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Politics

Jul 30, 2007

Secrecy and the Haneef case

Dr Haneef got back to India solely because his defence team refused to meekly drink their allocated dose of shut-the-f*ck-up. Traditionally in terrorism cases, the authorities feed sensational tit-bits to the media while the accused sucks it all up in silence.

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Dr Haneef got back to India solely because his defence team refused to meekly drink their allocated dose of shut-the-f*ck-up.

Traditionally in terrorism cases, the authorities feed sensational tit-bits to the media while the accused sucks it all up in silence.

For instance, when police raided Jack Thomas’ premises, someone had already conveniently tipped off the media so that footage could run on the evening news. The same thing happened with the anti-terror raids on 15 homes in south-western Sydney in November 2005.

Remember when the government threw the peace campaigner Scott Parkin out of the country? Many people struggled to believe that an avowed pacifist whose only criminal conviction involved dressing up as Tony the Tiger outside Halliburton’s Texas offices actually posed a threat to Our Democratic Way of Life. Handily, a secret dossier found its way to The Australian in time for Greg Sheridan to pen a pro-government article entitled “Deported activist was to teach tactics of violence”.

The government and the police can leak merrily away but the new anti-terror infrastructure makes it extraordinarily difficult for suspects to speak up.

For a start, the beefed-up ASIO powers not only allow the agency to detain you, but also create a crime punishable by years in gaol if you tell anyone what happened.

Then, of course, the anti-terrorism laws contain an automatic presumption against bail, so that if you are charged, you’ll almost certainly be conducting your defense from solitary confinement within a maximum security prison, a little detail that makes responding to media smears rather difficult.

When you actually get to court, the legal proceedings against you may proceed in secret, as happened with portions of the hearings against nine men in Sydney and thirteen men in Melbourne, closed to the public on “national security” grounds.

Even when you’re no longer in custody, the government has ways to dissuade you from opening your mouth. Mamdouh Habib might have been tortured in Egypt and detained without trial in Guantanamo but, when he got home, Philip Ruddock repeatedly threatened him with “proceeds of crime” legislation if he sold his story.

In the abstract, any allegation of terrorism conjures up images of the uber-villains faced by Jack Bauer on 24. That’s why Stephen Keim’s decision to release the interrogation transcript from which the AFP had been selectively leaking changed the public mood so quickly. The more we knew about the Haneef case, the ranker it smelled.

Precisely because terrorism cases become so politicised, they demand the maximum possible transparency. Yet to the bitter end, the government sought to keep Haneef’s mouth shut, with Haneef’s lawyers claiming the government went out of their way to make it difficult for Haneef to speak to the media.

When Samuel Johnson explained that, wherever you find secrecy or mystery, vice or roguery is not far off, he probably had this crew in mind.

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