Fed Police chief proposes “Reprogramming”

You probably missed it, but last week Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty actually proposed forcibly “reprogramming” people’s political beliefs.

Speaking on ABC TV’s Lateline on 8 March, Keelty says we should look at techniques which have been used “successfully” in such bastions of human rights as Indonesia, Singapore and Pakistan — even referring to it as “best practice”.

Keelty equates reprogramming people to convincing an informer to give evidence, and says this is the next step… to re-program somebody who has a belief or holds a belief. It has already been discussed with the government in the context of anti-terrorism control orders.

Commissioner Keelty, just in case you’ve forgotten Articles 18 and 19 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, here’s a refresher…

Belief: a Basic Human Right

The UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed and ratified by Australia.

18.1 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…

18.2 No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice…

19.1 Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

19.2 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights expands upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it does have provisions for “limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”.

But the key word is necessary. Not convenient or useful, but necessary. You may only restrict human rights if there’s no other method at all for preserving our safety. There’s a burden of proof there, and Keelty hasn’t even begun to address it.

Who’s Belief?

The dangerous question, of course, is who chooses what political beliefs we “should” have.

Keelty was careful to call his proposal “de-programming” — making a distinction between the bad “brainwashing” or “programming” done by Them and the healthy “de-programming” done by Us.

But whether a change in belief is “forward” programming or “reverse” de-programming or sideways “re-programming” is simply a matter of your political beliefs and how you want to spin it.

Spin 1: Make it sound community-minded

Keelty admits there might be a PR problem here. He says we need to…

“…be very careful as to how we present those operations, not only back to the Australian community, but to those within the community who might otherwise take up the the cause because they see one part of their community being disenfranchised or mistreated by the authorities.”


So he tries hard to make it sound humane, twice mentioning that you might “turn” someone using “somebody who’s influential within the community. A respected imam, for example” — once more reinforcing en passant the propaganda that terrorist = Muslim.

But in the end Keelty is quite pragmatic:

“The best scenario would be… the one that is likely to yield the best results.”

And what is best? Well, this technique…

“…also opens up the opportunity to get information that would otherwise not be available.”

Spin 2: Make it sound medical

Commissioner Keelty also tries to equate his “de-programming” to treating drug addition. After all, it’s “healthy” if we’re treating a “sickness”.

“People who believe something that the wider community doesn’t believe in and certainly doesn’t understand and when you get into the realms of suicide bombers, that is something that is so foreign to, I guess, our way of thinking that somebody who is in that position has to not be thinking rationally. So if I guess the extension of that is if they’re acting and thinking irrationally, then how do we convert that behaviour and bring it back to rational behaviour? In a sense, that is a sickness.”

Except for one tiny problem.

The health model is about getting the best result for the patient, based on the medical opinion of qualified doctors. That’s not the same as getting “the best result” for policeman who are after “the opportunity to get information”.

The full transcript of the interview makes interesting reading.

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