Saturday, August 22, 2009

On Lockerbie and the Death Penalty

Today, I write about the release of convicted Lockerbie terrorist Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi from two perspectives: as a death penalty opponent and as a relative of one of the victims. From both viewpoints, the Scottish government’s release of Megrahi is a desecration of justice.

I never met Robert Pagnucco, whose father was my grandfather’s first cousin. He was 51 and had a wife and two children when he died on Pan Am 103. His immediate family won a judgment of $9 million against bankrupt Pan Am, which the company, of course, fiercely contested. I still remember our family getting the phone call describing his death when I was 18. I have had a personal connection to the tragedy ever since.

But this goes far beyond my family. I have been a death penalty opponent for many years, principally because I do not have faith that our justice system can truly avoid putting innocent people to death. And so the price of protecting the innocent is to allow guilty killers to rot for the rest of their lives in jail. But they must stay in jail. They MUST, or the tradeoff is hollow.

The Scottish authorities do not see it that way. They believe Megrahi’s “humanitarian” need to spend the last three months of his life away from his prison cell outweighs the need of the victims’ families for justice. Even worse, they cynically expect us to excuse their notion that life in prison for terrorists equals something other than life in prison for terrorists.

Observe the photos of Megrahi celebrating his triumph over the victims with the son of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

If this is the “justice” faced by mass murderers in the absence of the death penalty, then perhaps we should execute the worst of them when we have the chance.