Thursday, April 27, 2006

Schapelle - rumours

As Schapelle started to gain widespread public support, a few weirdos with motives that I cannot begin to understand, started calling radio shows or writing to message boards with rumours designed to persuade people of her guilt. Some of those rumours are listed below:

There was no need for her to take her boogie board to Bali since her sister has a surf shop in Bali.

Refutation: It’s extraordinary how these untrue rumours spread. A bloke on the John Laws show makes up a story and a week later half of Australia is basing all sorts of arguments on this ‘fact’. But anyway, it's not true. Mercedes lived and worked on the Gold Coast but took occasional trips to Bali largely because her husband is Balinese.

Where did she get the money for all those trips to Bali. I heard 30 in the last 12 months.

Refutation: More nonsense from the same John Laws caller. Schapelle has been to Bali a couple of times in the last 5 years.

I know an airline hostess that went over on the flight with Corby and said she was really nervous all the way.

Refutation: No you don’t. By the way, I know a Bali copper that told me that Customs Officer Winata is telling everybody that he once had his advances to an Aussie girl rebuffed and had been looking for revenge ever since. (Tell you what - I’ll admit I made my story up, when you do the same.)

I have heard from friends who live and work in Bali that the Indonesians suspected the Corby siblings were smuggling stuff into the country for the past 5 years but they were too smart to get caught.

Refutation: And let me guess. No doubt they were using that surf shop in Bali as a distribution point and using Schapelle's experience as a Japanese hooker to entice people into their wicked clutches, whenever she was on one of her many thousands of weekly visits to Bali. Absolute garbage!

Worth making the point that the Bali police followed this line of inquiry with diligence and came up with absolutely nothing.

I have heard that police on the Gold Coast were well aware of the Corby family’s drug-related activities.

Refutation: Quite the contrary Paul Toohey in a 25 May article in the Bulletin wrote:

If the family are drug-dealers, local cops say it is news to them. Just around the corner from Rosleigh’s home is a four-person Loganlea police outpost. They say they’ve never had reason to visit Rosleigh’s address. … “And I can tell you, when someone gets caught with drugs here, which is all the time, they’re quick to dob in their supplier.”

Apparently Schapelle worked as a hooker in Japan.

Refutation: Another unpleasant use of a half truth to disparage Schapelle. After the failure of her marriage to a Japanese man, Schapelle worked temporarily in a bar in Tokyo. There is no reputable suggestion that she worked as a hooker.

Schapelle – guilty?

As I’ve previously stated in this blog, the evidence that could have conclusively proved Schapelle innocent or guilty was deliberately, and with merriment, ignored or contaminated by the Bali authorities on the night of her arrest.

There are some solid indicators of innocence. For all that there are undoubtedly two solid pieces of evidence against her. That (1) she was in possession, and (2) Bali authorities testified to a guilty reaction from Schapelle when they went to open her bag. So I am constantly amazed that so many of Schapelle’s detractors seem to be endlessly trying to come up with the 'really convincing' evidence against her. Here are some of those arguments, and their refutations:

Her defence was weak, with no real evidence, only that criminal with his hearsay evidence.

Refutation: Of course it was weak. The authorities either failed to collect, or contaminated, all the good evidence. But tell me, would you still think the defence was weak if the arrest had been properly handled, and as a result the defence had been able to show that a Brisbane baggage-handler’s print was on the cannabis bag or that the weight of the boogie board bag had increased by 4.1 kg between Brisbane and Bali.

A weight difference of 4-5 kilos on a boogie board bag would have been noticed by an innocent person.

Refutation: Worthless speculation. That is the type of thing that gets noticed by people who notice things like that. The argument is not fit for a courtroom or for intelligent argument. In any event, James did most of the carrying in Bali.

The drug parcel was almost exactly the same dimensions as the boogy board bag.

Refutation: A worthless speculative argument that would be laughed out of court, and rightly so. The drug parcel was a reasonable fit as you would expect since the smugglers had a choice of hundreds of bags. It would have also comfortably fitted in any average suitcase filled to less than than two thirds capacity. Not surprisingly, as a relatively soft parcel it partially took the shape of the boogie board bag.

The drugs were not intercepted by a third party recipient. Why wouldn’t the ‘baggage handlers have picked then up in Sydney.

Refutation: It’s only speculation on my part, but one possible reason is that the Sydney Airports were crawling with police looking to arrest the international cocaine smugglers. But there could be millions of reasons. Maybe the pickup man had a flat tire on the way to work, or a bad migraine.

Ms Corby has at various times claimed that the board had been tampered with in both Bali and in Australia. Sounds like she makes it up as she goes along.

Refutation: Ms Corby has claimed nothing of the kind. She has no idea how the drugs got in her bag. Her defence team came up with the domestic smuggling theory. It's worth pointing out that this is the exact reason that it was so difficult for Schapelle to convince the court of her innocence – because they required her to explain how the drugs got in her bag. Something which an innocent person could not possibly do.

She admitted that the bag was hers when she was arrested. How come she denies it now? Is she stupid or something?

Refutation: No, she certainly isn’t. Right from the start, and consistently thereafter, Schapelle clearly stated that the boogie board bag was hers, and the cannabis bag was not.

There are big profits to be made from importing Australian marijuana to Bali, because Australians will pay extra to by Australian-quality marijuana and would prefer to buy from an Australian so as not to be sprung by the Bali police.

Refutation: This argument comes from an article by Matthew Moore in which he cunningly compares the wholesale price in Oz with the retail price in Bali. In fact, the prices for high quality dope are very similar, probably reflecting a balance between Bali’s harsher penalties and the ready availability of lower quality dope in Bali. Not that I’m conceding for a moment that the ‘Corby’ dope was of high quality. It was never tested despite Schapelle’s documented request to the court that this be done.
The other argument is that Aussies would prefer to buy from Aussies. Good theory but Bali tourists will tell you without exception that the people trying to sell drugs are Indonesians, not Aussies. This is probably because any Aussie selling drugs would stand out like dogs’, and could expect to be arrested and facing death penalty charges within hours.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Death penalty

Of all the issues I feel impassioned about, perhaps the top of the list is the death penalty, to the point that I actively attempt to avoid products from death penalty countries and have turned down speaking engagements in Singapore and Malaysia. My opposition to the death penalty is in part an instinctive abhorrence of cold-bloodedly ending somebody's life at a particular time. It is also based on the following arguments:

  • Mistakes cannot be fixed, and no matter how perfect the system there is always a doubt; ‘reasonable’ or not.
  • It is an inhumanly cruel act. And not just the act but also the years of mental torture. I cannot imagine anything as terrifying as watching the clock tick down towards your execution. I’m against torture, and that is torture!
  • The appeal processes involved, with any even approximately safe system, delay closure for families/friends of victims (it's not uncommon for execution to be carried out 10+ years after sentence). By contrast families/friends can move on with their lives as soon as murderers are sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
  • Taking away a person's entire existence for a wrong action is massively disproportionate. Nor is it reasonable to match the penalty to the result of the criminal act, after all, we don’t do that with drink drivers, or other offenders who cause death by carelessness or negligence.
  • A multitude of properly-conducted studies have proved it is no more of a deterrent than long prison sentences. Many people find this hard to believe because they themselves find the death penalty far more frightening than a life sentence in prison. But the real question is this...
    Are there potential criminals who would be deterred by the death penalty who are not deterred by long prison sentences.
    Reputable statistical studies say ‘no’.
  • Quite apart from the lack of statistical support for the deterrence factor, I am philosophically opposed to this as a justification for the death penalty. Implicit in the deterrence argument is the idea that it is reasonable to give a criminal a greater penalty than he would otherwise deserve in order to achieve a social objective. This idea is based on the profoundly unethical position that the end justifies the means. “We will murder, torture, dehumanize, whatever it takes to defeat the forces of darkness. Thank God, we’re not like them.”
  • Debate over potential death sentences and potential executions can inflame, stress and traumatise whole communities, and I can't see how an angry community can possibly be a safer community. I was in Washington at the time of the sniper trials and the level of rage in the community was scary, and in my view very much due to death penalty deliberations. I remember thinking that I’d rather not share a pub or a road with people this angry.
  • Keeping murderers alive sends an important message to the community about the value you place on human lives. And that does make the community safer.How can I tell my kids that murder is the unthinkable when the State does it to people they judge to be ‘bad’.
  • The stress and trauma for the people involved in the sentencing and carrying out of executions is an unreasonable and unhealthy burden for them to carry.
  • The existence of the death penalty tends to distort the justice process. People are less likely to plead guilty and jurors less likely to convict.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Me 'n Dubby

I was in Washington D.C. last week, and I figured that while I was there, I’d try out a few of the local brews, so naturally I went and found myself a bar.

As it turned out I was in excellent drinking form and was representing Oz with great distinction, when who should walk in but President GW Bush, himself. The two of us hit it off and I finished up chatting to the man, over a bourbon or two.

All that talk proved to be thirsty work and when I got back to the hotel, the room was spinning, somethin’ shocking, but I figured that this was a pretty significant moment in my life story, so I should scribble down a record of our conversation, as best as I could remember.

Me: Hey, Mr President. D’you wanna take a pew next to an Aussie and wrap your paw around a brew or two.

Dubby: Yeah, why not. I count your country as one of our greatest friends. You’ll sure as hell never hear a harsh word from me about the land of Mozart. But hey, call me Dubya and make it a bourbon, thanks.

Me: OK, I’m Truey. Glad to meet you. You don’t mind being called Dubya?

Dubby: Heayell no! Not since Dickie explained to me that Dubya was a famous Indian warrior.

Me: Thanks Dubya. So tell me, I’ve always wondered why did you do to war against Afghanistan?

Dubby: Geez dude. You musta started on the bourbons before me. I think you’ll find that the war was actually with Iraq. Here, look I’ll show you. Imagine this peanut bowl is Africa … well this little pool of slopped bourbon on the side here is the island of Afghanistan.

Me: But wasn’t it your mob that took on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Dubby: Geez, ya got me thinkin’ now. Hey! You are so right. Two wars, eh. No wonder I get confused. But hold on. It’s all coming back to me now. Wasn’t it something about getting rid of those hideous burkhas? Ha ha, look at your face, Truey. I’m not talking about the people, you goose. I’m talking about their fashion sense.

Me: I thought maybe it was something to do with that 9/11 thing.

Dubby: Oh yeah, that too – I remember. After 9/11 we thought we needed to invade somewhere and preferably a country without modern weapons or significant allies. Some of our people were gunning for New Zealand, but we couldn’t find it on the map. Yeah … interesting … I hope we won. Wouldn’t be a good look losing to that mob. Hey Truey, I think our glasses are dying of thirst. Let me get this round.

Me: Yeah, so how’s that Iraq thing going, anyway. I keep reading stuff like it’s becoming another Vietnam.

Dubby: Naah. Iraq and Vietnam are completely different; one is long and skinny and the other is sort of chunky, although I forget which is which.

Me: I think they were talking about getting your boys out of Iraq, y’know, your exit strategy.

Dubby: It’s already done! We picked ‘em up in helicopters from the rooftops of Saigon and flew ‘em home.

Me: We might be getting our wires crossed here, Dubby. I’ was thinking about the exit strategy for Iraq, not Vietnam.

Dubby: Surely we don’t still have soldiers in Iraq?

Me: You sure do.

Dubby: Heads are gonna roll when I get back to the white house. I’ll have a couple of apache helicopters sent to pick up our boys, immediately.

Me: There are actually 140,000 American troops over there.

Dubby: Whoa! That is going to be difficult. I just hope there’s enough roof space in Saigon to pick ‘em all up. But this is getting to be a dry argument … your shout, I think.

Me: Umm, Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City and it’s in Vietnam. But, I was actually wondering about your exit strategy for Iraq.

Dubby: Oh good. I was wondering when you were going to ask me about Iraq. Well, I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I managed it OK. Went to Iraq, served some turkey, hopped on a plane and took off home. That’s all there was to it.

Me: From which rooftop?

Dubby: Now don’t be like that, Truey; I know you’re trying to get me confused between Iraq and Vietnam, but it’s not going to work. Hey, two more of those, barman.

Me: Sorry mate. Must admit things are getting a bit woozy in here. So what did you think about all those photos of abuse and humiliation of prisoners in Iraq?

Dubby: *laughs* I don’t know what all the fuss was about. That thing with the leash and that fella balancing on the box, with the hood and the wires strapped to him; those were routine punishments in my family for years. Ha ha! It’s all right, Truey, I’m only joking. Had you going there though, didn’t I? But seriously, I think some of those things were a bit over the top. We need to remember that not everybody shares our sense of humour. Here get yourself on the outside of another of these.

Me: Dubby, While I’ve got you here, I’m really curious about the missing WMD.

Dubby: I’m gonna level with you, Truey. I’ve never ever understood what WMD stands for.

Me: Weapons of mass destruction.

Dubby: Oh right. You mean nukes. Darn it! Darn it! Darn it again! I just wish I’d known that was what they were all talking about. We’ve got thousands of ‘em, and I don’t think any are missing at all. Hell, I’ve only got to push a button on my desk and I can send ‘em all whooshing up in the sky, anytime I want.

Me: You’re not thinking of doing that are you, Dub?

Dubby: I’m telling you if you don’t get round to your next shout pretty soon, I’m gonna point ‘em at Austria, and boom!

We had a few more but things were getting a bit too hazy to remember clearly. Real good bloke though. Lots of laughs and this engaging capacity not to take anything seriously. How can you not like a fella like that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

David Hicks

In my last post about Schapelle, I talked about other terrible injustices around the world. One of the greatest is surely the appalling Military Commissions set up by George W Bush to try terrorists, and in particular the treatment of Australian, David Hicks.

David Hicks is now in his fifth year in Guantanamo Bay as a prisoner of the US Army. David is purportedly facing charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy. It all sounds pretty serious and is based on his being with the Taliban, purportedly fighting against allied soldiers.

Only, it was actually the other way round. David Hicks was having a boys-own-adventure with the Taliban, a legit army that were not involved in any war with anybody. Then all of a sudden George W Bush and John Howard declared war on Afghanistan and his comrades. It's far from clear that David Hicks did any fighting anyway. He was caught by the Northern Alliance while escaping to Pakistan.

His other fault was apparently to attend an Al Quada training camp. But bear in mind that at that stage there had been no 9/11 atrocity and that attending the camps did not have the same connotations it does now.

My view is that there is at least a good chance he is not guilty of any crime but that he has no chance of acquittal by a military commission where the U.S Army serves as arresting officer, prosecutor, defence, judge and jury, and where there are no rules of evidence. That bit about ‘no rules of evidence’ takes on additional weight when you take into account the likelihood that Hicks, like other prisoners, was tortured to obtain evidence against him.

I also think that having kept Hicks incarcerated for 5 years it is likely that the US Army would feel that an acquittal would be just too embarrassing to contemplate.

It’s not just my view that the military commissions are unfair. The British Government wouldn’t allow any of their citizens to be tried by this unfair system and successfully demanded their repatriation back to Britain. Nor would the Americans allow any of their citizens to front the commissions. Former High Court judge Mary Gaudron has also been critical of the military commission process, as well as the ADF's senior military counsel, Captain Paul Willee and three US prosecutors who quit the commission process, claiming it is unfair.

I think we'll probably find out one day, that our Government's unwavering and passionate support for the military commissions is a secret codicil to the free trade agreement with the USA or is a payback for not making a fuss about the AWB's activities in Iraq. Or something like that.

And I for one get angry when the Government abandons an individual for the greater economic good of us all. I find it all too easy to imagine myself, a family member or a friend in the same situation.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Schapelle - why should we care?

In a previous post, I talked about some of the reasons why I believe Schapelle Corby has been treated unfairly (unfair legal process, unreasonable penalty, may be innocent). Today I’d like to discuss one of the most difficult questions for Schapellites like myself to answer. With so many other Aussies in trouble round the world, African children being boiled alive, millions of people starving in poverty, political activists disappearing in the night, glaciers melting, species on the edge of extinction, etc, etc why make a fuss about Schapelle.

1. I don’t think we get a choice about what we’re going to care about. A million influences from the sandpit through to now determine that and we’ll never even know what most of them are. So I’m not going to tell you what to care about, and don’t you tell me. Let’s face it, your choices about charities to support, or items of litter to pick up, are probably impossible to justify as well. So you go ahead and save the whales, campaign against the new IR laws and donate to starving African children and I’ll worry about orangutans, the death penalty and Schapelle. And we’ll all be happy. And we’ll all be right.

2. I contend that it is only from caring about individuals that we can really care about problems affecting large groups of people. The Port Arthur massacre had, and continues to have a profound affect on many people, largely because of the then focus on the Mikac family. Without that I suggest there would still be loonies all over Oz with semi-automatic weapons capable of killing 30 people in a few seconds. Similarly the tsunami roused Australians to donate extraordinary sums of money because of the media’s skill in personalizing the disaster. And I have no doubt that my support for Schapelle has made me less self-centred and more caring towards people in trouble anywhere.

3. These people are worth it:

- Schapelle is worth it. She’s demonstrated a great sense of humour (“Bali is the worst holiday of my life”), courage under fire (who can forget her dignity and guts on the day of the verdict), racial tolerance (married a Japanese man, loves the people of Bali) and complete lack of vindictiveness (public statement against boycotting Bali).

- Her sister Mercedes is also worth it. How many people would be prepared to relocate to Bali for as long as it takes and visit their sister in prison, daily.

- Her mum is also worth it. Sure, she’s rough and tough, but she’s also fiercely loyal to her family, has a heart of gold and is apparently unstoppable.

Have I convinced you? Probably not. And that’s OK, too.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Female predators?

Recently there has been community outrage expressed at the decision not to jail music teacher Bridget Mary Nolan, 25, for having sex with her 15-year-old student. She had faced a maximum seven years' imprisonment for each of three convictions but instead received a suspended sentence. The judge said Nolan's sacking as a teacher, and the considerable media publicity given to her case, had already served as considerable punishment.

This followed a number of sex offences against young students by female teachers, in recent years, including:

Sarah Jayne Vercoe who in April 2005 engaged in improper sexual conduct with a number of boys aged between 14 and 16 years, and received a sentence of four years with a minimum period of two years.

Karen Louise Ellis who was convicted of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a grade 10 student at her school and was eventually sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison, with a minimum of 6 months to be served. This was despite the public protestations of the student that he had found her attractive and gone after her, and that he was unaffected by the relationship.

Heidi Choat who was convicted in 1999 of maintaining a sexual relationship with a 12 year old boy who was one of her pupils. The boy said that Choat had never forced him to have sex with her, but he sometimes consented because he feared she would become "grumpy" with him. Choat was sentenced to two years in prison, with a minimum period to be served of nine months.

I was surprised to find, on message boards, considerable anger towards these female teachers, for example:

“I believe that the teacher should have been gaoled. The teacher has broken a level of trust and the boys parents are mortified. The law should be for the protection of all. The boys parents must feel betrayed by the legal system.”

“I think the teacher should have had the book thrown at her (pardon the pun). it's absolutely no different than a male teacher having sex with a student. It all boils down to the teacher betraying a position of trust, and whether or not the other party was consensual has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

”I am a feminist: that means that I believe that all human beings should have a fair go.If they abuse that trust then they know the penalties. Jail the female teacher!”

“Absolutly tragic...... what this woman has done to this child ...... for her to get off the charge free to do her crime again.... unimaginable........ she should be desexed so she can never do this to anyone elses child!”

I must admit to being gob smacked by all this rage. As I recall it, during my high school years, my friends and I thought of little else other than losing our virginity, and attractive female teachers were a fantasy staple.

I can understand that from the parents point of view there has been a significant breach of trust, and I can understand that fines and termination of employment are reasonable responses. But jail is ridiculous. You can't sexually abuse males. They are genetically designed to have sex as often as possible with as many different women as possible. Survival of the species depends on it.

Seriously, where's the victim? Some kid who's got himself years of bragging rights over his mates. I think not! Surely we need to take into account the damage or potential damage to the victims. And for people to compare the female teacher’s behaviour with predatory men, real paedophiles, is a terrible insult to the victims of these men. It is PC bullsh-- of the highest order.

The last word goes to a joke I found and enjoyed on the Internet. A young boy comes home from school bragging about having had sex with a teacher. His proud father tells him to come over to the sofa and tell him about it... and the boy says, "I can't dad - it still hurts when I sit down."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Schapelle - innocent?

In my previous post I stated that I support Schapelle because (1) she didn’t get a fair trial, because (2) the sentence she received was outrageous even if she were guilty and because (3) she may be innocent. I then went on to discuss some of the reasons that I believe Schapelle's trial was not fair.

In this post, I'm going to have a look at the controversial topic of innocence. I say controversial, because as Schapelle's detractors like to point out to us none of us really know whether she is guilty of drug smuggling or not. They then go on to point out that there is an obvious prima facie case against her, and that she was unable to provide any worthwhile evidence of innocence.

In my last post I pointed out that Schapelle had no chance to provide such evidence because of the mishandling by the authorities of the only evidence that could have convincingly cleared her. Nonetheless, I don't want to completely ignore the question of guilt vs. innocence either. But bear in mind that without that evidence we and the court are looking at a badly distorted picture.

In my opinion, it is reasonably likely that Schapelle is innocent, based on the following indicators:

1. From the night of her arrest, Schapelle was desperate to have her bags fingerprinted, her luggage weighed for comparison with check-in weights and video of her arrest introduced to refute the 'guilty reaction' testimony of the Customs Officer. If she were in fact guilty, this evidence would have convincingly demonstrated her guilt, yet she showed no hesitation at any stage in asking for the evidence.

2. One parking ticket in 27 years entitles her to benefit of the doubt. As criminologist Paul Wilson siad in court, she doesn't fit the profile of a drug smuggler.

3. My own instinctive reaction to her denials was to believe her. Various experts in body language have agreed with me. More importantly, the Australian public's reaction to her testimony was to overwhelmingly believe her. Various legal experts keep trying to tell us that she would have been found guilty in Oz as well. Absolute bulldust! 92% of Australians believed her testimony. Where were they going to find a jury to convict her?

4. The crime makes no sense. Prices are similar in Sydney to those in Bali but obviously the penalties are very different. Yes, I am aware of the Matthew Moore article that says otherwise. I am also aware that he has cunningly compared retail prices in Bali with wholesale prices in Sydney to create a false impression that there are excess profits to be made in Bali. Absolute rubbish. Which is why nobody else has ever been caught smuggling marijuana from Oz to Bali. It doesn't happen because it doesn't make sense. By the way, I've got to know Schapelle well enough to know that although she is not particularly well educated, she is genuinely smart. Far too smart to take on the death penalty for nothing.

5. There is a photo of Schapelle with her travelling companions, taken shortly before they left Brisbane. How anybody could think the relaxed smiling girl in that photo is about to play Russian roulette is beyond me. The Schapelle we saw in the trial is definitely no poker player.

6. Where is the distribution network? She was hardly going to sell 4.1 kg of marijuana herself during a two-week holiday. Yet it seems the Bali police, despite early bluster they would find her associates, have actually found nothing.

7. I have serious doubts about the role of the Bali police in all this. Despite regular requests from Schapelle and her lawyers (ignore Mick Keelty's comments on this topic - they aren't true) the Bali authorities have refused to test the marijuana to determine source or quality. Am I the only one that finds this hard to believe. They've stopped a courier with a large bag of marijuana yet they don't want to know where it came from. Interestingly, they also didn't want to know whether Schapelle's companions might have had drugs in their bags. I don't like conspiracy theories and I don't want to push this too far. But something ain't right about this.

Enough. There has to at least be substantial doubt in my book. In a subsequent post I will look at some of the popular arguments people use to convince themselves of her guilt. But not today.