The tragedy of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is nearly at an end. Do they really deserve to die? Damian Smith reports.
I have watched with great interest, and even greater despair, the tragedy of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. It tells us a great deal about the society that we live in and the people we have become.
It has been, if nothing else, an opportunity, to paraphrase one of my Facebook journalist acquaintances, “to prune my feed of cretins”.
Make no mistake, this is a tragedy. For in one singular instance we see both the triumph of the legal system and its catastrophic failing. Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are paragons of what the penal system aspires to be, of what it should be – a place of rehabilitation and reform. A place of healing, for want of a better term, where those who have wronged society can turn their path and become better people. That their debt to society can be repaid by becoming better members of it.
This lofty aim has been achieved in Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Both were convicted as young men, bereft of life experience and full of bluster and folly, however in prison both have become men.
Andrew Chan has been described by prison officials as a model inmate. He is a mentor to other inmates, guiding them through one of the most terrifying and soul-crushing experiences one could ever suffer. He holds courses and takes classes, helping other inmates improve themselves. He leads the prison church services for English speakers and offers spiritual succour to the inmates there.
Myuran Sukumaran completed an Associate Degree in Fine Arts from Curtin University while in prison. He has discovered art and spends his free time painting self portraits. This free time, however, is limited as Sukumaran teaches English, computer, graphic design and philosophy classes to inmates. He organised the implementation of a computer and arts room so that prisoners might develop skills that would help them become better members of society once they are released. He has a business, Kingpin Clothing, which sells clothes and artworks of his design.
Both of these men have used their time in durance vile to better themselves. In their penitence they have become what we should all aspire to be – good people. If prison were advertised on late night television, these two men are the after photos – the testimonial that the process works. That people can learn from their mistakes and change their ways.
And in spite of this both men are to be executed. At some point in the next week, having endured the unimaginable torture of knowing that their end is nigh but not knowing when, they will be taken outside and shot.
Let’s not shy away from this fact, it will be important in a moment. These two men will be shot. They will be woken up in the middle of the night and taken to a remote location in the middle of the jungle. They will be blindfolded, spending their last moments alive in darkness. They will have the choice of sitting or standing, the last act of free will they will ever receive.
Twelve soldiers armed with rifles will stand 5 to 10 meters from the condemned. Only three of them will have live rounds in their rifles, the rest will be given blanks – so that those who believe so firmly in the death penalty can fool themselves into thinking they are not actually responsible for carrying it out.
Then, after a count, they will fire at the condemned’s chest. Three balls of lead, travelling at roughly 120 meters per second will tear into the chest of the condemned.
These projectiles will rip through flesh like paper, lacerating organs and severing arteries. They will shatter the bones of the ribs and fragment, splintering off in different directions to continue to flense the torso from the inside. Still hot from the ignition charge and air friction, they will burn enough to cause excruciating pain but not enough to damage the nerves that feel that pain. This will cause severe bleeding and hypovolemic shock. Death will be caused by hypoxia and exsanguination.
This death, however, will not be instant and the condemned will have enough time to feel all of this happening to him. In fact the condenmed in firing squad executions in Indonesia has survived the process often enough that it is written in the codes and practices of Indonesia’s prisons that should the condemned still be alive, the commander is to walk over and deliver one final shot to the head. Why this is not done at the beginning is a matter of conjecture.
Are you horrified yet? You should be.
Two men who have actually made something positive of their lives will have those lives violently and abruptly ended.
And yet I see in the mainstream media, social media, the comments sections of each, a chorus of everyday Australians who seem to delight in what is happening to Chan and Sukumaran. Who seem to find a macabre glee in their fates. A menagerie of hypocrites and ghouls, with their tumescent death erections stiff as towel racks, delighting in the schadenfreude of two foolish young men about to die. Revelling in the blood like antique Romans.
It is endemic of society that the idea of justice has been supplanted by the notion of vengeance. That instead of reform and rehabilitation we should instead seek swift and brutal reprisal. That a moment of folly deserves a lifetime of retribution. Stray from the path once and you are cast aside, permanently if need be, one strike – no second chances.
That is what I’ve seen in reaction to the Bali 9 case. The social justice warriors of Facebook and Tumblr a morbid choir of condemnation.
“They broke the law” they cry “they deserve this”. Do they? Truly?
Yes, they broke the law. Yes they deserve to be punished. I wholeheartedly concur. It is a cornerstone of civilisation. However with that punishment comes the obligation of reform. That those who do break the law deserve the chance to change their ways, to right their wrongs. For without the chance for redemption we are no longer a civilisation.
If the law is no longer about justice then are we are no more than petty butchers.
“But that’s the law over there” they chant “they knew the consequences”. Yes they did, but that doesn’t make those consequences right. You defend Indonesia’s rights to execute drug smugglers, a crime which carries a 20 year sentence in Australia. In Australia the maximum penalty for theft, the crime most responsible for this Nation’s colonisation, is 5 years imprisonment. In Saudi Arabia it is amputation of a hand. Are we to defend Saudi Arabia’s right to this barbaric punishment?
“It’s their country, their laws, who are we to interfere?” they intone.
Humans. That is who we are. The free peoples of civilised society. We who dream of a better world, it is incumbent on us to call out such barbarism when we see it. To not be good men doing nothing. Are we to stand idly by while Indonesia executes two penitent men for attempting to smuggle an arbitrarily decided illicit substance?
Yet we will take to the keyboard in protest of Saudi Arabia (again) publicly lashing blogger Raif Badawi for the crime of criticising his country’s Islamic Clergy. We are not afforded the luxury of cherry picking our outrage.
The irony is not lost on me that the internet is lit up, the comments sections aflame, with the barely coherent apoplexy towards the Bali 9, so eager are they to see “justice” done, yet these same people at the same time will bemoan that charges for the same offence, drug smuggling, brought against players of the Gold Coast Titans are distracting from the launch of the NRL season. Or do Beau Falloon and Dave Taylor also deserve death?
Cherry picking our outrage indeed.
The tragedy of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is nearly at an end. Their trial over, their appeals exhausted. Our own trial however, of we as people, as a society, is still very much underway. And on the evidence presented in the last few days, the result could well be damning. For in the course of their sentence these two men have found their humanity, but we on the sidelines, in our relentless pursuit of vengeance, have lost ours.
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