Compassion versus Vengeance – Truth versus Lies

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Today’s Scotland on Sunday carries an article by Cardinal Keith O’ Brien in which the Cardinal contrasts what he sees as Scotland’s “culture of compassion” with the “culture of vengeance” that exists in many parts of the United States.

The letter is well written and thoughtful and endorses the decision by the Scottish government to decline the ‘offer’ to Scottish Ministers from the US Senate committee to attend that committee’s inquiry into the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.


Today’s Scotland on Sunday carries an article by Cardinal Keith O’ Brien in which the Cardinal contrasts what he sees as Scotland’s “culture of compassion” with the “culture of vengeance” that exists in many parts of the United States.

The letter is well written and thoughtful and endorses the decision by the Scottish government to decline the ‘offer’ to Scottish Ministers from the US Senate committee to attend that committee’s inquiry into the compassionate release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.

Cardinal O’Brien speaks of the “gratuitous barbarity” of the Lockerbie bombing and acknowledges the pain and suffering endured by those most directly affected by the murder of 270 innocent people.  The Cardinal argues that it is how we respond to such acts that defines us and that by showing compassion we affirm our own humanity.

He is highly critical of the system of execution that operates in some US States and compares it with those of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and China.  The Cardinal suggests that the US Senators time may be better spent looking at how justice is administered in some of their own states instead of passing judgement on the workings of the Scottish judiciary.

The Cardinal concludes with the following paragraph:

“I believe that only God can forgive and show ultimate compassion to those who commit terrible crimes and I would rather live in a country where justice is tempered by mercy than exist in one where vengeance and retribution are the norm.”

The article by the Cardinal stands out for two reasons.  The first is a complete absence of sensational hyperbole when alluding to the tragedy and the compassionate release – the Cardinal presents both in a matter of fact way.  The tragedy is not, as has become the norm, juxtaposed with a series of halftruths and questionable ‘revelations’ designed to elicil anger from the reader.

The second is the way in which the Cardinal refuses to play the UK – US tag team game that has marked so much of the reporting this last four weeks, the senators claims are all but ignored; on the release he simply writes:

“Scotland’s legal system allowed the Scottish justice secretary to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds, following due process and based on clear medical advice. It was a decision for Scottish ministers and no others to make. Scotland’s justice system has embedded, alongside punishment, the idea of reform.”

No conflating, no suggestion of deals, no subtle implications – just simple facts.

This is precisely the way the UK media should have handled the misinformed views of the four senators from day one.  Sadly the senators were indulged, almost encouraged by a steady stream of misinformation that originated on this side of the pond.  The latest confusing ‘revelation’ from the UK media is that Megrahi was freed due to his ‘low mood’.

As the anniversary of the release approaches, the dignity of the cardinal’s words and the stoic defence of the Scottish justice system by Alex Salmond and his ministers will be drowned out amidst a cacophony of ungracious and insensitive rhetoric that will sully the memory of the victims of Lockerbie.

The response to Cardinal O’Brien’s views from Frank Duggan, spokesman of the Victims of Pan Am 103 group, which represents the views of US relatives, was perhaps an indication of what awaits those who seek to proffer intelligent and informed analysis.

Mr Duggan said : “I’m a Catholic and we know that the Catholic Church has long opposed the death penalty. But I think the bishop here should stick to his knitting, and render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s.”.

This loosely translates to ‘keep your nose out and stick to religion’, the irony of course is that the Cardinal is imploring those US Senators to do just that, and ‘mind their own business’ with respect to Scots law.

Lastly, lost in all of the misinformed din, both past and yet to come, is the probability that the man currently nearing the end of his life in Libya …. was wrongly convicted.

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