Former prime minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, gave a speech at the Australian National University yesterday where he spoke of his disgust at how the Australian and US governments conspired to ignore, and over-ride, the Rule Of Law when it came to the illegal detention of David Hicks for five years in Guantanamo Bay.
Hicks pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism in a plea deal and was sentenced to nine months jail. He is set to be returned to Australia in the coming weeks to serve out the remainder of the sentence in an Australian jail and is expected to be set free on December 31.
Fraser cut loose in his speech, and pointed out that what happened to Hicks is not an isolated incident, in Australia or the US, but the most prominent in a long string of violations of human rights and the right to fair trials and due process :
In an op-ed piece published in The Jurist, Fraser elaborated on what he determined to be part of an "evil purpose" in how David Hicks was 'prepared' to face the military commission, and that methodology of preparation allowed the military commission to avoid facing the full glare of a supposedly open hearing and trial :
So David Hicks will be home by the end of the year, partially gagged. The gag order which was undermined by information provided to the British Government and subsequently published in his application to become a British citizen and subject to the same treatment as other British citizens formerly held in Guantanamo Bay.
And so this story comes to an end but at what a price. The main story is not David Hicks. The main story is a willingness of two allegedly democratic governments prepared to throw every legal principle out the window and establish a process that we would expect of tyrannical regimes. That our own democracies should be prepared to so abandon the Rule of Law for an expedient and as I believe, evil purpose should greatly disturb all of us. But how many are concerned? Too many are not concerned because they believe that such a derogation of justice can only apply to people who are different, in some indefinable way.
Only the other day I was speaking with somebody who quite plainly believed that Hicks deserved anything that was metered out to him because he was what he was, the Rule of Law did not need to apply. For somebody who has done terrible things, why does he deserve justice? That denies the whole basis of our system, the necessity of a civilised society which cannot exist unless there is an open, predictable justice system that applies equally to every person.
David Hicks at the best was clearly a very foolish young man. He was terribly misguided and may well have done some terrible things. I do not know. But if our Government says he has had his day in court, he made a plea bargain, therefore he deserved what he got, it only emphasises its lack of commitment to the Rule of Law for all people.
If the Government believes it to be expedient, we now know that it is prepared to push the Rule of Law aside. That is a larger issue than the tragedy of David Hicks.
A number of Liberals have spoken out about these and similar issues in relation to asylum seekers or refugees, or people improperly treated in Department of Immigration detention centres. Too many have remained silent.
I believe it likely that the United States authorities did not want the weakness of their evidence publicly exposed, even in a fraudulent military tribunal. Even though cross-examination would have been extremely limited, it could still have exposed the secrecy by which evidence had been collected. The defence would have exposed the fact that they were not properly advised of the evidence, of the means by which it was obtained, that it was in fact a very secret process, designed to achieve one verdict. If the process had gone to open court, each hour would have demonstrated that justice was not being served, that this was not a court of law.Good question. But don't expect an answer from those who cry out for democracy and free societies in the Middle East, but are quite happy to see those very same institutions and rights undermined, poisoned and tarnished, in their home countries.
The best alternative for governments, with some semblance of their credibility preserved, was to have Hicks under such pressure that he would accept a plea bargain.
This does explain the solitary confinement of over twelve months. It does explain the other pressures placed upon him, pressures which would have included the threat of continuing jail in Guantanamo Bay for twenty years or more. What person amongst us would not have accepted a plea bargain that achieved some element of freedom at the end of nine months?
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Tomorrow : Why David Hicks Could Earn Up To $4 Million From Media Deals To Tell His Story