Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The correct decision

[This is the headline over an article which has just appeared on the website of the Scottish Review by Kenneth Roy, the editor. It reads in part:]

Friday would be a good day to be out of the country. The first anniversary of the release from Greenock prison of the man commonly described as the Lockerbie bomber will provoke an extreme reaction from the popular press and from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. The attack dogs are in place. They will soon be given the nod to do their rabid worst.

The most depressing aspect of the Lockerbie affair, as we approach this latest milestone, is the refusal of those opposed to Megrahi's liberation to contemplate the likelihood that a colossal miscarriage of justice took place. The flaky foundations of the prosecution case, the lack of credibility of the chief prosecution witness, the suggestion – never denied – that he was in the pay of the CIA, the judgement of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission that there were compelling grounds for a second appeal, the existence of important new evidence which has never been divulged – all these matters have been squarely presented by those closest to the case, including one of the victims, the heroic Jim Swire.

But it has made very little if any difference. When Friday dawns, Megrahi will still be 'the bomber' rather than 'the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing' and there will be a shrill renewal of a deeply unpleasant question: why is this man not dead?

For believers in God, there ought to be a simple answer: God has so far decreed otherwise. Since many of those who insist on putting the question are indeed believers, some fervently so, we can only conclude that they consider this case beyond God; that it is too important to be left to God; that Megrahi's continued survival should be no business of God's. Beyond God – who knows? Beyond reason – certainly. In the Lockerbie case, rationality was abandoned long ago. (...)

[T]he essence of the case adjudicated by Mr MacAskill – the nub of it – has never been pointed out, except once in this magazine. It is extremely strange that it has been so overlooked. No doubt many with an interest in the case, in the media and elsewhere, regard it as an inconvenience. Perhaps for the Scottish government to acknowledge it would be too embarrassing since it reflects so badly on an important aspect of social policy. But, given the continuing obsession with Megrahi's health, its complete absence from the discussion still feels odd.

Here it is, then.

The question facing Mr MacAskill was not whether there was a reasonable expectation that Megrahi would be dead within a few months but whether there was a reasonable expectation that Megrahi would be dead within a few months if he remained in prison. When, many months ago, I first stated this as my reading of the situation, no one challenged it. Indeed there was an informal acknowledgement from quite a high source that this was indeed the question facing the justice secretary.

This issue was never raised again. So far as I know, it has never been used as part of a wider justification of Mr MacAskill's action. Yet is it not quite important? Anyone familiar with the inside of a Scottish prison will know how important. The typical Scottish prison (I have not visited Greenock, but I know Barlinnie and Saughton) is a disgusting institution harmful to the health and well-being of inmates. It is well-documented that Megrahi himself, as well as being physically sick, was mentally in a very poor state.

His chances of survival beyond three months in such an environment were not considered high. Indeed the idea of anyone with terminal cancer languishing in such a place is repellent. But it is reasonable to assume that once released, and returned home to his family and familiar surroundings, his life expectancy would improve to some extent. Anyone who denies the possibility of such an improvement must know very little of the workings of the human psyche; or is simply being disingenuous.

I don't expect any of this will moderate the political and media frenzy which is about to overwhelm us. I feel sorry for Kenny MacAskill, a decent man who did the decent thing, and has been paying a heavy price ever since. His decision was a humane one. It remains the correct one.


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  2. I've re-done that post as there was something that didn't come over the way I intended.

    I'm certain Megrahi would be dead by now if he'd been detained.

    This is an interesting point Kenneth Roy makes. Consider what the fall-out would have been had he died in Greenock Prison? There would have been rejoicing in the US obviously: what of Libya and those trade deals tho? What of those oil-rich Arab nations Bloggy mentions in a recent post elsewhere? The fall-out would have been massive. Interesting questions indeed.

    The only thing I disagree with Kenneth about is that MacAskill had decency in mind in any of it. He may have released Megrahi but more and more it becomes obvious that compassion had nothing to do with it. Any sense of decency would have involved true compassion by allowing a dying man every opportunity to clear his name instead of taking from him his route to the court of appeal.

  3. I think the Professor hs something here, But what would have been the effect on the Scottish judicial sytem, Macaskill's remit, if Megrahi jad died in hospital.Could the appeal have continued after his death? It is generally held what was to be revealed is so unseemly that any means to kill the second appeal were appropriate.

    Perhaps the Ashton book this autumn will tell use. But don't hold you breath. Some very very nasty was lost when he was released.

    The truth, foul beyond belief, in which an ineducable poltroon secured election as president of his country in return for 270 fead bodies in reply to 390 his country that measures life in blood Iran. Please read it at adifferentviewoflockerbie.blogspot,com

  4. Charles the Professor has written elsewhere quite recently on here about the possibilities of resurrecting the appeal after Megrahi's death. The broad answer is yes but those wishing to pursue that avenue would need the permission of his family and then would need to prove it is in the interests of justice for the appeal to be heard.

  5. Sorry Charles I misunderstood. Had Megrahi not been released and his appeal not been dropped then whether he died or not that process could have been continued by his family.