Saturday, August 19, 2006

Disaster for AFP creates obstacles to security

From The Australian, August 19, 2006, by Cameron Stewart ...

THE quashing of Jack Thomas's terror conviction is a disaster for the Australian Federal Police and the Government's war on homegrown terror. The AFP has stumbled in its attempt to secure its first conviction under the nation's new anti-terror laws and in doing so has demonstrated how hard it will be to lock away those who pose a genuine threat to national security.

The AFP interrogation of Thomas in Pakistan - which was ruled as inadmissable yesterday - has turned out to be a clumsy and costly mistake. But it should also be remembered that the war against terror is a legal minefield for Australia's security agencies and remains a work in progress on many levels. A raft of largely untested laws, coupled with the fact that suspects often have to be questioned in jails in distant lands such as Afghanistan or Pakistan, have made life tough for security agencies. One wrong step and their prosecutions are blown sky high.

In Australia, the AFP is faced with the more acute dilemma of trying to balance public safety with the need to secure convictions. When it discovers a terrorist plot, does it risk public safety and sit on the evidence until it compiles enough to guarantee a conviction? Or does it make early arrests to foil the plot knowing that it may not have enough evidence to secure a conviction?
Civil libertarians will argue that in the case of Thomas, justice has now been served, and that this has been a prime example of bully-boy security agencies abusing their new powers.

But if too many obstacles are placed before our security agencies, there is a danger that terrorists will end up winning.

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