'A Whole New Kind Of Grief'

Convicted Lockerbie Bomber's Release Stuns Relatives

August 21, 2009|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,susan.reimer@baltsun.com

The cool and quiet of Rosemary and Larry Mild's Severna Park home was broken again by the ringing phone.

Reporters were calling to probe their reaction Thursday to news that the Libyan intelligence officer convicted of planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 - the bomb that killed Rosemary's daughter over Lockerbie, Scotland - had been released from prison. Scottish authorities allowed Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, to return to Libya and his wife and five children.

"You ask how I am?" said Rosemary. "I'm awful."

All the pain and outrage of the 21 years since her daughter, Miriam Wolfe, a Syracuse University student, was killed along with 269 others, is fresh again.

"It is like an undertow, a riptide of despair," she said. "I am a writer, and there are not enough adjectives to express my revulsion. This is a whole new kind of grief."

Her despair was shared by many, including relatives of the eight Marylanders who died in the bombing.

Parkville resident George Williams, whose son died in the explosion, doesn't believe al-Megrahi is dying; he calls it "supposed prostate cancer."

"He'll probably die in bed an old man. I can't understand the world today - how a mass murderer can get compassion. He ripped my son's body apart. And the bodies of all 270 people on there. He should have been executed with as much compassion as he showed my son."

Half a world away, al-Megrahi, convicted of 270 counts of murder in the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing, walked, stooped and with a cane, onto a Libyan airliner in Glasgow, Scotland. Hours later, he landed in Tripoli, greeted by thousands of flag-waving young people and the sound of patriotic music, according to news reports.

Diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, he was granted a compassionate release by the Scottish government. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that compassion was "a defining characteristic of Scottish people" and that "the perpetuation of an atrocity cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are."

"Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It's one that no court ... could revoke or overrule."

The Milds were just about newlyweds when the plane exploded, so it is safe to say that their entire married life has been spent in the suspended animation of justice delayed.

"We thought we had judicial closure," said Miriam's stepfather, Larry Mild, referring to the conviction and life sentence eight years ago of al-Megrahi. He added, "Kenny MacAskill said he wanted to avoid a martyrdom. Well, the way you do that is to lock him away in obscurity, and never let him out.

"His cohort went home to a hero's welcome," he said, referring to Libyan airline manager Al Amin Khalifah Fhiman, a co-defendant who was acquitted. "It will be the same for Megrahi."

Rosemary Mild was wearing a pantsuit - "black, for this day" - and a tiny brooch that contains a picture of her daughter, who was flying home from London after a semester abroad.

She was particularly outraged by Mac-Askill's explanation: that no mercy was shown to the victims of Flight 103, but "that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in these final days."

"It is beyond comprehension that they could be considerate of him, that his life and comfort are worth more than the lives of the 270 people who were not allowed to die in the comfort of their families," she said.

Her words are so carefully chosen that she has written them down. She will say them again and again, each time the phone rings and another reporter asks.

The release of al-Megrahi, 57, who was sentenced to serve at least 27 years of a life sentence but served only eight, drew criticism from the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

President Barack Obama said he "deeply regrets" the decision, and Clinton called it "absolutely wrong."

"The interests of justice have not been served by this decision," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. "There is simply no justification for releasing this convicted terrorist whose actions took the lives of 270 individuals, including 189 Americans."

The United States has insisted that al-Megrahi be kept under house arrest and that he not be honored in any way.

Williams calls the bomber's release "an insult to every one of the victims." His son, who shared his name, was a 24-year-old lieutenant in the Army and the Williamses' only child.

Williams said he cried every day for the first two years after the bombing. And even now, though it's been more than 20 years, he says a day hasn't gone by that he hasn't thought about his son.

"He had his whole life ahead of him. He was just a beautiful young man," he said. "It just tore our life apart."

Peggy Otenasek's daughter, Anne, a graduate of Notre Dame Prep and a student at what was then Western Maryland College, was studying abroad and had boarded the London-New York flight on her way home for Christmas.

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