Today, Gold Coast doctor, Mohammed Haneef will have been held in detention, without any charges being laid against him, for eight days. He was arrested last Monday evening at Brisbane airport and the Australian Federal Police has been granted yet another extension by a Brisbane magistrate to allow him to be detained for another 48 hours.

Why? Well because under the Howard government/ALP anti-terror laws, the AFP and other agencies of the State can keep people locked up until they have searched heaven and earth to find some piece of evidence that they might be able to use against the detainee. Giving such extraordinary powers to the State is unconscionable in a modern democratic society, particularly when it is obvious that it will be abused by law enforcement agencies who will simply hold people to try and break their spirit and will.

Which is exactly what must be happening to Dr Haneef. His continued detention must raise this question – even if he provides inculpatory evidence to the AFP or other security agencies, how much reliance can be placed on it given the manner and length of his detention?

Think of it this way. Dr Haneef has a wife and new born child in Bangalore, India. He is away from his family and friends, in a foreign country, and being held in highly secured detention facilities in Brisbane. He will have faced days of aggressive questioning from his interrogators, followed by hours where he is effectively in solitary confinement. He may even have been subjected to culturally insensitive conduct by his jailers – it’s happened before.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2004 sheds some light on what the mental and physical state of Dr Haneef is likely to be by today. This study, undertaken by psychiatrists who examined a number of foreign nationals detained indefinitely under Britain’s anti-terror laws, found that the mental health of detainees deteriorated drastically during the time they were held in prison. Detainees feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness because of the secretive nature of the anti-terror laws. Detention under anti-terror laws is, the report said, a form of mental torture.

The law enforcement agencies will tell you that those detained are allowed ‘down time’ for meal breaks, sleep and recreation. But don’t let this Kafkaesque terminology fool you. The ‘down time’ that a detainee is graciously allowed by their jailers simply allows them time to ruminate — and for the full impact of their ghastly situation to play games with their minds.

The treatment of Dr Mohammed Haneef is testament to how we have allowed our security and law enforcement agencies to run amok. It is utterly inhumane to lock someone up for seven days or more in a civilised society and keep them in a psychological limbo about their future.

But why expect anything different from Philip Ruddock or even from his ALP opposition on this issue? After all, both Mr Ruddock and the ALP sanctioned the psychological torture of thousands of asylum seekers in detention centres.

Peter Fray

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