Debra J. Saunders

EDINBURGH -- Do not believe that Scotland was united behind Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to grant "compassionate" release to the terminally ill convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in August.

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When al-Megrahi flew home to a hero's welcome in Libya, Member of Scottish Parliament Richard Baker recalls "universal outrage" among Scots at the sight of Scotland's flag "being waved to welcome home the Lockerbie bomber in Tripoli. It just turned stomachs" -- and produced among sensible Scots "profound shame and embarrassment."

Al-Megrahi was released after the former Libyan intelligence officer served a mere eight years in Scottish prison for his conviction for the 1988 airline bombing that killed 270 people, including 11 souls on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament in Holyrood voted 73-50 in favor of a measure that determined that MacAskill mishandled the decision. A poll conducted for the BBC found that 60 percent of Scots were opposed to Megrahi's early release; 32 percent supported it.

To Americans, there is much missing in this case of Scottish justice -- although the Scots won jurisdiction for this nightmare the hard way. If Pan Am 103 had crashed out to sea instead of onto Scottish soil, then there would have been no trail of evidence that led a team of tireless international investigators to al-Megrahi.

The Pan Am bombers deserved capital punishment, but Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy was not about to turn over al-Megrahi and his suspected accomplice to the United States for a trial that could result in the death penalty. He did turn them over to Scotland, however, for a trial conducted in The Netherlands. Some two years later, three judges acquitted the other suspect, but found al-Megrahi guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. Sort of.

It turned out that al-Megrahi's life sentence left him eligible for parole after 20 years. As former FBI Special Agent Richard A. Marquise wrote in his book, "Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation," family members attending the trial were aghast at the light sentence; one person "calculated that al-Megrahi was going to be in prison for a period of 27 days for each of the 270 murders."

Debra J. Saunders

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