11 December 2006

Why do do many Australians not care?

This, not "Why is the Australian government leaving Hicks to languish at Guantanamo Bay?", is the question which Leigh Sales , writing in today's Australian, thinks David Hicks's supporters should be asking.

She makes the point that the weekend rallies did not attract much support: I'd have to agree with her about the Adelaide one. This and other examples, eg little coverage in mass circulation newspapers or commercial TV, lead her to the view that both government and opposition are "convinced the issue is of no great concern to mainstream Australia". This, she believes, is why Hicks's lawyers are now, as I posted last week taking action in the Federal Court.

Reading between her lines, I don't detect many signs of optimism, though her final paragraph is a good summary of why Australians should care more:

Regardless of what people think of Hicks and whether he is guilty or innocent, his case raises issues that matter and ought to be debated: should Australia allow a foreign country to lock up an Australian citizen for five years without proving a case against him? And is Australia prepared to sacrifice fundamental principles and values, such as the right to a speedy trial, in the name of the war on terror? The fate of Hicks as an individual is important and after five years, needs to be resolved urgently. But long after he has either been released or convicted, the broader questions will remain.

I don't doubt that Ms Sales has accurately summed up the government's position at the moment, but I wonder how long Mr Ruddock's pledge of a fair trial will hold up if the foreshadowed proceedings don't get under way soon:

Hicks would likely be charged after January 17, when new regulations for the US military commission expected to try him come into effect, Mr Ruddock said.

"We've sought assurances that there'll be a presumption of innocence, that he will know the evidence that's going to be presented against him, that he will be effectively represented in the military commission process, that there are appeals ... into the civilian court system," he said.

"We are certainly pressing the US and have received certain assurances from them that a fair trial should be possible under the scheme that they've legislated for."[Emphasis added]

This is all pretty vague. What happens if Mr R's requirements for a fair trial aren't met within the time frame? Will he or Mr Howard then ask the Americans to release Hicks, as the British and many other governments have done about their citizens who were incarcerated in Gitmo?

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