Saturday, November 19, 2005

My two cents worth on the execution of Van Nguyen

Have drug importers ever been so popular? The popular outpouring of warmth for Van Nguyen is doing strange things to Australia's prime minister John Howard who actually has not the slightest sympathy for Van Nguyen (if he did, he wouldn't come out with lines like this to comfort the object of his sympathy in his last days on death row:
"I could only say to anybody contemplating ever taking drugs or committing drug offences in Asia to bear in mind, if they have no concern for their own fate … the terrible pain that is inflicted upon those who love them most."
But, swept up on a wave of adoration for the lad, Howard is grudgingly telling Singapore that his execution will not go unnoticed.

It's almost as though importing drugs to help your brother's debts is a kind of cute thing to do. I wonder what Lex Lasry QC (pictured) is actually doing over there. I would have thought a Singaporean lawyer might be thought more likely to be effective. Lasry wrote a great article in The Age. He astonished me by making some points I had not thought about, and did not repeat the obvious. In particular, he pointed out that Nguyen was only transiting Singapore; his only link with the jurisdiction of his execution was incidental. And he said that the mandatory death penalty meant that at the trial there was none of the usual enquiry into how evil the defendant was, or what excuses could be made on his behalf, so that these were matters which needed to be ventilated during the plea for clemency.

There has been much criticism of the letter advising of the date of the execution, but it seemed most appropriate to me:
"Dear Madam,

1. This is to inform you that the death sentence passed on Nguyen Tuong Van will be carried out on 2 Dec 2005.

2. We will arrange for additional visits from 29 Nov till 1 Dec 2005. Approved visitors may register for their visits between 8.30am and 9.30am and between 12.30pm and 1.30pm at the Prison Link Centre, Changi (990 Upper Changi Road North Singapore 506968).

3. You are requested to make the necessary funeral arrangements for him, however if you are unable to do so the state will assist in cremating the body.
Please do not hesitate to contact our officers in charge if you have any queries.

Yours Faithfully,
Chiam Jia Fong"
Any "It is our melancholy duty to inform you"s would have been criticised for insincerity. Perhaps Lasry has a point though, that the message could have been sent through diplomatic channels. Personally though, I think I would trust the postie to convey the news with sensitivity more than I would an acolyte of John Howard or Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

This death sentence is terrible, like all death sentences. If Australians are to get so worked up about death sentences against our drug couriers, we must practice restraint when conniving at the death sentence demands arising out of the Bali bombings, though. It is ethically possible to approve of the execution of a terrorist who has murdered many but not to approve of the execution of a drug dealer. A death sentence might sometimes be justified ethically, but I do not think so. Even if it were, you would have to be very confident about your justice system before you would have the presumption to sentence someone to death. There is a brutalisation of society which goes along with any lawful execution. What is really icky though is the grotesque efficiency of lawful homicide. I think our revulsion at the gas chambers has an awful lot to do with Western revulsion for state-sponsored death. Very Nazi, and very American a phenomenon at the same time. Enough to turn anyone off. There is no euphemism. It is not collateral damage. It is the most premeditated form of life taking conceivable.

Ah but it gets worse than this. 400 hangings since 1990 gives Singapore the highest rate of execution per capita. Quite an achievement given the rate China terminates undesirables. But here's the thing: Singapore props up the drug trade in Burma, supplier of 60% of the United States' heroin, with state investments in the business of a SLORC-sponsored heroin king-pin according to this article:
"Singapore has achieved the distinction of being the Burmese junta's number one business partner -both largest trading partner and largest foreign investor. More than half these investments, totaling upwards of $1.3 billion, are in partnership with Burma's infamous heroin kingpin Lo Hsing Han, who now controls a substantial portion of the world's opium trade. The close political, economic, and military relationship between the two countries facilitates the weaving of millions of narco-dollars into the legitimate world economy."
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.


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