When the Howard government and its allies in the ALP fell over each other in their mad scramble to pass draconian anti-terror laws, there were some wise heads warning that such legislation would open the door to abuse by law enforcement and security authorities of their powers. Well guess what – surprise, surprise – it’s happened.

The decision handed down by NSW Supreme Court judge Michael Adams concerning the case of Izhar Ul-Haque makes for disturbing reading. It’s a case of ASIO officers scaring the bejesus out of an individual in their quest for a result.

Izhar Ul-Haque was charged with training with an alleged terrorist organisation in Pakistan in 2003. ASIO interviewed him three times in late 2003, early 2004 about the matter.

Justice Adams chronicles a disturbing level of intimidation and aggression used repeatedly by ASIO to try and break the will of Mr Ul-Haque

How’s this for example. “At 7.25pm on 6 November 2003, twenty or so ASIO and four or five police officers, all in plain clothes, attended with a search warrant at the home where the accused lived with his parents and three brothers.” Yes, it’s not a misprint – twenty five or more Federal Police and ASIO officers go to this man’s home. What were they expecting to find there – a nuclear arsenal?

The boys from ASIO met Mr Ul-Haque and his 17-year-old brother in a railway station car park on that November day. They told Mr Ul-Haque he was in serious trouble, bundled him into a car, took him to a local park and forced him to answer questions. They took his frightened brother along as well – an action described by Justice Adams as “highhanded”.

And here’s what Justice Adams thought of the spooks taking Mr Ul-Haque to a park: “The officers were dealing with a young man of twenty-one years. It is obvious that any citizen of ordinary fortitude would find a peremptory confrontation of the kind described by the ASIO officers frightening and intimidating. Furthermore, the fact that he was being taken to a park rather than any official place would have added an additional unsettling factor. I do not think it can be doubted that this was precisely the effect that was intended.”

And despite having no authority to do so, the ASIO officers gave Mr Ul-Haque the distinct impression that he had to cooperate with them and answer their questions. If he did not, he reasonably assumed they might beat him up or take him to another sinister location.

Then the ASIO officers took him back to his home, kept him in his parents’ bedroom and proceeded to interview him again until 3.45 the next morning. None of which impressed Justice Adams who observed, “To my mind, to conduct an extensive interview with the accused, keeping him incommunicado under colour of the warrant, was a gross breach of the powers given to the officers under the warrant. “

No doubt those commentators like Janet Albrechtsen at The Australian will complain that Justice Adams is an interfering busybody and a dreaded judicial activist. But most sensible people would say – thank goodness for gutsy judges prepared to expose rampant abuses of power by the state.

And maybe now our politicians will see with their own beady eyes the post-9/11 monster they have created.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.