My focus isn’t generally on such immediate and potentially controversial matters but recent developments in Britain cause me to consider the issue of capital punishment. I won’t address the British problem directly, other than to describe the background. My interest is closer to home in matters that are and were similar.
The case of Kotey and Elsheikh
It’s alleged that Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, captured in eastern Syria in January 2018, were members of a four-man cell of Isis executioners in Syria and Iraq. It’s further alleged that they are responsible for killing journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines.
We all know about the despicable ways ISIS administered the death penalty.
It has now emerged that both Kotey and Elsheikh have been stripped of their British citizenship stripped, presumably because they were considered members of a proscribed terrorist organisation. Now they face a judicial process, not in Britain but in the USA, where the death penalty is likely to apply if convicted.
It’s complicated. Usually, when British citizens are charged with a capital offence in another country the UK government seeks an assurance that they will not be subjected to the death penalty. British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has written to the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions saying:
“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.”
Reaction in the UK where the death penalty has long been abandoned has been strongly critical of the government’s position.
2002 Bali Bombings
When Bali bomber Amrozi was sentenced to Death, Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard played the populist card, as usual. In an interview with the late Mark Colvin he said:
Some people say that I should be thumping the table and saying don’t execute the man. I’m not going to do that because I do respect the judicial processes of Indonesia. I also believe for me to do that would offend many Australians who lost people, who legitimately feel as decent Australians that a death penalty is appropriate.
Howard’s association of decency and judicial murder was Hammurabic in tone. Notions of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, this primitive sense of justice, resonated well with the mood of some. Simon Crean, Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition wasn’t much better. He said:
“The fact is he committed a crime on Indonesian soil and he faced justice under the Indonesian judicial system. I’m not quibbling with their decision.”
At the time my reaction was just, what weak bunch Australian politicians can be, such an opportunistic lot.
Only Duncan Kerr, former Attorney General, impressed me. He was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald speaking against the against the clamour for blood saying:
“Principled opposition to the death penalty cannot be switched off and on”.
Like many Australians, he expressed something I was feeling at the time when he said:
“I am torn apart by these events but nothing will remake the lives lost or repair the hurts suffered.”
In the same article Duncan Kerr also quoted Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty who said:
“. . . it would be better to have the bombers locked up as common criminals for the term of their natural life than to give the platform they want to incite others to follow in their footstep,” adding “Our leader’s statements not opposing the use of the death penalty may well be turned against us in tragic circumstances . . .”
Mick Keelty understood the dangers of Shahid, something that Amrozi clearly welcomed, as this image of him after the sentence shows.