Theodora Cohen was someone I knew back in college at Syracuse University. She lived upstairs on the fourth floor of Shaw Hall – she being a student at SU’s Visual & Performing Arts Department.
I was the Resident Adviser (RA) on the third floor, overseeing the architects and engineers. My best friend Mark was the fourth floor RA, and we used to schedule programs together. Everybody knew everybody else in the building.
This was the spring of 1988. Theo, as everyone called her, went to London in the fall of 1988 as part of the Division of the International Programs Abroad.
She never made it back.
This was because on December 21, 1988, she was on Pan Am Flight 103. Yes, the one that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, of which 35 were students at Syracuse University. Theo sat in Seat 21H.
A memorial has been created at the base of the Hall of Languages to honor their memory. The 35 students were gifts to our university, and we are better to have had them in our midst, however brief.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was convicted as being the mastermind of the terrorist bombing. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Now here is a partial text of the Scottish Court’s decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi:
“On the evening of 21 December 1988 a heinous crime was perpetrated. It claimed the lives of 270 innocent civilians. Four days before Christmas, men, women and children going about their daily lives were cruelly murdered. They included 11 from one small Scottish town. That town was Lockerbie – a name that will forever be associated with the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed on UK soil.
A prisoner transfer application has been submitted by the Government of Libya seeking the transfer of Mr. Abdelbasit Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi. The man convicted of those offences in the Scottish courts. He has also now sought to be released on compassionate grounds due to his prostate cancer that is terminal.
...Section three of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to release prisoners on licence on compassionate grounds.
It is the opinion of his Scottish Prison Service doctors who have dealt with him prior to, during and following the diagnosis of prostate cancer, and having seen him during each of these stages, that his clinical condition has declined significantly.
…Having met the criteria, it therefore falls to me to decide whether Mr. Al-Megrahi should be released on compassionate grounds. I am conscious that there are deeply held feelings, and that many will disagree whatever my decision. However a decision has to be made.
However, Mr. Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.
…Mr. Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.
But, that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.
Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. 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.
For these reasons – and these reasons alone – it is my decision that Mr. Abdelbasit Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.”
The Guardian then added this: “Mr. [Gordon Brown, British prime minister] Brown then refused to answer any questions to the media who had assembled at the Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow.”
In a word: Unbelievable. I cannot, and will not, be able to understand what the Scottish Courts were thinking when they agreed to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi from its prison systems. Sorry. Even at a cognitive level, this smacks of politics. It is possible, as some have noted, that Libya will increase trade with Britain (benefitting Britain) if this killer was released. The vehement denials from the British government lend credence to these claims.
To show compassion for someone who is devoid of compassion is somehow wrong. It was contemptible to see this terrorist being given a hero’s welcome when he arrived back home.
There may come a time someday that I can understand this, but not now. Not in the foreseeable future.