Compassionate Release – Not for the Weak


Not a shot was fired for over 90 minutes when Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland leapt the wall at Marye's Heights at Fredricksburg, VA to provide a moment of relief from the savagery of war to his fallen enemies.

by Karen Topakian



That’s the reason why Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi who was serving a life sentence for his role in the bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Doctors have given al-Megrahi only a few months to live making him eligible for compassionate release.

Many people who lost family members in the bombing found the release to be insulting and disgusting.

They said he wasn’t exercising compassion when he contributed to the death of 270 people. True. But that doesn’t speak to our ability to show it in return.

Compassionate release doesn’t address the guilt or innocence of the person. That is decided by a court of law.

Compassionate release doesn’t address the person’s behavior while committing the crime.

Practicing compassion towards people we like and respect proves nothing. I find it similar to being a vegetarian between meals or a pacifist between wars. Or supporting the first amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech for language with which we agree. Those are the easy ones. But isn’t that the point of compassion? To see the humanity in everyone regardless of whom they are and what they’ve done. And act accordingly.

Of course, it’s extremely difficult if not impossible to show compassion toward someone who is responsible for the death of a loved one. It is in those moments of war and violence and hatred when we face our greatest test of moral strength and commitment to our values. But that just might be the time when we need to demonstrate compassion the most.


  1. Heidi Gatty says:

    Right on Karen! I’ve been thinking exactly the same thing…I can’t imagine how I would feel if one of my family members had been killed. But that is why the grieving and heartbroken haven’t made this decision.

    We can only show the quality of the character of our countries and the strength of our democracies by these kinds of actions.

    • Karen Topakian says:

      Thanks Heidi, glad you liked it. As soon as I heard that al-Megrahi had been released I knew I had to write about it. Maybe Arnold will do the same for some of California’s prisoners who are seeking the same result.

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