Friday, 6 April 2007

Guardians of freedom lose interest in the truth

Guardians of freedom lose interest in the truth
By Richard Ackland 23 February, 2007

Thank God the guardian of our freedoms is constantly vigilant about the terror under our beds. Who knows the mess we'd be in if it weren't for the watchful eyes of the Murdoch press. On Wednesday The Australian's legal affairs writer, Chris Merritt, put Justice Michael Kirby of the High Court in his place.

During the hearing of the Jack Thomas challenge to the constitutional validity of control orders the judge said that Americans had become completely obsessed with September 11, 2001, and that more people died of AIDS each day than died on that day in the terrorist attacks in the United States. Further, Kirby said, that event did not occur in this country "and I think we have to keep our eye on the threats to Australia".

His statements are demonstrably true. There can be no doubt that the reaction to September 11, 2001, was so overwrought that the result is the frightful quagmire of Iraq bleeding the US of its soldiers and its treasure.

Yet Merritt, who was a mild-mannered fellow at The Australian Financial Review before he decamped to Holt Street, said Kirby was now "one of Australia's most offensive judges".

It got better: "Kirby has clumsily diminished the significance of what happened on that awful day."

I'll spare you any more.

Merritt has form on the Thomas case. After the first Victorian Court of Appeal decision in August last year, which quashed "Jihad Jack's" conviction, he wrote: "When the legal system allows a mate of Osama bin Laden to walk free in Melbourne something is terribly wrong … Instead of freeing the enemy, the law should be doing more in the real fight for liberty."

Go back further to June 2003, 21 months after the attacks of September 2001 and eight months after the Bali bombings. Tensions were high and The Australian was on the case. It reported on Laskar Jihad and its involvement in radical Islam and terrorist causes. It also claimed that the secretary of the Dee Why mosque, Romzi Ali, had been raising money for Laskar Jihad operations in 2000. It added that Ali denied fund-raising for the organisation.

Yet in 2005 a jury found the defamatory meaning of the article, at least as far as it affected Romzi Ali, to be clear: that he raised money for an organisation that doesn't worry about killing people for its political objectives and that he is a supporter of terrorism.

Being vigilant about the threats to our security, you'd think the newspaper would be able to turn up with guns blazing. Yet when Romzi Ali's defamation case came on for a full trial earlier this month the newspaper withdrew all its defences. It had nothing to go on. No truth, no comment, no qualified privilege. Nothing.

In fact, the evidence was that Ali, far from raising funds for terrorists, was attempting to assist ASIO investigations, that he was actively involved in trying to bridge the gap between his community and the wider community by arranging an open day at the mosque and an ecumenical picnic. A judge is assessing damages in the case.

November 2005 was a busy month for MuslimWatch at Murdochville.

The Daily Telegraph carried stories about Anwar Al Barq, who was an imam providing chaplaincy services to Muslims in the NSW prison system. The paper said the US had regarded Barq as a "person of interest" and that he had unsupervised access to prisoners, "some of whom he had known through an organisation affiliated with known terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood".

Also, in November that year a front page headline in The Australian announced: "Clerics still preaching hatred of West".

To back it up there was a picture of Sheik Zoud, who at the Lakemba mosque, we were told, "used his Friday prayer meetings over the past month to praise Muslim fighters".

The ABC's Media Watch pinged that one in July last year, by pointing out that the sheik did not give a sermon on the day claimed. Zoud wasn't even in Australia when he was supposed to be preaching in support of terrorists.

As the paper later said: "The comments were made by someone with a striking resemblance to the sheik."

But what of Anwar Al Barq? He turned up to the Supreme Court a fortnight ago for the first leg of his defamation action against The Daily Telegraph. And did the paper, armed with all the facts about this terrifying individual, box on - in the interest of all of us?

Not a bit of it. It folded on the steps. A settlement, the details of which are confidential, was announced and the barrister Clive Evatt came away saying his client was "very, very, very happy". Perhaps each "very" represents a nice round figure?

There must be demons out there - it's just a pity that the zealots keep serving up the wrong people.