Nothing to apologise for, Mr Andrews?

December 22, 2010

Dr Mohammed Haneef is an innocent man. He is an Indian citizen who came to Australia to pursue his medical career – and his life as a medical registrar at Gold Coast Hospital was abruptly shattered in 2007 by a series of events that saw him incarcerated, victimised and demonised. Presiding over that whole affair was then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.

Three years later, Dr Haneef returned to Australia to seek compensation for loss of wages, the damage to his reputation and the personal suffering he was forced to endure. Today, he reached a settlement with government solicitors – an undisclosed amount, of course, but one with which Haneef seemed very happy.

Talking to the media afterwards, Haneef stated that he would like to visit Australia again to see friends and relatives. He also said he would consider seeking re-employment at Gold Coast Hospital. In light of what he went through, that is truly remarkable.

Inevitably, the question arose within the commentariat: should Kevin Andrews apologise for Dr Haneef’s treatment? Tim Smith, Councillor for the City of Stonnington, seemed outraged at the very idea. Kevin Andrews is an honourable man, he protested. He had some bad advice, but he did what he thought was right. There is literally nothing for which an apology is due.

Nothing to apologise for?

Let’s set the Wayback Machine for July 2, 2007, and see.

First the Federal Police arrest Dr Mohamed Haneef as he was leaving the country to return to India to visit his wife and newborn daughter.

They hold him for over 200 hours before finally charging him with giving his mobile SIM card to a cousin who allegedly blew up a car at Glasgow Airport. The card, of course, was recovered from the wreck. This is, mind you, not an intentional support of terrorism, but a ‘reckless act’ … whatever that means. It’s also, it seems, suspicious that Dr Haneef only bought a one-way ticket.

Then the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, revokes Haneef’s visa on ‘character’ grounds, i.e. that he associates with known terrorists. This, of course, refers to his cousin. Never mind that the British authorities have decided, by this time, that said cousin is not only not a known terrorist, he’s not even a suspected terrorist. Such details are unimportant, apparently – and Haneef is headed for a detention centre pending deportation – mind you, booting him out of the country will come after they’ve convicted him.

As the farce grinds on, whoops! The AFP realise that the SIM Card of Doom was not found in the wreck at Glasgow Airport, but seized in evidence from Liverpool – 300 km away. They also realise that a particular piece of evidence used to make the initial allegations is, in fact, nothing of the kind. This ‘evidence’ is supposedly Haneef’s diary, which he consistently denies as being anything to do with him. In fact, the Australian police were presenting their own notes to the doctor, and insisting that he explain them. Of course, he can’t.

Enter the Director of Public Prosecutions. He steps in to check out everything, and lo and behold! – suddenly Haneef is released on July 27. Amazingly, there is no evidence to link Haneef with terrorist groups, evil SIM cards or, indeed, Osama bin Ladin (who, I’m sure, would have made an appearance eventually). That should be the end of it, but instead Haneef heads off to home detention. Because his visa’s still revoked, and Andrews isn’t budging on his ‘character’ judgment – lack of evidence notwithstanding. Apparently, an Immigration Minister is blessed with a preternatural ability to see the Evil That Men Do – or Think. Andrews also hints darkly that he has a secret dossier.

Over a year later, the AFP finally clear Haneef’s name and return his passport – but not his work visa. The good doctor decides he’s had enough. He’s been systematically victimised, had his character publicly assassinated, and has a long fight on his hands just to be allowed to stay in the very country that’s screwed him over so royally. To no one’s surprise, he gets on a plane to India and his family, where he’s welcomed with flowers and cheers.

Oh wait – one person’s surprised. Kevin ‘I Know Something You Don’t Know’ Andrews. He, apparently, thinks it’s suspicious that Haneef would want to turn his back on Australia and all those highly dubious laws that make it permissible to drag a doctor off the ward and into indefinite detention, kick him out of the country and publicly defame him – for no good reason. Andrews, apparently, still has information that will justify his outrageously draconian actions – and if we’re very good little boys and girls, he might just condescend to show us.

Even if we do get to see this damning information that even the Brits don’t have (or else they would never have released Haneef’s cousin), it’s unlikely that anything in that dossier can even begin to justify what was done to Dr Haneef in the name of ‘protecting Australia from terrorism’. Our government and law enforcement overreacted massively and came close to destroying a man’s life. Certainly, they destroyed his career, and his faith in justice.

But wait …

Kevin ‘Sees All, Knows All’ Andrews, surprise, surprise, suddenly says that it might not be possible to release the dossier after all. If he does, it might jeopardise an ‘ongoing investigation’ being undertaken by both Australian and British law enforcement.

Hang on, didn’t the Federal court establish that there was no connection between Haneef and any terrorist-related activities or groups? And didn’t the British already say they had no interest in Haneef’s cousin (remember him, the one with the cursed SIM card)?

It’s likely that the only thing releasing this ‘dossier’ would jeopardise is Mr. Andrews’ job. It would show everyone just how baseless his actions were, how flawed and prejudiced the investigation was, and how he manipulated a disgusting piece of legislative xenophobia – possibly for no other reason to satisfy his own sense of pique at being thwarted by the courts.

The Clarke Inquiry of 2008 concludes that the case against Haneef is ‘completely deficient’. It stops short of calling for Andrews’ resignation, however. In fact, it pretty much lets him off the hook altogether, stating that Andrews probably acted out of a genuine belief that Haneef had terrorist connections. There’s a faint whiff of criticism in the Inquiry’s report directed at Andrew’s failure to analyse all the information provided, but even then, Clarke is only ‘puzzled’.

So, back in 2010 …

Does Kevin Andrews need to apologise?

Why is this a question that even needs to be asked?

Andrews not only refuses to apologise, but commented publicly today that no legal action taken by Haneef would ever have succeeded had it come to court. The government, apparently, will issue an apology, which is commendable. Those who really need to front up, however – Andrews, former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and former Prime Minister John Howard – have no intention of doing so.

This quasi-mythical dossier should be released – because what we have is a paraphrased extract of a chat room conversation between Haneef and his brother that talks about Haneef’s newborn daughter and his planned trip to India. There has never been even one piece of evidence that might suggest Haneef is a terrorist or associates with them. Yet, on the basis of a Minister’s say-so, he was treated as though his guilt was not merely likely, but already proved beyond any doubt.

Andrews, Ruddock and Howard avoided having to answer the hard questions in 2008. In 2010, they should be compelled to do so. They should also be compelled to apologise publicly to Dr Haneef and his family, and that apology should be broadcast.

Instead it seems that – yet again – the only apology that will ever come out of the Howard years is one delivered by others.

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