Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Testing arbitrary detention, or electoral fervour?

The continued incarceration of Queensland-based doctor Mohamed Haneef is quite a test of Australia's new terrorist detention laws.

Haneef is cousin of two Indian doctors who apparently made several attempts at terrorist action in Great Britain. Once the links were identified, he was swept up for detention and questioning. Magistrates renewed the detention, but he was eventually offered bail. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews promptly revoked his visa, claiming he was "not of good character". Haneef's lawyer then delayed posting bail, to avoid immigration detention and expulsion.

Stalemate, to date.

On what grounds?

1) He passed on a sim card to his criminal relative before he left England;
2) He got a one-way ticket to India apparently to visit his wife and ailing child in India, but didn't mention that reason to a colleague;
3) He had "numerous and frequent" contacts with his relatives just before he attempted to leave - according to unsourced media reports.

Revocation of his visa (and interim immigration detention) is at the discretion of the Minister; the burden of proof is substantially lower than incarceration under the 2005 terrorism act.

Even if it transpires that he is guilty as sin, this is tantamount to an abuse of process. On the amount of evidence so far, it is entirely possible an innocent man could have been knocked about in exactly this way.

Question: is it better to lock up the guilty and the innocent, just in case? Does the threat of terrorism justify abrogation of habeas corpus? At what point is justice denied?

...Is torture justifiable if it provides information on terrorist acts?

Do we foster our own enemy when we act with brutality or without due process?

It can be seen as convenient for the Howard Government, which is not above whipping up xenophobia, as evidenced with the 2001 election win, on the back of their "children overboard" lies.

Still, it can easily backfire, if the tolerance of the electorate for that government is low. And it is.

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