Sunday, 18 January 2015

The death penalty - who is responsible?

After six people, five of them not Indonesian nationals, were executed yesterday in Indonesia for drug trafficking, there have been renewed calls on the Australian government to intercede for Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who after their appeals have failed, face death by firing squad sometime this year. Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, appeared on breakfast television this morning, stating that she and others continue to 'make representations' to the Indonesian government, and the press is full of articles that voice Australian outrage about the death penalty.
Andrew Chan and Myruan Sukumaran
Those executed yesterday included a Brazilian and Dutch national, and the ambassadors from both countries have been recalled home in protest, after pleas from their respective governments failed to sway the decision. Bishop was asked if, in the event that Sukumaran and Chan are executed, whether Australia would recall its ambassador too. She fudged the answer on that, but as my partner queried at the time, Indonesia is one of our strongest trading partners, and we have a ticklish relationship with them at the best of times, so will the government risk that for two individuals who made a bad choice?

Personally, I am against the death penalty. I don't honestly believe that killing someone solves the issues surrounding this particular crime, or indeed, many other crimes. The Hoopla ran a story today asking how executing people can stop drug trafficking. The evidence, with people continuing to traffic drugs, even to countries with severe penalties like Indonesia, would suggest that the lure of 'easy' money is stronger than the potential deterrent of a death penalty, should you be caught.

At the same time, I have to feel that people who continue to smuggle drugs in and out of Indonesia have to be incredibly arrogant or completely stupid - it's not as if we in Australia are unaware of the stiff penalties those who are caught could face. And despite the many articles and news stories that speak of Chan and Sukumaran's rehabilitation during the time they've been incarcerated, I find myself wondering how much of that has been due to having had a death sentence hanging over them for the years since they were arrested. Clearly, at that point in time, their focus was on moving the drugs and making their money - and there was, perhaps, little thought about the havoc those drugs would potentially wreak on many many people and their families. 

I wrote recently about my younger son and his recent very bad choices that have lead him to become addicted to ice. It's now two months since that hurried trip to his home town, and I have no real news of him. A couple of weeks after I returned home, I had an email from the mental health nurse with whom I'd been corresponding to say she'd managed to speak to him briefly, and that he sounded OK, said he had somewhere to stay, and that, no he didn't want to work with them. Last week, I had a call from his psychiatrist's receptionist, as he'd missed a number of scheduled appointments, and they'd not been able to contact him. All I could do was pass on his current phone number and hope he still has that phone. The text message I sent a few weeks ago disappeared into a black hole. 

I deplore the choices he's made. I am so frustrated and angry, on top of being worried sick, by what looks to me like a giant cop out. He told me when I saw him that the ice made him feel like he could cope - which is all well and good until he takes some from a bad batch, or ODs... I have NO good feelings about the people dealing this appalling drug, and would want to see them punished to the fullest possible extent of the law if they could be caught. Here, that wouldn't mean they face a death penalty - just a very long time in prison. And I don't believe that in itself is sufficient deterrent either, because it's clearly not deterring people when the number of ice addicts (not to mention other drugs) is growing, and the median age of addicts is getting much lower. 

I feel so bad for the parents and family of the two men in Bali - who, through their son's bad choices face losing them, just as I face the possibility that I may lose No.2. We're not meant to bury our children. 

However, and what prompted me finally to write this post, this is - at rock bottom - about choices. As I said to No.2 - like a broken record, because I've been saying this to both the boys forever - there is ALWAYS a choice. We may not always like the options we're looking at at any given point in time, but there always is a choice... Those boys in Bali didn't have to traffic drugs. They could have done what many others do, and looked at career options long term. As it is, they've both been studying while they've been incarcerated, and are close to finishing university courses. Why didn't they do that earlier? Sure, it's not the way to 'easy' money, but it's not going to get them killed either. As a parent, I'm sure I know which way I'd rather see my children make that choice. No.2 spoke many times over the last year about the study options he was considering, once he'd found a job and got his routine back on track. I did many things to help him towards that, but in the end, apparently it was all too hard. 

Along with the choices we make comes the responsibility for the consequences. Like it or not, those two things are irrevocably linked. I remember, way back when the boys were tiny, teaching them about consequences. Simple things; if you don't put your toys away, I'll put them away and they won't be there when you want them next. Your toys are your responsibility. It worked. After suffering through the loss of their toys, they learned to tidy up after themselves when they'd been playing. Teaching children is an incremental process of things just like that - the bigger they get, the more important the choices, and the bigger the stakes when it comes to consequences. It may sound like I'm over simplifying this, but honestly, WHAT were the Bali Nine thinking when they made the choice that they did? They knew the possible consequences. They had to know that they were taking appalling risks. Even if they'd slipped through and not been caught, what about the flow on from their actions for countless numbers of others? And ultimately, had they not been caught that time, if they'd continued, eventually their luck would have run out... Is it a symptom of the times we live in that people don't think through their actions? And then, when it all falls apart, that someone should rescue them - because by our lights, the consequences are unfair? 

Indonesia has had the death penalty for serious drug trafficking for some time. When we leave Australia and travel to other countries, we are bound by the laws of those countries when we're there, just as visitors here are bound by Australian law. Surely THAT'S the message that should be getting through. Surely people should be looking at this particular case and realising that there are no easy outs. And, if it comes to these two young men being executed, it won't be because our government failed to sway the Indonesian government. It will be because these two men decided to traffic illicit drugs in a country where they knew that if they were caught, they could die as a consequence. And they did it anyway.


  1. Agree. A difficult topic but an informed, deeply personal and important message. I hope, if nothing else, these deaths will serve to drive home the message about trafficking and drugs; We can only hope.

    1. Thanks Trish. It's a very difficult and highly emotive topic. So easy to spout off without thinking, and get caught up in the outrage. Watching the interview with Julie Bishop this morning, I was taken by the tone of the interviewer's questions - as if Julie Bishop herself could fix it all...on her own...and should! Because they're 'our' boys. There's a bigger picture, and a deeper one, than is being played out in the press I think.

  2. There was a famous judge of the Old West who said something to the effect of "The death penalty may not be a deterrent, but here's one thing I know: No man that I sent to the gallows ever killed again, but some that I had clemency on did." I used to believe that simple axiom until modern forensics, especially DNA, threw a light on how many innocents were sitting on Death Row. Lost my taste for it right quick. I don't know the circumstances of the Bali Nine. Maybe they were caught red-handed, and maybe that doesn't matter. I can tell you this: I wouldn't drop the hammer on someone who was strapped to a table, so I guess that means I don't believe in it at all. The heat of the moment is one thing. I have no doubt that, given the chance, I would gun down anyone who kicked my door and began to threaten or harm my loved ones in a home-invasion, but if they threw down their weapons and surrendered, well, I don't execute people. So if I don't, can I condone anyone else who does?

    As to these people who are involved in the drug culture (what a sterile, innocuous term for a life that causes so much suffering!), there are some other things that modern science has learned. First, there is a thrill-seeker gene. People who have it are drawn to sky dive, free-climb mountains, anything to feed that gene the rush it craves. Running drugs to a place where the government will kill you might be another way to feed that gene, and make a caboodle of cash while you're doing it. As to the users, studies show that if you put an electrode into a monkey's brain and hook it up to a button that gives it orgasms, it will push that button until it starves to death. People are more subtle. I won't pass up a reasonable opportunity to play video games; my daughter buys shoes. Though nobody will admit to being involved, somebody is driving the trillion-dollar porn industry. And some people do drugs. When I say a reasonable opportunity to play video games, I have never called in sick because I couldn't tear myself from Rainbow Six, but my definition of reasonable isn't the same as yours. Maybe once the drugs get hold, their grip tightens until it can't be resisted. Couldn't tell you, I've never been an addict. But, how do you punish an act that's based on a genetic need, or the "stroking" of a system that has been put in place by millions of years of evolution? Guess if I had that answer, I'd be at least as famous as Jonas Salk, but that pretty much defines the question. Do we castrate rapists? Do we open a drug addict's skull and cut out his serotonin receptors? That's a cure, but we'll have to become a totalitarian state that rivals anything Hitler ever thought of before we can go down that road. Meanwhile, incarceration keeps them away from those of us who are trying to have a civilization. I guess that will work until half of us are inmates, and the other half are cooks, guards, and janitors.

    1. Hiya Jack. It is a thorny issue, and one that is polarising discussions here in Oz. I've been horrified by the number of innocents discovered on death row, but these guys definitely did this one. The two of the nine who are sentenced to be executed are the organisers of the group, hence the more severe sentence. As I said, I don't believe in the death penalty myself. But, it's the law there - and if, as you suggest, it was part of an adrenaline fueled game, then it was a very dangerous game to be playing. And they had to know that. Word on the evening news tonight was that government intervention is now crucial. But given that the execution that was scheduled for yesterday went ahead despite vigorous government petitions on behalf of those sentenced, I'd say the chances of our government being able to make a difference are probably pretty slim.