Imagine a nation that takes compassion on dying prisoners, by virtue of law, even. How horrendous and venal such a place must be, nothing less, to borrow a phrase, than a wretched hive of scum and villainy. To hear recent talk of Mother Scotland, you'd think it was such a pit of ill-fame.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi has been met with a resounding, international "Oh no, you didn't", not least among naysayers the United States. Aye, you heard right: the US is calling foul on this transgress of international law. Robert Mueller, head of the FBI, goes so far as to say that MacAskill "makes a mockery of the rule of law" and "gives comfort to terrorists around the world." He doesn't go so far as to say that this would never happen if al-Megrahi had been at Guantanamo Bay, but the implication is clear.
Mr Mueller methinks protesteth too much. Which law is being mocked, precisely -unless he means to suggest that going contrary to US wishes is to impugn justice globe-wide. Even British PM Gordon Brown can see through this shimmy vapor of an argument. "This was a decision taken by the Scottish justice secretary in accordance with the laws of Scotland," he says through a spokesman. "I don't see that anyone can argue that this gives succour." Not that this takes Brown entirely off the hook. As detailed at Caledonian Comment, the PM has been talking about Scotland's decision with Libyan leader Muamar Gadaffi for over a month. Even so, the dodginess of Mr Brown isn't exactly news to anybody, is it?
Getting back to home turf here in the US, I don't buy into the outrage against compassionate dispensation of the rule of law, especially when it is shouted out from places that vigorously pursue the death penalty, champion indefinite detention, and carry out extraordinary rendition from black sites around the world. It's a bit disingenuous to take Scotland to task for showing compassion upon a man who is expected not to survive past Christmas. How does this give comfort to agents of terror?
Was the decision linked to trade deals with Tripoli, or Britain's interests in Libya's enormous oil and gas reserves? MacAskill rejects this, quoted as saying: "It was not based on political, diplomatic or economic considerations."
He adds that, "In Scotland we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity...The perpetration of an outrage ... cannot and should not be the basis for losing sight of who we are."
The real loser in this is Libya. Giving al-Megrahi a hero's welcome was hardly cricket. It makes mockery of the very real grief suffered by families of those killed on Pan Am Flight 103. Worse, it undermines Scotland's credibility. How sad is that? A nation takes compassion and is made to look the fool.
Nevertheless, MacAskill was right in his decision. The perpetration of outrage should never be the basis of the rule of law.