The return of Dr Mohammed Haneef after four weeks in custody following a botched “terror” probe has sparked a new controversy: should—or should not—Australia apologise for the bungle? Australian Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out saying sorry: “Australia will not be apologising to Dr Haneef. He was not victimised. Mistakes happen from time to time and when dealing with terrorism, it is better safe than to be sorry.” Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer too has justified the screw-up: “What do you expect the police to do, fall on the ground and grovel? Eat dirt?”
But Haneef’s laywer Peter Russo has said an apology might not be out of place and Queensland premier Peter Beattie has said that Australia must issue a “formal apology” if the inquiry into the case found nothing. The United Indian Association and the Overseas and Australian Medical Graduates Association too have asked the government to apologise to the 230,000-strong Indian community in print and electronic media without any further delay to ensure that there will be no snowballing effect of the backlash on the community.
Questions: Should Australia say “We are sorry” at the highest level? Should India insist on it so that the right signal is sent out that the human rights of its citizens cannot be trampled upon so brazenly? Is it so humiliating for Australia to say sorry if a mistake has been made? Could it cement better relations between Indians and Australians? Or in the name of the war on terror, should civility like civil liberties be thrown out of the window?