Jul 31, 2007

A Sidebar on the Failed UK Terrorist Attacks

UPDATE I (August 1, 2007) below

Catching up on some days old emails and notes this morning, I ran across a piece in the Associated Press published on July 27, 2007 regarding the case of the Indian doctor, Mohamed Haneef, who had been held in Australia on charges of terrorism after the botched terror attempts in London and Glasgow last month. He faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted. His offense? He gave the SIM card from his cell phone to his cousin, Sabeel Ahmed, the brother of the terrorist who allegedly set himself ablaze in one of the incidents.

The UK police have charged that Sabeel Ahmed, the cousin of the doctor, withheld information about an act of terror. That is to say, apparently he knew his brother was going to commit the crime, but did nothing to prevent it. Fair enough. That’s definitely a crime, brother or no.

What has happened to his cousin the doctor is
of interest, though. According to the AP reporter, Dennis Passa, the top Australian prosecutor has dropped the charges because of insufficient evidence and two major errors: first, the UK police said the SIM card was found in the terror vehicle. This was incorrect. The card had been found in the cousin’s apartment in Liverpool, nearly 200 miles away. The second charge was that the doctor had lived with the brothers in Liverpool before moving to Australia. This too was false, according to the prosecutor. The three had only "spent time together."

The doctor insisted he did not know of the bombing plot and had given the SIM card to his cousin to use to save money. The doctor had been apprehended when he attempted to leave Australia for India to visit his family after the birth of a daughter. Australian immigration officials held him in custody after voiding his visa based on “character information” provided by the Federal Police.

In an update I heard yesterday the Australian government has apparently deported the doctor to India over the weekend. I heard an interview with him yesterday morning. He said he did not want an apology for himself from the Australian government but did hope that they would apologize to the Indian people.

Now I find this of interest on a couple of points: first, Australia is very tough on terrorism and very cooperative with the United States. However, it appears that cool thinking can still occur in the land down under. You get a good sense of justice doing its work there. Second, the good doctor must be thanking his lucky stars that he had not decided to emigrate to the USA. I don’t think I have to tell you that chances are he would have been branded as an enemy combatant and tossed into a black hole for some “enhanced interrogation techniques.” In short, the current state of US justice in matters like this would be to find him guilty until hell freezes over. Good luck in finding an attorney to represent himself.

By deporting him the Australian government proved its toughness on terrorists, I am sure. And of course, don't you just have that little scream at the back of your mind--but what if, what if? We have all passed through the looking glass by now into the land that used to be the United States but now is something else that we are getting used to. I would like to think that justice has surely been served by dropping the charges against the doctor, but how can you let it go entirely? What I suppress in myself out of reliance on the justice system, I am sure a very conservative--and very fearful--American would take to the other extreme: “But we can never know! There’s still the chance that he was involved. Throw the sumbitch in jail and throw away the key!”

When we think in that way, just for an instant, we put our fingers on the core of fearfulness that has been forged in the collective psyche of the American citizenry since 9/11. I resist it, but I am not immune to it. It’s the eminence grise’s “1% doctrine” as Ron Suskind defined it: “even if there is just a one per cent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. . . . Justified or not, fact-based or not, "our response” is what matters. As to ‘evidence,’ the bar was set so low the word itself almost didn’t apply.” (Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006], p. 62.).

Today British soldiers are finally pulling out of Northern Ireland as reinforcements for the Northern Ireland police. During the Troubles, for many years, the Irish people had to deal with terror and criminality. People in countries all over the world--Columbia, Nicaragua, Algeria, Egypt, Guatemala, South Africa, Israel, the Occupied Territories, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia-- just to name a few--have been forced to live with and to learn how to deal with criminal acts of terror. Until we learn to live with the possibility of deadly risk in our world, to practice foresight, and truly to prepare for criminals and their criminal acts, and for how to deal with them legitimately, we will always let our fear get the better of us.

As we fall into the mental trap of the one per cent doctrine, we will always see WMDs in every turban and burka and perpetuate our patterns of hate and fear, of requiring that we ourselves are innocent until proven guilty but insisting that “they” are guilty until proved innocent–if we decide to allow “them” to attempt to prove it. As a result, we will always deny those “others” the same rights and respect we desire for ourselves. In the end of course, evidence does matter, probability and credibility do matter, and justice needs to be extended to everyone, even to the guilty criminals who have committed terrorist acts. However, branding every suspect an "enemy combatant," resorting to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or to rendition in a hidden brig, and not examining the evidence--well, these are the paving stones on the driveway to madness. They are responses as far away from freedom and justice as we can go.

The Indian doctor no doubt will have to seek his fortunes in his home country now, or maybe in another country, but at least the Australians had the good sense to weigh the evidence and decide that it was overstated or perhaps even arbitrarily presented.

UPDATE I (August 1, 2007): The doctor had his Australian work visa cancelled, but he still wants to return to his job in Queensland, even though he has been offered a position in his home state in India. From the Sacramento Bee:
[The Australian Immigration Minister] said Saturday he would not reverse the decision to cancel the visa, despite mounting calls in Australia for the doctor to be allowed back to work.

The Gold Coast Hospital said Haneef's job was waiting for him if he regains the visa. Peter Beattie, premier of Queensland state where Haneef has lived and worked for almost a year, said the junior doctor should now be allowed to get on with his life. "We have to be careful when dealing with potential terrorism threats that we don't leave the Australian way of life by the wayside," Beattie said Friday. Leading Australian newspapers on Saturday called for Haneef's visa to be returned.

Sydney's The Saturday Daily Telegraph said Haneef "appears - on the evidence heard so far - to be guilty only of having some very black sheep in the family."
I find that quote from the premier of Queensland quite refreshing: "We have to be careful when dealing with potential terrorism threats that we don't leave the Australian way of life by the wayside." If it represents the Australian attitude, we could stand a large dose of it here. Mitt Romney, Trudi Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, why don't you sign this guy on as a consultant?

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