Trying accused terrorists

News that prosecutors have decided against seeking the strongest possible penalty for Abu Bakar Bashir is a disappointment to those of us that want to see the legal system are the primary forum for seeking justice against terrorists.

The prosecutors' decision emerged in a Jakarta court hearing today into terror offences. The prosecutors have dropped some charges and are now seeking life in prison rather than the death penalty.

According to Agence France-Presse:

Prosecutors at his trial in Jakarta said the charge of providing firearms and explosives for terrorist acts, for which the 72-year-old preacher could have faced the death penalty, "could not be proven convincingly".

The charge of inciting acts of terrorism was also dropped, leaving only the accusation of providing funding to a terrorist group, for which the prosecutors sought a maximum life sentence.

Bashir's fellow travellers in Indonesia may complain at the severity of the sentence sought (as they did at the court hearing today) but the reality is that a severe penalty needs to be in play given the gravity of the offences.

Though the Jemaah Islamiyah figurehead escaped penalty for the group's involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, the Indonesian justice system proved itself capable of handling terror cases with the successful prosecution of several others with a more direct role in the mass slaughter.

Without prejudging Bashir's guilt, if prosecutors are unable to mount a case that would lead to the most severe penalty for someone of Bashir's seniority, it makes it harder for the rest of us to have faith in the court system as a means of justice in terror trials.

(This should not be confused with the broader debate over the merits of the death penalty. The decision not to seek it was not due to the ethical argument against it. So long as it remains the harshest penalty on offer in a judicial system, it ought be used for the harshest of offences.)

The issue is thrown into particularly stark relief by last week's treatment of Osama bin Laden. While his death is no shame, the fact he was sent off to his disturbed notion of heaven through the bullet of a SEAL's gun rather than following a judicial process is a disappointment.

Next time militaries around the world close in on high profile targets, the contrasting fates of Bin Laden and Bashir will make the easy kill all the more tempting.

And we will be collectively poorer for that fact.


Fishy said…
Compare the treatment of Bashir to that of naive Aussie boy Scott Rush who will also spend the rest of his life behind Indonesian bars.
Anonymous said…
"This should not be confused with the broader debate over the merits of the death penalty ... it ought be used ..."


(sez Lord Cheese)

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