23 August 2009

What I Haven't Seen in a Very Long Time

See here (and then follow the video link)

Thursday's press conference by the Scottish Minister of Justice Kenny MacAskill regarding the release of alleged PanAm 103 bomber Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi left me a little shocked.  Personally, I am agnostic regarding the release of Al-Megrahi to Libya on "compassionate" grounds.  I would have been happy either way.

The shocking thing was the eloquence, bespeaking careful deliberation and attention, with which Mr. MacAskill announced the decision for Al-Megrahi's release.  I have rarely seen its like on that side of the pond or on this one.  The detailed and thoughtful manner in which Mr. MacAskill explained this decision indicates that he takes his audience (primarily the Scottish and wider British polity, but also the international community) seriously as an intelligent and equally thoughtful consumer of information and participant in the social and political life of the nation.  It is altogether refreshing to see a politician and leader not think and speak in easily consumable soundbites, which taken together may not add up to saying very much at all-- essentially talking down to us as passive recipients of information.  It is even more remarkable given that, in his capacity as a Cabinet Minister in the Scottish Parliament, Mr. MacAskill is unelected (he is an elected member of the Scottish Parliament however).

Regardless of the merits of the decision (Al-Megrahi's reception in Libya on Friday seems to have put Mr. MacAskill's decision in a very poor light), the way in which it was received by British and American policymakers was predictable and useless, even if the release of Al-Megrahi turns out to have been in poor judgment.  Mr. MacAskill handed us a clear opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue about the nature of terrorism, the proper handling of terrorist suspects and those convicted of terrorism, and the limits of current anti-terrorism policies here and in the UK.  That invitation was shoved back in his face like a cream pie.

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