Justice With Compassion


I want to set aside for a moment the issue of whether the terminally ill bomber of Pan Am Flight 103 should be released to die at home in Libya. Instead watch Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill explain his decision to set Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi free.TPM Reader MK flagged it for me and writes:

I would simply ask whether and when we can remember — can we even imagine — a public official in American life speaking with this kind of eloquence, thoughtfulness, and most of all courage? The public discussion of crime and punishment — not to mention terror — have become so toxic in our country that I expect that you would hesitate before posting this, even if you were so inclined.

It is worth watching, though, if only to remember what we as individuals are capable of contributing to public life, and to recognize the compassion and the reverence for all human life that we have the capacity to practice collectively.

While we share a common legal tradition with the UK, our own legal system increasingly seems like a moribund vestige of our common history, rather than a self-sustaining creation which we continue to ratify and renew. On a gloomy day, it’s hard for me to envision the U.S. adopting the Anglo-American system today if we were starting from scratch. As it is, our legal system labors under enormous tension between who are now and the values we once idealized. MacAskill’s statement, regardless of how you view his decision, is a living, breathing example of those legal traditions being carried forward in practice, not merely as totems from another time.


David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.