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Byron Williams Headshot

Another Reason for a Truth Commission

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I don't know the answer to the moral question: Should Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of a terrorist bombing of a Pan-Am Jetliner nearly 21 years ago, have been released because of a terminal illness?

Scottish authorities felt compassion was warranted, though al-Megrahi served eight of a minimum 27-year sentence. The former mid-level Libyan intelligence agent has terminal prostate cancer, was convicted of taking part in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

All 259 passengers (over 189 Americans) on board and 11 on the ground died. After a nearly two-year investigation, al-Megrahi was charged in 1991, and was not brought to trial until 2001.

Doctors say that al-Megrahi has only 3 months to live. Does it matter where he takes his final breath?

To many who lost loved ones it does because after two decades they still have more questions than they have answers. There're also victim's families, because the case remains incomplete, that support the Scottish decision to free al-Megrahi.

There is the cynical possibility of a quid pro quo -- releasing al-Megrahi so that the UK would be granted greater access to Libyan oil. That is a ghoulish option I simply cannot entertain without additional facts.

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton had called Scottish authorities urging them not to release al-Megrahi. President Obama also expressed his disagreement and regret of Scotland's decision.

It seems what is central to the release of al-Megrahi is not the estimated three months that he has left or Scotland's decision release him on compassionate grounds, but the unanswered questions that seem destined for eternity.

Few believe that al-Megrahi acted alone, though he was the only one convicted. His early release after a 12-year battle to bring him to justice, seeing him serve a mere eight years, only to be released on compassionate grounds -- something the victims of Flight 103 were not afforded -- would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow for many, especially when there remain myriad questions unanswered.

While the Obama administration has little control of this outcome it still has the opportunity to learn lessons from this tragic episode.

According to US New & World Report, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge reveals new in his new book details on the politicization under President Bush, which includes Ridge's assertion that he was pressured to raise the terror alert to help Bush win re-election in 2004.

Not surprisingly, former members of the Bush administration have come out to counter Ridge's claim. It is hard to imagine a former cabinet official would make-up such a salacious accusation to sell books.

But Ridge's latest revelation is not only serious it raises additional questions in the seemingly unending drama known as Iraq and the war on terror. And the failure to respond to those questions only adds to the cottage industry known as conspiracy theories.

However one feels about conspiracy theories, its validity is enhanced by the unanswered questions that are allowed to thrive.

President Obama's public opposition to Scotland freeing al-Megrahi and Ridge's claim that he was pressured to put out terrorist alerts during the campaign is the latest evidence to date the nation needs a truth commission.

The president has maintained a desire not to look back, palatable in the short-term, but unacceptable in the long-term.

Iraq and the war on terror has taken a back seat to the more immediate concerns of the economy, but that does not mean they are no longer issues worthy of our attention.

Lives were lost, a sovereign country was invaded and occupied, flawed reasoning was used as justification, it was financed with borrowed funds that are slowly approaching $1 trillion, the United States does not have a consistent public reason for these actions, and the president maintains he doesn't want to look backwards.

If the president is indeed concerned about the surviving family members of the victims of Pan-Am Flight 103, he must also be equally concerned with the families of the victims of Iraq and the war on terror.

Don't they, and the nation as a whole, deserve a collective truth for the worst foreign policy blunder in our history?

Nothing can replace the pain associated with such absurdity, but at least having the truth is preferable to allowing unanswered questions to remain in perpetuity, as many family members of Pan-Am Flight 103 would attest.