Scottish cardinal criticizes 'vengeance' in US justice system

Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi / Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi / Cardinal Keith O'Brien

.- A "culture of vengeance" is behind the U.S. justice system's desire to investigate the Lockerbie bomber again, said the U.K.'s only cardinal on Sunday. He defended Scotland's decision to release the convicted criminal last year and said that the U.S. should respect this verdict and take another look at "compassion" in its own legal system.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, in a Sunday statement, supported the decision of Scottish government officials who did not attend a hearing in Washington D.C. for a further inquiry of Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, saying that the Scottish justice system operates on “compassion” rather than “vengeance.”

Al-Megrahi was convicted and jailed for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which claimed 270 lives, 189 of which were American, on Dec. 21, 1988. He was released by the Scottish legal system in Aug. 2009 for medical reasons.

The U.S. Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee has been recently investigating the possibility that petroleum giant BP played a role in the criminal's release because of oil drilling contracts in Al-Megrahi's home country of Libya. After Scottish officials declined the request to participate in the Senate inquiry in Washington, a July 29 hearing was postponed.

According to the BBC, the Scottish government insisted that the bomber was released "on compassionate grounds alone."

Backing the ministers' decision not to attend the hearings, Cardinal O'Brien noted that a "clash of cultures" could be an underlying cause of the dispute between the governments. He said that while in Scotland the justice system has worked to build a "culture of compassion," on the contrary, "there still exists in very many parts of the USA, if not nationally, an attitude towards the concept of justice, which can only be described as a ‘culture of vengeance’."

The desire for justice and even vengeance after such an "unbelievable horror and gratuitous barbarity," is "completely natural" for those most directly affected by the bombing, he conceded.

"It is in the midst of such inhuman barbarism, however, that we must act to affirm our own humanity, it is in these moments of grief and despair that we must show the world that the standards of the murderer and his disdain for human life are not our standards," he said.

"They may plunge to the depths of human conduct but we will not follow them."

Reflecting on Christian teaching on such matters, he said that "revenge is not a path we should take."

Cardinal O'Brien pointed out that the frequent exercise of capital punishment puts the U.S. in the company of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and China which are not "known for placing human rights on a pedestal.

"It is certainly invidious company for the world’s leading democracy to find itself in," he said.

Referring to a couple of specific cases from among the 1,221 executions in the U.S. since 1976 in which, he said, there was a need for pity, the cardinal noted that "perhaps the consciences of some Americans, especially members of the U.S. Senate, should be stirred by the ways in which ‘justice’ is administered in so many of their own States.

"Perhaps it is time for them to 'cast out the beam from their own eye before seeking the mote in their brothers.' Perhaps they should direct their gaze inwards, rather than scrutinizing the working of the Scottish justice system."

He expressed his full support for Scottish justice in the Al-Megrahi case, saying within it is "embedded, alongside punishment, the idea of reform," which is "one reason why the finality of the death penalty has rightly been rejected."

Driving home his point, he stated in conclusion, "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."

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