Clemency For The Bali Nine: A Question Of Morality Not Rehabilitation
In his famous defence of Madeline Smith in 1857, Lord Glencorse told the Edinburgh jury that they had been “…invited to snap the thread of that young life… to consign to an ignominious death on the scaffold one who, within a few short months was known only as… gentle, confiding & affectionate.”
Glencorse may have been talking of either Myuran Sukumaran or Andrew Chan.
There has always been, in the centuries of criminal justice, an inherent juxtaposition between the rhetorical flourishes of criminal procedure, niceties of courtroom etiquette and inherent violence in the administration of the ultimate penalty. Nowhere can this be seen more starkly than in the contrast between the mildly delivered sentence of the Denpasar District Court in 2006 and the bloody violence that seems likely to conclude the matter.
Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan will be tied with hemp ropes to a rough wooden cross in an open jungle clearing. There will be the firing squad’s staccato report followed by the smell of blood and cordite in oppressive tropical air. The politely detached verdicts, sentences and rejections of appeals will find effect in bullet-riddled corpses in an isolated jungle.
Does Rehabilitation Matter?
Much has been made of the reformation of Chan and Sukumaran, and of their undeniable rehabilitation and assistance to others. It has however been pointed out by the Indonesian authorities that it is easier to reform when facing down a firing squad than when lured by the promise of the ‘easy money’ in drug trafficking.
While it is understandable that our government and advocates for the condemned draw attention to this redemption, it is perhaps more properly characterised as a minor point in their column or otherwise irrelevant.
The truth is that the butchery of civilians on judicial orders is an archaic remnant of times when human life was cheap and law enforcement lacked alternatives. It is important to note that such butchery is equally true of the United States and other ‘developed’ nations which maintain a shameful foot in 19th century criminal justice. The focus on the rehabilitation of Chan and Sukumaran invites the conclusion that, had they been ‘ordinary’ or, heaven forbid, poorly behaved prisoners, the executions would be justified. Whether or not a prisoner spends his or her time in custody teaching art classes, it is a barbaric act to line up that person and shoot them to death.
How Important Is Deterrence?
Execution derives, largely, from the importance of a deterrent effect; England’s ‘Bloody Code’ of the 18th Century prescribed that a criminal could be hanged for over one hundred and sixty offences. The Bloody Code existed in a time were crime was rife and policing sparse, experimental and ineffective.
Most got away with the crime so to effect deterrence it was thought that there would need to a public and terrible punishment for even the most minor offending. The Bloody Code outraged the population and was soon moderated substantially. Even at those times, the public understood that deterrence could not outweigh the fundamental obligation of a nation to treat even its worst with some semblance of humanity.
One proponent of the Bloody Code, the 1st Marquess of Halifax, proffered an explanation that is chillingly similar to the rationale of President of Indonesia Joko Widodo: “Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.”
That Indonesia, and other nations, have not yet outgrown the savagery of violent retribution for criminal conduct is an indictment on those societies. The events of the 20th Century have made it plain that there exist values that are universal; there are situations when it is acceptable to take the life of another and situations when it is not. The application of moral relativism, not overburdened with merit at the best of times, is a cancerous creed in the context of judicial murder.
The apologist for Indonesia shooting a drug courier is an apologist for the stoning of the Iranian adulteress, the lethal injection given to the intellectually disabled Texan and, it follows, for the SS Officer shooting the Polish partisan and the tank treads crushing protesters in Tiananmen Square. As a result clemency for the Bali nine: a question of morality not rehabilitation.