Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (photo: Pan-African News Wire)

(update 1 & 2 below)

A list of 23 Australian or Australia-based citizens recommended for placement on Australia’s “terror” list was recently published by WikiLeaks.

The secret cable, which contains the list of 23 names, opens with a notice that the US State Embassy in Canberra, Australia, is recommending 11 individuals for the NO FLY list and twelve individuals for the “SELECTEE” list.

Embassy Canberra recommends 11 individuals be placed on the NO FLY list and 12 individuals be placed on the SELECTEE list.  The 23 individuals are Australian citizens, or are Australia-based, and are of security interest because they have either an historical or current association with Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, or are based in Yemen or the surrounding region and may come into contact with al-Awlaki. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) provided the names and the Embassy Visas Viper committee met on 19 January 2010 to discuss the names.

Six females are recommended for the “NO FLY” list because of their “demonstrated connections with al-Qaida” or their “association with al-Awlaki.”  For example:

EMBASSY RECOMMENDATION: NO FLY LIST due to her demonstrated connections with al-Qa’ida and fact that recent threat information suggests AQ Arabian peninsula (AQAP) is looking to identify a female for a future attack.  While we have every confidence Australian authorities can and will monitor her activities and work to prevent her from departing Australia, her past history and association with al-Aulaqi merits her being on a NO FLY status.

That recommendation is for a 57-year old grandmother named Rabiah Maryam Hutchinson, who has been monitored and tracked by ASIO for twenty years. The Sydney Morning Herald describes her as “the ‘matriarch’ of Australian-based Islamist militants” who “has travelled extensively through strongholds of al-Qaeda including Afghanistan.” She has never been charged charged with terrorism, although she is said to have helped form the militant group Jemaah Islamiah, which carried out terrorist attacks like the 2022 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

She told The Australian in May 2009:

They don’t need to charge me with anything…They don’t need to put me in jail. They’ve taken away everything from me that means anything to me. I have been separated from my children and my grandchildren, from my people, my country. For what? What crime have I committed? What’s the justification for what’s happened to me?

Another one of the six females is “a Filipino located out of country, making her an attractive target for AQAP to deploy against US and allied interests.” She’s not in Australia, which means she is more difficult for Australian and US authorities to monitor. She, too, is accused of being associated with al-Awlaki and being a female, whom AQAP may like to use in an attack. There is no evidence in the cable to support the recommendation outside of speculation that she just happens to be the kind of person AQAP or al-Awlaki might like to use against the US in an attack. She is recommended for the “NO FLY” list.

One other female is recommended for the “NO FLY” list because she is the wife of a male, who the Embassy believes met with al Qaida “associates” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysian security then deported him to Australia “for security reasons.” The Embassy asserts he has “demonstrated intent to harm the United States.” He is the only person with a recommendation that actually features history that one might have if he or she was about to engage in terrorist activity. He was recommended for his “recent efforts in Kuala Lumpur to meet with al Qaida associates” and the fact that he had been deported to Australia “for security reasons” and had “demonstrated intent to harm the United States.”

Only two of the individuals are actually in Yemen. The rest are being put on the list to be prevented from possibly affiliating with or getting on any airplanes to go meet al-Awlaki. One male has the unfortunate luck of being in Somalia so he was destined to be put on the list.

On April 7, 2010, the CIA confirmed the Obama White House had authorized the targeted killing of al-Awlaki. As Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald emphasized, this meant al-Awlaki would be accorded no due process, no charges or trials for any crimes, no evidence would be offered for why he deserved to be targeted. The US government was just going to begin to target him for killing.  In fact, in May of this year, the Obama administration tried to end al-Awlaki’s life with a drone strike in Yemen that missed him and killed two others instead.

Greenwald has been keen to point out that even if al-Awlaki is evil, violent and a murdering terrorist who would stop at nothing to kill Americans he still should have a right to a trial, where he can defend himself against charges that he was intent on killing Americans through acts of terrorism.

Should people be put on terror lists based on the mere possibility that they could affiliate with some anti-American Muslim cleric in a Middle Eastern country, who sometimes uses violent rhetoric? The move seems pretty arbitrary. Is there not some more open way for citizens of a country to be placed on a list? Couldn’t they be allowed to go before a board with legal representation and challenge their designation? The people on the list may actually have connections to al Qaida. But, again, based on the recommendations in the cable, only one individual appears to have engaged in activity that one might expect a “terrorist” to engage in prior to an attack. [And, in the case of Hutchinson, it is suspicious that her history with a militant group is not listed. So, how should one view her designation?]

It’s worth noting that a Washington Post article by Dana Priest, which revealed Americans were now being placed on secret “hit lists,” was published in January 2010, when this secret cable was published. By then, al-Awlaki had already been targeted in late-December strikes.

Additionally, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to blow up a condom bomb on a US flight to Detroit. It was an embarrassing failure for the US security establishment, as they had clearly failed to connect the dots. There was evidence Abdulmutallab had “self-radicalized.” He allegedly made contact with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) just five months before the attempted attack. Days after, news organizations were suggesting Abdulmutallab had been in contact with al-Awlaki.

The climate of fear in America was revitalized. TSA was now preparing to escalate security theater in airports and introduce pat-downs along with body scanners, which would further violate people’s rights to privacy. Homeland Security Deputy Jane Holl Lute met with Australian officials on what to do to strengthen security.

In that sense, it’s no surprise that the US wanted to place individuals on “NO FLY” lists on the mere possibility that the individuals might travel to the Arabian peninsula and encounter the Yemeni cleric.

Update

Attorney General Robert McClelland has responded to WikiLeaks’ publication of the cable with the list of 23 individuals the ASIO is monitoring or tracking. He called the move “incredibly irresponsible.”

I note that on occasions in the past, WikiLeaks has decided to redact identifying features where security operations or safety could be put at risk…This has not occurred in this case. The publication of any information that could compromise Australia’s national security — or inhibit the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor potential threats — is incredibly irresponsible.

McClelland’s suggestion that the publication will threaten Australia national security is typical. In the US, that is what US officials would be saying if WikiLeaks had published a cable with the names of US citizens recommended for a terror list. The problem is there isn’t very much in the cable that speaks to the tactics, which the ASIO is using to go after the citizens. The recommendations for being put on the “NO FLY” or “SELECTEE” list are pretty generic. The worst part about the publication is that it gives those on the list the “official” explanation for why they are being denied the ability to get on flights to anywhere. That citizens now know why they are on the list may be inconvenient for ASIO, but it certainly doesn’t compromise national security. If they are dangerous, ASIO can still do everything in its power in concert with US intelligence agencies to keep them from being able to live normal lives.

Update 2

Julian Assange has a response for AG McClelland:

Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland bemoans having his department being publicly caught out, ratting out, 23 Australians to the US embassy without due process.

If Mr. McClelland is unhappy about being caught out, perhaps he should consider cancelling my Australian passport again. It has not, after all proven terribly useful to me the last 267 days of my detention without charge. Or, perhaps he could do us all a favor, cancel his own passport and deport himself?

Indeed, the critical issue is that Australians are put on the “NO FLY” list without due process. It is not that there is clear-cut evidence that none of them deserve to be monitored for ties to extremism but that they were arbitrarily placed. And, also, the US government was involved in helping the ASIO decide on what Australians to place on the country’s list. That is problematic as well.

It should be noted that McClelland has been all too willing to help the US go after Assange. As Bernard Keane wrote for Crikey in December:

Robert McClelland has made vague threats about arresting Assange and providing “every assistance” to the United States on “law enforcement action” and a “taskforce” has been assembled to consider the implications of the material being released. More seriously, McClelland has spoken of criminal offences in relation to publishing WikiLeaks-related material and said that the media may be asked to refrain from publishing certain material on national security grounds.