You are giving up your overseas residence and pass along your cell phone’s SIM card with some unused minutes to a friend, possibly a cousin, to save some money on early disconnection penalties. A year later, your friend is charged with plotting a failed terrorist attempt. In the fog of early panic, police believe the SIM card was found on a vehicle used in the attack. They learn also that you had once roomed with the suspect. Two days later they discover that you hold a one-way ticket to India and are preparing to depart. They move quickly to make an arrest.

Perfectly rational defensive actions on the part of a vigilant police department.

Within hours, and certainly days, the police learn, however, that the SIM card you had loaned was not found in the attack vehicle, but rather hundreds of miles away at the home of a brother of the principal suspect. They discover also that their earlier information that you had roomed with the suspects was false; you had never lived with them. During your interrogation you explain to them that the one-way ticket had been bought by your father-in-law to visit your wife in India, who had given birth to your child a week earlier. Your story checks out.

So you are promptly released, right?


Instead, you are charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization on the basis of nothing more than the fact that you innocently passed along your unused cell phone minutes to a friend. Law enforcement officials vociferously assert that you had been unable to offer any plausible explanation for the one way travel and persist with the public canard that the SIM card was found at the scene of the crime and that you had roomed with the plotters. They even plant newspaper stories suggesting that you might be implicated in a separate plot to blow up a

For weeks on end you are the public face of international terrorism.

Wonderful plot, don’t you think, for a nail-biting, fictional thriller *The Terrorist*?

Only this is not your imagination at work.

You are Dr Mohamed Haneef, a 27-year-old Indian physician working in Australia, caught up in the investigation of a foiled 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack in England on June 30.

Haneef has since been released and the Australian government has dropped all charges against him. Indeed, charges have been dropped against five of the eight original suspects detained for the botched Glasgow bombing.

The rare public skepticism and international scrutiny that Haneef’s case received resulted in his relatively quick exoneration and freedom. He returned to India to a hero’s welcome and the Indian government is protesting the revocation of his visa by the Australian government. Inside Australia there is a rising clamor for the police to come clean about their botched investigation.

Hopefully, the growing criticism of the Bush administration’s mishandling of the war on terror will result in heightened scrutiny of similar cases in the United States. One has no idea how many scores, possibly hundreds, of innocent people languish in secret U.S. prisons for years on end.
Whatever justifications might exist for short-term preventive or secretive detention, there is absolutely no plausible rationale to indefinitely detain an individual for years without charges or judicial oversight. A system that lacks accountability, transparency and a measure of checks and balances will inevitably ensnare innocent people. A secretive process also undermines the pursuit of real terrorists, because it prevents the public exposure of the executive’s incompetence.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once warned: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding.”

Think George W Bush and Dick Cheney.

Then, if you are an immigrant, imagine you are Mohamed Haneef.

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