Wolf Blitzer interviews Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill

Repost Who could have guessed that a confessed mass murder and terrorist would have broken the law once more? It is reported that Mohmed al-Megrahi has jumped bail, thus embarrassing his former jailers. It is therefore the perfect occasion to repost this transcript, which appeared immediately after Mohmed was released.


This is the transcript of the interview that was conducted by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill released the murderer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi yesterday. The video was deemed “too controversial” and was never released. But thanks to the efforts of famed hacker trax8er (a long-time reader of this blog, apparently) we have it.

Blitzer   Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Secretary MacAskill.

MacAskill   It is my pleasure. We Scots are an open people and encourage curiosity.

Blitzer   Releasing the man-made disaster maker Mohmed al-Megrahi was a very controversial move. Can you comment on that?

MacAskill   As you know, we Scots have led enlightened thinking. Progressive thought was born in Scotland! David Hume, Robert Burns, John Playfair, Adam Ferguson…

Blitzer   Adam Smith?

MacAskill   (chuckles) Of course, everybody makes mistakes. (Blitzer heard laughing) But the point I was making: we are continuing our warm tradition of enlightened thinking by creating new forms and thoughts of justice. We are not remaining still.

Blitzer   In what ways?

MacAskill   Take al-Megrahi, who was clearly suffering. Prostate cancer! The evils of which are all too common. Progressive jurists like myself know—it is a basic human understanding, actually—that prison is not a place of suffering, and suffer al-Megrahi would have done had we forced—coerced might be a better word—him to remain in prison.

Blitzer   But what do you say to the families of the victims of al-Megrahi’s man-caused disaster?

MacAskill   I would say, I understand their loss. But—and I want to put this gently, especially since some Americans think, well, consider themselves too much to the exclusion of others—that as much as you loved your family members, al-Megrahi has a family too.

Blitzer   I hadn’t thought of that.

MacAskill   Precisely.

Blitzer   Something which our viewers might not know is that Scotland has been leading the way in early prison release for hardship. For example, the notorious multiple-rapist Angus McFern?

MacAskill   Quite right you should point him out. Syphilis. Devastating disease. Quite ravages the mind and body. To have prolonged his incarceration would have been not only cruel, but vicious.

Blitzer   But after he was released, did he not go on to rape four more women before he died?

MacAskill   Horrible, horrible. What that disease can do to one’s mind and powers of reasoning. Society certainly has something to answer for in not better treating McFern’s illness.

Blitzer   And Camran McAllister? Didn’t he marry and then kill each of his six wives?

MacAskill   Mr McAllister developed a quite awful case of piles. We judges know about piles. Comes from our constant sitting. They can be an enormous distraction. As was true with McAllister. He simply could not use his prison time wisely for all the irritation.

Blitzer   Just last year you sat as judge at the trial of John McNiall, the serial killer.

MacAskill   Yes, I remember that.

Blitzer   Can you tell us about it?

MacAskill   Appalling story. McNiall would search the internet for people whose birthday dates summed to seventy-seven, or some such number. That was how many people he was going to kill, but we nabbed him at forty-two, well before he could finish.

Blitzer   But then you, just last week I remember, had him released on compassionate grounds?

MacAskill   Hangnail. On his right thumb. He was obsessed: he just wouldn’t leave the thing alone! It became quite an enormous burden on the guards, who could no longer bear watching him pick at the thing. Naturally, the nail developed a small infection. We can’t have that sort of thing in prison! Other inmates might become infected, and if that happened, we would have been responsible. So out he had to go.

Blitzer   And Bertie McMadoff, the Scottish embezzler who cheated people out of nearly two hundred million pounds?

MacAskill   His mother wrote us a most anxious letter. Seems McMadoff has never missed a birthday at home. A rather nervous boy, she said. She didn’t know what might happen if he had to remain in prison and miss his party. We agreed that the potential for harm was too high.

Blitzer   But you don’t always show leniency. The flap over David McWibert, for example.

MacAskill   Despite what you might think, we Scots can be pushed too far. McWibert’s crime was simply unforgivable. All agree on that.

Blitzer   But wasn’t he convicted on nothing more than public urination?

MacAskill   On Bowmore! Our oldest distillery on the Isle of Islay. He defiled scotch, our national beverage, and showed no awareness of the magnificent importance this drink has on our people.

Blitzer   I see.

MacAskill   Yes. Even I myself, to honor our customs, drink a full bottle before issuing any ruling.

[Transcript ends]


Update: Friday afternoon Reality catches up. Click on the “From the Blogs…” at the bottom.


  1. Ari

    Hey, hey now. First off, hangnails really really hurt.

    And secondly, by releasing this guy, we’re one step closer to getting Libyan oil. Sweet crude.

    I see no problems (well, except for the various niggling moral issues… but oil! oil!)

  2. Luis Dias

    For a moment you got me there.

  3. Gary Moran

    It is highly likely that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi’s and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah handover by Libya; and Libya’s compensation to the families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103 were largely diplomatic moves. The trial itself was a political compromise. There are reasons to suspect the conviction was unsafe which is why a new appeal had been granted. Such an appeal might be politically embarrassing (particularly to the British government). I suspect that letting Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi free on compassionate grounds solves quite a few problems.

  4. Gary Moran

    Oh, and I meant to add that Scottish law is pretty cracked as well. You Americans probably think its the same as our marvelous English and Welsh legal system (from which your own is derived), but it isn’t.

  5. Mike

    This has to be a joke.

  6. Kenneth

    This is Comedy Gold!

  7. Briggs

    I’m blushing, Kenneth. But feel free to pass the link along.

  8. JH

    A precious and thought-provoking post on the subject of compassion.

  9. Jack Sparrow

    I just saw that Scottish Justice Minister MacAskill on CNN. He was very well spoken. Remarkable actually. Well done. Well said…
    I hope we see more of him. I wish we had Gov’t officials as courageous as he. He showed remarkable candor, forthrightness, goodness, honesty, honorableness, and incorruptibility. I immediatly had the impression he is a man of principle, probity, rectitude, righteousness, sincerity, straightforwardness, and virtue.
    I was impressed.
    It is comforting to see that “The Men of Old” have not truely died out. It is indeed hard to find a man who can sort out the difference between “doing things right” and “doing the right thing”.

  10. michel

    Let us consider the following case of compassion.

    The Israeli government and judiciary decides that they do not have the legal right to execute Eichman under Israeli law, despite the fact that he has been convicted of what he is accused of by proper process and evidence. They nevertheless cannot bring themselves to release him.

    The West German government presses for his release. Why, we wonder, would they do that? The Israelis refuse. They reply, he was a convicted and genoicidal mass murderer, and though we will not execute him, he must serve a life sentence.

    He finally however contracts a mortal illness, the Germans continue to press, and the Israelis release him, now on compassionate grounds. In response to German pressure.

    He is greeted at the airport aas a hero by throngs of celebrating welcomers. What, we wonder, are they celebrating, exactly? Why do they feel so connected to him? What was it that he did that made him a hero?

    He is then publicly embraced by the German Chancellor and other members of the government of the day. What exactly motivates them to do that, we ask ourselves?

    After the fuss has died down, we see what has happened. To the Germans, at all levels including the highest levels of government, it appears that Eichman’s deeds were not criminal, but heroic. Killing Jews then was seen now as an excellent thing to have done. The killer was one of us, acting in accordance with our present values.

    There is a reason why this did not happen. There is a reason why the German government did not intercede on behalf of Eichman and why, if they had, the Israelis would not have released him.

    You can see, if you think about it, that whatever the release of this man showed about Scotland, and I fear it mainly showed a breathtaking ignorance of the nature of the world we live in, it showed us something very clear about Libya, and indeed about Islam. Libya, like most of the Islamic world, thinks that mass murder and acts of terrorism are entirely legitimate, even praiseworthy, as long as they are committed agains unbelievers. They have wanted this man released for the longest time, long before there were any compassionate grounds. Ask yourself why.

    Now, how compassionate do you want to be? You can be as compassionate as you like, there will be plenty more opportunities. But your compassion is not the issue. The issue is, what is the nature of what you are dealing with?

    As Briggs points out, there will always be things to sympathize with in these criminals – poor childhoods, medical conditions, injuries, psychological states. At some point there are such things for many of us, not simply criminals. That is not the issue. The issue is not about the victims or their families either. The issue is about the perpetrators and their sympathizers.

    The man should have died in jail.

  11. michel

    I would add something. It is a bit like a debt that you have money to pay. You are not excused your mortgage payment, when you have money in the bank to cover it, on compassionate grounds.

    Dying in jail is the price you and your family pay for committing mass murder. The price is printed on the label for all to see. You don’t want to die in jail, you have a choice. Do not commit mass murder.

  12. Die in jail? No, die outside on the gallows with a rope and a cheering mob. Send a message to the mass murderer’s cohorts. Reagan had it right. Bomb their tents.

  13. masmit

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but the law is the law.
    The Scottish law, in this case.
    Is anyone else’s judicial system perfectly to your liking?

  14. Briggs


    I think Michel would reply that the law, legally constructed by duly elected leaders, in Germany during, say, the very early 1940s would probably not be to your liking, either. Similar, and unfortunately plentiful, examples of the legal law not being ideal are readily brought to mind.

  15. michel

    Masmit, I would reply that the Scottish law correctly PERMITS the release of anyone on compassionate grounds. It PERMITS release on those grounds regardless of the offense. We can argue about whether that is reasonable, whether there should be that much discretion in the law, but that is not the point here. The point here is that it does not MANDATE the release of the dying. The decision to release was entirely optional. Only 23 people have been released in Scotland in the last nine years. I do not know how many of them were murderers, suspect none, and do not know how many applications there were,

    The power exists in England too. You can see the attitude to it in the recent release of the armed robber, Biggs. He has been released, after an initial refusal and deterioration in his condition.

    My view remains that to release an unrepentant mass murderer on compassionate grounds is wrong. For the Libyan government to apply for his release on compassionate grounds, after having failed to secure prison transfer, which would have been in effect a release, was also wrong, and shows us that this is a regime with no moral bearings. We will see further confirmation of this shortly, when during the great celebrations of the regime’s 40 year anniversary, this man is trotted out and embraced by the Dictator.

    Imagine. Just imagine. Chancellor Merkel presides over celebrations of the reunification of Germany, and invites on stage and embraces some dying Nazi, convicted in a fair trial of mass murder during the Holocaust, but now released on compassionate grounds. What would you be saying to that? That is what you should be saying now to Libya. WTF is the matter with you people, is what you would be saying.

    Are there circumstances in which it would have been right to release him on compassionate grounds? Yes. Forgiveness is conditional on an act of contrition. If we had believed that he was genuinely contrite. If he had confessed to and expressed regret for his crimes. If in addition the Libyan government while interceding on his behalf had condemned his act, and confined itself to representing one of its citizens who, whatever his turpitude, was still a citizen. Had it made clear that it would receive him with an announcement condemning what he had done, and welcoming his repentance.

    In the same way, we would not have been disturbed by the German government had it simply said that it wished to ensure that Eichman had proper legal representation and a fair trial, as it would for any of its citizens.

    Then we could have said that compassion was merited, and the outcome of the decision would have confirmed it. All we have done now is condone mass murder, and pander to a regime which is by its conduct still deeply implicated in his acts. Wrong, quite wrong.

  16. masmit

    Well, I take both Matt’s and Michel’s points – but I still support the decision. There seems little purpose in keeping a dying man incarcerated, since he is no further danger to anyone, and whatever deterrent his sentence might be to others, I see little comfort for anyone in the thought that they’ll be released should they become terminally ill.

    I’d also point out that this terrible act had been all but forgotten, and his release and the nature of his reception at home are actually a pretty good reminder of what we’re up against.

    And any practical expression of compassion in a politician, even if misguided, seems like a rare and wonderful thing to me!

  17. James S

    There is also the point that it was highly likely that the guilty verdict would have been quashed at appeal as the evidence against him was, at best, circumstantial. That would, perhaps, have been more embarassing than releasing him on “compassionate grounds” before the appeal.

  18. Joe R.

    Considering what “Injustice” Secretary MacAskill did, I could certainly see him making these comments; it actually doesn’t seem that ridiculous. LOL

  19. astonerii

    “MacAskill Hangnail. On his right thumb. ”
    you had me until here. I sure thought this was real. I wonder why, me being such a sucker and all, I have not fallen for the AGW scam yet…

  20. astonerii

    “masmit says:
    24 August 2009 at 9:12 am

    Well, I take both Matt’s and Michel’s points – but I still support the decision. There seems little purpose in keeping a dying man incarcerated, since he is no further danger to anyone, and whatever deterrent his sentence might be to others, I see little comfort for anyone in the thought that they’ll be released should they become terminally ill.”

    Ever hear of suicide bombers?

  21. 49erDweet

    This is a gift that just keeps on giving and giving and giving. And so out-of-character for the Scots. Weren’t they the ones who were always considered to be so penurious?

  22. JH

    I doubt that a terminal ill person can go far though.

  23. George

    I don’t get the comparison between Libya and Germany – frankly I think it’s insulting to German people, and I doubt anybody could seriously imagine Merkel et al welcoming a Holocaust practitioner back into the fold.

    As for the release, it falls back to the age old debate over what punishment is meant to achieve. It’s not paying off a debt – nobody benefits from your time in jail. Dying in jail is not a “price” you pay in exchange for the right to commit a crime – prices act as compensation to others, and his death benefits nobody.

    I personally don’t agree with vengeance either, though I realise it is important to some people. Note that it’s usually misguided, and may very well be misguided in this case too as the man is widely assumed to be a fall guy, rather than a true perpetrator. He might as well have been a suicide bomber, in his role as fall guy.

    So we’re left with ensuring the safety of others (not relevant if he’s old, dying, and not the perpetrator anyway) and discouraging others from similar crimes (also not relevant if he’s only being released as a special case because he’s dying).

    I don’t necessarily agree with the decision, but I don’t have a particular problem with it either. So long as it’s not possible that Libya or Megrahi somehow manufactured fake evidence that he is terminally ill – so long as it’s either true, or an honest mistake – then this action does not undermine the justice system.

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