Vicious New Law Turns ASIO Into A Secret Police Agency
- Murray Horton
ASIO. Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, equivalent to the NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS).
PR 26 carried a detailed report about the proposed new draconian powers for ASIO. Rather than rehash it all again, read it online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr26-62.htm First introduced in March 2002, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill was defeated in mid 2002, by a combination of Government backbenchers and Opposition parties. But it was reintroduced, in amended form, in August 2002.
“The Bill was draconian and indefensible. It would have allowed people to be held indefinitely and questioned without a lawyer, denied the right to avoid self-incrimination, and permitted detention and questioning of children. The Government has now agreed to extensive changes. People held would be able to get legal representation from an approved security-cleared panel; the holding period would be limited to a week; self-incrimination is being removed; and the age of questioning for children raised to 14” (Age, 2/11/02; “ASIO walking a tightrope”).
The Liberal government was thwarted again, in December 2002. After a marathon sitting of Parliament, of more than 30 hours, the Senate (for the second time) sent the Bill back to the Lower House insisting that the Government accept its 35 amendments. Labor, the Democrats, Greens and One Nation combined to stop its passage. Labor didn’t want to defeat the Bill or have it chucked out – it simply wanted to water it down a bit. For example, Labor was happy to accept detention without charge for two or three days. The Prime Minister, John Howard, took great umbrage at this, rejecting it as unworkable and withdrew the entire Bill. He wanted it to go through in exactly the original form or not at all.
The Federation of Community Legal Centres welcomed the deadlock: “Both the Government’s and Labor’s version of the Bill are dangerous and unsupportable. They both allow for the detention of citizens not suspected of any charge… No other Western country has gone down this route. While the UK and US have introduced preventive detention, it is restricted to terrorist suspects, not innocent people who are merely alleged to have information about a matter of interest to Intelligence agencies. Friends and neighbours, lawyers and journalists could all be detained under these laws for over 24 hours on the basis of a suspicion that they possess information about someone ASIO is interested in” (press release, 13/12/02; “Parliament’s failure a win for democracy”).
Howard was not about to give up. In May 2003, the Bill was reintroduced to the Senate. Greens Senator, Bob Brown, said: “The potential for these powers to be misused is too great. It would be too easy in the future for the term ‘terrorist’ to be extended to any groups in Australia which the Government of the day did not like” (Guardian, 28/5/03; “ASIO Bill returns to Senate”).
The Government made some “concessions” – such as, a sunset clause allowing for a review of ASIO’s powers after three years; the age at which people can be detained was lifted from 14 to 16; and an arrested person can immediately see a lawyer. This time around Labor voted in favour of the Bill, because the party had been torn apart by its own leadership battle, was doing disastrously in the polls, and didn’t want to fight a threatened election on “security issues”.
The Guardian provides a useful summary of the new powers. “The proposed new laws will effectively turn ASIO into a secret police. ASIO will gain the power to detain people without charge for up to seven days. It removes the right to silence for people under questioning. Refusal to answer questions could lead to five years in prison and access to a lawyer is limited. All lawyers must receive a security clearance before they could represent clients detained under this Bill. ASIO would move from spy agency to secret police. For the first time in Australia we would have our own legally ‘disappeared’ people — detained by a security agency without knowledge of family and friends or lawyer. In such circumstances the door would be opened to torture. The use of such powers would not be restricted to those suspected of terrorism, but applied to anyone (including journalists, human rights workers and activists) whom ASIO merely thought might have information regarding a ‘terrorist activity’”.
This new law has some very nasty implications. The Federation of Community Legal Centres pointed out that it can allow for the indefinite detention of people through rolling seven day warrants. There is no limit to the number of warrants that ASIO could get in relation to one person, and information gained during one seven day interrogation period could be the justification for issuing another warrant against that person. The Press headline (27/6/03) put it most succinctly: “Unlimited power of arrest for ASIO”.
Australians have already had a taste of ASIO as a fully fledged secret police force (something which has no precedent in New Zealand or in most other Western countries). This was occasioned by the October 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australian holidaymakers (and three New Zealanders), and which basically finished the idyllic view of that Indonesian island as an earthly paradise. As far as the Howard government was concerned, this was Australia’s September 11. It had not actually happened on Australian soil (let alone any Australian equivalent of those 2001 American targets – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House remain unscathed) but Bali had been regarded as a sort of safe Australian outpost in Asia, that teeming continent whose existence has greatly troubled the sleep of Australians for as long as anyone can remember.
The atrocity was blamed on the Indonesian-based Jammah Islamiah (JI) group, which was alleged to have ties with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. In the three decades of the genocidal Suharto dictatorship, Australia had studiously involved any involvement in investigating the numberless atrocities committed in that country, let alone condemned them. Even when Australian TV journalists were tortured and murdered during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor, Australia said and did nothing.
But Bali 2002 was different. “The Asians are attacking us” was the visceral reaction. It became the second most seminal event thus far in 21st Century Australian history. The first was the shabby 2001 Tampa affair, which Howard used to win that year’s “unwinnable” election (see Listener, 31/5/03; “Victory At Sea: A new book examines in damning detail the Tampa refugee crisis and how John Howard used it to win an election”, Finlay MacDonald. The book is “Dark Victory”, by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson, Allen & Unwin). PR 26 detailed the involvement of the Australian Defence Signals Directorate in the Tampa Affair, when it was caught out spying on Australians in Australia (which the spies’ spin doctors assure us never happens).
The Aussies flew their own cops and investigators to Bali, behaving very much as if it was an Australian territory, and heavied their Indonesian counterparts to pull finger. The Indonesian cops proved uncharacteristically efficient and rounded up the bombers and their accomplices, bringing them swiftly to trial on capital charges (the Australasian media tended to not highlight the fact that the greatest number of those killed and maimed were fellow Indonesians). Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual head of JI, was arrested on separate capital charges. Basically the crime was solved very quickly and those responsible have been brought to trial and punishment. It was a model not even entertained by the US after September 11. War is so much more satisfying.
But John Howard wanted more and he wanted it to be seen happening by the Australian public, in Australia. He let the dogs off the leash for some very public muscle flexing. In October 2002 heavily armed Federal cops and ASIO agents, toting both sub-machineguns and sledgehammers, raided 15 homes of Indonesian Australian Muslim families in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, smashing down doors in the process. Their targets were people with supposed links to JI (now banned in both Australia and New Zealand as a terrorist organisation). Basically it turned out to be people who had simply attended lectures by Bashir on his 11 visits to Australia in the 1990s. Howard defended these Ramboesque raids: “There were reasons for these raids, and I defend 100% what ASIO has done. I find it amazing that people could seriously question the national need for this to happen” (Press, 2/11/02; “’Rambo’ raids defended”). They represented the first time that ASIO agents had taken part in such raids, functioning as an armed and aggressive secret police agency.
Things were viewed differently on this side of the Tasman. The New Zealand Herald editorialised (2-3/11/02; “Liberty must balance security needs”): “In the first instance there was an alarming element of the publicity stunt about these late-night and early-morning raids. In the second, they represented an overreaction, no matter how deeply the Australian psyche had been wounded by the murderous events in Bali. Most importantly of all, they encouraged racial bigotry. New Zealand has no reason to tread the same road, no matter how keen the Prime Minister is to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australia in justifying the raids…”.
So, what was the outcome? In Perth, one Australian convert to Islam was arrested for plotting to blow up Israeli diplomatic posts in Australia. One other suspect escaped by fleeing the country. But all in all, the raids were a feel good, look tough publicity stunt. The Sydney Morning Herald (22/4/03; “Spooked by ASIO, Indonesians turn inwards”) reported: “Not one charge has been laid in Sydney since the post-Bali raids on six Indonesian families, but 255 Indonesians have been locked up since (in Immigration Department swoops. Ed.), and the community feels under siege… And, very quietly, and without fanfare, ASIO has been returning hundreds of items seized in the (Sydney) raids…And a few weeks ago, in what the families consider an act of exoneration, ASIO returned computer discs, documents and mobile phones and videos seized in the raids. About 150 items were signed back to the owners… They included videos of lectures given by the Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, JI’s alleged spiritual leader…”.
So basically, it was all for show. And, more sinisterly, to get the Australian media and public used to the sight of ASIO agents acting as guntoting political cops. That is becoming the status quo – in June 2003, ASIO agents raided the homes of ten Iranian families in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, seizing computers and documents. The material was returned and no charges were laid. All this, while the transnational media corporations are promoting ASIO as doing a fine job in protecting Australia from “terrorism”. Inexorably, ASIO is being transformed into a secret police agency.
The October 2002 Bali bombings suddenly focused the attention of Western governments and media on that island – because a large number of young white people (including three New Zealanders) were killed or injured in an attack on a bar (from which Indonesians were basically excluded, except if they worked there). There was a lot of ill-informed emotive stuff uttered about "terrorism comes to Paradise, the loss of innocence", etc. etc. Oh really. Paradise, my arse. Terrorism, massive State terrorism, came to Bali nearly 40 years ago. It was brought by the genocide that accompanied Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965-66; the victims were Balinese; it was actively aided and abetted by the West, specifically the US Central Intelligence Agency, and there has never been any rush of Western leaders, media or forensic police investigators to that crime scene. It was all done in the name of "anti-Communism" and nobody has ever been charged, let alone punished, for one of the 20th Century’s greatest crimes against humanity, a series of massacres that murdered several hundred thousand Indonesians across the whole archipelago. To quote from PR 25 (Special Issue, March 2002; "Ghosts of a Genocide: The CIA, Suharto and Terrorist Culture", Dennis Small http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr25intr.htm
"On Bali an estimated 80,000 people, or roughly 5% of the population, were killed. ‘The populations of whole villages were executed, the victims either shot with automatic weapons or hacked to death with knives and machetes. Some of the killers were said to have drunk the blood of their victims or to have gloated over the numbers of people they had put to death’ (‘The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali’ by Geoffrey Robinson, Cornell University Press, 1995, p1). In chapter 11 of his profound, in-depth study on Bali, Robinson goes into some detail as to extent and nature of US involvement in the massacres. His overall assessment is that: ‘Even if it is not possible to establish definitively the extent of US complicity, it can be demonstrated that US policy contributed substantially to the seizure of power by the military under Suharto and to the massacre that ensued’ (ibid. p282). As he emphasises, at least as early as 1957, US policy initiatives had been deliberately exploiting and encouraging ‘internal political cleavages in Indonesia with the intention of bringing down the established government’ (ibid.).
“On Bali, it was the arrival of the military with death lists and logistical support that mobilised the slaughter on a large scale. There was an orchestrated propaganda campaign to both instigate and legitimate the killings of those defined as the enemy. The Western-created myth of exotic Bali as a marvellously peaceful island so appropriate as a tourist Mecca masks a violent tradition, and Bali's part in the 1965-66 genocide was actually not quite the aberration it might seem". Other reports put the Balinese death toll as even higher: "On Bali, between 100,000 and 200,000 people are estimated to have died. ‘In Java, we had to egg them on to kill Communists; in Bali we had to restrain them’, an Indonesian general commented" (Press, 19/10/02; "’The violent world has trampled over paradise’", Christopher Moore).
When will the "international community" be demanding justice and punishment for those terrorist crimes on Bali, let alone the rivers of blood spilled everywhere in Indonesia (and Indonesian colonies such as East Timor and West Papua) throughout the ghastly Suharto dictatorship? And those rivers of blood continue to flow in Indonesia to this day, from Aceh in the west to West Papua in the west. But no young white Westerners are being blown to bits or horribly burned in the process, so it becomes the “domestic business” of Indonesia. The hypocrisy, both past and present, is sickening.