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EDITORIAL: A terrorist’s convenient coma

Lockerbie bomber should end his life rotting in an American jail

The latest word from Libya is that convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi has slipped into a coma. The situation is reminiscent of the scene in "Godfather II" when consigliere Tom Hagen tells Michael Corleone that competing mob boss Hyman Roth's medical condition is "reported as terminal - he's only gonna live another six months anyway." Michael responds, "He's been dying of the same heart attack for 20 years."

Al-Megrahi, a former intelligence operative for Col. Moammar Gadhafi, was convicted in 2001 for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 people on the plane were killed, 189 of whom were Americans, along with 11 more innocents on the ground who were crushed under the wreckage. Al-Megrahi was convicted of 270 counts of murder, probably the largest single conviction for terrorism in history. He was sentenced to 27 years minimum. In 2009, however, the terrorist was said to be suffering from terminal prostate cancer, with months or even weeks to live. The left-wing Labor government in Britain set the murderer free on supposed compassionate grounds to return to his homeland and die in the bosom of his family. The Libyan government promised that al-Megrahi's return would be low-key and respectful to the memory of the bombing victims.

That turned out to be just another Gadhafi regime lie. Al-Megrahi was given a garish hero's welcome on his return to Tripoli, and as the months passed, he showed no signs of expiring. A year after his release, London-based cancer specialist Karol Sikora - who had been commissioned by Libyan authorities to examine al-Megrahi - revealed that short-term life-expectancy projections were what Tripoli had wanted him to diagnose. The doctor told London's Sunday Times, "It was clear that three months was what they were aiming for. Three months was the critical point. On the balance of probabilities, I felt I could sort of justify [that]." He added, "There was always a chance he could live for 10 years, 20 years. But it's very unusual." British officials weighing the clemency claims never heard those long-term survival estimates.

As al-Megrahi endured, it became clear that the world had been deceived, but there was little that could be done. The deal with the Gadhafi government was settled. By then, the Libyan dictator had mended his relationship with Washington, and there was no political momentum to reopen the case. This changed when rebels took over Tripoli. Some in America, most notably Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, called for al-Megrahi's extradition to the United States. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond dismissed the idea, citing purportedly genuine pictures of the terrorist on his deathbed. Al-Megrahi's brother Abdelnasser, talking to reporters outside the family mansion in Tripoli, explained that his sibling "is very sick. The coma came two or three months ago."

Propaganda aside, the dirtbag was well enough to attend a pro-Gadhafi rally July 26. The problem is that even the Libyan rebels want al-Megrahi to die a free man. The National Transitional Council's Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi summarily rejected calls for extradition, saying, "We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West." Some might call that a policy of harboring terrorists. It's a level of ingratitude that can be expected when the White House pursues a weak policy of "leading from behind."

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