The Haneef fiasco
Now that the charges against Dr Haneef have been withdrawn and the urgent need to keep him in maximum security seems to have evaporated, it’s worth thinking about how this mess came about.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.