Bipartisan hypocrisy on anti-terror laws

May 10, 2008

Colonel Moe Davis, former chief prosecutor at the US prison Guantanamo Bay, has finally told the world that David Hicks was never a serious terror threat and that his pursuit was politically driven. Davis has also now said that evidence was obtained through prisoner abuse.

David McCleod, Hicks' Australian lawyer, told the April 29 Herald Sun, "the only reason that he was charged in the first place was because of political pressure that was brought to bear, probably by the Australian Government".

Dick Smith, who also says Hicks never had terrorist intentions, revealed in the March 3 Australian that Hicks was offered a guilty plea deal when he arrived in Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Hicks refused to capitulate but after five years "he realised that he could be there for the rest of his life so he said that he would just sign anything".

Meanwhile, the inquiry into the handling of the case against Dr Mohammed Haneef has been deprived of power to subpoena witnesses (including the former immigration minister Kevin Andrews), documents or investigate Scotland Yard's role. The Australian Federal Police is conducting its own investigation.

The Rudd government is following the "tough on security" lead of its predecessor while sidelining civil liberties concerns. The ALP used its numbers in March against Liberal Party member Petro Georgiou's call for an independent reviewer of the "anti-terrorism" laws, even though this minimalist measure had been recommended by two parliamentary committees.

The trial of the "Melbourne 12", arrested in November 2005 and March 2006 and charged with being members of an unnamed and unspecified "terrorist organisation", is proceeding. The latest "evidence" has come from "SIO39", an undercover agent who lured the alleged group leader, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, into witnessing the explosion of a home-made "bomb" the agent had made. The incident was filmed and recently played to the court.

Under questioning, the agent admitted that he had been ordered to try to get Benbrika to talk up carrying out a terrorist act. But SIO39 had to "drag" a reluctant Benbrika to witness the explosion, with Benbrika repeatedly telling him that he had other appointments.

This kind of entrapment has been used before to get prosecutions against supposed terrorists.

Thomas Walkom, in the April 16 Toronto Star, described the unravelling of the case against the "Toronto 18". The Canadian government is now admitting it never had a serious case against almost half of the men and youths it had charged, yet they were demonised and assumed guilty when arrested in June 2006.

Two paid Royal Canadian Mounted Police informers provided ammunition for target practice to the men when they went to an alleged terror training camp in December 2005. However, most spent much of their time in a local doughnut shop.

With the ALP in government, security agencies are still being given a free rein and their resources boosted. This means major injustices against individuals. Jack Thomas, for instance, who has been cleared of ever having committed a terrorist act, is still being hounded.

Faheem Khalid Lodhi has been left to rot in a maximum security prison in Goulburn, NSW, after having been convicted on flimsy circumstantial evidence of having terrorist intentions. Yet he had no plans or materials for any terrorist act. With little support from rights activists, Lodi has become a living sacrifice to the so-called anti-terror laws, and the bipartisan drive to take political advantage of the fear campaign.

We cannot rely on governments and politicians to safeguard our human rights. Only public pressure can make a difference as the cases of David Hicks and Mohammed Haneef show.

[Colin Mitchell is an activist in the Melbourne-based group Civil Rights Defence.]

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