Rachel Asrelsky, also 41, is busily working in her offices at Columbia University, where she has been a tenured professor since 1995. As she prepares for the annual start-of-term faculty workshops that she dreads like a migraine, she laughs to herself as she remembers what her 4-year old daughter said to her as she was walking out of the door of the day care center this morning: "Don't forget Mommy: Today is Joe Jonas' birthday and I want to make him a card!"
Tom and Bridget Concannon - 71 and 74 respectively - are visiting their 37-year old son, Sean in Hoboken, NJ. The Concannons are Irish - although their son was born when Tom was working in England. Not a few times has Sean made it a point - normally loud enough for his father to hear and thus drive him nuts yet again - that while 'Mum and Dad are Irish; I'm British.' This joking aside, the Concannons remain relatively close, even though Sean moved to the States in 1995. Today, Tom and Bridget are relishing precious time with Sean's three children - their only grandchildren - as a summer sun sets over the New York City skyline behind them.
What I just wrote is fantasy. It is fiction. It never happened. It never happened because of Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi. Although Megrahi never met Stacie Franklin, Rachel Asrelsky, Tom Concannon, Bridget Concannon or Sean Concannon, he saw fit to end their lives on December 21, 1988 by blowing the airplane in which they were flying out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 270 killed that day were 20-year old flight attendant Stacie Franklin, 21-year old student Rachel Asrelsky, as well as 51-year old Tom Concannon, his 53-year old wife Bridget and their 16-year old son Sean.
Without getting into the reams and reams of documents that detail the Lockerbie terrorist attack perpetrated by Meghrahi - a Libyan intelligence agent - and his network, suffice it to say that the deaths of his victims were horrific. When the bomb planted by Meghrahi's agents - inside a Sony Walkman - detonated, it separated the cockpit from the rest of the plane. In the immediate aftermath of that separation, tornado-force winds tore through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning insecurely-fixed items like food and drink trolleys into lethal objects. Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers' bodies expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse. People and objects not fixed down were been blown out of the aircraft into the minus-50 degree outside air, their 31,000-foot fall lasting about two minutes. That's right, two minutes. Not seconds. Minutes. Free falling in the air. Until the point of impact.
Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seat belts, crashing in Lockerbie strapped to their seats. Although the passengers would have lost consciousness through lack of oxygen, forensic examiners believe some of them regained consciousness as they fell toward oxygen-rich lower altitudes. Forensic pathologist Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police he believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants - including Stacie Franklin - and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurization of the aircraft, and were alive on impact. Repeat: alive on the point of impact.
Eckert came to this conclusion because none of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. Eckert told Scottish police that distinctive marks on 55-year old American Captain James MacQuarrie's thumb suggested he had been hanging onto the yoke of the plane as it descended, and was alive when the plane crashed. The captain, first officer, flight engineer, a flight attendant - Stacie Franklin - and a number of first-class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in a field by a farm in the village of Tundergarth.
Franklin, incredibly, was alive when found by the farmer's wife. She died before her rescuer could summon help.
Remember all of this as you read how the only man ever convicted of the attack left Scotland this week - on a Libyan jet - flying safely through the same skies he bombed his victims out of 21 years ago and arrived in Tripoli to a hero's welcome. A hero's welcome.
That man, Megrahi, was not even arrested until 1999. That is, he lived in freedom for 11 years after ending those 270 lives. Once caught, it took two more years to convict Megrahi. Unfortunately, it was the British who caught him. Had it been the Americans, he would have been eligible for the death penalty. Because the British have been pussified into believing that somehow capital punishment is 'cruel and unusual', the most they could give Megrahi was a life sentence, which was handed down in 2001 by a Scottish court.
How did 'life' translate into 10 years in prison? Well, in announcing Megrahi's release, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill intoned that "when such an appalling crime is committed, it is appropriate that a severe sentence be imposed." Yes, you read that right: this asshole Scottish politician seemed to be saying that the 10-year sentence was enough. Another way of looking at it, of course, is to say that MacAskill [or, as I like to call him Mac Ass Kill] was saying that a severe sentence of life should be imposed, but not necessarily carried out.
As pissed as I am about the 12 days in prison Vince Fumo will serve for each of his felony convictions, the mind reels when you realize that Megrahi served a little less than 14 days for each of the victims he killed. About two weeks. And you thought your life was worth more, I'll bet.
Megrahi's release is being justified on compassionate grounds: he is thankfully terminally ill with an aggressive form of prostate cancer - which one hopes is incredibly painful. In some patients, surgeons have to castrate patients with advanced prostate cancer in a drastic effort to stop the spread of the disease. I'm going to prefer to believe that this is what's happened to Megrahi. And that they performed the procedure with a plastic spoon and no anesthesia. Megrahi is said to have as little as three months to live. The Earth's fiery core awaits him.
While that is wonderful, this 'compassion' being afforded a man who - to this day - has refused to admit his guilt is abhorrent. Mac Ass added further insult to injury with a cryptic remark that Megrahi faces "a sentence imposed by a higher power." Apparently, then, the existence of God has been confirmed by the British courts. Since I'm not really convinced of that, however, I must point out that a life sentence should mean that a man ends his days in prison - in this case, a foreign prison [in Scotland for the Libyan Megrahi]. He should not end his days in the bosom of his family and country to a hero's welcome.
The real injustice - and one President Obama must vigorously protest in person to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown the next time they have tea - is that Scotland's decision to release this motherfucker is a result of a recent prisoner transfer agreement between Libya and the U.K. The agreement calls for Britain to release prisoners in return for Libya granting lucrative arms and energy contracts to British companies. The U.S. had no say in the matter, despite the fact that the vast majority of victims of the disaster were American. Put another way, Megrahi's release was a tacit quid pro quo for lucrative energy and arms deals for U.K. firms.
This cold-blooded killer's release is a reminder of what happens when terrorism is treated as a problem for the criminal justice system. Scottish pol Mac Ass had the balls to sit there and congratulate Scotland (and himself) on the superior virtue his decision supposedly evinces. Of course, terrorists will surely draw a different lesson about the will of the West to confront and punish them. And the compassion that is still owed those made bereft by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has now been tainted by a second Lockerbie outrage.
No matter how vigorously the British justice system protests that this is not so, the fact is that the entire judicial system of Her Majesty is now irrevocably tainted by this corrupt bargain. And, every time a British company lands a deal in Libya from here on out, the families of the 270 victims will be reminded that their loved ones paid for it with their lives nearly 21 years ago over Scotland. While still alive. Until the point of impact.
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