Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the Indonesian cleric and political leader, says that the Bali bombers “were not terrorists but counter-terrorists.” (Suherdjoko, “Ba’asyir pays homage to Bali bombers in jail,” The Jakarta Post, December 16, 2007).
It’s a claim that should outrage anyone who realizes that the Bali bombers executed their victims just to use their corpses to send what they saw as a political message. (For discussion of this theme see posting of November 28, 2007, “Thomas L. Friedman and the Bali Bombers. Cold Blooded Celebrity.”)
Such outrage could lead to the answer : ‘You’re wrong, they weren’t counter-terrorists,’ and it’s a powerful answer since you shouldn’t claim to be fighting terrorism if what you’re doing is committing it.
But as a social and legal matter, that answer — though important for honesty and for clear thinking — should be seen to be part of an argument that is somewhat beside the point.
The bigger problem is not how people see their crimes — in a certain sense, who cares? — but rather whether those crimes get stopped and deterred, and whether the criminals get caught and punished.
A staple of American legal drama is the scene where the just-arrested accused perp is hauled before the booking judge (who sets the date and conditions for trial), and, sweating, begins to frantically tell his story, before the bored jurist cuts him off.
With a courtroom full of purported lowlifes to process, he/she doesn’t have time to hear rationalizations, so out of the corner of their mouth the judge mutters something to the effect of: ‘Whatever. Call it whatever you want. But if you murdered those people, buddy, you’re going to prison. [Gavel slap]. Next case!’
Americans — and foreign audiences who watch them in translation — seem to love these shows, for good reason. Its fulfilling to see, or at least to imagine, justice being done.
If we were civilized we would also be able to imagine — and create — similarly crowded, brusque, courtrooms, in which all murderers, high and low, were hauled before similarly no-nonsense jurists:
There’s a president. There’s a prime minister. There’s a dear, beloved leader, waiting.
And maybe even squeezed among the Commanders on the crowded benches of the waiting accused sit some mere power-talkers — editorialists, broadcasters, ideologues — who, as has already happened in the Rwanda tribunals, have been arrested and could be — as also happened re. Rwanda — convicted and sent to prison for the purported international law crime against humanity of “public incitement to commit genocide” (eg., one of the charges against Augustin Ngirabatware for things said on his radio station, BBC News online, “Rwandan genocide suspect arrested,” September 9, 2007).
Each of them has a noble rationalization for their killing — which is fine, that is their right. But each of them would also have to persuade a jury, or face a long time in ugly lockup.
Just recently they say Donald Rumsfeld fled France to avoid a torture lawsuit, which is amusing. Isn’t he a tough guy? He’s the one who was so thrilling to the press in his blunt language about bombing Afghans that Jamie McIntyre of CNN, Pentagon, produced a piece themed (in McIntyre’s words): “Everybody loves Rumsfeld.”
Isn’t part of the point of being a tough guy that you confront and stare down your accusers?
People who dabble in the mass maiming of others should be thoroughgoing in their macho. Their attitude toward murder/ torture proceedings against them should be, as Bush once said,: “Bring it on.”
ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.