Not just about Dr Haneef: some terrorism and civil liberties questions

01 Aug

Years ago when The Red Dragon became the secretary of the South Coast branch of the Communist Party she rang me in Glebe to warn me that ASIO was listening to her conversations, including of course any she had with me. She knew her phone was bugged because one night a voice cut into one of her conversations thus: “Hey Fred (or whoever), would you take this one? I want to take a leak…” Subsequently she often apologised to the bug for how boring her phone calls were, mostly about Bridge and recipes, since the Dragon was an avid Bridge player and had done a cordon bleu course. “As if I would plot revolution over the phone,” she said.

I doubt ASIO bothers with the Dragon nowadays, but she still cannot enter the USA.

Today, as Lexcen points out in his comment on Jim Belshaw’s Haneef case…, things are different. For a start we have at our disposal rather more channels of communication than we had in the 1980s, and while extremist Muslim terrorism did exist it had not come home to us as it has this century. My concern, and I think Jim’s also, is the degree to which we sacrifice our own liberties in the interests, or perceived interests, of security, or in other words how far we compromise what we are meant to be defending.

Last night SBS ran the PBS Frontline documentary Spying on the Home Front which raised such issues very dramatically.

JOHN YOO, Justice Dept. Sr. Attorney, 2001-03: Look, there’s no doubt that there are important 4th Amendment issues here. One is, is this a reasonable search and seizure? You can still have warrantless searches, but they have to be reasonable. And then the second question is, does that restriction apply to wartime operations? We don’t require a warrant, we don’t require reasonable searches and seizures when the army- the military’s out on the battlefield attacking, killing members of the enemy.

HEDRICK SMITH: But that’s usually abroad, and it doesn’t involve the American homeland and American citizens.

JOHN YOO: But this gets to my point is, do you want to make it more difficult for our government to try to stop terrorists attacks? The closer that members of al Qaeda get to the United States, the closer they get to striking our cities, as they did on 9/11, you want to make it more legally difficult for the government to stop that? I don’t think so.

MICHAEL WOODS: In our tradition of law, there is this idea that there is private space around the individual- you know, the individual’s home, their papers, as it says in the Constitution- that there is this- there is a sphere around you that the government can’t come into without meeting this level of suspicion.

And what I see in all of these developments is the sphere is getting smaller and smaller. You know, we’re allowing access to much more information, so that maybe the government can’t come into that sphere, but they can go all the way around it. They can get the contours, the outlines of your daily life through a lot of this information that isn’t protected as well. And I think that’s what’s eroding.

SUZANNE SPAULDING, Fmr. CIA Senior Attorney: So many people in America think this does not affect them. They’ve been convinced that these programs are only targeted at suspected terrorists. “I’m not engaged in any terrorist activities. Therefore, this does not concern me. There’s no way in which I’m going to be caught up in this activity.”

HEDRICK SMITH: And you think that’s wrong.

SUZANNE SPAULDING: And I think that’s wrong. I think that- as I said, I think our technology is not perfect, our programs are not perfect, and it is inevitable that totally innocent Americans are going to be affected by these programs.

STEPHEN SPROUSE: It seems to be like the beginning of, “We’re going to treat everyone like a bad guy to begin with, knowing that most of them are not bad guys, but we’re going to start with the assumption that everybody is a bad guy. And then if we just collect the right stuff and connect the right dots, we’ll find the real bad guys.”

HEDRICK SMITH: Did you find any terrorists?

ELLEN KNOWLTON: No. No, we didn’t.

Ironically the day after that was aired on SBS we have New secret search powers proposed in Australia.

POLICE and security agencies will be given unprecedented “sneak and peek” powers to search the homes and computers of suspects without their knowledge under legislation to go before Federal Parliament next week.

The extensive powers – which also give federal police the right to monitor communications equipment without an interceptions warrant – come amid growing public disquiet about counter-terrorism powers following the bungled handling of the Mohamed Haneef case.

Under the laws, officers from the federal police and other agencies would be able to execute “delayed notification warrants”, allowing them to undertake searches, seize equipment and plant listening devices in businesses and homes.

Note the Haneef connection. That level of association of ideas may make some suspicious, and it is, in fact, rather the same level of suspicion which is revealed in (PDF) the advice Kevin Andrews received — that is the actual advice, not a report about it. I urge you to read it.

Having read that advice myself and the scope of the legislation under which Kevin Andrews operates, as distinct from what can happen in a court of law, Kevin Andrews had the power to do what he did. I think there is no doubt about that. Whether he should have so much power is up for discussion, of course.

Looking at what is there, however, it is possible to be underwhelmed. Now we hear former Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef repeatedly tried to call British police from Australia after the bungled bomb attacks in London and Glasgow! On the other hand it is not possible to dismiss the suspicions out of hand. That Dr Haneef is a very presentable and articulate young man is a fact, but neither here nor there. On the face of it though the evidence offered is far from convincing; the courts certainly thought so. To assess what we know it is very important to hold the chronology of events in mind; Wikipedia assists here. The failed terrorist attacks in the UK — and they were dreadful and criminal projects indeed — occurred on June 30. The chat room conversation cited in the advice to Kevin Andrews was two or three days later. By that time everyone knew about the attacks and who had been arrested. It is entirely possible to interpret the chat room conversation in terms not of prior knowledge of the events but as worries about where that sim card might lead, and fear of possible implications, given the arrests in the UK had already been made. And so on. But we really don’t know.

One thing does strike me as likely, however, and that is that a well-educated, well-spoken young man like Dr Haneef from India, a country considered to be a democracy, would have little trouble passing the proposed “integration” test. Kevin Andrews’s reasoning (for which read “John Howard’s reasoning”) here really is quite odd.

Factors to be taken into account when considering the capacity of would-be migrants to integrate would include an assessment of the applicants’ adaptability and resourcefulness.

Immigration officials would also consider applicants’ knowledge of Australia, their expectations about living here, their English language skills and attitudes to learning English.

Mr Andrews said the integration criteria would apply to those seeking permanent or provisional visas, including humanitarian visas, which lead to permanent residency. Those seeking temporary skilled worker visas would be exempt.

Mr Andrews said that in the past almost all migrants had come to Australia from places with liberal democratic traditions. “Now people come from a range of different traditions,” he said.

The move follows the requirement for people seeking citizenship to pass a test of their knowledge and acceptance of “Australian values”.

Dr Haneef would pass all those with flying colours. On the other hand, in the past almost all migrants had come to Australia from places with liberal democratic traditions: really? Nazi Germany? The USSR? The Eastern bloc prior to 1989? Vietnam? Mainland China? Chile under Pinochet? Zimbabwe? Lebanon? Brazil? Iran? I don’t know how Andrews/Howard have come up with that rather amazing bit of migration history, and if Dr Haneef (suspicious character or not) can pass with flying colours, what is the point? He would be unlikely to fail the multiple choice test and would no doubt sign on to “Aussie values”. (Yes, I am aware the particular visa Dr Haneef had would be exempt — but that adds to the “what’s the point” question. Further, before his recent arrest he would surely have passed all of them anyway: English-speaking, educated, from a democracy…)

In my next entry I will get back to book and DVD reviews, and I have some good ones to tell you about…


Tell you what though: even if some have preferred the outspokenness of a Senator Brown or a Senator Andrew Bartlett, or even of the Premier of Queensland, on the Haneef affair, I really think Kevin Rudd has been wise to keep a low profile, not to be “wedged” by it, as Rod Cameron noted on Lateline last week. (Transcript for that is not yet online but you can watch it.)

Senator Bartlett is good on Migration, citizenship and integration today.

SBS News and Dateline have published some very interesting allegations, though hedged with qualifications: PLEASE NOTE: it is not clear whether the purpose of this dossier is to set out mere suspicions to be investigated by the Indian police or actual allegations. Dateline has seen no evidence in support of any allegations in this document. The document may be downloaded from the Dateline site.

SBS’s Dateline program has revealed that a security dossier compiled by Indian police on Dr Mohamed Haneef cites “alleged links with Al Qaida”.

The document was obtained from Indian police by Dateline video journalist David O’Shea.

SBS can not confirm whether the purpose of the dossier is to set out suspicions yet to be investigated, or actual allegations against Dr. Haneef.

I did download and read it. It was written after recent events in Glasgow and Australia, and repeats allegations we have already heard, except for one about alleged possession of “a bank locker key that belonged to someone else.” As for the Al Qaeda connection, it is speculation expressed in the words: must have come into contact with the members of terrorist entities.

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One response to “Not just about Dr Haneef: some terrorism and civil liberties questions

  1. Jim Belshaw

    August 1, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Neil wrote: “My concern, and I think Jim’s also, is the degree to which we sacrifice our own liberties in the interests, or perceived interests, of security, or in other words how far we compromise what we are meant to be defending.”

    While this is right Neil, my concern is a little more extensive. I understand Lexcen’s point, but my concern is an overall pattern.

    I will try to write a little more on this tonight.

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