Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Quality of Mercy

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

William Shakespeare

I find it interesting that 57–year–old Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al–Megrahi — aka the Lockerbie Bomber — has been released from prison and sent home to Libya because he is terminally ill.
"Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people, no matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated."

Kenny MacAskill
Scotland Justice Secretary

I also think it is appropriate, given the circumstances. I commend Scotland for its humanitarian gesture.

And, I must admit, I am troubled — but not necessarily surprised — by the reaction of the American government.

"The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al–Megrahi," the White House said. "As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever."

Let me be clear. I am not unsympathetic to the pain and suffering that has been — and continues to be — experienced by the survivors of the Lockerbie victims. But this is not a parole — at least not in the traditional sense. Megrahi has prostate cancer and has been given three months to live. He has been sent back to Libya to die.

It is incumbent upon compassionate people, especially those who live in nations that regard themselves as Christian, to show some mercy at such a time.

But perhaps that is a concept that Americans — in spite of their lofty talk — are incapable of putting into action.

Susan Atkins, one of the members of the infamous "Manson Family" who admitted stabbing Sharon Tate to death 40 years ago this month, will be considered for parole in two weeks.

Atkins, 61, has been in a California prison longer than any woman. She has been denied parole more than a dozen times, most recently last year, even though she is terminally ill with brain cancer and is paralyzed. She poses no threat to anyone.

"She has repeatedly been described as a model prisoner who has accepted responsibility for her role in the slayings, and she now shuns Manson," reports Carey Bodenheimer for

Tate's sister opposes releasing Atkins, and I sympathize with her. It is beyond dispute that Debra Tate suffered a great loss. And many people support her position, including the governor of California. But many people agree with me that Atkins should be released — on compassionate grounds. That includes Vincent Bugliosi, the man who prosecuted Atkins.

Let there be no misunderstanding my position here. I do not believe that Charles Manson or any of his other followers who participated in those murders 40 years ago should be released at this time.

But Atkins' case is unique.

I don't expect Atkins to be granted a compassionate parole when her hearing is held on Sept. 2. But until people on both sides of the political spectrum are prepared to show some mercy — and leave vengeance to God — when the situation calls for it, spare me the high–minded talk of compassion.

Actions speak louder than words.

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