I don’t know about you, but if I walked into another country and took part in a botched child snatching operation, I’d expect to go to jail in that country.
Fittingly enough, that’s exactly where Tara Brown and her 60 Minutes crew currently find themselves in this matter – together with the mother (Sally Faulkner) and the ‘child recovery team’ that was engaged at a reported cost of $115,000 to nab the children. I wonder if they’ll provide a refund?
Piecing together the incomplete and conflicting background put forward by the media so far is not an easy task, but here goes:
- The children are reportedly aged 3 and 5. If this is correct, then then they were born in 2012/13 and 2010/11 respectively (depending on when their birthdays fall).
- The mother moved to Australia with both the children in August/September 2013. The father stayed in Lebanon to run his business and made periodic visits to Australia over the next two years. He claims that the mother tore up the children’s passports on arriving in Australia.
- The ABC has confidently proclaimed that both children were born in Australia. However, it’s difficult to share the same confidence when the younger child (3) was born in 2012/3 and moved (with the older child) from Lebanon to Australia by the mother in August/September 2013.
- The mother says she consented to the children going back to Lebanon (obviously with valid passports) on the basis that it was only for a holiday:
You see your daddy made a decision to take me out of your lives completely more than six months ago when he took you on a ‘holiday’ to his home in Lebanon, and never brought you back. Since then things have gone from bad to worse, with all contact between us having been cut off…
The hardest thing for me is to forgive myself for believing this promise and trusting him, because now you are left without your mummy around.
Any normal person would stop here and conclude that this situation is a complicated mess and refuse to take sides. Of course, the people at 60 Minutes are not normal people. They decided to take a hands on approach in the matter, with the father seemingly well aware of the plan in advance:
The father, Ali al-Amin, earlier told The Guardian he learned of the abduction attempt in advance by accessing his wife’s email account after they separated. He said he warned Lebanese police, which would explain the swift arrest of the TV crew and Ms Faulkner.
Bring them home Julie!
The deluded arrogance of some Australians in matters like this is always entertaining. For example, the clicktivists at Change.org think it’s simply a matter of nudging Julie Bishop to go in there and knock some Lebanese heads together:
A petition on Change.org set up in October calling on Ms Bishop to bring the children home has received more than 33,000 signatures.
Do these cretins seriously think that Julie Bishop can just walk in to Lebanon and suspend the rule of law? I’d love to see their proposed action plan. Also, given the children’s living history, just where exactly is ‘home’?
By all means, keep clicking guys:
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken with her Lebanese counterpart about the case, but the Australians will be on their own if it comes to court proceedings.
“The Foreign Minister has spoken to Lebanese Foreign Minister Bassil concerning the detained Australians. The Government is not able to intervene in another country’s court proceedings, just as we would not accept intervention in our own court proceedings.”
While the above is hardly surprising, the similar type of view apparently held by 60 Minutes is truly astonishing:
On Thursday, when it all went wrong for Brown, Ms Faulkner and the child rescue specialists, Mr Chapman said he received a call for help from the mother-of-two, begging him to step in and fix things.
In a series of text messages exchanged between Mr Chapman and Ms Faulkner, he offered an opportunity for the group to escape but says it was rejected.
In one text, Ms Faulkner asked Mr Chapman: “Is there any way your team could do the recovery and get the money later. I know 60 will pay up if it means I don’t do the rest of the story and I get out.”
Mr Chapman responded: “Sorry Sally, not getting far with them” and “60 refusing to pay for the boat. They’re relying on (Foreign Minister Julie) Bishop to get them out.”
(I’ll wait for you to finish laughing).
Meanwhile, back in the real world…
What happens from here largely depends on:
- how dimly the Lebanese legal system views attempted child snatching and those who assist child snatchers – my guess is ‘black hole dim’;
- the weight given by the court to the evidence of the father, mother, 60 Minutes crew and ‘child recovery team’ (try to guess which evidence will be preferred); and
- whether Julie Bishop can really achieve anything diplomatically (unlikely).
One thing we do know is that Middle-eastern courts aren’t exactly worried about sticking Australian journalists in jail – remember Peter Greste?
So when it comes to the legal fate of the 60 Minutes crew, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lebanese court shared the same view as the father:
“They’re trying to paint me that I took the kids because my name is Ali, like I took the kids to Isis to train them,” he said…
“The media in Australia is bullcrap,” he added. “To hire mercenaries to come and kidnap your kids? How horrible are you guys? You’re endangering everyone’s lives including my mother and the kids, for what? For a story?”
If it turns out that 60 Minutes did indeed fund some or all of this ‘operation’, then Tara Brown and her crew may have to accept being corrected Lebanese style for a while.
UPDATE (13/4/16): the judge appears to have given the mother a possible way out. ‘All’ she has to do is give up all custody rights in exchange for visitation rights. As for the 60 Minutes crew, the judge has said there is ‘no way’ the charges will be dropped.
UPDATE (14/4/16): here’s an extra layer of fun to add to this mess:
Hezbollah may not become directly involved in the 60 Minutes case but one thing is certain: those five Australians will not leave the country unless Hezbollah agrees.
Apart from having power of veto over all major government decisions — a veto entrenched in a 2008 agreement — Hezbollah controls Beirut International Airport through which those Australians will, eventually, leave…
One complication is that Australian officials trying to extract the Australians from this mess are seriously limited in the contact they can have with Hezbollah.. Since 2003, Australia has listed the external security organisation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation…
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has made serious efforts to lobby her Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil. Ultimately, Mr Bassil is a small cog in a very large and cumbersome wheel.
Ironically, it may be Iran and its officials who deliver the release of the Australians… Iran funds Hezbollah; Iran gives instructions to Hezbollah; Iran is the ultimate master of Hezbollah. If Iran told Hezbollah the Australians should be released, it would probably happen very quickly.