Debra J. Saunders
When the Scots released convicted Pan Am Flight 103 bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi on Aug. 20, 2009 -- ostensibly because prostate cancer left him less than three months to live -- Megrahi presented a stooped, frail figure as he boarded his getaway plane. Hours later, when he landed to a hero's welcome in Tripoli, Libya, however, Megrahi appeared triumphant and radiant.

Two years later, Megrahi is still alive -- although perhaps not for long. CNN's Nic Robertson talked his way into Megrahi's supersize mansion, where he videotaped the freed terrorist "apparently in a coma." Maybe. Maybe not.

Some British and American politicians want to question -- return to prison even -- the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people, but Megrahi has an uncanny skill at escaping justice.

Exhibit A: In 2001, three Scottish judges found Megrahi guilty of the bombing and then sentenced him to a mere 27 years.

Exhibit B: In 2009, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill released Megrahi on "compassionate" grounds. It was an outrage. Scotland had allowed many other convicts to die behind bars. Yet MacAskill chose to send Megrahi home to Libya -- effectively reducing the sentence to eight years, or less than two weeks per victim.

MacAskill insisted that he freed Megrahi because compassion means "remaining true to our values as a people, no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated." Yet a U.S. Senate report, released by Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, found that Scottish officials had ignored their own prostate cancer experts, who did not agree to a three-month prognosis, and that there was talk of releasing Megrahi a year before his cancer diagnosis. Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, who flew Megrahi to Tripoli, told Time magazine, "I worked hard to get him out of jail."

Not coincidentally, Libya threatened to kill a $900 million oil exploration deal with the energy company BP. The Senate report called Libya's tactics "commercial warfare."

Exhibit C: "Commercial warfare" led to Megrahi's release. Hence, an act of terrorism paid off for the former Libyan intelligence agent. CNN has aired footage of his sprawling, well-appointed villa.

Exhibit D: Libyans loved the guy. Gadhafi, as he was attempting to cling to power, made a public appearance last month with Megrahi at his side.

Exhibit E: On Sunday, Libyan Transitional National Council Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told reporters, "We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West. It was Gadhafi who handed over Libyan citizens."

By Monday, Alagi said that maybe the issue could wait till after the election -- a sop to the NATO nations that bankrolled the rebels' success.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, "Presumably, a new, free, democratic Libya would have a different attitude (from Gadhafi's) towards a convicted terrorist." Then again, presumably the United Kingdom and United States would have stuck to a harder attitude -- and not let a man who killed 270 innocent people live his last years in Libyan luxury.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com. To find out more about Debra J. Saunders and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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Debra J. Saunders


 
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