06 January 2007

The power of the "moral middle class"

Today the lead Weekend Australian editorial advocates bringing David Hicks to trial promptly.

It begins with a lot of huffing and puffing (eg "
the clamour by some to claim Mr Hicks as a metaphoric indictment of everything wrong with the Howard Government, the Iraq war, George W. Bush and Australian society, is misguided.") but eventually gets to the heart of the matter, if not without some disingenuousness:

Some of the delay in bringing Mr Hicks to trial is a result of appeals by his defence team on the legitimacy of the process. The US Supreme Court has now acted to ensure any trial contains a minimum level of safeguards for Mr Hicks, including a presumption of innocence, a right to be present during the trial, a right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, a ban on evidence obtained by torture, access to evidence and the provision of military defence counsel. He certainly could not ask for better advocacy than that offered by Major Mori.

These points noted, Mr Hicks deserves justice and he deserves it now. His day in court is long overdue. It is hard to imagine any circumstances under which it would be justified to hold a person in custody for five years without trial, even in a case as exceptional as this. Mr Howard, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty [sic]and Australia's newly appointed director of military prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade, have been right to call in recent days for Mr Hicks's prosecution to be accelerated.

While Mr Howard's "call" has been a fairly muted one, more in the nature of a whisper, at least he seems to be preparing for the possibility of shifting his ground.

The editorial concludes:

As long as his guilt remains unproven in a court of law, there will be those who will attempt to exploit his continued detention to push their own causes, clouding the real reasons why we are at war with terrorists. Mr Howard would also be mindful that in an election year, a case which has become a lightning rod for discontent among what we might call the moral middle class has the potential to backfire on his Government, particularly as it faces an opponent who has vowed to campaign on the issue of morality...The crimes that Mr Hicks has been accused of are indeed appalling, and offend our fundamental values. The magnitude of the alleged offences, however, should never outweigh the right to natural justice.

"The moral middle class". What an interesting term. Is it meant to be taken as an alternative, if a slightly less harsh sounding one, to pejorative terms such "chattering classes"? Or does it belatedly acknowledge that there are Australians who for years have felt genuinely appalled on moral grounds at our government's hypocrisy in calling for Hicks to be brought to trial in a system which is being made up on the run? I am more than willing to be counted among them.

Update 7 January

The Age website reports today that it will be at least six months before David Hicks is charged.

...Hicks' US defence lawyer, Major Michael Mori, attacked the integrity of the proposed new military commissions after the Federal Government was assured Hicks would be charged. Major Mori said he was troubled that the Government was being told Hicks would be charged, when the person who should decide that was yet to be appointed.

Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said his US counterpart, Alberto Gonzales, had told him there was enough evidence to charge Hicks and he would be among the first Guantanamo detainees to be charged.

Major Mori said the assurances showed "the political fix was in" and that Hicks' case would not be independently evaluated and reviewed.

Mr Ruddock replied it was "not inappropriate to check on the progress of the matter and to receive advice as to the likely timetable for resolving issues relating to Mr Hicks".He said a trial timetable could be influenced by factors including detainees exercising their rights to challenge the process.

The website also has an an article by Mr Ruddock "Why he can't return" . It is probably as detailed a summary of the government's position as I've seen, but several flaws remain in the AG's reasoning, eg

# If the government has spent more than $300,000 on the case and there have been 17 consular visits (over five years) to Hicks, why isn't it able to confirm that his mental health is still sound?

# In attempting to distinguish between the situations of the British citizens who have been released from Guantanamo and Hicks he uses the terms "citizen" and "resident" as synonyms: he of all people given his former position as Minister for Immigration knows that this is misleading.

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