The snowball method: "Shut the f#&k up"
by Marcus Browning One day on a bus on the way to work I noticed a graphic in a magazine someone was reading. It was of muscle-bound US Marines armed to the teeth standing over astonished civilians. In the background were the exploding Twin Towers in New York. One of the marines was saying to the stunned citizens: "Shut the fuck up. We'll handle this." It was a concise summing up of the Bush Government's swift action to silence all questions, all criticisms and all dissenting voices around the events of September 11 last year. This method, used in the US, Britain and here in Australia, I call the Snowball. First came the counter-posing of what initially appeared to be the same things: "democracy and freedom" and democratic rights and free speech. It didn't take long before it became clear that to George W Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard they are not the same things at all. Bush set the Snowball in motion when he warned, "You can't be against terrorism and war". Furthermore, criticism of the government "gives aid and comfort to the enemy" and is therefore by definition unpatriotic. And so the Snowball rolled on, gathering speed and mass. Using this "for- us-or-against-us" contrivance, the Bush/Blair/Howard troika granted themselves immunity from scrutiny and the right not to be held accountable for any of their actions. Hence the impression you may be getting that Howard and his Ministers have been invested with a transcendent executive power — in fact the festering germ of authoritarianism. NSW Supreme Court judge John Dowd encountered the Snowball last week after giving evidence to a Senate inquiry into the proposed legislation to give ASIO sweeping new powers. There followed a coordinated, vitriolic attack on him via the media and some politicians, such as Howard's warmongering right-hand man, NSW Premier Bob Carr. Carr: "We had the slaughter of Australian innocents in Bali. We've had warnings that Australia might be targeted. So John [Dowd], wake up to yourself. The threat is real." Liberal Senator George Brandis: "What worries people about civil liberties activists is their responses sometimes seem automatic, like Pavlov's dogs." Piers Akerman in the Daily Telegraph: "Premier Bob Carr was rightly outraged by Dowd's claim that the legislation was an exercise in fear- mongering." Daily Telegraph editorial, alongside Akerman's column: "Justice Dowd is wrong, so wrong." Amanda Devine in The Sydney Morning Herald: "Since the September 11 attacks and Bali we are all in a kind of prison now." See how the Snowball works? Giving evidence to the Senate inquiry Dowd — who as the Australian President of the International Commission of Jurists was after all reporting the ICJ's views — condemned the legislation, saying it would undermine fundamental democratic rights and would turn ASIO into a "secret police". He warned that the introduction of laws under the banner of anti-terrorism and in "an atmosphere of hysteria" would see Australian Muslims become their first victims. The ICJ said the laws — which include new powers for ASIO to search, interrogate and detain suspects and to hold people for seven days without charge, access to legal representation or to the courts — represent a greater threat to Australia's way of life than terrorism. "What we have done", said Dowd in the ICJ submission, "will be used by terrorist regimes and totalitarian regimes throughout the world. This is not what Australia is about. We developed our legal system on habeas corpus [presumption of innocence] and a whole range of protections of the individual. This just throws it aside." Now, Dowd is not the only critic of the legislation. A former NSW Liberal Attorney-General, he is not from what Devine, Akerman and co define as the "left". His background indicates that he should be "on-side" with what the Government is doing, or at least giving an assenting nod. He was singled out for attack in part because his position in the legal system and as ICJ President gives him a higher profile both here and overseas: his criticisms have a certain level of public impact. And he represents a growing disquiet across various sections of Australian society about the terror laws and threats to democratic rights. The Government knows that the momentum must be maintained, that in conducting a bogus war, appearance is everything. Dowd and the ICJ crossing the public relations line could knock the Snowball out of kilter. Said Dowd, in response to the attacks on him, "If the legislation does pass, then people should remember that they have been warned."