[This is the headline over the front page lead in today's edition of Scotland on Sunday. It reads in part:]
The leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics has hit out at America's "culture of vengeance" and told US Senators they have no right to question the standards of Scotland's justice system over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
In an extraordinary intervention into the row over Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, Cardinal Keith O'Brien condemns the American justice system and highlights a "conveyor belt of killing" in its use of the death penalty.
He accuses the American system of being based on "vengeance and retribution" and says he is glad to live in a country where "justice is tempered with mercy". He also likens America's executions to those in China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran and highlights those countries' poor human rights records.
He says the US Senators seeking to question Scottish and British government ministers should instead "direct their gaze inwards". (...)
O'Brien's comments, contained in an article in today's Scotland on Sunday, come after US senators revealed plans last month to hold an inquiry into the release of Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie atrocity, in which 270 people were killed.
The Cardinal says today he backs the decision by First Minister Alex Salmond not to send his ministers to the US for a Senate hearing, saying that Scottish ministers are answerable to Scots and not to the US. He then turns attention back onto the American system of justice. He writes:
"Perhaps the consciences of some Americans, especially members of the US Senate, should be stirred by the ways in which justice is administered in so many of their own states."
Quoting the Bible, he adds: "Perhaps it is time for them to cast out the beam from their own eye before seeking the mote in their brothers'. Perhaps they should direct their gaze inwards, rather than scrutinising the working of the Scottish justice system." (...)
While not explicitly endorsing the decision to release Megrahi, O'Brien offers a clear hint he believes Scottish ministers were right to do just that. "It is in the midst of such inhuman barbarism (shown by Megrahi] that we must act to affirm our own humanity," he writes. "They may plunge to the depths of human conduct but we will not follow them."
He adds: "I believe that only God can forgive and show ultimate compassion to those who commit terrible crimes and I would rather live in a country where justice is tempered by mercy than exist in one where vengeance and retribution are the norm." (...)
Frank Duggan, spokesman of the Victims of Pan Am 103 group, which represents the views of US relatives, said: "I'm a Catholic and we know that the Catholic Church has long opposed the death penalty. But I think the bishop here should stick to his knitting, and render unto Caeser's what is Caesar's."
[The report on the Cardinal's views on the BBC News website can be read here and that on the Newsnet Scotland website can be read here. Dr Jim Swire's reaction to Cardinal O'Brien's article, as contained in an e-mail to me, is as follows:]
When I first went to see Colonel Gaddafi in 1991, a week or two after Mr Al-Megrahi and Kalifa Fhima were first publicly accused of this terrible crime, it was to ask the Colonel to allow his citizens to appear in front of a Scottish court.
Why? There were three reasons: first, even then I felt sure that if tried in the USA both men would be judicially executed by a system which operates perilously close to the doctrine that might is right, and that truth can be bought.
Second, that for those deemed to be the enemy of 'God's Own Country' the quality of the evidence against them might be less important than the opportunity for vengeance to be seen to be done: that death should be delivered summarily. Unfortunately the notion that God is on your country's side has led men to commit so much malevolent slaughter down the ages that the whole name of religion can be criticised.
The third reason was that I believed the Scottish system of justice to be among the fairest. Those who seem to lust for this man's death should look not at the details of why he was released, but the question of whether he really was guilty. It was Scotland's SCCRC which studied his case and decided that the trial might have been a miscarriage of justice, and it is Scotland which has not yet found a way to follow up that finding with a vehicle allowing re-examination of the whole case, under the rigour of our law.
We must find that way now. Scotland must have an honest second look at the evidence, accommodating all the new evidence that has arisen since Megrahi's trial. Unless she does, our reputation for fairness and compassion will be destroyed at the bar of history. Our overall adherence to the need to prove cases 'beyond reasonable doubt' must be re-established.
Meanwhile let us join with the Cardinal in giving thanks to our God if we admit One, that this man, who may well be innocent, has not been judicially executed in our names.
[The following is from a report on the website of The Guardian:]
A spokesman for the Scottish justice secretary welcomed O'Brien's "thoughtful and considered contribution". He said: "The justice secretary … granted compassionate release to al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds alone, based on the rules and regulations of Scots law. And as the cardinal correctly observes, it is to the Scottish parliament and people that Holyrood ministers are accountable, not the US Senate."