At least it wasn’t necessary this time to ask, “Where’s the outrage?” The staid, liberal Washington Post had the answer ready for us in an editorial this morning: “Scot-Free.”

The Post called the release of the mass murderer of the Lockerbie bombing “a travesty of justice.” It was the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s pardon of the convicted bomber of Pan Am flight 103 that propelled the newspaper’s editorial board into righteous indignation.

And indignation it should be, as Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi walked away after serving only eight years of a life sentence for planting a bomb that brought down the Boeing 747, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven residents of Lockerbie, Scotland also died as wreckage of the disintegrating plane hit the ground. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Megrahi served only 11 days in prison for each of his victims.

Scottish officials say the reason Megrahi was released is because he has advanced prostate cancer and will probably live only a few more months. But most relatives of the victims want to know why a murderer who showed no mercy on his victims (many on board the plane were children) should be shown such mercy. Indeed, when Megrahi arrived home in Tripoli he was greeted with a cheering, sympathetic crowd, some of whom threw flower petals as he stepped from his jet. Others who greeted Megrahi waved Libran flags – and miniature blue-and-white Scottish flags.

Britain condemned the rejoicing, saying it may cancel the royal visit to Libya by Prince Andrew, who often acts as a British trade ambassador. The White House called the images of Megrahi’s arrival at the airport “outrageous and disgusting.” President Obama called the warm welcome “highly objectionable.” And a member of the Scottish parliament, Russell Brown, said, “This man is convicted of murdering 270 people in my part of Scotland and that conviction stands.”

To understand the ferocity of the families of the 270 who died in the incident, it must be remembered that prior to “9-11” this was the most horrific act of terrorism ever carried out in recent times. Many of the victims’ families in America are already considering what action they might take to counter Megrahi’s treatment in Libya as a returning hero. One possibility is to join protest groups when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi visits New York next month.

The horror of what happened over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988 can only be comprehended by piecing together several reports from separate accounts.

The Pan Am 747-100 jumbo jet was christened Clipper Maid of the Seas. It was scheduled for a routine transatlantic flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to JFK, New York. The flight was airborne at 18:25 GMT, reaching a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet. At 19:00 GMT an air traffic controller in Prestwick, Scotland made contact with Flight 103. The Pan Am captain, James MacQuarrie, requested oceanic clearance. That was the last communication from the aircraft.

A bomb planted in the cargo hold blew the plane into several pieces. One of the largest segments was the entire cockpit and part of the first-class section directly below. A detailed account summarized in the Post-Standard said this segment, containing the three-man flight crew and several passengers in the level below, hit the ground pretty much intact. In fact investigators believed that the flight crew, some of the flight attendants, and several passengers survived the bomb blast and were alive during the two-minute plunge until impact. One flight attendant was found alive by a farmer’s wife, but died moments later. The term “alive” is used with circumspection in this instance.

The devastation on the ground and the eleven deaths that occurred there was caused by the impact of segments of the fuselage and the wings which contained thousands of gallons of jet fuel. Days later large craters and smoldering pieces of the plane were still unapproachable.

Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, has consistently denied that he was in any way involved in the bombing of the Pan Am plane. He insisted last week as he left Scotland for Libya that he was innocent. Yet one of the pieces of evidence used again Megrahi were scraps of a man’s shirt, reportedly purchased by him in Malta, wrapped around the bomb’s timing device discovered in the wreckage of Flight 103.

Scottish Justice Secretary MacAskill had one additional remark regarding Megrahi’s compassionate release. Noting that his decision was made “on narrow legal grounds,” MacAskill continued, “Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive. Mr. Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power.”

Cancer is not a death sentence issued as punishment by God – or whatever “higher power” you acknowledge. Thousands of innocent people, children and adults alike, die of various forms of cancer every day. They do not die because they murdered 274 people. Susan Cohen of Cape May, N.J. lost her 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. “For the families, we have this horrible thing to live with anyway,” she said. “And now we have to live with this.”

CHASE HAMIL

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