Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Terrorists' penalty: Death without honor

Steve Crewe, Technical Advisor, Moores Rowland Indonesia, Jakarta

There are some crimes which are so callous that their perpetrators deserve to forfeit their lives. The intentional murder of innocent civilians through acts of terrorism is one.

Thus, despite the antagonism of Amnesty International and member nations of the European Union to capital punishment, Indonesia has taken the right course of action in seeking the death penalty for those found guilty of the Bali bombing and, when caught, those responsible for the JW Marriott bombing. The problem is however, how not to make martyrs out of them by so doing.

Perceptions in regard to executions have changed over the centuries and in most countries executions are no longer the public spectacles they once were. The idea that the threat of execution acts as a deterrent has long been proven false; thus the removal from society of those who have forfeited their right to exist is usually carried out with as little publicity as possible.

In the same way that perceptions have changed, so too have the methods of execution, although these still vary from country to country. It is important that the process be as efficient as possible, for it must not be construed as an act of vengeance but rather as a surgical procedure to remove a cancerous cell from the healthy body of society.

It is interesting to see how the methods of execution have changed even within the United States, which is almost alone in western nations in retaining the death penalty. There they no longer burn witches at the stake, nor do they hang people, as this was too closely associated with the lynch mobs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that remain a dark stain on that nation's history.

Likewise the gas chamber had its tenuous associations with the Nazi concentration camps, while some bungled executions raise questions as to efficiency of the electric chair. Death by lethal injection is now the favored method.

Although stoning to death is rarely practiced in Islamic countries nowadays, there are those like Saudi Arabia that retain execution by chopping off the person's head. In Indonesia however, although the Dutch used death by hanging, the style of execution used by the modern Republic is death by firing squad.

In most countries though the firing squad has usually been the method of execution for the military, especially in times of war, although during World War II certain Japanese believed they honored their prisoners by decapitating them. Nevertheless, death in front of a firing squad is usually viewed as bestowing some degree of honor on the victim, as in the case of the German's execution of Mata Hari in World War I. Common murderers are normally dispatched by other means.

The question to be raised is that by sentencing the likes of Amrozi to death by firing squad are we not in fact paying them an honor they in no way deserve? While they may view themselves as "soldiers" for a cause, by their very actions they have stepped so far outside the bounds of human decency that they are no longer worthy of any respect. And there are precedents for this.

At the Nuremberg trials following World War II for example, Reichmarshal Hermann Goering asked that if found guilty whether he, as a military officer would be permitted a military execution, death by firing squad.

He was told that the crimes of which he was accused were so heinous that he had forfeited the right of an honorable death and if found guilty he would be hung like any common murderer. In the event however, he thwarted them all by committing suicide.

Just as the world did not mourn the passing of the Nazi war criminals, neither should it mourn the passing of those whose twisted sense of purpose has seen them murder even their fellow countrymen without compassion.

Rather than a firing squad, surely an ignominious end by the hangman's noose for example would be more appropriate. As they honored not their innocent and unsuspecting victims, neither do they deserve the slightest modicum of honor. It is more than enough that they will know the hour of their death. Others did not.