When I first heard about the terms of reference for the independent inquiry into the Squatgate scandal, Malaysia's very own Abu Ghraib abuse, my heart sank as I noted the limits placed on the commission in its terms of reference.
Three out of the four terms were confined to the identity and case of one sole woman whose video-ed naked exercise in a police station had outraged the nation. The fourth is just a natural wrap-up of the other three.
The first of those terms was telling, to check whether her nationality is Chinese, as if alleged police abuse only matters if she indeed is. And poor Mr Opposition, Lim Kit Siang, instead of challenging the questionable thrust of the commission's terms of reference, fell for that hook, line and sinker by also insisting on an expeditious revelation of the victim's nationality.
Caught by his own making, Lim still continues on that wrong path by alleging an Umno manipulation in the delayed revelation of her identity in order to win the Pengkalan Pasir by-election. So what? More importantly, what about the bigger picture?
We should be asking: has Squatgate been a typical police treatment of female detainees, including and especially Malaysians? Why should that humiliating exercise be acceptable? How long have the police been allowed such unfettered and unquestioned powers? Why have foreign women not in possession of their passports been taken to police station and made to strip? Why are the police usurping the role of immigration department?
Or, even if international politics demand that we make some repentant gesture to China, how have the other Chinese nationals been abused, in like fashion or otherwise, like having their handbags rifled for cash and valuables, being peeped upon while they changed in the police station, and suffering the indignity of a policeman making lewd gestures to one of them about her breasts? Are allegations of police extortion to facilitate expeditious verification of the passports true?
Conspiracy theories abound about the metamorphosis of the cause clbre, but that isn't the point. Why should it matter whether she is Chinese, Malay or Martian? The ear squatting in the nude demanded of a female detainee at a police station should be the issue. But the way the inquiry has progressed, bracketed by the given terms of reference, can only bring out one result, the one least damaging to the government.
The fact that others, Malaysians and the five Chinese nationals had been abused or victimised would no longer matter. The point seems to be proven when Sankara Nair, legal counsel for the five female Chinese nationals who had lodged complaints of police abuse, wanted his clients to have the opportunity to testify to the inquiry.
He was disallowed that because the head of the commission stated, quite correctly, that would have exceeded the inquiry's term of reference, apart from the commission having identified the victim already. Their testimonies would have complicated a straightforward case of no Chinese national being victimised in Squatgate.
But strangely though, the terms of reference didn't inhibit the commission from seeking the opinion of a religious official to verify whether naked ear squats were an acceptable part of police procedure. Since when has a religious official become an expert on such matters? We would also like to know how far true has been Nair's comment that the commission had relied only on information provided by the police?
We have been informed by the police that the objective of squatting has been only to expose any hidden items in the detainee's body crevices. If so, the burning question is why make the poor detainee hold on to her ears, if not to humiliate her? To that, the commission had a doctor advising by doing so, it would improve the balance of the person performing the squatting exercise. How thoughtful of the police.
But every school student in Malaysia and around the world would tell you the best posture to enhance balance during a squat is to stretch one's arms out horizontally, in front or to the side of the body, and certainly not the exact opposite of keeping those arms close to the body as would be the case when hanging on to the ears.
Or, why not ask the tightrope walker how he balances himself best when walking on the wire? Perhaps we can even answer the question ourselves by observing our natural reaction when we attempt to balance on a very narrow plank.
Perhaps the doctor missed mentioning that holding the ear lobes might stimulate the vestibular system, put the brain into Zen-like meditation and encourage the body apertures to cooperate.
As they say, authorities don't hold an inquiry unless they already know the answer, and ensure that by defining the terms of reference.