The trials of a 'good Indian son'
MOHAMED Haneef was about to board Singapore Airlines flight 246 when two police entered the departure lounge of Brisbane Airport.

"You are under arrest for providing support to a terrorist organisation," said Detective Sergeant Adam Simms. The doctor was interviewed first at the airport and then after midnight at the Wharf Street headquarters of the Australian Federal Police.

The long arm of the law had reached Haneef from Glasgow, where, 47 hours earlier, his cousin Kafeel Ahmed had driven a burning Jeep Cherokee packed with petrol and gas canisters into an airport terminal. Before that, two cars packed with explosives had been found in London. British police had also arrested Kafeel's brother Sabeel, a doctor, at a hospital near Liverpool.

The major detail linking the Brisbane doctor to his cousins' alleged crimes was a mobile phone with a SIM card in his name found — it was said — in the wreckage of the Jeep at Glasgow Airport. That was until yesterday morning, when ABC radio's AM program revealed police actually seized the phone from Sabeel Ahmed, hundreds of kilometres away.

On that first night in Brisbane, the arrested doctor was not panicking. He insisted he didn't need a lawyer, saying he could straighten this matter out himself. But he was tired. Sometime before Haneef was brought a bed at 3am, he told them he'd been trying to ring British police that afternoon to clear up the matter of the SIM card. His calls weren't returned.

Haneef slept only a few hours before police woke him. Were this an ordinary criminal matter, he would have been charged or released at about this point. But police were for the first time using the nation's new anti-terrorism machinery that allows the prisoner to be questioned for a total of 24 hours over an indeterminate number of days without charges being laid.

At 11am, Simms and Federal Agent Neil Thompson turned on the tape machines for the long interrogation ahead. By this time, police had Haneef's phone and financial records from Australia and Britain. While the prisoner ate breakfast, police had raided his Southport flat, turning up notebooks and diaries. They had yet to strip down Haneef's computer, but they weren't starting cold. They had evidence of a number of social and financial contacts between the detained man and his accused cousins. Yet by the end of that day, they had not unmasked a terrorist.

Mohamed Haneef emerged from the questioning a nerdy guy with fractured English who has done little in the last decade but study. He has performed to perfection the classic role of the good Indian son — becoming a doctor, supporting his mother, seeing his sister married and marrying well himself. He told police: "I am the sole carer for my family."

Howard's Ends
Will Dr Haneef be a pawn in the whole terror scare on in Oz?
Aussie protesters rally in support of Dr Haneef outside the Dept of Immigration and Citizenship office in Sydney
Once the newshounds in Australia were convinced about the seemingly weak case against terror suspect Mohammed Haneef, they began to speculate furiously on why Prime Minister John Howard's government was obstinately hung up on detaining the 27-year-old doctor from Bangalore. And they did have ample reason to look for ulterior motives—here was a man who was interrogated in detention for 14 harrowing days before being charged for "recklessly" supporting a terrorist group in the UK; someone who had been granted bail on rigorous conditions, including a surety bond of 10,000 Australian dollars. Even as these formalities were being completed, he found his immigration visa had been revoked, that he was to be held in Brisbane's high security prison—and that too in solitary confinement for 23 hours everyday—because he had been tagged as a "terrorist prisoner". So what the Brisbane magistrate's court found safe—that Dr Haneef could face trial while on bail—the government thought was extremely risky.

The Howard government's motive, according to conspiracy theorists, is age-old, one which has often inspired even Indian politicians to play sinister games. Yes, it's about the Howard government's determination to raise the spectre of a security threat to bolster its flagging position in the opinion polls prior to the national elections later this year. Howard's own past has imparted credibility to the theory. In August '01, his government refused to allow 433 people, picked up from a leaking boat by a Norwegian vessel, to land on the Australian mainland, insinuating that they may be potential terrorists and stoking fears of the country being swamped by foreign hordes. The issue was still in focus when 9/11 happened which gave a massive boost to the government's stand. Months later, Howard won the election.

Haneef being driven out a Brisbane jail in a police vehicle
This time, though, the conspiracy theory has gained currency among common Australians as well. One letter to the editor in The Australian newspaper cites the Haneef case to say, "It is an act of persecution. Simply, this government shames us all." A second read, "Seems somebody is clutching at straws to justify two weeks of very expensive investigation." And yet a third described Haneef as a "fat worm on the hook" with an election coming up, adding, "The liberals won't let him go now as he is to be the bait they will use to try to capture the voting public." Adding heft to these letters from aghast readers is Peter Bailey, a legal expert at the Australian National University, Canberra, who lamented to Outlook, "It's the bloody government up to its tricks again, trying to whip up things just before the elections."

But it's unlikely Howard will succeed this time around. An editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) said as much, "If opinion polls are to be believed, voters have a diminishing appetite for political stunts. In an election year, when politics cannot be avoided, that may be the ultimate verdict." The opposition Labor party has refused to be sucked into the Haneef debate, merely saying it gives support to the government, in principle, on the issue—and is letting the tussle between the judiciary and the executive play itself out in the media. At one stage, though, Queensland premier Peter Beattie, who belongs to Labor, exclaimed, "I don't mean to be critical of them other than to say, for God's sake, explain to the Australians why you have taken this course of action."

An explanation of the accusations against Dr Haneef was reported by Outlook last week.

He was detained at the Brisbane airport on July 2 because he had a one-way ticket to India, "incriminating" because his cousin Kafeel had the previous day driven a flaming jeep into a Glasgow airport terminal; he was subsequently charged for "recklessly" supporting the terror group because he had, before leaving the UK for Australia, given his SIM card to Kafeel's brother, Sabeel Ahmed, who had been picked up from Liverpool. One of Haneef's lawyers, Peter Russo, says the word "reckless" isn't appropriate to describe what Haneef did.

Still, the Haneef issue could have blown away but for immigration minister Kevin Andrews revoking the Bangalore doctor's visa.

" This is about the Howard regime raising the security flag to bolster its flagging ratings, ahead of the national elections later this year. "
The minister justified the act saying he had a responsibility to ensure that people on an immigration visa did not breach requirements that they be of "good character"; and that he had "reasonable suspicion" about Haneef's links to terrorists. A miffed Russo told Outlook, "Without going into the very complex and complicated legal process, suffice to say we have decided to challenge the government's decision to revoke Haneef's visa and have accused it of misusing its discretionary powers in doing so." The hearing on the visa issue is due on August 8.

Justice Jeffrey Spender, who heard the visa case, questioned Andrews' definition of good character. The SMH reported that Justice Spender even told government counsel Roger Derrington that "he (Spender) himself had associated with persons involved in criminal activity (during his days as a lawyer). 'I have defended them, charged with murder. Unfortunately, I wouldn't pass the character test...,' he said."

Other legal experts too have expressed outrage, saying the government's decision to detain Haneef will jeopardise his chances for a fair trial.

"There are several places where the government may be seen to be in contempt of court," explains legal expert Bailey. "No minister to my knowledge has disregarded a court order in this way, and to take away his visa without sufficient reason is an attempt to exclude the court from the Migration Act. It's

" A taped AFP interview of Haneef has him saying he called the UK cops to tell them about the SIM card. But the calls didn't go through. "
not enough for Andrews to say that he is satisfied that Haneef poses a terror threat to society here without explaining why." (The terror case is in the Brisbane magistrate's court, the visa case is in a federal court.)

Similarly, Tim Bugg, president of the Law Council of Australia, representing the country's 50,000 lawyers, told the SMH, "We're very critical of the position the minister (Andrews) has adopted. The procedure he followed was cloaked in secrecy. It's one in which the doctor had no ability to represent his position...." John Dowd, president of the executive committee of the International Commission of Jurists Australia, has been quoted saying, "Governments ought to respect decisions by the courts...the world now knows this government waited until the release on bail to do it (revocation of the visa). And you don't have to be terribly bright to work out the sequence of events."

Meanwhile, the Indian government's response has been deplorably passive. Considering its own dubious record of detaining terror suspects for years without trial, it came as no surprise that though New Delhi hauled up the Australian high commissioner John McCarthy to express dismay over the revocation of Haneef's visa, its 'criticism' was more rhetorical than substantial.

Asked to explain what the Indian government expected of Canberra, a senior source in the India mission here said, "We request that Haneef, who has been linked by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to the failed terrorist plots in London and Glasgow, be given a fair and just trial under Australian law." The source didn't even express outrage at a case that is becoming more bizarre by the day, and instead chose to talk about the possible backlash against the Indian community here.

One of the strange twists to the case has been The Australian newspaper publishing the text of the AFP's taped interview of Haneef. In it, Haneef denied he had ever been asked "to take part in jehad or anything that could be considered similar to jehad". He further told the AFP that he had, at his father-in-law's bidding (after his cousins were arrested in the UK), called the British police to tell them about the SIM card he'd given to Sabeel. But these calls went unanswered. Stephen Keim, Haneef's barrister, leaked the report to the press because he said he was tired of the selective leaks by the police and the government to bias the public against the Indian doctor.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo outside the magistrate’s court, Brisbane, on July 16 Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo outside the magistrate’s court, Brisbane, on July 16
Ironically, some now feel the Haneef case has come as a boon for Indo-Aussie relations. Says Rory Metcalfe, India expert at the Lowy Institute, an independent think-tank in Sydney, "The two countries have talked a lot about counter-terrorism cooperation, but other than posting an AFP officer there some time last year, neither country has made a big effort. This could be the shock to the system that actually makes things happen." Adds Hugh White, head of the strategic affairs institute at the Australian National University, "Both countries share growing concerns about Islamic terrorism and traditional expectations on both sides are not that diverse," thereby indicating that things need to become a bit worse before it can affect bilateral ties.

Back in the UK, Sabeel has been charged under the Terrorism Act with possessing information which he "knew or believed may be of material assistance in preventing the commission by another of an act of terrorism". The police charge does not specify as yet just what they say Sabeel knew. A court will now have to consider what he knew or could have done to stop brother Kafeel. (He is yet to be formally charged as he is convalescing from the burns injuries in hospital.)

For the present, the abortive terror jobs have become a bit of a joke. The Sun has even called it 'Moron Terror'. Says Rachel Briggs, terrorism expert at the Demos think-tank, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist—or a doctor—to know that driving a jeep into an airport is never going to cause much damage. There's nothing you can do to harm a terrorist more than point at their inadequacies. There's actually been a quite humorous side to this." An explosion of Islamic rage has become a matter of mirth for people—and needlessly tragic for poor Haneef in Australia.

Haneef in prison, but makes Aussie cops sweat
Parul Malhotra / CNN-IBN

New Delhi: He's a virtual prisoner in solitary confinement for 23 out of 24 hours. But a powerless Mohammad Haneef has still managed to make the Australian federal police sweat.

On Monday, Police Commissioner Mick Keelty made his second denial in two days.

He negated local media reports that the Federal Police had written down names of international terror suspects in Mohammad Haneef's diary, and that since the matter was currently in court he would not elaborate in greater detail.

On Sunday as well, the defensive police commissioner had clarified that his force had not spoken to the media about finding any evidence that Haneef was planning to blow up a Gold Coast skyscraper.

But the damage to the police's credibility may already have been done with critics highlighting a series of missteps, miscalculations and mistakes on the part of the authorities.

Beginning with charging him on flimsy grounds, to intervening to cancel his work visa and then, last week, giving incorrect and potentially damaging information to the court.

In fact, the British police are reportedly describing the Australian police as "a laughing stock" after it was revealed that Haneef's SIM card was not found at the scene of the Glasgow terror strike as claimed by them. And what's making it worse are dark hints that Australian politicians have begun to drop about a possible frame up.

On Monday Kerry Nettle of the Opposition Green party accused the Federal government of putting pressure on the police to come up with a case against Haneef - pressure that had allegedly forced the investigators to skip over facts.

Haneef also received support from the Australian legal fraternity. The law council asked the government to issue him a temporary visa which would get him out of this Brisbane detention centre.

But the government remains defiant blaming Haneef's lawyers for selective leaks, which they say, have undermined the legal process. Even so, some of that pressure seemed to tell on Prime Minister John Howard who criticised the opposition Labour for its double-speak on Haneef.

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