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The Haneef fiasco

July 28th, 2007

Now that the charges against Dr Haneef have been withdrawn and the urgent need to keep him in maximum security seems to have evaporated, it’s worth thinking about how this mess came about. Everyone involved in managing this case (with the exception of Haneef’s defence counsel) has made an awful mess of it.

In the case of the police, I think it is a case of stuffup rather than conspiracy. One more or less unchangeable characteristic of police forces is that, once they have someone in the frame for a crime, they focus on getting a conviction, and are very unwilling to stop and consider alternative hypotheses. In Haneef’s case, they began with a fairly routine investigation of someone distantly linked to the British terror attacks and found their man at the airport with a one-way ticket out of the country. From that moment, I’d say, the police were collectively convinced of his guilt and unwilling to listen to explanations or alibis. This is not really surprising – police must listen to lots of bogus alibis and false explanations, which it’s their job to demolish. That’s the way the police work and that’s why we have defence lawyers and a legal presumption of innocence.

The Labor Opposition similarly hasn’t covered itself with glory, though in fairness it was faced with what was pretty obviously a deliberate political trap. Still, it should have been possible to make this clear, saying that support was given on the assumption the government was acting in good faith, and withdrawing that support when it became apparent the whole thing was at best, grossly mishandled and at worst, a setup.

The real blame, though, lies with the government and particularly Kevin Andrews. Whatever advice he received on Haneef’s visa, it should never have been used to override the decision, made in a criminal proceeding, to grant bail. As has now become clear, Andrews could have made the same decision to cancel the visa without using it to lock Haneef up. His action was characteristic of a government that’s been in power too long and has become excessively used to getting its own way. And of course his implied assurance, now discredited, that there was a lot more to the case than the initial, rather tenuous charge, is characteristic of a government that’s used to telling lies and getting away with it (children overboard, WMDs, AWB etc). Those who’ve served as enablers and excusers of this behavior (including quite a few commentators and bloggers) share the blame for the latest episode.

Leaving aside the unfair treatment of Dr Haneef and his family, this episode has done grave damage to Australia’s national security, which depends critically on the capacity of ordinary Australians to trust those who make decisions of this kind. Given the ethos of “never apologise, never resign” that governs such matters nowadays, it seems certain that these powers will remain in the hands of people who cannot reasonably command our trust.

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  1. July 31st, 2007 at 09:46 | #1

    Imre Salusinszky in The Australian todat gets it 100% right on Andrews and on the hysterical overreaction to the Haneef affair. We apply different standards to those on visas than citizens. Quote:

    ‘On balance, this is one of those no-scandal scandals where the stridency of some commentators only underlines their estrangement from the man and woman on the street.

    Unfortunately, this estrangement reveals a pattern we have seen repeatedly since 9/11. It sometimes appears the Western intelligentsia does not have the stomach to go a single round in the fight against terrorism, but would rather we blamed ourselves.

    Andrews showed common sense in revoking Haneef’s visa, and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd showed equal common sense in supporting that decision. Both men are in responsible positions and I encourage them to maintain their vigilance over the security of my children, my friends and my fellow Australians‘. (my bolding).

    I agree. The over-the-top and hysterical criticisms of Andrews not flaws in the investigation damage Australia’s security. The Minister acted appropriately given information available at the time and so did Kevin Rudd.

  2. Warbo
    July 31st, 2007 at 10:20 | #2

    It sometimes appears the Western intelligentsia does not have the stomach to go a single round in the fight against terrorism, but would rather we blamed ourselves.

    When all else fails – as it surely has in the case – you can rely on the more hysterical supporters of the Howard Government smearing those they disagree with as cowards and traitors.

  3. Warbo
    July 31st, 2007 at 10:23 | #3

    … in this case …

    Bugger.

  4. Chris O’Neill
    July 31st, 2007 at 11:16 | #4

    “The Minister acted appropriately given information available at the time”

    Why does the phrase “at the time” keep getting mentioned? Shouldn’t it be redundant?

  5. July 31st, 2007 at 11:23 | #5

    Those on the left who have perfect foresight in an uncertain situation have to be reminded that the rest of humanity can only handle the information we have available at the time we make decisions.

  6. observa
    July 31st, 2007 at 12:01 | #6

    That’s the rub Harry. On the face of it and the public information available at present, Haneef is simply a victim of an old adage that your friends you can choose but your stinking terrorist relatives you’re stuck with. Govts/authorities are not going to get it right 100% of the time, just as some here got Hicks wrong. This is what happens when you get it wrong too
    http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/freed-guantanamo-inmates-take-up-arms/2007/07/27/1185339258055.html
    Think also of Clinton letting Osama go when he had him in the bomb sight. yet what would the reaction have been pre 9/11 if he gave the order to take him out? Given the situation nowadays with Muslim terrorists daily blowing up innocents around the globe and now some of them are doctors Govts face a clear choice. Sometimes damned if they do err on the side of caution(eg cancelling Haneef’s visa now) and damned if the let a terrorist get through. Faced with that choice, they go along with the politically popular option. It’s logical that if you’re going to be damned for getting it wrong occasionally, always choose the most popular option to be damned for occasionally. Rudd and Howard and all the State Premiers who lined up behind the anti-terror laws understand that. The Greens and the Dems, etc have the luxury of flipping and flopping, because they’re impotent and pure of course.

  7. July 31st, 2007 at 12:56 | #7

    Observa, That’s a great link. I think that being safe rather than sorry makes sense.

  8. Bring Back the Currency Lad
    July 31st, 2007 at 13:36 | #8

    what a lot of codswallop.

    Andrews only got rid of the passport when the Magistrate decided on the basis of thew case which she said was ‘thin’ allowed the good doctor bail.

    Not only did Andrews subvert the legal process he essentially said the good doctor was so dangerous he was not allowed onto the streets.

    Apparently nothing has changed except for Andrews being shown to be a complete dill in view of his media performances.

    This man is still so dangerous he is now allowed out yet NOTHING has changed.

    If Andrews believes the garbage he spews out then the good doctor should still be in gaol.

  9. July 31st, 2007 at 13:56 | #9

    When it comes to subverting justice, the record of that particular magistrate is not a happy one.

  10. Bring Back the Currency Lad
    July 31st, 2007 at 13:57 | #10

    err Steve,

    She said the case was thin and she was right.

  11. mkoukoullis
    August 2nd, 2007 at 04:12 | #11

    I totally agree that the real blame resides with Kevin Andrews. His decision to subvert the decision of an independent court is the core issue here.

    Secret evidence and the ability of the politicians to detain people does not bode well for a free society.

    The conduct of Kevin Andrews has upset me to the point which I constructed a website to enable the general public to petition for his resignation.

    http://andrewsmustresign.com/

  12. wise_but_poor
    August 21st, 2007 at 13:06 | #12

    Kevin Andrews must step down.

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