Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Land of law?

From my antipodean observational outpost here in France, I'm frankly alarmed by the way in which my native land is handling the case—or rather the lack of a case—against the accused terrorism supporter Mohamed Haneef. Clearly, the police investigation up in Queensland got screwed up, which explains why a federal law-enforcement directorate is now called upon to review the fiasco. My first reaction is positive: Thank God Australia employs a so-called Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions!

I don't know why Queensland premier Peter Beattie, in criticizing the methods of his police force, had to resort to the foreign [Hollywood] image of the Keystone Cops. Homegrown anecdotes of idiotic police blunders abound, notably in the bushranger domain.

The thing that worries me, when I observe what has happened in the case of Haneef, is a lurking suspicion that Australia might no longer be what we commonly refer to as a land of law. Sure, it's a land of politics, with a lowercase "p", and a land of Dollars, with an uppercase "D". But it appears to be a land in which an Indian doctor can find himself involved, overnight, in a frightening imbroglio, as indicated by the following extract from today's The Australian:

Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty was also forced to deny reports police had written the names of overseas terror suspects on Haneef's personal diary, and that Haneef was being investigated for plotting to bomb a Gold Coast skyscraper.

Many years ago, when I saw customs officials in the port of Fremantle confiscating jars of baby food that my wife was bringing ashore to feed our Emmanuelle during our brief stopover in Western Australia, I formed the vague opinion that certain Australians in authority often tend to be excessively zealous, as if their credibility depended upon their obtaining outstanding results. I witnessed this same behavior twenty years later, in exactly the same city, when I saw WA cops taking pleasure in arresting drivers leaving places of revelry associated with the America's Cup regattas.

If all the events surrounding Haneef were to mean that the threats of terrorism in Australia will henceforth be diminished, one might conclude that it's worthwhile. But that's like saying that the invasion of Iraq could be justified a posteriori if it had reduced the outlaw phenomenon in that land. In my view, in their sunny microcosm, Queensland cops are surely just as dumb as George W Bush.

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