Lockerbie killer released on 'humanitarian' grounds

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted of helping plan the mid-air bombing that killed 270 people, many of them Americans, aboard a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland was freed on "compassionate grounds" reports  Ian Mackenzie of Reuters . Doctors claim he has terminal cancer. He served eight years on his "lifetime sentence." Cheering crowds greeted him upon his arrival in Libya.

"He is a dying man, he is terminally ill," Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill told a news conference. "My decision is that he returns home to die."

Because al-Megrahi is from an influential family and is now considered a hero, that might be quite awhile.

Using strong language, the United States administration and its officials condemned the decision to free him.

"The interests of justice have not been served by this decision," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the top U.S. justice official, said in a statement.

"There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist whose actions took the lives of 270 individuals, including 189 Americans."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the White House also expressed dismay. Clinton called the bombing a "heinous crime" and said Washington had lobbied to keep Megrahi behind bars.

"We have continued to communicate our long-standing position to U.K. government officials and Scottish authorities that Megrahi should serve out the entirety of his sentence in Scotland," she said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs added

As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever.

Perhaps the Scottish Justice Minister, so concerned about compassion, doesn't realize the victims of the Lockerbie bomber are still dead. Until the bombing, they were not terminally ill. They did not die at home. Their survivors still suffer over 20 years after the slaughter; his decision to free their loved ones' murderer deepens their anguish.