In 1956, science fiction author Philip K. Dick wrote the short story “Minority Report”. In it, a shadowy government agency known as “pre-crime” arrests people in anticipation of crimes they suspect individuals will commit in the future. What appears as a dystopian fictional nightmare in 1956 has become a reality in Australia 60 years later.
One of the major legal transformations associated with the introduction of the various anti-terror acts in the 15 years since 9/11 has been the normalisation of the idea that you can be charged with a crime that you have yet to commit.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has the right to seek warrants that allow the detention of someone suspected or someone related to someone suspectedof considering a terror offence. This person can be detained in custody with no right to confidential legal counsel and no right to see the evidence brought against them.
Furthermore, the Terrorism Act 2002 makes it a crime to “provide or receive training, to possess a ‘thing’, or to collect or make a document, if (in each case) that conduct was connected with preparation for, the engagement of a person in, or assistance in a terrorist act”.
In 2010, these laws resulted in the conviction of three men for “preparing to prepare” an attack on the Holsworthy Army Base. One of the men visited the barracks and another had a phone conversation with a sheikh, seeking religious counsel about the moral virtues of possibly committing an act.
The sheikh eventually answered in the negative and advised the men against any action. Even the Victorian Supreme Court judge responsible for sentencing the men, justice King, admitted that “the conspiracy was not that much further along than just sitting and thinking about it”. She nevertheless sentenced them to 18 years’ jail. For thought crime.
What’s more shocking is that, legally, these “preparatory” offences are committed if the person either “knows or is reckless as to the fact that they relate to a terrorist act”. Being “reckless” can mean a whole range of things. It can mean that you say or write something that may inadvertently encourage someone else to engage in terrorist activity.
For instance, Division 102 of the Criminal Code imposes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment “where a person provides or collects funds and is reckless as to whether those funds will be used to facilitate or engage in a terrorist act”. This means that someone who donates money to a charity that turns out to have some putative involvement in terrorism could be imprisoned for life.
The definition of terrorism is suitably broad for a ruling class looking to criminalise a wide range of anti-government activity. Section 101.1 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as “conduct engaged in or threats made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”. The conduct or threat must be designed to coerce a government or population by intimidation. It must involve “harm” – broadly defined.
Added to this is “urging violence”. For example, it is an offence punishable by seven years’ imprisonment to “urge the overthrow of the constitution or government by force or violence, or to urge interference in parliamentary elections”.
Such definitions are disturbing. Again, “interfering in parliamentary elections” could involve encouraging voters to cast donkey votes or rip up ballot papers. Left wing newspapers regularly run pieces on the necessity of overthrowing many and various governments. The fact that such laws have been penned indicates how far we have come.
Under such legislation the United States Declaration of Independence, with its claim that “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [the Government], and to institute new one”, could be deemed a terrorist document.
Crime by association
A law introduced in 2014 that prohibits the advocacy of terrorism extends this issue of incitement into even more alarming territory. An organisation can be listed as terrorist if it “directly praises the doing of a terrorist act in circumstances where there is a substantial risk that such praise might have the effect of leading a person … to engage in a terrorist act”.
If these laws had been enacted in the past they would have meant that the author of an article supporting the actions of Nelson Mandela in his struggle against apartheid in South Africa would become liable if someone might have read that article and acted upon it in a manner deemed terrorist by the state.
Today, the organisation of any author who is accused of “praising terror” can be listed. Being a member or even associated with a member of a listed terrorist organisation can incur up to 10 years in prison.
The mutability of what constitutes a “terrorist organisation” was revealed in the trial of 13 Muslim men in Melbourne in 2005-09. These young men were arrested after more than a year of intense surveillance of conversations between them and a radical Islamic preacher, Abdul Nacer Benbrika.
An extraordinary 27,000 hours of police surveillance revealed nothing more criminal than discussions about the morality or immorality of revenge actions against Australians for the government’s crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. No specific or concrete terror actions were planned, and they were never charged with planning a terrorist attack.
Nevertheless, the state charged them with membership of an unspecified, unlisted, unnamed terrorist organisation. The attorney-general declared it so – and a few more men who had had some association with Benbrika were charged with “supporting or providing funds” to a terrorist organisation.
Greg Barns, one of the defence lawyers in the Barwon 13 trial, pointed out the absurdity of the situation: “An organisation can be a terrorist organisation even if it has no terrorist act in mind”. Such realities call to mind Alice in Wonderland. “‘When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.”
PUNISHED FOR BEING MUSLIM
The Barwon 13 trial also brought to light a number of other disturbing aspects of the anti-terror legislation. One of the most shocking revealed the prejudice against giving terror suspects bail.
This meant that from 2005 until 2008, when the judge handed down a decision, the defendants were held in the maximum security Barwon prison. Here, some as young as 19 were kept shackled in isolation for up to 18 hours a day. During their trial, they were strip searched every day and transported back and forth on the hour-long journey with their arms shackled to their waist and their ankles tied together.
Four of the 13 were found not guilty of any charges but were held in Guantanamo Bay-like conditions for, one can only suspect, being Muslim and associating with other Muslims. Four of the 13 were convicted on such spurious grounds that Michael Pearce from Liberty Victoria told reporters that they were victims of one of the “most sustained assaults on civil liberties in 50 years”. “Their treatment is an affront to the most basic principle of the rule of law”, he said.
The current targets of the anti-terror laws are Muslim. Nineteen of the 20 proscribed organisations are Muslim, and of the 46 people charged under the laws, all, with the exception of a couple, identify as Muslim. Not one of these people has been charged with actually committing a terrorist offence. All are offences of association, of planning or planning to plan.
State representatives claim that nipping terrorist actions before they happen is more important than civil liberties. But such claims are bogus when most of the terrorist atrocities they claim to be thwarting were never even in the planning stages.
One young man, Faheem Lodhi, was sentenced to 20 years in prison despite the fact that, according to a lawyer in his trial, he “had not yet reached the stage where the identity of the bomber, the precise area to be bombed or the manner in which the bombing would take place had been worked out”.
As civil liberties lawyer Rob Stary told Katherine Wilson in an interview for Overland: “They talk the talk, and it’s dangerous talk. But I can say whatever I like about who the real Iraq or Palestinian war criminals are, and how they should be brought to justice, and I won’t be imprisoned for it. Not unless I convert to Islam”.
When Muslim kids mouth off, they can be locked up for decades. If anything is likely to prompt feelings of hatred, anger and frustration that lead to the desire to commit terrorist acts, it is this kind of systematic legal persecution.
Islamophobia is the ideological mechanism through which the state has managed to get through such draconian legislation. Concerted public media campaigns vilifying Muslims – representing them as medieval barbarians intent on bringing down Western civilisation – has had its effect. Opposition to the anti-terror laws is minimal – the conflation of Islam with terror has been achieved.
FIFTEEN YEARS IN THE MAKING
Prior to 9/11, politically motivated violence was dealt with under criminal law. This all changed after 2001. In March 2002, federal attorney-general Darryl Williams introduced the first package of anti-terrorism legislation to parliament. He said the laws were “exceptional” but that “so too is the evil at which they are directed”.
Hyperbole abounded. Australians were told to be alert to shadowy internal threats and to report any “suspicious” activities they might witness.
From 11 September 2001 to the fall of the Howard government, the federal parliament enacted 48 anti-terror laws. In other words, on average a new anti-terror statue was passed every seven or so weeks under the Liberal government. The Labor Party supported the overwhelming bulk of these laws.
When Labor came to power, the pace of lawmaking slowed but the fundamental approach remained the same: use the terror threat to usher through increasingly draconian laws. Indeed, the Rudd government actively opposed independent reviews into the passing of its own anti-terror legislation.
Abbott came to office with an open and aggressive agenda. He was unabashed in 2014: “Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we are used to and more inconvenience than we would like … the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift”. The scales now well and truly have tipped.
Under Abbott and Turnbull, the existing anti-terror legislation has been strengthened and expanded, most dramatically with the introduction of astonishingly extensive data retention laws.
All of this frantic legislative activity has been accompanied by regularly staged anti-terror raids.
The Australian state has far exceeded the UK, the USA and Canada in the number of laws enacted. UNSW professor George Williams argues: “It would be unthinkable, if not constitutionally impossible, in nations such as the US and Canada to restrict freedom of speech in the manner achieved by Australia’s 2005 sedition laws”. US author Ken Roach describes Australia as engaging in “hyper-legislation”.
While initially introduced as “emergency legislation” to deal with imminent terror threats, anti-terror legislation has not only stuck, but has crept into other legislative areas. Laws recognised as exceptional, even by their proponents, are now used against groups and individuals who have nothing to do with the “war on terror”.
Bikie gangs and their members are subject to laws virtually identical to anti-terror legislation. The Rann Labor government in South Australia began the trend, drawing dramatic comparisons between bikies and terrorists. In 2008, Rann said, “Organised crime groups are terrorists within our communities” and described bikies as “an evil within our nation”. The laws passed almost without a whimper of opposition.
In Queensland, bikie gangs have been “declared” in the same way that so-called terrorist organisations have – which means anyone associated with a gang can be arrested and charged. If you are a member of a gang you cannot be seen with one or more “criminal associates”.
Bikies are also subject to something very similar to control orders – one of the most controversial aspects of the anti-terror legislation. They can be placed under house arrest, and have their movement and their oral and electronic communications limited. These restrictions can be decided in a secret court hearing, and the person will discover if they are subject to an order only after their arrest. All states have introduced similar laws.
The depth and breadth of the anti-terror legislation provided the perfect precursor to the use of equally (if not more draconian) laws against construction workers in the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Turnbull is now preparing to fight an election over the reintroduction of the body. The ABCC’s coercive powers mirror ASIO’s. It has the right to hold secret interviews and jail those who don’t cooperate. Habeus corpus is out the window. Construction workers will again have no right to silence and no right to be represented by the lawyer of their choice. The terror bogey was simply the thin end of the wedge.
It is clear over the 15 years of the “war on terror” that many legal rights have disappeared. Basic legal assumptions like innocent until proven guilty, the right to silence, the right to a fair trial and the right to legal counsel no longer exist in expanding areas of the legal system. What’s more, the state’s powers to watch, listen, detain and punish have grown dramatically, and there is no indication that the government wants to pull back.
The US whistleblower Edward Snowden said of similar actions in the USA: “These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power”.
Australia’s behemoth security state is now more powerful than even Philip K. Dick’s paranoid imagination could have dreamed.
Anyone, other than the One Percent and their political and legal servants, can be picked up without charges and detained indefinitely as during the Dark Ages, when government was unaccountable and no one had any rights.
Only those with power were safe. In America today anyone not politically protected can be declared “associated with terrorism” and taken out by a Hellfire missile from a drone on the basis of a list of human targets drawn up by the president’s advisers.
Due process, guaranteed by the US Constitution, no longer exists in the United States of America. Neither does the constitutional prohibition against the government spying on citizens without just cause and a court warrant.
The First Amendment itself, whose importance was emphasized by our Founding Fathers by making it the First Amendment, is no longer protected by the corrupt Supreme Court.
The Nine who comprise the Supreme Court, like the rest of the bought-and-paid-for-government, serve only the One Percent. Truth-tellers have become “an enemy of the state.” Whistleblowers are imprisoned despite their legal protection in US law.
The United States government has unaccountable power. Its power is not accountable to US statutory law, to international law, to the Congress, to the judiciary, to the American people, or to moral conscience.
In the 21st century the war criminal US government has murdered, maimed, and dislocated millions of people based on lies and propaganda.
Washington has destroyed seven countries in whole or part in order to enrich the American elite and comply with the neoconservative drive for US world hegemony.
Americans live in a propaganda-fabricated world in which a brutal police state is cloaked in nice words like “freedom and democracy.”
“Freedom and democracy” is what Washington’s war machine brings with sanctions, bombs, no-fly zones, troops, and drones to countries that dare to cling to their independence from Washington’s hegemony.
Only two countries armed with strong military capability and nuclear weapons — Russia and China — stand between Washington and Washington’s goal of hegemony over the entire world.
If Russia or China falter, the evil ensconced in Washington will rule the world. America will be the Anti-Christ. The predictions of the Christian Evangelicals preaching “end times” will take on new meaning.
Russia is vulnerable to becoming a vassal state of Washington. Despite a legion of betrayals by Washington, the Russian government has just proposed a joint US/Russia cooperation against terrorists.
One wonders if the Russian government will ever learn from experience:
Has Washington kept any agreement previous US governments made with Russia? Of course not.
So why does the Russian government think Washington would keep any agreement about a joint effort against terrorism?
The Russian government and the Russian people are so unaware of the danger that they face from Washington that they let foreigners control 20 percent of their media!
Is Russia unaware that Washington has Russia slated for vassalage or destruction?
China is even more absurd. According to the Chinese government itself, China has 7,000 foreign-financed NGOs operating in China!
Foreign financed NGOs are what Washington used to destabilize Ukraine and overthrow the elected government.
What does the Chinese government think these NGOs are doing other than destabilizing China?
Both Russia and China are infected with Western worship that creates a vulnerability that Washington can exploit. Delusions can result in inadequate response to threat.
All of Europe, both western, eastern and southern, the British Pacific such as Australia and New Zealand, Japan and other parts of Asia are vassal states of Washington’s Empire. None of these allegedly “sovereign” countries have an independent voice or an independent foreign or economic policy.
All of Latin America is subject to Washington’s control. No reformist government in Latin America has ever survived Washington’s disapproval of putting the interests of the domestic populations ahead of American corporate and financial profits.
Already this year Washington has overthrown the female presidents of Argentina and Brazil.
Washington is currently in the process of overthrowing the government in Venezuela, with Ecuador and Bolivia waiting in the wings.
In 2009 Killary Clinton and Obama overthrew the government of Honduras, an old Washington habit.
As Washington pays the UN’s bills, the UN is compliant. No hand is ever raised against Washington. So why does anyone on the face of the earth think that an American election can change anything or mean anything?
Other reports say that Adelson has mentioned as much as $100 million as his political campaign contribution to Trump.
Anyone who gives a political campaign $100 million dollars expect something in exchange, and the recipient is obligated to provide whatever is desired.
So are we witnessing the purchase of Donald Trump? The initial Republican response to Trump, encouraged by the crazed neoconservatives, was to abandon the Republican candidate and to vote for Killary.
Is Adelson’s endorsement a signal that Trump can be bought and brought into the establishment?
Additional evidence that Trump has sold out his naive supporters is his latest statement that Wall Street should be deregulated.
It is extraordinary that Trump’s advisers have not told him that Wall Street was deregulated back in the 20th century during the Clinton regime. The repeal of Glass-Steagall deregulated Wall Street.
One source of the 2008 financial crisis is the deregulated derivative market. When Brooksley Born attempted to fulfill the responsibility of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and regulate over-the-counter derivatives, she was blocked by the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, the SEC, and the US Congress.
Nothing has been done to correct the massive mistake of financial deregulation. The Dodd-Frank legislation did not correct the massive financial concentration that produced banks too big to fail, and the legislation did not stop Wall Street’s reckless casino gambling with the US economy.
Yet, Trump says he will dismantle even the weak Dodd-Frank restrictions.
The American print and TV media are so corrupt that these reports could be false stories, the purpose of which is to demoralize Trump’s supporters.
On the other hand, should we be surprised if a billionaire aligns with the One Percent?
Elections are an unlikely means of restoring government that is accountable to the people rather than to the One Percent.
Even if Trump is legitimate, he does not have the experience in foreign and economic affairs to know who to appoint to his government in order to implement change.
Moreover, even if he knew, unless Trump candidates also replace the Senate, Trump could not get his choices confirmed by a Senate accountable only to the One Percent.
Americans are a conquered people.
We see this in the appeal from RootsAction to the rest of the world to come to the aid of the American people. Unable to stop the lawlessness of their own “democratic” government, Americans plea for help from abroad.
The plea from RootsAction indicates that committed activists now acknowledge that change in America cannot be produced by elections or be achieved internally through peaceful means.
Assessing current conditions in the United States, it would be next to impossible not to grasp innumerable parallels to George Orwell’s dystopic portent, 1984. Though other fictional dystopias could similarly elicit comparisons to the dark turn taken by American empire, aspects of 1984’s creepy authoritarian nightmare ring all-too-true.
And Big Brother-like surveillance — though undoubtedly relevant — imparts only the most obvious, and therefore least pertinent, connection on the list.
WAR IS PEACE
“Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia,” Orwell wrote of two of the three remaining nation-states on the planet. Though it analogizes Russia’s mercurial relationship with Nazi Germany, the same volatility aptly fits U.S. involvement in the Middle East — where, though propaganda would purport a decisive enemy, the truth remains far murkier. A constant state of undeclared but active war rules foreign policy — driven almost exclusively by the war machine’s profiteering from plundering of foreign lands’ natural resources.
Big Oil, Big Pharma, and the multi-faceted defense industry have experienced exponential profits since perpetual war became the de facto basis of foreign policy — and Big Banks share in the reward. But all of this war requires the U.S. government maintain support from the public — and what better way to win them over than appeal to fear of the Other?
When John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat, tendered his letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin Powell, he piercingly criticized the warped factors driving both American domestic and foreign policy surrounding the needless war in Iraq — with barbs unfortunately equally applicable today:
“We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to [do] to ourselves […]
“Has ‘oderint dum metuant’ [Let them hate so long as they fear] really become our motto?”
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it became immediately evident American government had its jackpot ticket for war in perpetuity — the only necessary condition being wool sufficiently ambiguous to cover the public’s eyes in fear.
Since that time, under the guise of national security, Big Brother-like domestic surveillance has become so thoroughly entrenched in our lives as to be virtually ignored by the general populace. As a necessary and insidious outgrowth of massive spying, the government attempts to cultivate fearful citizen-spies, by employing the not-at-all ominous If You See Something, Say Something catchphrase-titled program. Of course, the government arm responsible for this and other programs — the overarching Department of Homeland Security — seems ripped directly from the pages of 1984.
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” Orwell noted in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” This observation aptly summarizes U.S. war propaganda in its entirety — with a constant government-backed corporate media blitz surrounding the war on terror shaping public perception of what constitutes terrorism, and who, a terrorist.
Betting on Americans’ cognitive dissonance, historical amnesia, and tacit acceptance of spoon-fed, baseless patriotism, the government doesn’t often find barriers to inculcating a blanket support for obtuse military missions. War so saturates every aspect of life, when the Pentagon announced last week forces had already been on the ground in Yemen for two weeks, the public instead trained its focus to the latest installation of Captain America.
And nevermind the detail that ground support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen would be allocated for fighting al-Qaeda — a different faction of the same group the U.S. currently employs as somehow less dangerous terrorists to assist deposing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Moderate rebels is thus the Newspeak term for terrorists the American empire finds usable — making terrorist and terrorism utterly conditional terms. Of course, the government failed to explain how a war on the concept of terrorism should play out if that terrorism depends on circumstance — or, more accurately, whim — but once instituted, paranoia surrounding the word opened the floodgates for battling terrorism inside the United States.
Exactly as Orwell cautioned in 1984 — and precisely as Kiesling’s foreboding resignation letter predicted it would.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
How does a government persuade its citizens their enslavement would be desirable and beneficial? Frame it as necessary protection against any threat to their fundamental security — and implement more contentious aspects of said servitude in palatable microsteps. Fear of terrorism — or, more directly, xenophobia — constitutes sufficient reason for many to cast off basic human rights through increasingly invasive laws and governance.
Legislation, however, isn’t by far the sole vehicle available to the government. In a culture so utterly imbued in paranoia, neighbors aren’t only willing to spy on neighbors — or complete strangers, to that end — they’re willing to alert law enforcement should they observe … Something.
One perfect example of the absurdity of the If You See Something, Say Something citizen spy program occurred this week when a woman, suspicious of cryptic notes penned by the person seated next to her on an American Airlines flight, decided to Say Something.
The flight was delayed for over two hours, the FBI was called, and an egregious commentary on paranoia and xenophobic profiling in the U.S. became one of an unfortunate many for the history books.
This unbelievably unaware woman told on acclaimed University of Pennsylvania economics professor, Guido Menzio — who had been scribbling a complex math formula in a notebook. Menzio posted his experience on Facebook, describing his encounter with the FBI after being briefly pulled from the plane, writing: “They ask me about my neighbor. I tell them I noticed nothing strange. They tell me she thought I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a piece of paper. I laugh. I bring them back to the plane. I show them my math.”
Menzio, to the unnamed woman, was guilty of terrorism because his Italian ancestry gifted him with darker complexion and hair, and because her lack of education and state conditioning caused her to see dark terrorist plots in mathematical formulae — possibly, and disturbingly, because she mistook it for Arabic.
Restrictions on travel aren’t limited to fearful passengers, either, as the notoriously invasive Transportation Security Administration has made air travel an almost unbearably onerous task. A recent report predicts grueling airport delays due to the combination of a 10 percent reduction in TSA staff and a 15 percent increase in the number of expected travelers. Though a PreCheck program is offered by the TSA, people simply aren’t signing on — likely because they’re forced to submit to an even more invasive background check. And it isn’t as if the TSA has a stunning success rate in thwarting terror attacks, either — though it does have a successful track record for restricting freedom of travel.
While the government would like you to believe TSA safety measures protect the country from terrorism, evidence lies with a far more laughable reality — like the time a CNN journalist once had her container of pimento cheese confiscated by agents. Another report indicated the underpaid and understaffed TSA is largely incompetent. Congressman Stephen Lynch explained, “We had folks — this was a testing exercise, so we had folks going in there with guns on their ankles, and other weapons on their persons, and there was a 95 percent failure rate.”