Friday, August 22, 2008

Federal Keystone Kops in Australia

More than a year ago, there was strong evidence that the terror case against Mohamed Haneef was a farce. Yet grimly the federal police and the top copper Mick Keelty held firm to the belief that this Indian doctor posed a threat. Based on the word of the Australian Federal Police, Haneef was stripped of his visa. The then minister for immigration, Kevin Andrews, repeatedly said he was in possession of secret information from the police that he relied on to make that decision. It was so powerful and secret that this information could not be publicly revealed. It has now emerged that there was no evidence of criminal behaviour in the document at all.

ASIO [Federal spy organization], too, advised that Haneef was not a threat to national security. The story about the doctor's SIM card being found in a burning car used in an attempt to blow up Glasgow airport was also false. Indeed, that information was already available to the police before they briefed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions lawyers for the appearance at the bail hearing on July 14 last year. The DPP lawyer who appeared, Clive Porritt, even came with an explanation for the court as to why Dr Haneef would have provided his SIM card if he knew it was to be used in a terrorist attack. Because he intended for it to be destroyed in the explosion, Porritt said.

Meanwhile, the British coppers thought this was a huge hoot. The Herald reported them saying on July 21, 2007, that: "Australian police have got their wires crossed. This is very embarrassing for them." On July 27, 2007, the terrorism charge against Dr Haneef was dropped by the Commonwealth DPP.

As at the end of last year, $7.5 million had been spent on investigating Haneef and related matters. At its peak, 249 AFP officers were involved, 225 Queensland police, 12 employees from the attorney-general's department, 54 West Australian police, 40 from NSW, six from the customs service, two Northern Territory police and one Tasmanian walloper. There were also two British bobbies posted to Australia.

Keelty told a Senate estimates committee in May this year that an investigation was still going on and that the doctor "remains a person of interest". The AFP seemed to to be relatively prompt, just before the last federal election, in clearing a number of Liberal MPs of allegations of electoral expense rorting. You'd think after more than a year and hundreds of police officers, they might by now have drilled to the bottom of the Haneef affair.

Earlier this year Police Commissioner Keelty, in a curious outburst, suggested that restrictions apply to the media reporting proceedings in open court and even the reporting of information in the public domain.

In March, a former NSW judge, John Clarke, was appointed by the Labor Government to examine the key elements of the Haneef affair: his arrest, detention, charging, prosecution, cancellation of his visa, and to report on the deficiencies of the law enforcement agencies. The Commonwealth DPP made a submission and a public version was received by the inquiry on August 14. In it, the prosecutor jumps all over the federal police.

The police exerted "extreme pressure" to bring the charge, essential information was withheld making it hard to impossible to make an informed judgment about the case, and there were inconsistencies between the oral and written briefings provided by the AFP. However, the DPP did advise the police that Haneef could be charged. Around the same time, Keelty was making noises to the chief prosecutor that he didn't think there was enough to go on, but they were pressing ahead seeking more information. That was contrary to what he had been telling the media: "I can assure you that the investigation … has been driven by the evidence and driven by the facts."

In substantial respects, the DPP reflects the same concerns as those expressed in the submission to the inquiry made by lawyers for Haneef. In keeping with Mick Keelty's beliefs about media blackouts, the federal force doesn't want you to know the contents of its submission. This remains under wraps. If the DPP is sheeting home the blame to the AFP, it's relevant to ask why Clive Porritt was placed in an impossibly isolated position by prosecution management.

At the moment, Mick Keelty is looking like one of the most wretched and plod-like public servants in Australia. It's about time the Government put its foot on his neck. To allow him to continue to run a complex and massively resourced anti-terrorism agency is unthinkable.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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