The Lockerbie bomber was recently freed on compassionate grounds, and allowed to return home to Libya in order to see out his final days, as he has terminal cancer. There is plenty of doubt about the validity of his conviction, but let us assume for a moment that he was guilty. Was it right to release him on compassionate grounds? I think that it was.
Prison in my view serves three purposes: to deter criminals, to rehabilitate them, and to keep certain people away from society to prevent them from doing any more damage. The question therefore is whether or not Mr. al-Megrahi’s release weakens any of these purposes. At this point rehabilitation is irrelevant, as he is nearly dead. Similarly, he poses no threat to anyone, and it is unclear why releasing him at this point would reduce the deterrent effect of prison.
So the only reason to keep him in prison is to punish him, which has always seemed pointless to me. Punishment for punishment’s sake is useless, as it is simply another form of revenge. Since it cannot undo the crime, what does it achieve? That is not to say I don’t understand the anger directed at Mr. al-Megrahi by the relatives of the victims, merely that basing policy on anger is not a good idea.
Yet this is not a clear-cut case of being compassionate towards a dying man. Would we be so keen to release a multiple rapist and child molester who was dying of cancer? What about someone who might have only served one month of a fifty-year sentence? If not, why not? Are people sympathetic towards al-Megrahi because he is dying, or because his conviction is dubious?
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