Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Anders Behring Breivik and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

[As might have been expected, US commentators are drawing parallels between the sentence facing Anders Breivik if convicted of the Utoya killings and the sentence served by Abdelbaset Megrahi. Here is Michael Rubin in Commentary magazine:]

Alana Goodman pens an excellent post regarding how little jail time the confessed Norwegian terrorist and killer can expect for killing scores of civilians, both in his initial truck bomb blast and then in his shooting spree on Utoya island. According to some Norwegian analysts, he might expect a maximum of 21 years, or approximately 83 days per murder and, as Alana points out, will serve his time in relative luxury.

This certainly is outrageous, but unfortunately it’s the rule rather than the exception in many European states as postmodern theories of compassion and rehabilitation trump the importance of justice. Just take a look at that other mass murderer on the other side of the North Sea: On August 20, 2009, a Scottish court released Libyan agent and Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi after serving just 11.5 days per murder for downing Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people. Scottish authorities defended Megrahi’s release on the grounds of compassion: He had, after all, only weeks to live. Never mind that today he appears to be doing quite fine in Tripoli.

It’s well past time for Europe to put justice first and reserve compassion for the victims of crime and terror, not the perpetrators.

[And here is Debra Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle:]

Now 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik stands accused of killing 76 individuals, many of them teenagers, in a vicious rampage that began with a bombing in Oslo on Friday. If convicted, he can expect to be a free man in his 50s. (...)

There is a lesson for Americans in this tale. Politicians in some states, including California, are pushing to end their state's death penalty. There are consequences.

Our Betters in Europe got rid of capital punishment decades ago. Next, Western European leaders went after life without parole. As Eurocrats focused on the redemption of offenders, they seemed to forget their obligation to protect the innocent and serve as a voice for silenced victims.

Hoover Institution legal fellow Abraham D Sofaer sees the 21-year cap as "absurdly inadequate" for this type of heinous crime. "I'm sure it's well intentioned. Maybe it works in most cases," he added. "But then you get these cases, where one would think almost anyone would agree that 21 years is an insult."

This wouldn't be a first time a modern terrorist won short time for a long list of victims on European soil. In 2001, three Scottish judges found former Libya intelligence operative Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi guilty in the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, which killed all 270 aboard. Scotland's life sentence made him eligible for parole in 27 years.

But after eight years, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill granted Megrahi "compassionate" release on the grounds the Libyan had terminal cancer and was not expected to live more than three months. Almost two years later, Megrahi is alive and living large in Libya - having served mere weeks per victim.

When a country's justice system dispenses with the death penalty, then life sentences, it has no mechanism to redress evil.


  1. I don't find it very edifying, the way US commentators feel free to criticise the penal and justice systems of other countries. It's not as if they're such a shining example.

    And they always get the length of time Megrahi served in jail wrong. He was in prison for 10 years 4 months (and a bit), which comes to 14 days per victim if you want to make such a crass calculation.

  2. It is incorrect to say that Breivik can only serve 21 years. After this period he will be subject to "containment" where his detention can be extended in 5 year units if he is considered still to be a threat.
    I love the phrase " ....postmodern theories of compassion and rehabilitation trump the importance of justice..." Surely she means "vengence."

  3. I heard they were looking at a "crimes against humanity" charge that has a maximum of 30 years.

    But in any case, they can keep him as long as they like in whatever they have that's analagous to Carstairs, if he's still considered to be dangerous.

    My own view is that if he can be brought to realise the true horror of what he has done, that would be the most fitting punishment of all.

  4. Deborah Saunders, eh?

    Why does that name seem a little strange complaining about survival of terminal diseases?

    Is she perchance related to Ernest Saunders, the only man ever to recover from Alzheimer's disease?

    No one seems to have called for his retrial or re-imprisonment...

  5. Those brave americans, always "bending over backwards" for justice.
    So I must assume that the guys responsible for this (picture showing ~5% of total atrocities)
    are still in jail?

  6. I saw Megrahi on TV about an hour ago. It was a clip from a pro-Gadaffi rally in Tripoli, and he was sitting in a wheelchair watching the proceedings. He was wearing a large white head-dress, like a big turban. He didn't look too bad, from what I could see, though it was a short clip and not close-up.

    No doubt this will enrage the Americans even further.

  7. Grendal - You are right, it does look as if many in the US now thing of "justice" and "vengeance" as one and the same.

    I particularly liked:

    "Hoover Institution legal fellow Abraham D Sofaer sees the 21-year cap as "absurdly inadequate" for this type of heinous crime."

    Oh, well that's us Europeans told then. By a "legal fellow" no less... I hope Norway continues to show the dignity and restraint that it has shown so far, and refuses to make this man a "special case".