19 January 2007

Disingenuousness still rules in the Foreign Minister's bailiwick

Just as I'd come to think that the Prime Minister and Attorney General Ruddock had taken over responsibility for public comment about David Hicks, Foreign Minister Downer comes out with all guns blazing:

ALEXANDER DOWNER: A visit took place just a few days ago and an informal meeting was arranged during that visit at short notice and apparently Mr Hicks agreed to the meeting. And the report of that meeting was that he was healthy.

PETA DONALD: And what of his mental state?

DOWNER: Yeah. There was no suggestion that he was suffering from mental illness, though no doubt he doesn't like being in Guantanamo Bay and, of course, so… but that wouldn't, I suppose, be a definition of mental illness. But there was no report of him suffering from mental illness. You know, in the conversation he had with this person, who is from another country who was visiting Guantanamo Bay at that time, he seemed quite healthy.

DONALD: And who was this person that you refer to?

DOWNER: Well, I don't want to betray any confidences, but he came from another country and he was visiting Guantanamo Bay and one of the people he did speak to was David Hicks. I don't want to make too much of it though, but only to say that he did talk to David Hicks and the report back is that he was healthy. Now we had a consular officer visit, and we've had 17 consular visits to David Hicks since he's been in Guantanamo Bay and we had a consular officer visit relatively recently and the report from that consular officer was that he was healthy as well.

DONALD: But you're wanting us to rely on this information that you've received in the last few days, but you won't say where it's come from?

DOWNER: I'm not asking you to rely on it or not rely on it. I'm just letting you know what observation was made and you can take it or leave it, listeners can take it or leave it. I just… it's just I thought an interesting observation. When I was asked about David Hicks yesterday, I passed on that piece of information. I mean…

DONALD: Now Minister, David Hicks can't be charged until the new regulations to govern his trial are put in place. The deadline for that was yesterday, so that's now come and gone.

DOWNER: I don't think it was a… when you say 'deadline', I'm not sure where you got that idea from. The expectation that we had had and I said this in a… to the media…

DONALD: Well, Mr Ruddock said that the 17th January was the deadline.

DOWNER: Well, it's the 17th today here in America. And our expectation is that the regulations will be promulgated in the next… next few days. I don't think, from what I've heard from Washington, the delay is likely to be of any particular significance. They're just finalising some details in relation to the regulations. Now that having been done, then our expectation, from what the Americans have said to us is, and we've lobbied the Americans very hard for this, is that new charges will be brought. As you know, there were charges against David Hicks. They were very grave charges. We had concerns about that. New charges will now have to be brought. We understand…

DONALD: And Minister, when is that going to happen? It's now five years that he has been detained, how soon until he's charged and then tried?

DOWNER: Can I just say, let's dispense with some of the myths. He was charged. In that five years, he did face charges and they were very grave charges, conspiracy to commit war crimes and attempted murder amongst them. Now let me just finish this. They are very serious charges. We have looked after our consular responsibilities, made sure he's had access to lawyers. We've spent $300,000 of taxpayers' money on legal representation for David Hicks. He's had access to, of course, the high profile Major Mori as a lawyer and he's been a very aggressive lawyer on his behalf. Now in the middle of last year, the US Supreme Court said that the Congress had to reconstitute the Military Commissions…

DONALD: Okay. So how soon until that happens and Mr Hicks is charged and then tried?

DOWNER: Well, so the charges that he was facing lapsed and the Military Commissions have now been reconstituted. When the regulations are promulgated, it will be possible to lay the charges again. The charges can't be laid before the regulations have been promulgated. So new charges are expected to be laid in the next few weeks. That's the commitment we have from the Americans.

This is disingenuous balderdash. It may be part of a wider move to discredit everyone involved with the defence of Guantanamo detainees, but a move in the US in this direction has backfired with a Pentagon official apologising to detainees' lawyers. Is it to much to expect Mr Downer to issue an apology? A correction would do.

PS Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy has kept this issue alive in the Australian blogosphere.

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