Release on compassionate grounds? Try inexcusable stupidity


Just a head’s up. The omission of names in this article is quite intentional. I don’t believe the convict or Libyan leader deserve the respect of such considerations in this situation.


In December of 1988, I was finishing up the first semester of my junior year of college when news came of the Lockerbie crash of Pan Am Flight 103. About three dozen of the passengers were students from my school… Syracuse University… including one girl that I knew from a school project she had worked on.

Now, in August of 2009, Scotland has released the only person convicted of a crime in this event. The supposed reason is compassionate grounds… as he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is expected to die within three months.

At first I was going to let this event pass. For me, it was too disgusting a situation to investigate, read about, and honestly, to emotionally deal with once again… never mind bring to this web site… and let’s be fair, it really seems almost too ridiculous to conceive. (The only man convicted of killing hundreds of people released because he’s ill? Sure sounds like there’s more to this story that we’ll never hear about. Shake my head… deep breath… move on.)

Then something happened. Something that I think explains exactly why we will never see the “world peace” so many ignorant and blind people sing about. Sure, politics will forever play a reason in peace being a myth. But in this case… the convict was welcomed home as a hero. He was cheered by those gathered at his arrival home. He was greeted by heads of state.

In 2003, the Libyan government acknowledged responsibility for the attack… fifteen years after it occurred. They sent a message to the United Nations about it, and as might be expected… the reasons behind the admission were vague and almost certainly nothing more than politically motivated.

Today, upon seeing some of the news regarding his welcome home, I read a few articles on the release of this convict. I read where Libyan officials are praising Scotland for the demonstration of compassion. And I am left to wonder about what I see as an amazing set of opposing messages.

We have all heard of cases where people have shown an extraordinary capacity to offer forgiveness. For many, myself included almost every time I have seen it or learned of it, it defies every sense of our being to comprehend the ability to complete such an act.

That didn’t happen here.

The families of victims didn’t offer understanding. Nor did they offer forgiveness (that I am aware of). And… while certainly not something I could consider a requirement… I do not believe any of them were approached to make a statement for considerations as this decision was deliberated.

No one is talking about whether or not he has paid even a portion of his debt.

He wasn’t being denied health care in prison.

He was still released.

And here is where the opposing messages collided and brought me to this essay.

This convict is being given a hero’s welcome in Libya. He is being celebrated and honored… essentially there is no other description to use except that he is being praised for his actions. The actions of a plotting, cowardly murderer. Yes… yes… they celebrate that… honor that… cherish that and welcome his release as a victory.

And his release on compassionate grounds? The Libyan leader referred to Scotland as facing “unacceptable and illogical pressures” while considering the release. And then he went a step beyond that asinine remark by concluding: “they took this sound, courageous and humane decision.”

Why do I refer to this leader as asinine?

These people are claiming that the release of the convict was sensible, compassionate and just. And, simply put, for those of us that disagree, they would say it is beyond our capacity of forgiveness to understand.

But these very same people show no class, no respect, and no compassion when celebrating the convict’s return as a welcoming of a hero. Ultimately, they demonstrate nothing worthy of forgiveness.

Those screaming for compassion are, themselves, incapable of compassion.

Go back and read the report from The New York Times on the 2003 acceptance of responsibility. I believe we’d be ignorant to assume that this release is truly for compassionate grounds, and that there isn’t politics taking place in a different room. The very BBC article I linked to here suggests oil as one such factor.

At the risk of being naïve and pretending no backroom handshakes were exchanged after a deal, perhaps… in that place Jack Nicholson pointed to during a few lines from A Few Good Men: “You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives and that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives”… perhaps Libya is celebrating a victory in public, while privately they lost something we will never know of or understand. Perhaps we don’t know what these so-called leaders know. Perhaps.

But upon witnessing the welcome home of a coward… in Scotland, perhaps publicly and globally they are just beginning to grasp the mistake they made.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Many years ago, I wrote a poem titled “Pan Am 103.” I had it published in a poetry anthology, and, since the poets retained all rights to their works, I eventually republished it here on the original version of the web site. I thought it would be a fitting time to visit the Backpack and pull out an excerpt from that original posting…

On December 21, 1988, a Boeing 747 traveling to New York crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland. This was Pan Am flight 103.

At the time I was attending Syracuse University. As the news continued to come in about this event, a list of students from SU was released. I knew one of the people on the plane.

Harry Chapin sang about a person’s Story of a Life. Numerous others have expressed similar thoughts… I once wrote in an old poem called Forever and Always that said “…we are all characters and critics of the same play…”. So what to say about this person I knew on flight 103… would we have met again on campus had the plane not been attacked? I don’t know. Perhaps just a passing mention in my story never to be visited again, perhaps a full chapter, and perhaps more. Or, for those believing in fate and destiny and purpose, exactly what it was… an event with a small tie to my life.

What I do know is that I wrote a poem at the time, for whatever emotions and thoughts I had. I don't think I could tell you today what I was truly feeling or thinking.

Pan Am 103

Last night I heard a star fell from the sky –

A star feel from above

And I’m left alone, simply wondering why

A star fell carrying someone I love

And I’ll never fill this emptiness in my heart

But I find my mind filled with memories of you

And at the very least that’s a start –

Last night I heard a star fell from the sky

And I’m left alone simply wondering why

A star fell from above –

A star carrying someone I love.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at