NATIONAL SECURITY: by John MillerNews Weekly
The lessons of the Dr Haneef case
, August 4, 2007
The recent uproar over the arrest of Dr Mohamed Haneef in Brisbane marks a change, albeit subtle but substantive, in the way we should regard terrorism, writes John Miller.
The various reactions of the Howard Government and politicians (state and federal), the Australian Federal Police, the civil rights/liberties lobby, members of the legal profession, the media and the general public have combined to make Dr Mohamed Haneef's case a cause célèbre
What can we learn from this unhappy episode?
First, we should look at some of the facts publicly known about the case:
• Following the attempted car-bombings in London and at Glasgow airport on June 29-30, 2007, Dr Haneef was intercepted by Australian authorities at Brisbane airport on July 4, leaving for his homeland, India, on a one-way ticket.
• Dr Haneef had been in Australia since September 2006, practising as a registrar at a Gold Coast hospital, having entered the country as part of a state government recruitment drive for foreign doctors.
• Information derived from British investigations revealed that Dr Haneef, when leaving Britain a year or so ago, had allegedly
given a mobile phone SIM card to one of the brothers, Drs Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed, who happen to be his cousins, and who have been detained in connection with the UK bombings.
• Dr Haneef was held for 13 days, under sections of Commonwealth anti-terrorism legislation of 2004, before being charged with "recklessly supporting terrorist activity" by providing the SIM card to his cousins.
• Irrespective of whether Dr Haneef is found guilty of the charges, the Australian Government has made it clear that his visa will be revoked and he will be deported, following his trial.
Naturally, with the case being sub judice
, caution must be exercised in commenting about the whole affair. However, there are statements on public record which enable us to make some judgment about the operation of the Government's counter-terrorist legislation, the role in a free society of legitimate dissent and the tenor of debate thus far.
The most basic question is whether the Australian authorities got it right?
It is clear that it was information, provided by UK authorities from their interviews with those involved in the London and Glasgow incidents, which enabled their Australian counterparts to intercept Dr Haneef before he could leave for India. Once he was detained, the AFP and other elements of the Australian intelligence community were empowered to hold him under judicial warrant for questioning for no more than 24 hours in total, before laying or dropping charges.
The civil liberties lobby, in particular, is especially opposed to this part of the law, which means in effect that a person can be held, subject to judicial review and approval, for any period of time until the 24 hours of questioning expires. In Dr Haneef's case, it is apparent that short periods of questioning took place, interspersed with longer periods of time, while his accommodation was searched and until a UK police counter-terrorist specialist arrived in the country.
Dr Haneef's subsequent 13 days' detention before being charged excited great debate in legal and political circles, with much of the media baying like hounds on the scent of a fox.
Much of the criticism in legal circles came from the masters of bombast, who from the outset appear to have decided that the evidence was flimsy at best. Dr Haneef was, according to family in India, "studious and kind", and the man himself made the statement that he was not a terrorist. Irrespective of political machinations, Dr Haneef has a right to the presumption of innocence. He will find, however, that, even if an Australian court finds him not guilty, it does not mean he has been found innocent.First
, it appears that there was information connecting him with the London and Glasgow bomb-plots — information sufficient to detain him.Second
, he is a Muslim, as were the would-be UK bombers, the Ahmed brothers, with whom he had a familial relationship.Third
, he appeared to be fleeing to India on a one-way ticket.Fourth
, there was the matter of the SIM card, which in early reports was reportedly located at the scene of the Glasgow airport attack but later was found to have been several hundred miles away at the time.Enquiries
These are matters that will be taken into account by the Federal Court, when enquiries are complete and the case is prepared.
In the meantime, Dr Haneef's computer is being scrupulously examined. Apparently there are about 31,000 pages of documents, including e-mail communications between the doctor and his relatives in the UK, all in Urdu (or Hindi, depending on your newspaper) — a complicating factor in itself — and an abundance of photographs.
As information becomes available from interrogation of those arrested in connection with the UK plots, it will inevitably feed into further questioning of Dr Haneef.
It is instructive, although somewhat disheartening, to sit on the outside and watch the way this case has played itself out in the public arena. Equally, it is fair to say that few players in this drama have escaped unscathed from criticism.
There are elements in the legal system, as I have pointed out previously, who are more concerned to make a name for themselves by taking what they perceive to be the high moral ground. The same names come up every time.
And where would we be without the constant sniping from the Greens, Democrats and Malcolm Fraser?
Already, as inevitable as the sunrise, a David Hicks-style support group has sprung up to defend the rights of the imprisoned doctor.
Equally predictably, Tony Jones of the ABC television's Lateline
program was all too keen to give the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and the Minister for Immigration Kevin Andrews a hard time over the case — all in the name of balance, no doubt.
Often, it is tempting to believe that some of those who bend over backwards to defend a terror suspect have little concept of national security or Australian sovereignty.Confidential information
Dr Haneef has every right to have competent legal representation, but was it really necessary for his self-justifying QC to reveal confidential information relating to the case to the media? Of course, it was done in the "public interest", but isn't that always the case with these matters — viz., Faheem Lodhi, Jack Thomas and David Hicks?
The legal blowhards make exceptionally good copy for the printed media, internet journals, blogs and television. To add to the media frenzy, we have had a sequence of unedifying spectacles, such as the leaking of the transcript of the first AFP questioning of Dr Haneef; the cancellation of Dr Haneef's visa before he was brought to trial (which would make an interesting case, should he be found not guilty of any charge); and hints by senior police officers and politicians that there is more secret information to be disclosed.
At the time of writing, the latest leaked information was reportedly from an unnamed senior government source, revealing that the police had uncovered a picture of Dr Haneef, allegedly in front of a Gold Coast skyscraper (AAP, July 22) — the unspoken implication being that this building was a target for a bombing.
In addition, the unnamed source stated that Dr Haneef was allegedly one of a group of doctors who had been learning to fly, and that he had planned to leave Australia before September 11 this year.
Matters seem to be getting out of hand when AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty routinely appears on television to deny that the information is being leaked by police, yet, some five hours later, Australia's WIN regional television network is still running the story about the high-rise building and giving its name.
Then, to add a little political frisson, the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer attempts to use the Haneef case, with specious reasoning, to show that Labor is soft on terrorism, while Queensland Premier Peter Beattie attacks the Federal Government for its handling of the case.
The most disturbing and appalling aspect of this leaking is, first, those elements of the legal fraternity could have a point when they claim that Dr Haneef might not get a fair trial because of the politicisation of his case (completely overlooking the fact that they have contributed to the politicisation).
Second, only The Australian
so far appears to be reporting the case responsibly, while the rest of the media has resorted to publicising leaks and repeating unfounded tales and generally beating up the story for partisan ends.
Third, the "hate Howard, hate Bush" mob have made up their minds that Dr Haneef is being "fitted up", thereby making any possible subsequent "guilty" verdict illegitimate in their eyes. What price justice? What cost the presumption of innocence?
Lastly, those who stand to lose most, as this case is drawn out, are the Australian Federal Police.
Having apprehended Dr Haneef while he was attempting to leave Australia, and heavily reliant on material from the UK, which cannot be released, they have had to face criticism from the legal fraternity that, by and large, has opposed the new anti-terrorism legislation from its inception.
Rather than work within the system, influential members of the judiciary have consistently sought to undermine the laws for reasons that remain unclear.
Perhaps they do not believe that Australia is in any danger from terrorism, and that laws intended to curb terrorism are therefore illegitimate.Labor support
The further fact that the Coalition Government's laws are not politically partisan, but have been totally supported by the federal parliamentary Labor opposition, appears to have been entirely lost on them.
All Australians should ponder deeply the unfortunate way Dr Haneef's case has been handled.
Information leaks, fabrication of facts and politicisation of the very serious issues at stake have involved the highest to the lowest levels of government.
None of this mess bodes well for our system of justice or for an Indian Muslim doctor who might, just conceivably, be unconnected with events on the other side of the globe. It's only right and proper that Dr Haneef's fate be determined by due process.— John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.