There is currently a huge amount of over-heated rhetoric on the airwaves and in the blogosphere, in reaction to the Scottish court’s decision to release convicted Libyan mass-bomber Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi before the end of his sentence, on compassionate/health grounds.
I think the court has done the right thing. This very sober analysis from the BBC makes quite clear that huge question-marks still hang over the issue of Megrahi’s actual criminal responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. It concludes thus:
- Megrahi was charged as a member of the Libyan Intelligence Services – acting with others.
If he was involved, the Libyan government, once a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, including support for the IRA, must have been involved too.
But with Britain and America doing big business with Libya now, perhaps it is in no-one’s political interests to have the truth emerge.
Megrahi is now dying, but he may have been a convenient scapegoat for a much bigger conspiracy.
The warm welcome he got on his return to Tripoli indicates the high probability that he was indeed a Qadhafi-provided scapegoat.
In which case, all the angst and venom that has been directed against him personally, including by some but not all of those bereaved by the bombing, has been largely misplaced.
Of course, as always, it would be excellent to see even one-tenth as much US media attention paid to the sadness of such people as those Americans bereaved by the 1967 Liberty incident, or those Palestinians, Lebanese, and others bereaved by US-supplied Israeli weapons in more recent years.
Or even more so, the families of those scores of thousands of Iraqis killed by the US and as a result of the US outrageous and illegal invasion of their country in 2003.
The WaPo had a fascinating article Friday that described two Washington-area residents, both bereaved by the Lockerbie bombing, who had come to very different conclusions.
One was Anastasios Vrenios, 68, a singing teacher in Northwest Washington:
- Vrenios, whose son Nicholas was a passenger on Flight 103, is unbothered by the release of Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001. Vrenios said the terrorist merits a special mercy because of his grave prognosis. And continued imprisonment does nothing to eradicate terrorism, he argues.
“I am thinking as a decent human being,” Vrenios said. “Let the man go and die in his own country — he’s dying anyhow. I am not going to say: ‘How dare you? Let’s go blow his head off.’ It’s the ill that has to be cured, and that’s a far more serious matter. I am just so disillusioned by man and the kind of thing he can resort to in this world.”
The other was Stephanie Bernstein, 58, a Bethesda rabbi, whose husband, Michael, a lawyer with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, was killed in the attack. (The OSI is a special unit of the Justice Department that for 30 years or so has been dedicated to hunting down Nazis around the world and bringing them before the courts.)
According to the WaPo reporter, Rabbi Bernstein
- worries that flying Megrahi home to Libya so he can live out his final days with family violates both a biblical sense of justice and a promise made by the court system that convicted him.
Bernstein has been tracking Megrahi’s case for weeks, trying to persuade the Obama administration to strong-arm the Scottish government to keep Megrahi imprisoned.
“Releasing him sends the wrong message,” she said. “It will be seen by [Libyan president] Col. Moammar Gaddafi as a sign of weakness. If we don’t try to work towards a just world, what good is this release?”
The very different reactions of these two people indicates very vividly that not “all” Americans– and not even “all” the families of those bereaved– are “incensed” by Megrahi’s release.
Indeed, families who are bereaved through acts of terrorism go through very different processes as they struggle with finding the best way to think about their bereavement. One of the best books on this subject is this one by Susan Kerr Van De Ven, daughter of Malcolm Kerr, the president of AUB who was killed by a terrorist, suspected to be a Shiite– on his campus, in 1983.
Van De Ven’s mother, Ann Kerr, is a dear friend of mine. The family has wrestled hard, for many years, with how to respond to Malcolm’s killing, and her daughter’s book is an excellent, intimate record of that.
In the work I’ve done on (anti-)death penalty issues here in Virginia, one thing that has surfaced again and again has been a feeling by some of those who have been bereaved through acts of violence that in order to honor the memory of their departed loved one it is somehow “necessary” to seek the harshest possible vengeance against the killer– and that if you don’t do that, then somehow that dishonors the lost loved one or diminishes his/her memory.
Of course, plenty of people in the legal system, the media– and even among pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders– are eager to validate and amplify those kinds of arguments.
Such arguments do, however, depart very radically from traditional Christian (and Buddhist) ideas of forgiveness. Also, how about the Old testament’s strong witness regarding “Vengeance is mine, said the Lord”–meaning, presumably, that vengeance should not be for mere mortals to dole out but should be left to the hereafter… And there are plenty of social activists and community leaders here in the US who urge a much less vengeful, calmer, and more constructive response to violently induced bereavement. Including, the people who work with the fine organization Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.
In sum: No, it doesn’t diminish the memory of someone killed in violence by one iota if their surviving family members deal with the tasks of grieving in a non-vengeful manner.
Indeed, quite frequently, just the opposite.