Any Australian who says that the three Bali bombers should not be executed is regarded as treacherous by the political and media establishment.

During last year’s election campaign, Kevin Rudd publicly humiliated his then Shadow Attorney-General Robert McClelland who suggested that a Labor government would campaign to have the death penalty abolished in the Asian region. Prime Minister John Howard and his cabinet rounded on McClelland with a vengeance and forced Rudd to make it absolutely clear that any government he led would not intervene to prevent Indonesia from executing the Bali bombers.

But guess what – McClelland was on the right track, according to President Bush’s Attorney-General Michael Mukasey. In remarks that have received surprisingly little coverage in this country, Mukasey told an audience at the London School of Economics last Friday that he doesn’t think the death penalty is appropriate for six men alleged to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks, and who are now facing trial at Guantanamo Bay. According to Mukasey, while he supports the death penalty he doesn’t believe it should be utilised in the cases of the six men because “many of them want to be martyrs.”

Ditto the Bali bombers. These men have repeatedly said that if they are executed they will die as martyrs. This is something they welcome. In other words, the Indonesian government, egged on by the Australian government, will be delivering the Bali bombers exactly what they so desire.

As the sister of one of the British victims of the 2002 Bali bombing told The Times on 2 March this year, the Bali bombers are, “…fanatics. What fanatics want is action and passion, and the worst thing you can do to a fanatic is to let them sit and get bored because then they might actually start to doubt themselves. If you just rush them into an execution cell, you’re making them the martyr they want to be.”

Perhaps Kevin Rudd and Robert McClelland ought to heed those and Michael Mukasey’s words. The Rudd government might be too timid to tell the Indonesians they shouldn’t execute the Bali bombers because the death penalty is inherently immoral, but they could at least adopt the Mukasey reasoning and ensure the Bali bombers don’t get their wish.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey