[JURIST] Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill [official profile] announced [press release] Thursday that convicted Pan Am Flight 103 [BBC backgrounder] bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi [BBC profile] is being released from prison on compassionate grounds and transferred to his native Libya. Megrahi was recently diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, and his release comes days after the Scottish High Court of the Judiciary [official website] accepted a request to withdraw a pending appeal [JURIST report] to his 2001 conviction, which would have been an impediment to his transfer. MacAskill said:
In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people. The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.
Mr Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.
But, that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.
Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.
For these reasons – and these reasons alone – it is my decision that Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said [press release], "[t]he United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release [Megrahi]."
US officials have strongly opposed Megrahi's release. On Monday, seven US Senators, including Ted Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official websites], sent a letter [text, PDF] to MacAskill urging him not to agree to Megrahi's release or transfer, joining last week's criticism [transcript] from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website]. In November, the High Court denied [JURIST report] Megrahi's request to be released on bail during the appeals process. Lawyers for al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, were denied access in March 2008 to a "missing document," that they had sought [JURIST reports] in appealing his conviction. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) [official website] granted an appeal [JURIST report] in al-Megrahi's case in June 2007 and referred it the High Court after the commission identified six grounds [press release, PDF] for a possible "miscarriage of justice" in his trial and conviction. In 2003, Libya made its final compensation payment [JURIST report] to a US fund for victims' families in November 2008 after agreeing to accept responsibility [US DOS press release] for the 1988 airline bombing that killed all 259 on board [victims website], including 180 Americans.