How do you think Obama should deal with the suspects who are already being held at Guantanamo Bay?
He must close Guantanamo Bay immediately. That must be one of the first things he does. You know, for someone who comes from South Africa, it is one of the greatest letdowns I’ve ever experienced that America, Britain, whom we had regarded as—I mean, they were our starlode. Or is it lodestar?
Hoo hoo! Yes, our lodestar. These countries were so insistent in the days of apartheid. When we had detention without trial in South Africa, they condemned it out of hand. I mean, it is one of the greatest letdowns that these countries should, without batting an eyelid, be using the same arguments that were used by the apartheid government. You feel so, so despondent.
During the mid-1990s, you were the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You sat there while torturers stood up and spoke about the acts they’d committed. Why did you feel it was important to grant these people amnesty?
Forgiveness is saying, “Whatever you may have done, however awful, it does not define you completely. Even if you committed murder, even the most gruesome murder, it doesn’t then turn you into a demon. You still have the capacity to become a saint.” Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.
But a person has to want that chance. Can the American government forgive someone like Osama bin Laden who is still actively trying to destroy the country?
No, no—you can forgive. It’s an important distinction. Take a woman who is raped. There will be a time when she will say, “I am not yet at a point where I can forgive the perpetrator,” and that is understandable. But she’s not going to move on, she’s not going to get on with her life, as long as she is bound to the perpetrator. If the perpetrator does not want to ask for forgiveness and she says, “My forgiveness depends on the perpetrator,” then it will be ghastly. She’ll always be caught up in her victimhood.
Fortunately, we have a wonderful example in Jesus Christ. Remember, when the people were nailing him to the cross, and they had not asked for forgiveness, he had already prayed to the Father, “Please forgive them!” He even found an excuse for them: “They don’t know what they are doing.”
Because forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart. You have to appropriate the forgiveness.
How does justice figure into this?
Most of us think of justice as being retributive. But I say, there is this other kind of justice—restorative justice—where the basic thrust is not punitive, it is healing. Healing both for the victim and the perpetrator.