A method of brainwashing terrorists being considered for use in Australia is ineffective and comparable to torture, critics say.
The federal government says it is examining the use of “de-programming” after a suggestion from Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, who studied anti-terrorism strategies in Indonesia.
Indonesia is using a former Jemaah Islamiah leader, Malaysian-born Nasir bin Abbas, to help de-program terrorists.
The former leader talks to arrested terrorist group members to open their minds to more moderate Islam, as well as extract information on terrorist operations.
The process, which Mr Keelty likened to rehabilitating drug addicts, also has been used in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government had not made a decision on the suggestion, but it was under consideration.
“In many parts of the world, in Europe, in the Middle East and certainly in Indonesia, those governments have made an attempt to persuade extremists and terrorists who’ve been held in prison to change their point of view and to understand that it’s not the Islamic way to kill, it’s not the Islamic way to murder,” Mr Downer said.
“And in some cases that process has been successful.
“It’s something that we will give thought to.”
But Dr David Millikan, who has studied mind control and brainwashing in religious movements, said de-programming could have a negative effect.
He said de-programming, which was often used on former religious cult members, involved bombarding a person with information about flaws in the cult’s philosophy, appeals from their family and harrowing stories of other former members.
“You are re-victimising the person and making them more paranoid,” Dr Millikan said.
“You are saying ‘You are a victim of terrible psychological forces that robbed you of your reason and in order for us to fix you we are going to do it to you again, but we are the good guys and what we do is really good for you’.
“The evidence is not in its favour.”
Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Terry O’Gorman compared the practice to torture.
“These countries the police commissioner mentions are involved in torture,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“This de-programming is part of the same basket of procedures.”
Mr O’Gorman said there was no evidence to suggest that the practice, which was better described as “brainwashing”, was effective in deterring terrorism.
“Mr Keelty draws the analogy with drug traffickers becoming informers – the reality is that someone in prison who becomes an informer knows that they face the risk of severe bashings in prison and that risk continues when they re-enter the community,” he said.
Mr O’Gorman said the proposal also failed to address the root cause of terrorism – political or ideological discontent.
But Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network spokesman Waleed Kadous said a voluntary scheme had merit.
“It’s important to highlight that already many respected scholars in the Muslim community are informally deconstructing terrorism and condemning terrorism to their congregations already,” he said.
“If it’s voluntary we have no objection to it, but the problem once you make is compulsory is it just won’t work because religious leaders who do so will be seen as instruments of the government and will lose credibility to those people.”