In the name of compassion

Published 12:42 pm Saturday, August 22, 2009

Apparently there is a new definition for the word compassion.

One that goes along like this: if you’re a convicted terrorist who was involved in an act that killed 270 people and you have prostate cancer—here’s your get out of jail free card. And the families of your victims? Don’t worry about them…we’ll just completely forget about them.

If you haven’t heard, the convicted bomber of Pan Am Flight 103 has been released from prison after serving just eight years of a lifetime sentence.

Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was freed from a British prison on what is being called “compassionate grounds” because he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and has less than three months to live.

On Thursday, Megrahi sauntered onto a plane (noticeable by himself and free of assistance) and headed for his native Libya. In a matter of hours he was welcomed on the tarmac of Tripoli Airport like he was a one-man version of the Beatles.

The pure sight of it made my skin crawl and I thought to myself, “This is compassion?”

Pam Am Flight 103 broke apart over the small border town of Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988 as it was bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. An investigation concluded a bomb planted by Megrahi, stowed away in a suitcase in the cargo area of the plane, resulted in the crash.

All of the plane’s crew and passengers were killed as well as 11 people on the ground, bringing the total number of fatalities to 270. While the bombing killed people of many nationalities, the majority were American, making the incident the worst terrorist attack against the U.S. until September 11, 2001. Forty-six of the Americans killed were college students coming home for the holidays after studying abroad—35 of which were from Syracuse University and two from my alma mater, Oswego State University.

Because I hail from upstate New York, I have been closely following how those local media outlets have handled the story. I knew, just like anyone in their shoes, the families of those lost souls would be enraged by this convicted murderer going free.

Two-hundred and seventy lives were cut short by the actions of this man, but yet the Scottish government has allowed him to go free as an act of compassion.

Compassion is a meaningful word, when used within its context. Sympathy, empathy, concern and kindness are all synonyms of compassion, certainly all deeds that should not have been extended to Megrahi.

After all, compassion was surely not given to his 270 victims during the horrific event that took their lives.

Were any of them allowed to see their relatives in the last minutes of their lives? Were they allowed to say goodbye and tell them they loved them? Were their families and friends allowed the same respect?

I don’t think so, that, apparently, is only reserved for terrorists that are being used as political leverage.

I have to wonder about the Scottish government’s motives along with our own. Despite families calling on President Obama’s administration (including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who didn’t say a word until after Megrahi was released), not a finger was raised to keep the convicted murderer in prison. What an excellent way to build relations with Libya.

Libya sits on a vast well of “black gold,” one of the biggest in Africa as a matter of fact. And like so many wars and terrorist incidents before, our dependency on oil is being paid for in the blood of innocent people, both American and foreign.

In the meantime, that sliver of justice the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 had was stolen, all in the name of compassion.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.