Lessons on terrorism and rehabilitation from the London Bridge attack


In a deeply tragic irony, the two victims who lost their lives to a man who made a mockery of their idealism were assisted by two others who appear to have genuinely benefited from prison rehabilitation programs.
AAP/EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga

Greg Barton, Deakin University

Can prison rehabilitation programs work, and is it sensible to try and rehabilitate seriously radicalised individuals convicted on terrorism charges?

These are questions not just for the UK, in the wake of the second London Bridge attack over the weekend, but for the entire world.

There are no easy answers and no simple options. As the numbers of people detained and eventually released on terrorism charges mount up around the world, so too does the question of what to do with them. Politicians find it easy to speak in terms of “lock them up and throw away the key”. But our legal systems don’t allow this and the results, even if allowed, would almost certainly be worse.




Read more:
Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough


Some answers, and some difficult questions, can be found in the lives of four participants in the events in London: Jack Merritt, Saskia Jones, Marc Conway and James Ford.

All four were participating in an event organised to reflect on the first five years of the University of Cambridge’s Learning Together program. Merritt was a young graduate who was helping coordinate the program. Jones was a volunteer in the program. Tragically, their idealism and desire to give back to society saw them lose their lives to a man whom they thought they had been able to help.

Merritt’s father told the media:

Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog.

In her tribute to her murdered daughter, Jones’s mother said:

Saskia had a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate recruitment programme, wishing to specialise in victim support.

Jones, 23, and Merritt, 25, were both University of Cambridge graduates working at the Learning Together program. They lost their lives to a knife-wielding murderer who does not deserve to have his name remembered. Their 28-year-old assailant had been released from prison 12 months earlier, having served but eight years of a 16 year sentence.

In a catastrophic system-failure, his automatic release was processed without his case ever being reviewed by a parole board, despite the sentencing judge identifying him as a serious risk who should only ever be released after careful review. He had gamed the system, presenting himself as repentant and reformed.

In fact, he had never undergone a rehabilitation program in prison and only had cursory processing on his release. Systemic mistakes and the lack of resources to fund sufficient and appropriate rehabilitation programs meant he was one of many whose risk was never adequately assessed.

Conway had formerly served time at a London prison and is now working as a policy officer at the Prison Reform Trust. He witnessed the fatal attack and rushed directly towards the attacker, joining others who sought to pin him down.

Another man participating in the offender rehabilitation event was James Ford. He too saw the attack unfolding and immediately confronted the assailant.

In a deeply tragic irony, the two victims who lost their lives to a man who made a mockery of their idealism were assisted by two others who appear to have genuinely benefited from prison rehabilitation programs. But even here, the complexities and ambiguities of this sort of difficult endeavour were played out as clearly as any playwright could ever conceive of scripting.

Ford was a convicted murderer attending the Learning Together conference on day-release. He had brutally killed 21-year-old Amanda Campion, a young women who was particularly vulnerable because of her intellectual disability. In the eyes of Campion’s family, Ford is no hero.

However, Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University David Wilson, who chairs the Friends of Grendon Prison program, says that Ford underwent extensive rehabilitation initiatives, including an intensive period of psychotherapy.

On this occasion, the convicted murderer did the right thing. Even though this doesn’t make him a hero, it does give some reason for hope. For Wilson, the murderous terrorist and the convicted murderer who rushed to contain him represent a tale of two prisoners:

I know through my work that people do change and they change as a consequence of innovative but challenging regimes such as the one at HMP Grendon.

In the wake of the attack, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the cases of 74 people released early after being jailed for terror offences will be reviewed. This is certainly sensible and necessary, but much more is required. Indefinite detention is not an option in the majority of cases, and the UK is dealing with hundreds of people convicted of terrorism offences either currently in prison or recently released.

The numbers in Australia are only a fraction of this but still run into the high dozens and are growing every year. For Australia’s near neighbours, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, the numbers, including projected returnees from the Middle East, run into the thousands.




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Professor Ian Acheson, who has advised the government on how to handle extremist prisoners, told the BBC it was not “a question of an arms race on sentencing toughness”, but about what is done when offenders are in custody.

Acheson said his panel’s recommendations had been agreed to but not implemented due to “the merry-go-round of political replacements of secretaries of state”, and the “fairly recalcitrant and unwilling bureaucracy”. He also cited “crazy failed and ideological austerity cuts” to the police, prison and probation services.

Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were not naïve idealists. They had studied the problem closely and believed rehabilitation programs could make a difference. Their tragic deaths speak to the challenges involved. To give up and do nothing is not merely cynical, but self-defeating. Without adequate resourcing and reforms the problem everywhere will only become much worse.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Australia can no longer avoid responsibility for its citizens held in Syria



Detention camps in Syria hold about 100,000 Syrian and foreign family members of IS suspects.
Murtaja Lateef/EPA

Anthony Billingsley, UNSW

The small number of Australians being held in prison camps in northern Syria has been an ongoing, albeit low-level, challenge for the Australian government. There are believed to be eight Australian fighters for the Islamic State in captivity, along with around 60 Australian women and children.

Despite its reluctance, the Australian government may eventually feel obliged to bring many or all these people home.

So far, the Australian public seems to have accepted the government’s line that it’s too dangerous to extract them from Syria. As Prime Minister Scott Morrison succinctly put it:

I’m not going to put any Australians in harm’s way.

An increasingly untenable position

The government believes there are valid security concerns in bringing these people back to Australia. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has claimed some of the women are “hardcore” and “have the potential and capacity to come back here and cause a mass casualty event”.

Identifying these people, gathering evidence about their crimes and managing domestic fears would be a big challenge.

However, the government’s position on extracting them from Syria has become less tenable after the Turkish invasion of northern Syria in October. This followed US President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal of the American military buffer in the region.

The invasion added uncertainty to an already fraught situation. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, who were central to the defeat of the Islamic State, were compelled to reinforce their forces on the border with Turkey.




Read more:
Western states must repatriate IS fighters and their families before more break free from Syrian camps


Many of their forces have been engaged in controlling prison camps in northern Syria, where about 12,000 men and boys suspected of Islamic State ties, including 2,000 to 4,000 foreigners from almost 50 countries, are held. Some camps also hold about 100,000 Syrian and foreign family members of IS suspects.

The invasion focused attention on the state of the camps, which are overcrowded, unsanitary and experiencing considerable unrest. There have been some escapes from the camps, and many fear they are close to collapse.

The situation increases the possibility that young people in the camps will be radicalised.

Last week, the US government, which has repatriated some of its nationals, offered to help allies, including Australia, rescue their citizens from northern Syria. On the same day, Turkey called on Australia to repatriate its IS fighters and their families in Turkish custody.

Groups like Save the Children and Human Rights Watch have also called for the repatriation of women and children in the prison camps.

In Canberra, shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally has also argued Australia has a moral obligation to repatriate the women and children who were taken to Syria against their will.

Al-Hawl camp in northern Syria where eight Australian IS fighters and some 60 women and children are believed to be held.
Tessa Fox/AAP

Barriers to bringing detainees back

While Australia has not joined the Dutch in outright rejecting the US offer, the Morrison government has shown no enthusiasm for the idea.

Its position has been further undermined by the actions of other nations with citizens in the camps. Kosovo, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, for example, have already repatriated hundreds of prisoners.

And Britain is considering options for repatriating its citizens. A government document reported on last month said,

While difficult, the practical challenges in arranging and implementing an extraction (of IS suspects) are likely to have solutions.

Australia, by contrast, has continued to focus on the difficulties of extracting its citizens from the area, rather than tackling the legal challenges associated with bringing them home. Our legislative framework is still not sufficiently robust to deal with returnees.

The government has had many years to figure this out. In 2014, the UN passed a resolution obliging all countries to adopt measures to deal with the issue of foreign fighters.




Read more:
Why is it so difficult to prosecute returning fighters?


There are ways to try those suspected of crimes committed in another country. The principle of universal jurisdiction, for example, would allow Australia to interrogate and prosecute those currently held in Syria.

Lower-level suspects who are desperate to escape from Syria could also be required to accept certain conditions, such as restrictions on movement and contacts and participation in re-education programmes. The Australian women in the camp have already indicated they are open to this.

But instead of looking at these options, Australia has endeavoured to keep out returning fighters and their families. Laws have been passed to strip some of their citizenship, running counter to several international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And the temporary exclusion orders bill passed in July gives Dutton the power to bar Australian citizens from returning home for up to two years if they are suspected of supporting a terror organisation.

There are few other options

Some governments have suggested that IS captives in Syria should be transferred to Iraq, where trials of suspected IS members have already been held. The problem with this idea is that Iraq’s justice system is deeply flawed and has imposed the death penalty after some highly dubious trials.

For example, France sent some suspects there only for them to be summarily sentenced to be hanged.




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Preventing foreign fighters from returning home could be dangerous to national security


Equally unacceptable would be to allow the Australian prisoners to fall into the hands of the Syrian regime.

In coming months, as conditions in the camps deteriorate and Syrian government forces expand their control of the area, we can expect mounting pressure on governments like Australia’s to repatriate their citizens.

In the long run, these are Australian citizens who should be entitled to the benefits that come from that, including due process of law. It is hard to see how the government can continue to deny their rights.The Conversation

Anthony Billingsley, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Baghdadi’s death is a huge blow to Islamic State, but history suggests it won’t guarantee a safer world



Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable, but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led.
AAP/EPA/ al Furqan ISIS media wing handout

Greg Barton, Deakin University

“A very bad man” has been killed and “the world is now a much safer place”. The sentiment behind US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is difficult to argue with. Baghdadi was certainly a very bad man. And under his decade-long leadership of the Islamic State (IS) movement, many thousands of people in the Middle East and around the world suffered terrible brutality or death.

Common sense would suggest the world is indeed now a much safer place with Baghdadi’s passing. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee this will prove to be true in practice.

The 18 year-long so-called Global War on Terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks – the international military campaign to fight al-Qaeda, and then IS – has been almost entirely reactive and tactical.

It has lacked any consistent strategic purpose, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines or anywhere else.

The strongest military coalitions the world has ever seen have fought the largest and most powerful terror networks that have ever existed. And this has led, directly and indirectly, to hundreds of thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars spent and remarkably little progress overall.




Read more:
US retreat from Syria could see Islamic State roar back to life


The special forces raids targeting Baghdadi, in Idlib, and his deputy, IS spokesperson Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, in Aleppo, were undoubtedly significant achievements representing tactical victories of great consequence.

IS has been dealt an enormous blow. But just how long its impact will last is not clear. The lessons of the past two decades make it clear this will certainly not have been a fatal blow.

The IS insurgency, both on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and around the world, was rebuilding strength before these strikes and will not be stopped in its tracks by losing its two most senior public leaders.

Baghdadi as IS leader

Baghdadi may not be irreplaceable but in many respects he was uniquely suited to the times in which he led. He oversaw the rebuilding of IS from its previous low point a decade ago. He played a key role in expanding into Syria, replenishing the leadership ranks, leading a blitzkrieg across northern Iraq, conquering Mosul and declaring a caliphate. In the eyes of his support base, his credibility as an Islamic scholar and religious leader will not easily be matched.

He was not a particularly charismatic leader and was certainly, as a brutal, fundamentalist loner, not truly inspirational. But he played his role effectively, backed up by the largely unseen ranks of former Iraqi intelligence officers and military commanders who form the core of the IS leadership.

He was, in his time, the caliph the caliphate needed. In that sense, we will not see his like again.

Incredibly, 15 years after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established al-Qaeda in Iraq, and almost ten years after Baghdadi took charge of the Islamic State in Iraq, there is so much about the leadership of IS we don’t understand.

What is clear is the insurgent movement benefited enormously from so-called “de-Baathification” – the ridding of Arab nationalist ideology – in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and toppling of the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. The sacking of thousands of mostly Sunni senior military leaders and technocrats proved to be a windfall for the emerging insurgency.

IS has always been a hybrid movement. Publicly, it presents as a fundamentalist religious movement driven by religious conviction. Behind the scenes, however, experienced Baathist intelligence officers manipulated religious imagery to construct a police state, using religious terror to inspire, intimidate and control.

This is not to say Zarqawi and Baghdadi were unimportant as leaders. On the contrary, they were effective in mobilising religious sentiment first in the Middle East and then across the world. In the process, more than 40,000 people travelled to join the ranks of IS, inspired by the utopian ideal of religious revolution. Baghdadi was especially effective in playing his role as religious leader and caliph.

An optimistic take on Baghdadi’s denouement is that IS will be set back for many months, and perhaps even years. It will struggle to regain the momentum it had under his leadership.

Realistically, the extent to which this opportunity can be capitalised upon turns very much upon the extent to which the emerging leaders within the movement can be tracked down and dealt with before they have a chance to establish themselves.

What might happen now?

It would appear IS had identified the uncontested spaces of north-western Syria in Idlib and Aleppo, outside of the control of the Assad regime in Damascus, of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northeast Syria, and beyond the reach of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, as territory in which its leadership could relocate and rebuild.

Continuing the optimistic take, there is the slim hope that the success of Sunday’s raids in which the partnership between US special forces and the SDF was so critical will lead to Trump being persuaded to reverse his decision to part ways with the SDF and pull out their special forces partners on the ground, together with accompanying air support.




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The ‘ceasefire’ in Syria is ending – here’s what’s likely to happen now


The fact Baghdadi and Muhajir were both found within five kilometres of the Turkish border suggests Turkish control of northern Syria is, to say the least, wholly unequal to the task of dealing with emerging IS leaders.

A reset to the pattern of partnership established over the past five years with the largely Kurdish SDF forces in north-eastern Syria could prove critically important in cutting down new IS leaders as they emerge. It’s believed the locations in northern Syria of the handful of leaders most likely to step into the void left by Baghdadi’s passing are well-known.

But even in the best-case scenario, all that can be realistically hoped for is slowing the rebuilding of the IS insurgency, buying time to rebuild political and social stability in northern Syria and northern Iraq.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough



The Christchurch attack is a clear signal we need to change our approach to both hateful extremism and toxic political discourse in Australia.
David Alexander/AAP

Greg Barton, Deakin University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read the rest of the series here.


Until the terror attack in Christchurch in March, the threat of far-right terrorism in Australia was one we knew was coming, but believed was well over the horizon.

The sordid story of the Christchurch attacker – “ordinary Australian” turned hateful bigot turned mass-murdering terrorist – contains some uncomfortable truths for our country, not least of which is the fact that the threat of far-right extremism has arrived in the here and now.

Just as troubling, yet even more challenging because it is so insidious, are the clear links between the Christchurch shooter’s motivations and our mainstream political discourse. Facing up to this threat requires us changing our approach both to hateful extremism and toxic political discourse.

Police and counter-terrorism officials have long been warning us of the rising threat of far-right violent extremism. Over the past decade, this has emerged as the number one terrorist threat in America and a persistent and growing threat in Europe.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


It’s tempting to say that had more resources been committed to tracking and monitoring far-right groups and individuals in Australia, the Christchurch terrorist perhaps could have been stopped.

But even in hindsight, things are not so clear. The Christchurch gunman was a lone actor with no previous history of significant violence, although his involvement in hateful extremism was well-known to family and friends.

This is the particular threat that keeps counter-terrorism experts awake at night, when so-called “cleanskins” (people with ostensibly spotless records) turn into lone-actor terrorists.

We are flying blind on far-right extremism

One clear lesson from Christchurch is that we need to pay more attention to hate speech and hate crimes.

It is true that “shit-posting” is a common occurrence on social media, and among all those people spouting off, it is extremely difficult to see who might become a violent extremist.

But clearly, we don’t understand the world of far-right extremism nearly as well as we should. We need a better way of monitoring and tracking far-right forums, social networks and the links between far-right individuals through their histories of travel and extremist communications.

We also have no centralised, national database of hate incidents. Hate crimes remain under-reported, poorly documented and de-prioritised to low levels of state policing.




Read more:
Right-wing extremism has a long history in Australia


The result is that we are flying blind. We don’t get to see the patterns between far-right groups and internet “shit-posters” because we are not collecting the data.

If we made it a priority at the state and federal level to document hate incidents, whether crimes or not, we would at least have a sense of when and where the problem is growing and who is most significantly involved.

This wouldn’t eliminate the threat of far-right extremism, but it might help stop the next massacre and it would certainly contribute to making Australian society more healthy, welcoming and just.

Anti-immigrant protesters at a Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney in 2015.
David Moir/AAP

A disproportionate focus on Islamist terror threats

The September 11 attacks in America, and subsequent attacks by al-Qaeda in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere, triggered an enormous investment in counter-terrorism efforts in Australia.

This had barely begun to abate when the formation of the Islamic State (IS) caliphate in mid-2014 alerted us to the high rates of terror recruitment in Australia and prompted the raising of the national terrorism alert to the penultimate level in September 2014.

An intercepted phone call then triggered Australia’s largest-ever counter-terrorism operation. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State issued a call for random lone-actor attacks around the world and, within days, an 18-year-old launched a knife attack against two police officers in Melbourne.




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Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism


These circumstances have led to 82 counter-terrorism laws being enacted in Australia since 2001, and 16 counter-terrorism operations since 2014, almost all of which have been responding to the threat posed by violent Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

This perception of the increased threat posed by these groups has resulted in a disproportionate investment in counter-terrorism compared with the response to the much greater threat posed by domestic violence.

At the same time, however, very little has been invested in preventative counter-terrorism measures, including countering far-right extremism.

A national discourse bound up in fear

We pride ourselves on being the world’s most successful multicultural society, yet we consistently turn a deaf ear to those who come up against hatred.

Just last month, for example, a new national survey found that 82% of Asian Australians, 81% of Australians of Middle Eastern background and 71% of Indigenous Australians had experienced some form of discrimination.

One reason why we are not yet ready to face up to this problem is that our national political discourse has for decades become bound up with the politics of fear, “othering”, and scapegoating minority communities.

When we demonise “illegal arrivals” and give license to the toxic rhetoric that we are being “swamped by Asians”, as Pauline Hanson put it in the late 1990s, or more recently “flooded by Muslims”, then we are buying into the core element of the narrative of terrorists like the Christchurch gunman.

In his manifesto, the gunman referenced the far-right extremist trope of “the great replacement” –
the fear that white Christian society is being overrun by brown-skinned, non-Christian people who are changing its culture and society irrevocably.

He picked up this idea from parts of Europe where there is strong antagonism to migrants and Muslims. But he referenced it directly from the writings of the Norwegian far-right terrorist who shot dead 69 people and blew up another eight in July 2011.

This same argument featured in the manifesto of the El Paso gunman who murdered 22 people at a Walmart store in Texas last month. In it, he praised the Christchurch shooter and warned of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.

These alt-right terrorists are driven in part by a fantasy of going from “zero to hero” in the alt-right internet world and becoming renowned as “warrior defenders”.

White nationalist manifestos are a recurring feature of far-right extremist attacks, like the one in El Paso this year.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Prioritising far-right extremism

Prior to Christchurch, kicking the can down the road and prioritising other threats to our national security seemed an understandable, if not ideal response.

We now need to face the reality that of 50 terrorism-related deaths in the US last year, almost all involved far-right extremism. (Only one was linked to jihadi terrorism.) This is a pattern that’s been established for decades now. In fact, nearly three-quarters of all terrorist deaths in the US over the past decade have been linked to far-right extremism.

And while there is reason to hope the problem will never become quite so serious in Australia (despite the fact an Australian far-right extremist has murdered 51 people in another country), we need to do what we can now to counter the rise of hate speech and hate crimes – not later.

There are no quick fixes or guaranteed solutions, but these steps will make society better in ways that go far beyond the immediate threat of another terrorist attack.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s quest for national security is undermining the courts and could lead to secretive trials



Bernard Collaery’s whistleblower trial will be a key test of the National Security Information Act and the restrictions it places on defendants and the courts.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read other stories in the series here.


In August, the intelligence officer known as Witness K indicated he would plead guilty to a conspiracy charge under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act. That section prohibits the disclosure of information acquired or prepared by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

His lawyer, Bernard Collaery, will contest the same charge in the ACT Supreme Court.

Concerns have been raised about the use of the National Security Information Act (NSIA) in the Collaery trial. Anthony Whealy, a former judge who presided over several of Australia’s recent terrorism trials, said

This could be one of the most secretive trials in Australian history.

Both cases will be back in court this month. A hearing is also scheduled to consider how national security information will be dealt with in the Collaery trial.

There has been significant media discussion around the ASIS bugging that Witness K and Bernard Collaery exposed, but less about the NSIA.

So what is the National Security Information Act? Why was it introduced and how could it lead to secretive trials?

Having its cake and eating it, too

The purpose of the NSIA is to protect national security information while allowing it to be used in Australian courtrooms. It applies in federal court proceedings, both civil and criminal.

Before the NSIA, prosecutors faced a difficult choice. They could prosecute someone for terrorism, national security or secrecy offences and risk having sensitive information disclosed publicly, or they could keep the information secret and possibly have the prosecution fail.

The act was introduced in 2004 as part of Australia’s vast suite of counter-terrorism laws, designed specifically to help prosecutors convict people for terrorism offences.

Now, the government can have its cake and eat it too: it no longer needs to choose between protecting sensitive information and prosecuting someone for disclosing it.




Read more:
Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism


What does the NSIA do?

The NSIA creates special procedures by which national security information can be protected while still being used as evidence.

National security information is defined broadly under the act as any information relating to

Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests.

There are two circumstances in which the NSIA procedures can be triggered. The first is when the parties know in advance they are likely to reveal national security information during the trial. The parties must notify the attorney-general of this, or face two years in prison.

The second set of circumstances relates to when a witness is being questioned on the stand and an answer has the potential to reveal national security information. If a lawyer or the defendant knows this could happen, he or she must stop the witness from answering and notify the court, or the same penalty applies.




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In either of these circumstances, the attorney-general can issue a non-disclosure certificate that prohibits the information from being revealed or allows it to be revealed in summary or redacted form. The court then holds a closed hearing in which the judge will determine whether and how the information may be used.

In a closed hearing, not only are journalists and members of the public barred from attending, but also the jury. The judge may even exclude the defendant, the defendant’s lawyer or a court official if revealing the information to them would be likely to compromise national security.

Supporters of Bernard Collaery and Witness K protesting outside Supreme Court in Canberra in August.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Withholding information from defendants

That the legislation permits closed hearings is not necessarily the main issue, though this certainly undermines the principles of open justice. However, closed hearings are an option in other sensitive cases, such as those involving child victims of sexual assault.

The main problem with the NSIA is that it creates a situation in which national security information can be used in a courtroom without the defendant, jury, media or general public knowing the details of that information.

Producing evidence in summary or redacted form means that the gist of the information is provided, but key details are kept secret. In fact, it is not even clear under Australian law that something approximating a gist needs to be given.




Read more:
From Richard Boyle and Witness K to media raids: it’s time whistleblowers had better protection


This undermines the defendant’s ability to argue their innocence. A core aspect of procedural fairness and the right to a fair trial is that defendants must know the case against them. This allows their lawyers to contest the veracity of the evidence through cross-examination.

Without knowing when or how the prosecution’s evidence was collected, or even the precise claims the evidence is making, lawyers cannot adequately defend their clients. They are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Weighing national security vs a fair trial

Moreover, in deciding how potentially sensitive information can be used in court, judges must give greater weight to national security than the defendant’s right to receive a fair hearing.

In other words, the NSIA does not require a judge to balance national security and a fair trial equally. More weight must be given to the former under the law.

It may be that judges can still strike an appropriate balance so defendants receive a fair hearing in cases like these. But if a contest between national security and a fair trial needs to be decided, it is clear which one wins.

Using the NSIA in the Collaery trial is also significant because the accused is a whistleblowing lawyer and not someone accused of terrorism.

After the recent police raids on the ABC headquarters, the home of a News Corp journalist and the home of an Australian Signals Directorate officer, the Australian media will be watching this trial closely.

It is likely, given the sensitive nature of the ASIS bugging scandal, that information will be withheld from Collaery’s defence team for national security reasons. This is a significant test case for whether whistleblowers can receive a fair trial in the current climate of government secrecy.The Conversation

Keiran Hardy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism



Australia has enacted 20 new anti-terror laws since 2014. Several more bills have been introduced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and are now before parliament.
James Ross/AAP

Nicola McGarrity, UNSW and Jessie Blackbourn, Durham University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how this is impacting society. Read other stories in the series here.


In late September, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced a new bill that would give him stronger powers to strip the Australian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terror-related offences or who in engage in related activities.

In response to the prospect of foreign fighters returning from conflicts overseas, the bill proposes extending the current citizenship revocation law to any dual national who is convicted of a terrorism offence carrying at least three years imprisonment (compared to the current six).

It would also be back-dated to account for any terrorism convictions or conduct from May 2003 onwards (compared to the current cut-off date of December 2015).

To protect the rights of dual nationals, the bill proposes changing the process for revoking citizenship. Instead of it automatically ceasing when people engage in terror-related conduct, the minister would have the sole power to decide if they should be stripped of their citizenship.

This procedural change is unusual because moves to repeal or wind back
anti-terrorism laws have been few and far between.

Unfortunately, however, in all other respects, the new citizenship bill fits squarely within the pattern of overzealous Australian anti-terror law-making over the past 18 years.




Read more:
Preventing foreign fighters from returning home could be dangerous to national security


A new law every 6.7 weeks

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Australian parliament has responded to the threat of terrorism here and overseas by enacting dozens of new laws or amending existing laws.


Note: Hover on desktop to see names and links of individual acts.

In 2011, University of Toronto Professor Kent Roach famously described this response in Australia as one of “hyper-legislation”.

Another expert, UNSW Professor George Williams calculated that between the September 11 terrorist attacks and the defeat of the Howard government in November 2007, a new anti-terror law was enacted on average every 6.7 weeks.

The declaration of a caliphate by the Islamic State in mid-2014 led to another flurry of legislative activity in parliament.

This started with the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 (Cth), which controversially exempted undercover ASIO officers from criminal prosecution, expanded that organisation’s access to computer networks, and restricted the leaking of sensitive information.




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National security bills compound existing threats to media freedom


In the five years since then, 19 more anti-terrorism laws have been passed. That brings the total number of substantive anti-terrorism laws enacted by parliament to 82 since the Sept. 11 attacks, with a further six bills either currently before parliament or about to be introduced.

This is a staggering number of laws, and far exceeds the volume in the United Kingdom, Canada and even the United States in response to Sept 11.

Draconian and unworkable laws

It is not only the sheer number of laws, but also their scope, which makes Australia stand out among Western democracies.

At the core of Australia’s anti-terrorism regime is a carefully considered and, in the eyes of most commentators, balanced definition of terrorism.

However, as the years have gone by, increasingly draconian, and often unworkable, legislation has spiralled out beyond this definition. For instance, the mere act of travel to certain areas, such as Mosul in Iraq, has been criminalised, as well as advocating terrorism.

Instead of working with companies like Facebook and Twitter in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, the government imposed impractical obligations on them to scrutinise the online activities of their customers (with further laws threatened in the event of non-compliance).

In addition to the stripping of the citizenship of dual nationals, another bill would prevent anyone from returning home from overseas conflicts for a considerable period of time under a Temporary Exclusion Order, even Australians who don’t hold another passport.




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Another bill before parliament would require people who have previously been charged with a terrorism offence (regardless of whether they were ultimately acquitted) to prove extraordinary circumstances before being granted bail for a subsequent offence.

This demonstrates just how far lawmakers have strayed from the fundamental human rights and principles of criminal justice.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would have the power to decide on revoking citizenship for those convicted of terror offenses under a new bill before parliament.
Sam Mooy/AAP

What anti-terror laws are intended to do

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Australian lawmakers might have been excused any overreaction on the grounds the country didn’t have much historical experience with terrorism or in legislating in response to this threat.

At the time, there were no specific anti-terrorism laws at the federal level in Australia. This was undoubtedly a significant oversight which needed to be remedied.

Even today, more than 18 years on and with over 80 laws in place, it’s somewhat understandable lawmakers react to terrorist attacks by seeking to take swift action.

One of the (few) downsides of a democratic political system is that parliamentarians are hit with the full force of public hysteria about actual and perceived terrorist threats. The most obvious way for the parliament to address these fears is through the enactment of laws.

As Roger Wilkins, a former secretary of the Attorney-General’s department, said in support of proposals to strengthen the control orders laws in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks:

In a modern, liberal democracy, that’s about the only thing you can do.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, this is not just a case of political opportunism on the part of the governing party. The steps taken by lawmakers are crucial in re-establishing the community’s sense of security.

We need to acknowledge, above all, that the buck stops with our elected representatives to protect the lives of the Australian people. They bear both the personal and professional responsibility if a terrorist act occurs which could have been prevented.

It is this, as much as anything else, that explains the rapid and bipartisan passage of so many laws through the parliament.

Terrorism can’t be defeated through laws alone

Having said all this, it’s unfortunate successive Australian governments on both sides seem to have learned little over the course of the last 18 years.

Statements made in the aftermath of every terrorist attack, and, most recently in responding to concerns about foreign terrorist fighters, have identified the ultimate goal as being to “defy” and “defeat” terrorism.




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While statements such as this are clearly rhetorical, what underpins them is a failure to recognise the permanence of terrorism.

Terrorism in one form or another has always existed, and will always continue to exist. Neither legislation nor anything else will be able to eliminate this threat.

The idea of managing the threat of terrorism, in the sense that some degree of terrorism is acceptable or at least to be expected, might seem politically unpalatable. However, open acceptance of the permanence of terrorism means lawmakers will no longer be chasing – and the public no longer demanding – the achievement of an impossible goal.

It will also, in turn, facilitate a more proportionate response to the challenges posed by the foreign fighters phenomenon and the threat of terrorism more generally.

A better way forward

In a quest to eliminate terrorism, laws have been enacted that make ever-increasing intrusions into people’s lives and curtail human rights for diminishing returns in terms of security.

Some have even suggested these laws make us less safe. In its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the citizenship stripping laws, ASIO said these measures could:

have unintended or unforeseen adverse security outcomes – potentially including reducing one manifestation of the terrorist threat while exacerbating another.

It will never be appropriate or desirable for governments to sit back and take no action in response to the threat of terrorism. But what we need is a sharp change in approach.

Countering violent extremism programs have been used in Australia and other countries as another tool for responding to terrorism threats. Instead of treating such programs as a “backup” option, as they currently are in Australia, these should be brought to the fore.

The critical lesson of the past 18 years is that we must think creatively about how to combat the threat of terrorism, rather than continually reworking existing – and often demonstrably unsuccessful – strategies.The Conversation

Nicola McGarrity, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW and Jessie Blackbourn, Assistant Professor in Public Law and Human Rights, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Preventing foreign fighters from returning home could be dangerous to national security



Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is pushing to have new security laws passed by parliament as quickly as possible.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Greg Barton, Deakin University

A key element in the success of countering terrorism in Australia has been a series of new and amended pieces of legislation – at least 75 – developed to respond to an evolving threat.

This includes legislation produced in October 2014 (Section 119.2 and 119.3 of the Criminal Code) that declared areas of Iraq and Syria, including the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State (IS) caliphate, illegal for Australian citizens to enter. Anyone who has lived in this territory and seeks to return to Australia will have to prove they were not assisting IS or face prosecution and a possible punishment of up to 25 years in prison.

Innovative pieces of legislation like the proposed Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEO) bill introduced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton are difficult to argue with. Existing national security laws already place Australia in a much stronger position than any other Western nation when it comes to managing the prosecution and detention of returning IS fighters.

Nevertheless, there is a limit to what legislation itself can do. Moreover, for every possible advantage, there are also possible disadvantages that need to be weighed up.

There is not a whole lot more the new TEO bill can be reasonably expected to achieve. And as the weight of legislation increases, there are reasonable questions to be asked about checks and balances and proportionate implementation.

In other words, the devil is very much in the detail.

Questions that need answering

Three questions need to be asked:

  • First, what is the actual need for this bill? And what is the likelihood the proposed legislation can meet this need?

  • Second, what are the potential downsides that might come with enacting this legislation?

  • Third, in the light of the first two questions, what then should be done?

There is no question, that with at least 80 individuals who have fought with IS now in a position to possibly return, any legislative tool that can help manage this risk is worth considering.

Specifically, there is clearly a benefit to being able to delay somebody’s return by at least two years, and through a process of extensions perhaps many more years. There is also an advantage, when they do return, of being able to legally impose conditions on who they meet with and where they go.




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The government has pointed out that around 40 Australians have already returned from Syria and Iraq under suspicion of being involved with terrorist groups. To have been able to delay and then manage the return of these 40 fighters clearly would have been very useful.

But what has not been explained by the government is that these 40 individuals came back to Australia more than six years ago, and only a couple have so far been successfully prosecuted.

If the need was so urgent, why wasn’t a temporary exclusion order introduced in late 2014 when we first began to process a raft of counter-terrorism bills and amendments? Or in 2015 when the UK introduced similar legislation?

First line of defence

There is, in fact, no immediate crisis, and undue haste in passing further security legislation should be avoided because it is very dangerous to national security.

If TEOs are applied excessively, and without sufficient discrimination, a number of risks arise. Individuals currently detained in overcrowded detention centres in Syria or Iraq might be released if their repatriation to Australia is delayed by years.

Or, they could be broken out of detention by IS insurgents, who remain deadly and numerous. This happened on dozens of occasions when IS needed to replenish its ranks.

Allowing our citizens to be somebody else’s problem, out of sight and out of mind, does not actually make the security risk to Australians go away. Leaving them offshore leaves open the very real possibility that they will eventually slip away into the terrorist underground or rejoin the IS insurgency.




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Should they do so, they immediately become a risk through their ability to influence others online and via social media.

It is likely that TEOs will be also applied to women and children we really should be repatriating. This would pass the buck to others to look after and secure these women and children, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are already overstretched and unable to deal with the burden of indefinitely detaining those who have fled the decaying IS caliphate.

There is also a real risk this legislation, much like other bills that allow Dutton to strip somebody of their citizenship on the grounds they potentially have access to alternative citizenship, could undermine confidence and trust within key communities in Australia.

As then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after the murder of Sydney police accountant Curtis Cheng by a 15-year-old recruited by IS supporters in 2015, our first line of defence in fighting groups like Islamic State is the Muslim community.

Intelligence is key to countering terrorism and working with communities and families to encourage people to speak up when they see something of concern. To the extent that trust and confidence are eroded, national security will be directly diminished.

Amendments that could help

So what should be done?

Speaking last week at his farewell dinner, outgoing Labor Senator Doug Cameron spelled out the larger issues that need to be addressed.

Our existing oversight is inferior and, in my view, almost non-existent. This is unacceptable and we should ensure our inferior parliamentary oversight of security agencies is changed and oversight is enhanced.

Cameron is not the only one to express concerns. This bill was first introduced into the 45th Parliament. The Liberal-dominated Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) produced an extensive review and a detailed report on the bill.




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Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, a member of the PJCIS, has since complained that the government had

rejected four of the PJCIS recommendations in whole, rejected six in part and ignored one.

This, despite the fact that these recommendations came as a result of the considered reasoning of senior figures from both the Liberals and Labor.

One of the key amendments recommenced by the PJCIS is that the minister of home affairs should only be empowered to order a temporary exclusion order if he or she

reasonably suspects the person is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activities outside Australia

And that a TEO should only be made

if it would substantially assist in preventing the provision of support for, or the facilitation of, a terrorist act.

The principle of being able to impose TEOs certainly bears consideration. While this is no “silver bullet”, there is a case for passing the bill after including the amendments thoughtfully proposed by the PJCIS.

Without a better system of oversight, we risk undermining community trust and confidence by setting in place policy that leads to dire consequences and diminishes our national security.

Now is not the time to make haste at the expense of national security, as well as the very values that define us as Australians.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.