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Thursday, September 07, 2006


Back in February of this year I asked if Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, in collusion with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), had the Australian drug traffickers known as the Bali Nine, deliberately set up so that they could be arrested, tried and sentenced to death by Indonesian courts.[1] I noted that the reason Howard and the AFP did this was specifically for the express purpose of deterring Australian drug smugglers from going to Indonesia in order to bring drugs back into Australia.
Australia no longer has a death penalty and has never had one for drug trafficking. Indeed, Australia’s sentencing history on drug traffickers is nowhere near as harsh as those of Indonesia.
Two of the Bali Nine, the ringleaders, were eventually sentenced to death while all of the others got lengthy jail terms including life imprisonment which in Indonesia usually does mean ‘life’. As a result of these harsh sentences all but one of the Bali Nine, one that had been sentenced to a comparatively lenient twenty years, appealed their sentences. Since all were caught literally red handed smuggling heroin, none of them were in any position to appeal against their convictions – only their sentences. Yesterday the results of those appeals were revealed and they shocked Australia. Instead of having their sentences reduced, the two that were sentenced to death had there sentence upheld while four others that had received lengthy prison terms will now have to face the death penalty. The other two that had appealed will serve life sentences.
The point is, however, that these people would not have to be facing the death penalty if the AFP, who had known of the Bali Nine’s plans to smuggle drugs into Australia from Bali, had arrested them in Australia. Instead, the AFP opted for informing the Indonesian authorities and did so in the full knowledge that Indonesia has the death penalty for drug trafficking. Furthermore, not only was the AFP aware of Indonesia’s harsh penalties for drug trafficking but it was also aware that the Indonesian government were having a major crack down on drug trafficking by making full use of the harsh penalties, including the death sentence, on offenders and, in particular, foreigners.
Just as Howard exposed his hypocrisy about the issue of the death sentence when he received news of the original sentences, so yet again he has shown himself to be unmoved by the plight of those sentenced to death reasserting only that Australian policy with regard to the death sentence and that if people are silly enough to get involved with drugs then there is little sympathy from him other than to formally apply to the Indonesians for a commutation of the sentence but even then not to expect too much.[2]
There is little doubt that Howard and the AFP deliberately set up the Bali Nine to be caught red handed in Bali in order that they serve as a deterrent to those who aspire to bring drugs into Australia. Howard and the AFP in making the decision to allow the Bali Nine to go ahead with their plans have deliberately sentenced these people to death by proxy.

[1] Damian Lataan, ‘Have Howard and the AFP deliberately sentenced Australian’s to death by proxy?’, 15 February 2006. Available online:
[2] ‘Don’t expect death row rescue’, AAP via Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September 2006. Available online: Accessed 7 September 2006.


Anonymous said...

Damo, the other side of the argument is that - if the AFP had have let the criminals board the plane - they would have knowingly allowed a crime to take place. Is this something we really want to let happen in a near neighbour?

Of course, I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who doesn't particularly care that these guys got the death penalty for what they did. I live in another country and if I do something wrong, I cop the penalty of the country I am in, not the Aussie alternative. Sure, France doesn't have the death penalty, but the point is that I knowingly put myself under French law when I arrived here. No one forced me to move here, no one forced me to stay when I did and no one is keeping me here...but if I choose to stay then I choose to live under the laws of the land.

These guys knew what they were getting in for. They knew that the penalties in Indonesia are harsher than in Australia. Yet they chose to break the law.

I don't accept your argument that Howard let them be caught in Bali to set an example (it seems a little too cruel hearted for one and, for a master politician, too likely to spin badly if it ever got out - not in Howard's style) but, nonetheless, they do stand as an example today to everyone not to try the same stupid moves.

Damian Lataan said...

Dylan, the AFP did let the criminals board the plane – that’s the point. They let them board the plane to fly out to Bali knowing what their plans were and then let them carry out their plan and had them arrested by the Indonesian authorities in the full knowledge that Indonesia has harsh penalties, including the death penalty (which the AFP know is being used more often in the Indonesian courts as part of the crackdown on drug trafficking).
Australia has penalties for conspiring to import drugs into Australia; penalties that carry heavy prison sentences. The AFP had accumulated enough evidence to be aware of their plans but chose to allow them to carry them out anyway. They could have been arrested in Australia. They would not be facing the death penalty now if they had. The AFP could, had they wished, also have made a greater contribution toward fighting drug trafficking by coming to an arrangement with the drug smugglers whereby they could have been used to catch those in Indonesia that were supplying the drugs. But that was not what this operation was about as far as the AFP was concerned.
You say you don’t accept that Howard let them be caught in Bali to set an example. This flies in the face of the evidence. Howard was personally informed about the plan by the AFP. The AFP asked Howard specifically if they could allow the plan to go the full distance. Howard agreed that it should. Howard knew full well what the consequences would be for those involved yet still allowed the plan to go ahead.
You argue that the people involved in the crime knew what the penalties would be if they were caught. Indeed they did, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the AFP, could have stopped the crime being perpetrated and nor does it detract from the fact that Howard was complicit in allowing a crime to be perpetrated and also knowing full well that the punishment for the crime could very well result in the death of young Australians. Regardless of the motivations of the criminals, both the AFP and Howard were complicit in allowing a crime to be committed and knowing that it could result in death for the perpetrators.
First you say that it is a ‘little too cruel hearted’ to allow the plan to have gone ahead knowing the penalty and then in the same sentence you say that ‘they do stand as an example today to everyone not to try the same stupid moves.’ Not only is this contradictory but it also reinforces my assertion as to the reasons why Howard allowed the AFP operation to go ahead – to stand as an example.
You say also that it would be ‘too likely to spin badly if it ever gets out...’ It would not spin badly at all. Many Australians adopt the same heartless attitude that you do. Most Australians really couldn’t care less what happens to the Bali Nine; you say yourself ‘these guys knew what they were getting in for’. You seem to have no sympathy for their plight. Despite the fact that Australia does not have a death penalty any more there are still many Australians heartless enough to not care whether or not it is used on Australians overseas and many, indeed, would be keen to see this disgusting form of punishment reintroduced into Australia – until, of course, it is their son or daughter that has to face the death penalty.
Howard and the AFP are as heartless as many other Australians who have little compassion for the lives of those that have offended. Howard and the AFP may just as well have sentenced these young Australians to death themselves by virtue of their complicity in allowing them to commit a crime in a country where the death penalty is more than likely to be used.

Anonymous said...

Damo, your point about the 'conspiracy to import drugs' is well made. I wasn't aware that the AFP had that much information about them before the trip but, if so, there is certainly an argument that can be made that they could have been stopped then.

I don't think that it is contradictory to say that letting them be caught to make an example is a 'little too cruel hearted' for Howard and then to point out that they have been made examples. That they stand as examples today need not have anything to do with whether Howard was involved or not.

As for spinning badly, I think it would. Australian people do not like the death penalty and I think they would not like a politician who took action (or failed to act, as the case may be) in order to ensure that Australian citizens received a death penalty. There may be, as you claim, many Australians who support the death penalty and might agree with its reintroduction, but I wouldn't guess that this would be a majority. I still think it would spin badly, very badly.

Damian Lataan said...

Dylan, at the last count 57% of Australians supported the death penalty for Australians convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in another country and this was taken two days before Van Nguyen was hung in Singapore.(1)

I agree with you that it would spin badly for Howard now in light of the fact that six young Australians are now facing the death penalty. One or two, as were originally sentenced, would have been easy for Howard to cope with as far as an Australian backlash would have been concerned had the Australian public thought about Howard and the AFP having deliberately set them up for the death penalty. He simply would have denied that he had and then just say, after they had been shot, that it was fait accompli as far as he was concerned.

However, lining up six young Australians to be shot is probably something even the more hardened of death penalty advocates would baulk at and Howard would find that difficult to live down. I’m sure, though, that even Howard never imagined that six of them may end up dying in front of a firing squad.

The point is, Howard and the AFP knew what was likely to be in store for these drug traffickers in Indonesia but, despite that, let them go ahead anyway. If it was not their intention to let them stand as examples to other would-be drug smugglers, for what other reason would the AFP and Howard allowed them to go ahead even though they could have been arrested in Australia for conspiracy to import drugs. Even if they had got away without being convicted on such a charge they would have a) obviously not gone ahead with attempting to smuggle drugs and b) not found themselves in the predicament that they are in now.

(1)Morgan Poll, 1 December 2005. Available online: