An Unfortunate Acquaintance

One of the more disturbing but perhaps understandable aspects of the investigation into links between an Australian doctor and the terrorists in the United Kingdom, is the case of Dr Ali.

The Indian doctor — who had been in Australia for just six months — was taken in for questioning by Australian authorities because he had looked after some things for another doctor — Dr Haneef — who is currently being questioned by police (but has not been charged) in relation to his alleged links to the attempted terrorist attacks in the UK. Although one might not have got that impression from some of the media coverage, Dr Ali has committed no crime and was simply a man who had, according to police sources quoted in The Age, made an “unfortunate acquaintance”. The Age reports:

Police kicked in Dr Ali’s door the next morning and spent the next day rifling through his apartment and combing Dr Haneef’s blue Honda Jazz, which was parked in the basement.

It was almost midnight on Tuesday before police finished questioning Dr Ali — and said he was free to go. Police sources described him as a man who had simply made an “unfortunate acquaintance”. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty told the media Dr Ali had not committed any crime and was free to go.

But the damage had already been done to Dr Ali’s reputation. His face had been plastered on the front of the tabloids, under headlines such as “the enemy within” and “terror link on our doorstep”.

Indeed, it is so bad that the premier of Queensland weighed in on the issue, suggesting that it might now be “difficult” for Dr Ali to return to work at the hospital.

Bearing in mind the amount of media focus on this and the attention on the hospital, Queensland Health will need to talk to him about whether this is an appropriate place for him to practise medicine.

However, to his credit, the acting district manager of the Gold Coast Health Service, Brian Bell said Dr Ali was free to return to work and, “the District will do everything it can to assist this staff member at this difficult time.”

On this issue, Queensland’s Health Minister, Stephen Robertson, also said:

The problem is, unfortunately, this person has been named. It now appears he has had nothing to do with the allegations that have been bouncing around. You would then understand that he would find himself in a very difficult position, being so publicly indentified, in my view, far too early.

Given the nature of his profession and given the attacks in the UK are alleged to have been carried out and planned by doctors, it is difficult to see how Dr Ali’s career in this country has not been damaged by all this coverage.