David J. Gould, my Harvard classmate, never made it back to our 25th college reunion in the year 1990. He was nowhere to be found because his bones lay strewn across Lockerbie, Scotland. He never lived to bury his parents, to see his daughter or his son marry, or to celebrate his silver wedding anniversary. He never directed another seminar on public administration in developing countries or wrote another book on public policy. He died a violent death in December 1988, without ever knowing who killed him, or why.
Little did we expect this mass murderer would be a free man in just eight years.
What David never knew was a Libyan terrorist named Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, with the help of other Libyans and the support of Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, planted a time bomb on Pan Am Flight 103, which went off minutes after leaving London, blowing to smithereens all 259 innocent persons on board and 11 Scots on the ground.
It took almost 12 years to bring this state-sponsored terrorist to justice, and when Libya finally turned him over for trial after immense international pressure, Gaddafi was handsomely rewarded with international recognition, and, of course, substantial oil deals.
We thought justice was done when, in 2001, al-Megrahi was given a life sentence. Great Britain does not have the death penalty, so life behind bars was the maximum sentence possible. Little did we expect this mass murderer would be a free man in just eight years.
This week the British justice system decided to release al-Megrahi on so-called humanitarian grounds because the prisoner was dying from prostate cancer. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in explaining this inexcusable act declared, “Our belief dictates that justice be served but mercy be shown.” And so the only person who was ever punished for killing 270 people returned to his homeland, where he received a hero’s welcome.
Where was the mercy for David’s family and the hundreds of members of the other victims’ families who had to witness this grotesque spectacle of crowds cheering the murderer of their loved ones? Justice was not served in Scotland this week. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and British oil companies have recently signed exploration deals with Libya. Oil has trumped justice once again.
Burt Ross, former mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and former administrator of the New Jersey Energy Office, is a lawyer and real-estate investor. A book The Bribe was written about his exploits with the Mafia.