Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Oz Editorial on Lodhi

From today's Australian - editorial found here

Faheem Lodhi's conviction is a tribute to the jury system


FAHEEM Khalid Lodhi could have once looked like a poster boy for multiculturalism. He was a professionally educated man, apparently happy to have made Australia his home. Like tens of thousands of other Muslim migrants his success offered ample evidence of Australia's tradition of tolerance to all who come to this country keen to call it home. But in Lodhi's case, it was all a lie. Whatever he said about Australia, the chilling truth is that he was keen to kill as many of us as he could. Lodhi's conviction on Monday is a chilling confirmation of what has been obvious for years but still hard for some Australians to understand – that there are men in our midst with mass murder on their minds. And beyond giving the police and security services the resources to ensure they are caught before they kill, there is not a damn thing we can do to stop them.

There is certainly no point in assuming Lodhi was motivated by issues that Australians can, let alone should address. Rather, he is just the most recent recruit to the regiment of fanatics who believe that their own opinions and prejudices give them some sort of religiously inspired licence to kill. After the September 11 attacks on the US, we heard how these mass murders were a response by dispossesed Muslims to oppression from the West. These were always idiotic arguments; the bombers were not living in poverty, nor were any of them persecuted for their religion. And attempts to find any sense in Islamic terror attacks have become ever more absurd with each new Islamic terrorist conspiracy to kill. Murdering commuters in Madrid accomplished nothing. The London Tube bombers were to all outward appearances ordinary Englishmen with nothing to gain by killing their countrymen and women. It is almost impossible to find sense in the scheme of the young Canadian conspirators who allegedly planned to behead their Prime Minister as a way of forcing their nation's armed forces to pull out of Afghanistan. Certainly, we will not know whether any of the 20 or so of the Australian residents who have been charged with terror offences in the past six months planned to do the rest of us harm until they face courts. But Lodhi did.

His conviction vindicates the Howard Government's terror laws, which were called divisive and discriminatory when they were first proposed. But it also affirms the importance of maintaining a balance between the state's duty to protect us from terror attack with the rights of everyone in Australia. Federal Police chief Mick Keelty has made an argument for terrorism cases to be heard by a judge alone, as the British did in the generation-long campaign against terrorists in Northern Ireland. Given the high stakes involved, this will make sense to many ordinary Australians. Judges are discreet and disciplined, they understand the importance of keeping operational secrets. They are also unlikely to be swayed by an emotive case. And calls to protect the civil liberties of people charged with terror offences must be balanced against those most basic human rights – to be safe in our persons and property. True enough. But juries almost always ensure justice is done. The jury in the Lodhi trial agreed with three of the prosecution's claims but was not convinced by a fourth, that he was acquiring information on military bases as part of his preparations for a terror attack. Even so, the police and security services have ample reason to be pleased with this outcome. And it is all the more credible for the way Lodhi was judged by a jury of ordinary Australians on the evidence before them. The trial gave the lie to Islamic extremists who proclaim they are persecuted by the police and security services. Of course, the sort of people who make excuses for terrorism anywhere in the world will not amend their opinions, whatever the facts. But that is no reason to change the way terror suspects are tried, when Lodhi's conviction demonstrates Australia's system is working well.
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What I take umbrage is this line. 'His conviction vindicates the Howard Government's terror laws, which were called divisive and discriminatory when they were first proposed.'

No it doesn't, it doesn't at all. How it doesn't is the preventative detention aspects. Lodhi was not detained in a preventative manner, nor was he prevented of telling people where he was. And when he was arrested people were allowed to discuss it openly in a public forum without being arrested. All of these laws are currently in play and belong to the broad sweep of anti-terror laws Howard bought in. This case proves nothing as far as they are concerned.

The laws are divisive and they are discriminatory. Yes the conspiracy charge laws stuck, though I for one am uncomfortable with their nature. Because I for one could be at risk of circumstantial evidence had I been investigated years before. I did an explosives course once, and I once owned a copy of the anarchist's cook book - a net print out from a friend that was given to me 'cause I thought it sounded interesting - not because I wanted to blow stuff up. Being nearly killed on three occasions during my course was enough to wipe out the romance of explosives for me.

As for now I have copies of Mein Kamph and Marquis de Sade tracts on my bookshelf - which came from a modern history course a friend of mine went through - and she gave me the books because I like books and reading all manner of stuff.

I have a bunch of books on nerd related topics which includes armaments and explosives. I have books on terrorism and transnational crime because of my uni course. I have books on espionage and a series of espionage thrillers because it's a personal interest.

But the flip side is that I am a whitey of an anglo background. So my threat level is naturally less. Make me a muslim who attended a mosque where a radical once spoke and I may appear on a watch list had the above been known.

Lodhi was sprung lying on the how and why, and from my reading of the case it appears he was up to something. Nothing proven as specifically planned - however it was enough to convict him under these new laws. And now he faces life in jail not because of anything he specifically planned to do. But because he had a bunch of freaky shit in his house, was a muslim, lied his arse off about what he planned to do with whatever to various people, and because he had ties to certain figures like Willie Brigette.

I worry about these laws being misued because there is enough scope for them to be misused - especially given possesion is enough to convict, not proven specific intent. Because it's a lot easier to cast suppositions about what's in a person's house than it is about what they specifically planned to do with it. And there is too the issue of planted items. It may not be the police - hell it could be a rival to the suspect who then dobbed them in themselves. And if people don't think the cops fit people up on occasion then read about Tim Anderson's experiences with the NSW special branch.

That being said however AFP and ASIO are professional, well trained, and almost to a man or woman highly ethical. Indeed this was evidenced in the tapes of the raid of Lodhi's house where Lodhi himself agreed they had conducted it with fairness and respect, as well as identifying the items found as his. Of course this professional ethical nature may change in the future, and there is always the chance of a bad seed getting in, or the aforementioned planting of material by another involved person outside those agencies.

But at least the Oz is right. A jury got to hear the evidence and decide. And if we have to have these laws at least 12 people have to agree (unless its majority verdict) as opposed to one person. I put great store in judges because they're experienced in law and crime. But at the same time I'd rather a multiple number of people are engaged in the decision process on guilt than a lone person who may face pressures to convict on evidence that is suspect.

I still don't like these laws, and I don't think they are neccesary. But Lodhi was convicted on evidence provided by a jury on these laws so that has to be respected.

However, as I pointed out, his arrest was public and he was charged with specific crimes. Those preventative laws are yet to be tested ... as far as I know. Because of course its against the law to disclose such things in some cases.

Now how is that not a threat to civil liberties? Terrorism works when we take fear and change our lives radically to address that fear. And that radical change includes seeking out the Daddy political party to save us from the nasty terrorist. Howard's government, and to a limited extent state ALP governments, have all played up the terror threat for political purposes. And that irks me greatly. Because they give fuckwits who spread hate oxygen and make people vote not for what they hope for but for what they fear.

And how to we grow as a people if we think every unattended package is a bomb, every burka has a suicide belt, or every brown person with an Arabic name is a potential hijacker?

2 comments:

  1. Surprised to see no previous comments here. Given I usually come last to the discussion.

    Disclaimers et al: This post is based on an editorial. Might as well be another blog post, since it is admittedly opinion. The easiest prey for commentators, myself included.

    The point of the editorial is that Lodhi's case illustrates how the jury system is working well and should not be discarded for the 'judge-only' model. It seems both HM and I agree on this.

    HM, you disagree with the editorialist's assertion that the conviction vindicates the new anti-terror laws. Like you and Lateline, I don't agree, though for different reasons. The gagging and preventative detention aspects of the new laws are troubling and haven't been tested in this case, which is hardly enough by itself to test the new laws.

    In relation to the rest of your remarks, HM, I have this to say:

    "Nothing proven as specifically planned - however it was enough to convict him under these new laws." The jury considers the charges to have been proven, hence the convictions. And, frankly, short of reading people's minds - a grave invasion of their privacy, I'm sure you'll agree, even if it were possible - proving a person is planning a criminal act is a difficult business. The evidence presented, together with Lodhi's mendacity, convinced the jury.

    "And now he faces life in jail not because of anything he specifically planned to do."

    Actually he does. Part of the evidence presented was research Lodhi had collected on (1) how to perform a terror act and (2) targets suitable for the performance of a terror act. It would appear therefore that the jury was convinced a terror act was in the planning stages, although the prosecution could not show which of several sites was intended to be the target; therein lies, IMHO, the failure for the fourth charge to be proven.

    "But because he ...was a muslim," I deny your assertion that he was convicted because he was a muslim. I will say this: most muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists (at present, in Western countries) are muslims. The fact that he was a muslim doesn't make him a terrorist, but the fact that he's a would-be terrorist means his muslim faith is not surprising.

    And he certainly wasn't convicted because he had '...a bunch of freaky shit in his house,'. That's misrepresenting the situation. How about 'because he had a bunch of documents in his house which a terrorist or would-be terrorist might reasonably have, to enable them to commit a terror act'. That is accurate and no doubt contributed to his convictions.

    "...lied his arse off about what he planned to do with whatever to various people," Guilty people lie and so do innocent people, but honesty doesn't help a guilty person, does it? Lodhi's lies and evasions don't prove anything in and of themselves, but then neither does a lone fingerprint. Taken together with the other evidence, however, they contribute towards a compelling prosecution case.

    "...and because he had ties to certain figures like Willie Brigette." Again, it's not surprising that a terrorist or would-be terrorist would have communication, or correspondence, or association with one or more persons accused of, suspected of, or associated with terrorism. In and of itself, it proves nothing. Taken as part of the brief of evidence, it contributes towards prosecution.

    HM, suppose you were a muslim and did attend a mosque known to host imams speaking in support of terrorism. You've done an explosives course, I expect that's recorded somewhere. You own copies of 'Mein Kampf' and tomes by 'De Sade'. Suppose you have a copy of "The Anarchist's Cook Book' also. Enough to convict you like Lodhi? *No*. Why? Where's the indication you're planning anything?

    Anyway, "The Anarchist's Cook Book" is crap. I expect it's responsible for a lot more idiots burning down their kitchens or garages or blowing off their fingers than it is for successful improvised explosive device attacks. De Sade isn't linked with terrorism, he's linked with kinky sex practices. Maybe if you were accused of a murder with sadistic aspects it might be evidence. Not for terrorism. 'Mein Kampf', although it's apparently been a best-seller in the middle east for years now, is not much use as evidence. If owning books on 'nerd related topics which includes armaments and explosives...terrorism and transnational crime' were a crime, most of my colleagues would be criminals, as would I.

    And, besides all this, the cops aren't going to know what you have on your bookshelf or your computer until they get a search warrant and raid your house. For which they need evidence sufficient to convince a judge to sign the warrant. For which they need, you know, evidence that you might be linked to terrorism. Being a mosque-goer, even at a radical mosque, is not enough.

    What's missing here is, first, some evidence to get the cops interested in you. Second, some evidence to allow the cops to get a warrant to search your place. Third, some evidence that could be used to show you were not just educating yourself, but planning something.

    I know you're concerned about the propensity for these laws to be misused. I've got my own misgivings about some aspects of the new laws, but my faith in the system remains solid. There will always be bad cops and the possibility of abuse of power, but we have checks and balances, and to abandon the system because of its flaws would be a cure worse than the disease.

    'Terrorism works when we take fear and change our lives radically to address that fear.' True often but not always - I don't want to get all pedantic with how you say stuff, but when you phrase it this broadly, it can be used to indict any change as being fear-based and thus 'giving in' to terrorism. Even if you view terrorism as crime, you must agree that when a particular kind of crime is on the increase or has provoked the concern of the electorate, it is incumbent on the government and law enforcement to give that type of crime more attention, whether through legislation, resources, or whatever.

    People are concerned about terrorism. That's not the government's doing; there's a frigging war going on, it's in the news every day. Government is making political hay out of it *because* people are concerned, not the other way around. And almost any government making almost any new law or policy change is going to "give fuckwits who spread hate oxygen". There will always be such people. The existence and the legal speech of fringe groups must not be allowed to define the activities of government in advancing the national interest.

    "And how do we grow as a people if we think every unattended package is a bomb, every burka has a suicide belt, or every brown person with an Arabic name is a potential hijacker?"

    Who, apart from the "give fuckwits who spread hate" think that? Not you. Not me. Not the people where I work. Not our PM. Asserting that efforts to confront terrorism are tantamount to cultivating racism or religious prejudice is both incorrect and counterproductive.

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  2. Thanks for your comments man.

    Note however my use of the word 'specifically'.

    The new laws do not have to prove a 'specific planned terror attack' - just that a terror attack of some kind was in the planning.

    It's a subtle difference I agree but an important one. Because my argument is that its far easier to draw on circumstantial evidence for a conviction for generic planning than it is for specific planning.

    I agree there are fundamentalists in the muslim faith that are of a concern. But I also believe the federal government has used it politically for their political benefit and in doing so vastly increased the amount of fucking shit like having burkas pulled off, being gobbed on, vilified, and being set upon by drunken mobs that Muslim Australian have to put up with.

    I still feel these laws are an over reaction. And they are not needed. And I feel that the Oz claimed Howard was fully vindicated in all his anti terror laws - which includes detention without charge - despite the fact this case did not involve that element. They should have qualified that. They did not. A deliberate omission in my opinion in accordance with the editorial policy of the paper.

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