Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mercy To The Guilty Is Cruelty To The Innocent.

As the fall out from the decision to release Megrahi continues- with President Obama and FBI Director Robert Mueller both making unusually strong criticisms of the decision by the SNP government- I thought this quote Adam Smith, one of Scotland's greatest thinkers (even greater than Kenny MacAskill) explains why compassion to someone convicted of Megrahi's crimes is not something that one should base decisions upon:
Such is the account commonly given of our approbation of the punishment of injustice. And so far this account is undoubtedly true, that we frequently have occasion to confirm our natural sense of the propriety and fitness of punishment, by reflecting how necessary it is for preserving the order of society. When the guilty is about to suffer that just retaliation, which the natural indignation of mankind tells them is due to his crimes; when the insolence of his injustice is broken and humbled by the terror of his approaching punishment; when he ceases to be an object of fear, with the generous and humane he begins to be an object of pity. The thought of what he is about to suffer extinguishes their resentment for the sufferings of others to which he has given occasion. They are disposed to pardon and forgive him, and to save him from that punishment, which in all their cool hours they had considered as the retribution due to such crimes. Here, therefore, they have occasion to call to their assistance the consideration of the general interest of society. They counterbalance the impulse of this weak and partial humanity by the dictates of a humanity that is more generous and comprehensive. They reflect that mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent, and oppose to the emotions of compassion which they feel for a particular person, a more enlarged compassion which they feel for mankind.
{Full quote via- The American Thinker- although I already knew the "Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent" and was googling it when I found the full passage. }


Matthew said...

Well it doesn't apply if he is innocent, as I find many people rather persuasively arguing.

I think we need to keep in mind as well that he is being released as he will be dead within months. That is presumably what a lot of the families of his victims want.

Ross said...

"Well it doesn't apply if he is innocent, as I find many people rather persuasively arguing."

No, but they didn't release him on the grounds that he might be innocent, as I said in my previous post on the topic if that was the real reason then they should have said so because it is a much more defensible decision.

James Higham said...

Couldn't agree more with the sentiment and it's the way to go.

However, when I read a couple of right wing libertarian types, our lot, say that there was a question over the conviction of this particular person, I stopped and had a think.

I don't purport to know if he's guilty or not. Some not of the PC ilk though have said let's hang on a minute.

Matthew said...

Michael Portillo yesterday was hinting that he isn't really that ill, saying that he had been released 'simply because he was unwell'.

I guess we can only wait and see. If Portillo is right then clearly there is something much more murky going on.