mass murderer is tatamount to requiring brownie points for compassion?

    I cannot answer that smoothly. It is a convoluted mis-statement, or misleading restatment of something I said mixed in with something I neither implied nor stated explicitly. So I guess the answer has to be, No. I am not implying, nor stating explicitly, that to withhold the accordance of a privilege from a mass murderer because they are a mass murderer is tatamount to requiring brownie points for compassion.

    Version 4:

    Does your comment “And in our so-called enlightened, civilized society one of the very fundamental points of compassion is to offer it in the face of lesser behaviour.” relate directly to the quote from QA or doesn’t it?

    As pointed out and linked to above, I answered that.

    Version 5:

    Does your comment “And in our so-called enlightened, civilized society one of the very fundamental points of compassion is to offer it in the face of lesser behaviour.” relate directly to the quote from QA or doesn’t it?

    As pointed out and linked to above, I answered that.

  74. @SicPreFix: No. I am not implying, nor stating explicitly, that to withhold the accordance of a privilege from a mass murderer because they are a mass murderer is tatamount to requiring brownie points for compassion.

    ——————

    Ok.

    See how easy that was? If you had done that about 10 comments back, we could have had a conversation. Now–and I’m sure I speak for more people than just myself–I’m just bored with the whole thing.

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