Prison officials in the United Kingdom are considering whether to release 57-year-old former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who is serving a 27-year minimum term for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Mr. Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer, and the early release is being sought on humanitarian grounds. Mercy for this man would be a mistake.
On Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was traveling from London to New York when it exploded at 7:02 p.m. local time. The Boeing 747 disintegrated in a fireball and plummeted 31,000 feet to Earth. The debris dug a 50-foot crater in the town of Lockerbie. All 259 people on the plane were killed, along with 11 more innocents on the ground who were crushed under the wreckage. The source of the explosion was a bomb in a suitcase in the forward cargo hold. Subsequent investigation tied Mr. Megrahi to the suitcase containing the bomb, and on Jan. 31, 2001, he was convicted of 270 counts of murder. It was one of the largest convictions for terrorism in history, if not the largest.
It would be a case of misplaced compassion to release Mr. Megrahi. There is no medical rationale for letting him go, and he probably is receiving better care in a British prison than he would back home in Libya. If he wants to see his family before he dies, let them travel to Scotland to visit him behind bars. But he should not be released simply to be able to die in more familiar and more comfortable surroundings. When they were murdered, Mr. Megrahi's victims had neither the comfort of loved ones nor the luxury of choosing where they would die.
Mr. Megrahi showed no compassion for the hundreds of people he killed. To the contrary, he coldbloodedly and systematically plotted and executed their murder. Like him, they did not choose their time of death. Unlike him, they were innocent people struck down in the prime of life by a heartless act of violence. As grim a death as cancer can be, Mr. Megrahi's final moments will be gentler than those of the people he sent plummeting to Earth in the flaming wreckage of an airliner.
It was God's will that Mr. Megrahi contracted this disease. But human justice put him behind bars for his heinous crimes. It would not be an act of compassion to let Mr. Megrahi go. Releasing him would betray the memories of those he killed, their families and everyone who lives under the threat of international terrorism. He should continue to serve his sentence and be given whatever comfort the medical system can provide in his declining days. Releasing Mr. Megrahi might let him die with dignity, but that is something he does not deserve.