Friday, August 03, 2007

Australia's terrorist

Not sure how much news on Mohammed Haneef has made it over to the states. A quick search reveals a few AP articles. Which is a few more than made it on the treatment of indigenous people in the Northern Territory. I guess terrorism is always of interest in the US.

In brief, Dr. Haneef was working in a hospital on the Gold Coast. He attempted to board a plane for Bangalore on July 2nd to visit his wife and newborn daughter on a one-way ticket. His second cousins are suspects in the Glasgow terrorist attack, and as a result, he was detained in Brisbane for the better part of a month. The longest detainment in Australia without a trial in recent history. Charges were subsequently dropped on July 27 due to lack of evidence, but his visa was revoked, so he was required to leave the country on his release from prison.

What's interesting about the case, from my perspective, is the reaction of Australians to his detainment. People have been incredibly vocal about how he was mistreated by the justice system. There's been outrage at the use of the "dangerous terrorist" label to prolong his detainment without evidence. And, there's been a cry for more of the information to be shared with the general public. Sort of a "We're not saying you shouldn't detain him, but you won't tell us what you've got against him, so we think you've got nothing, so you should let him go." It seems so counter to the patent American acceptance of guilt by association of any terrorist suspect (or relative). Sure there's the ACLU, but there always feels like there's a majority of right-wingers around to roll their eyes at those crazy liberals because they don't understand national security.

The Australian outrage was then doubled when his visa was revoked, especially as this happened as it was unfolding that there was no evidence against him. My rudimentary understanding though is that this is totally within the rights of the Ministry of Immigration to do. Granted most of my knowledge is from this fantastic reality television show here called Border Security that features customs and immigrations officers doing their duty to protect Australia. The thing that struck me about this show is the incredible power that these people wield and the relatively low burden of proof necessary to confiscate property or revoke a visa and send some one back home. In both of the episodes I've seen, people have been sent back to their homes on suspicion that they were here to seek work. The suspicion is usually based on their inability to articulate their travel plans in Australia. And there is a harrowing correlation between skin color/ origin and the outcome of the inquiry. People from south east Asia get sent home, those from England are allowed in, even if they're carrying huge quantities of cash, have a criminal past and are claiming to be attending a wedding but have brought only a backpack with no details on the wedding in it. Using this as my metric, revoking Dr. Haneef's visa seems totally in order with common practice. People on visas do not have the rights of Australian citizens, they shouldn't expect to, and Aussie citizens shouldn't expect them to either. Especially if English is not their first language.

Dr. Haneef left Australia after lodging a review of his visa revocation with the High Court to be held next week. On Monday morning a poll of Australians through one of the big morning news shows showed that over 55% of Australians believed he should have his visa reinstated. However, on Tuesday, the Minister of Immigration provided some of the evidence he had viewed to determine the fate of Haneef's visa. This included a reference to a chat room conversation with his brother in India. This conversation included phrases like "Nothing has been found out about you" and to use your daughter's birth as an excuse to return to India. The same news program ran the poll again on Tuesday morning. When I saw the results, the percentage was then less than 15%.

The court of public opinion has ruled. Still, there is criticism on the "sloppy" way in which the Haneef case was handled and the lack of public disclosure. I believe that the political pressure (there's a Federal election on) from the public outcry pushed to have Haneef released sooner than prosecutors would have wanted. Australia's distrust in their own government, and their government's inability to supply evidence have allowed a suspected terrorist to roam free. And yet, I feel strangely proud of them. Maybe it's my liberal bent, but the people spoke, and the government listened. I'm not sure if the world is a safer place, as a result, but it says to me that there is a place where people stand up for the rights of others.


Joslyn August 9, 2007 at 3:45 PM  

hot damn, imagine living in the states back in the day when being vocal actually did something good?!? i remember at the beginning of the iraq war all the millions of people marching against it and hearing bush say that it didn´t matter to him. back in vietnam, it would have mattered.

maybe i´ll move to australia...

when is our country gonna learn to listen?

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