You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow, wrote American author Cormac McCarthy in his novel "Blood Meridian".
On Tuesday night, when Indonesian President Joko Widodo oversaw the firing squad executions of eight people, including my fellow Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, he personified that nihilistic inference.
Gunned down while tied to stakes in a jungle clearing on a penal colony island, their blood has stained Widodo, his puppet masters and the baying masses he sought to appease.
Sukumaran, 34, and Chan, 31, were sentenced to death for smuggling heroin out of Indonesia in 2005. In reality, they died so a nascent, stumblebum president could look strong domestically while slapping a despised nation as it “grovelled” at his feet for mercy.
The seven foreigners and one Indonesian executed refused to be hooded when killed and sang as one, “Amazing Grace” cutting through humid air on a sanguinary island and cutting deep into a country’s international standing. I’m sure Sukumaran and Chan tried to assuage the other unfortunates’ terror because they were that type.
Sukumaran became an accomplished artist in Kerobokan prison and Chan an ordained minister. Ex-Kerobokan governor Bapak Siswanto testified that their rehabilitation was authentic, their impact profound: organising numerous vocational education courses, counselling drug addicts and raising money for medical procedures for prisoners and enhancing jail facilities.
Their prisoner rehabilitation programmes have been copied nationwide. Chan was overseeing the creation of an orphanage when he died. And Siswanto stared down popular opinion and said they should be spared.
Widodo reportedly dismissed their clemency appeals knowing none of this. However when lives were eviscerated he knew the truth – the facts undeniable, the pleas vociferous, but still …
The man has a hardscrabble heart or a weak spine or both.
Many a leader has led a government that abolished the death penalty or suspended it against the majority’s wishes. Many a subsequent leader governed when that sentiment remained. Widodo reinstated the death penalty after a lengthy unofficial moratorium during his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s reign. Yudhoyono received a standing ovation after addressing Australia’s parliament in 2010; Widodo has shown Australia a jolting contempt – his resolve to see the executions go ahead so severe it has been reported in the Australian media that the country will have to “ride out” his presidency.
The intense international pressure applied to Widodo for orchestrating another mass execution took an undereducated geopolitical newbie into deep water and he floundered. He stands small before the civilised world because he turned a just global battle to save lives into a populist domestic circus and a chance to rebuke Australia for its past indiscretions against Indonesia.
The Australians were transported to Nusakambangan Island amidst a ridiculous security presence in early March. They were gnawed by the expectation of days to live, their anguish and that of their families, friends and supporters exacerbated by a bumbling, callous government’s pretence of being legally thorough.
It appears Sukumaran and Chan’s graves were dug when Widodo’s overlords decided killing prisoners was good politics. What a tragedy: Two decent, much-loved human beings breathed anorexic breaths and then none, despite accusations of venal judges and an ongoing judicial process. The Indonesian government lobbies to save the lives of its citizens on death row in other countries. For shame. For shame.
Widodo’s claim that executing drug traffickers is needed to combat a “drug epidemic” is gross. Call him Widodo the Unmerciful and hiss in perpetuity. But while Widodo extinguished Sukumaran and Chan’s lives he can’t erase the positive image they left us through noble deeds under the most trying of circumstances. If an afterlife exists Myuran is there. And beside him, as always, is his friend, Andrew.