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The Haneef Conspiracy

By Richard Tonkin
Created 28/10/2008 - 04:00

It appears that Alexander Downer has finally been sprung as a liar. At the time he told Australia that Haneef's imprisonment wouldn't harm our friendship with India, he was, it would seem, on the verge of wetting his gusset with panic.

"My view about it is that the Indians have the same sort of common law legal system that we have and they understand the procedures" was the glib routine [1] he gave the media, Downer had tried and failed to appease India by setting up a plan to psychologically bully Haneef into leaving Australia of his own accord. From FOI-acquired emails given by Haneef's legal team to the Australian [2], it appears while Downer was suggesting that Indian Government Ministers had a passing interest in the case, the message received through diplomatic channels was apparently more intense than we were led to believe. It was after discussing the matter with our High Commissioner to India, and apparently being told of strong repercussions, that Downer attempted to delay Haneef's deportation.

Downer's attempt at diplomacy, through an email from one of his senior DFAT officials, was carried out four days before Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews cancelled Haneef's visa [3] and had him sent to the Wolston Correctional Centre. It was only on the later day that DPP Bugg dropped the charges and Immigration Minister Andrews had the doctor transferred to "residential detention" that our Foreign Minister was able to say that all was well with India.

On the day of the DFAT email, according to Four Corners' [4] Sally Neighbour, there was already much afoot. This was also the day when the Immigration Department found out that the AFP told both Immigration and the DPP (the latter personally by Keelty) that there was insufficient evidence to charge Haneef.

The next day, Friday the 13th, the AFP dropped its bid to keep holding Haneef without charge. The SMH [5]reported that this still allowed for a further twelve hours questioning over another three days. This period of time may well have served as the "couple of days grace" that Downer had wanted "during which it was to be hoped that Haneef himself would see the writing on the wall and leave Australia voluntarily."

On Saturday July 14th, more than two weeks after the Glasgow blast, Haneef was charged with "recklessly providing resources to a terrorist organisation." [6]

Then, according to Crikey's Greg Barnes [7], came a flurry of activity:

As we know, the bail application was successful, and on Monday the 16th a well-prepared Kevin Andrews went about his business [9].

I hope that somebody has FOI'ed DFAT's emails from the ensuing week. On the day after the visa cancellation our High Commissioner to India was called in for a chat [10] By the following Saturday, the editorial of the Hindu Times [11] was slamming the Australian Government's double standards in letting three Tamil Tigers out on bail while keeping Haneef detained. By July 25, the High Court of New Delhi was highlighting Haneef's incarceration by using it as an example of improper imprisonment [12]. If Downer was worried earlier about Indian sentiment, surely by now he was beginning to panic? The next day, Minister Andrews announces he's reviewing the case [13], and DPP Bugg suggests the charges might be dropped

Which of course happened. And Downer was able to tell his lie with an air of truth. Haneef was about to leave the country [14] of his own free will, as the Foreign Minister hoped. The only alternative was to remain detained while inquiries continued. If I were the Foreign Minister I wouldn't be saying "all's well that ends well" if I didn't know the doctor would be leaving the country the next day. I bet Downer did. More juicy emails for a hunter?

So, if Downer couldn't tell the truth about the strain the Haneef case placed on Indian/Australian relationships, can we trust his word about other situations in which some think he's lying? AWB? Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Somehow, I don't think so.

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