Not only should AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty be in the proverbial gun this morning after The Australian revealed this morning that some of his officers tampered with Dr Haneef’s diary by writing names of overseas suspects in it, but what about Lincoln Wright and Paula Doneman?
Wright and Doneman were the authors of a story, which made front page news in many of yesterday’s newspapers, alleging that Dr Haneef was involved in a plot to blow up a building on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Apparently, Dr Haneef has some photos of himself and his family taken “at the base” of a prominent Gold Coast building. But, wrote Wright and Doneman, “Investigators said they believed some of the photos might not be ordinary tourist snapshots.”
Writing a story alleging that someone might be part of a plot to blow up a building is like saying that someone planned to murder a group of individuals. It’s about as serious a smear on an individual as you can get. So you’d be hoping you’ve got the story absolutely right before you publish it.
But unfortunately for Wright and Doneman, this appears not to be the case. Not only did Dr Haneef’s lawyer Peter Russo explicitly state that “No allegation of this kind published … has ever been put to my client despite 24 hours of questioning and nearly two weeks of detention prior to the latest interview,” but AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty himself denied the accuracy of the story. Mr Keelty was even prepared to do what prosecutors and the police only very rarely do – contact the defence lawyers to assure them that the allegations had no foundation.
Will Wright and Doneman apologize to Dr Haneef for getting the story wrong, if that, as seems likely, is the case? Or is Dr Haneef fair game for any sort of allegation to be pinned on him by the authorities or the media?
If Dr Haneef were a common garden variety citizen or resident in Australia his lawyers would have a field day suing Wright and Doneman and any media outlets which carried the plot to bomb allegation story for defamation. But of course he’s not.
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So just because Dr Haneef is unlikely to sue for defamation, the right thing for Wright and Doneman to do is to apologize to him today. Terror suspects have the same rights as any other individual. And one of these is that they are entitled to expect accurate reporting of the allegations being made against them.