Fresh charges against David Hicks have been drafted by the US Office of Military Commissions as The Age and News.com.au report. The charges are (1) attempted murder and (2) material support for terrorism.
They have to be approved formally and a hearing date set, all of which will take time, so we shouldn't expect much movement for a while, even if, in a Press Conference yesterday Prime Minister Howard has claimed that his "deadline" has been met :
Details of the charges against David Hicks have now been released how are you responding to that?
Well they are welcome. I’m glad that the charges are being laid and that the deadline I set has been met. They are very serious charges and that is why we believe they should be dealt with as soon as possible. The delay of the last five years has been very regrettable. Some of that has been due to objections by people including Mr Hicks’ advisers, but a lot of it has been due to the slow process in the United States and I am glad that it has finally come to a situation where charges are being laid. And I would encourage, in a very public way, and we’ll be doing it privately, for the trial to be brought on as soon as possible so the serious charges against Mr Hicks, and they are serious, they allege that in the full knowledge of what happened on the 11th September, he rejoined the Taliban (inaudible) involved through Al Qaeda of course in the attack on the 11th September.
But the charge of attempted murder when it’s been acknowledged by the prosecution that he didn’t fire a gun, isn’t that extraordinary?
Look you and I can’t try it, we can only observe they are serious charges, and that is why it should come on and I don’t intend to get into a debate about the substance of the allegations.
Not everyone, for example Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy and me, agree with him.
This morning the Kelvin Thomson, the Shadow Attorney-General challenged the validity of the second charge, claiming that it is retrospective. This afternoon the PM appeared to have reverted to washing his hands of the matter:
Mr Howard says what America decides to do is a matter for them.
"I don't equate what the US is doing with the passage of a retrospective criminal law in Australia, making offences that were not criminal offences at the time David Hicks did the things he's alleged to have done, crimes when they weren't at the time," he said.
There has also been speculation that the matter could be resolved by a plea bargain. Another possible solution suggested by Neil James Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association is for Hicks to be brought back to Australia and placed under a control order:
Mr James, a former army interrogator, says everyone in the Hicks debate in Australia had lost track of the reason he was being detained in the first place - "to make sure he does not rejoin the war".
"Because of the constant delays, bungling and breathtakingly bad record in explaining their position, the US authorities have effectively forfeited the option of trying Hicks by a military commission and probably even by a standard court-martial or civil criminal trial," he said.
Releasing the Adelaide man under a control order was the most practical solution, Mr James said.
"It's a win-win situation. Hicks comes home, the Americans get off the hook, the (Australian) Government gets off the hook, the Opposition gets off the hook, the lawyers shut up. There are no losers in this option."
BTW the ADA website has a detailed (if maybe not up to date) summary of how it sees many of the legal issues relating to Hicks' status.
And of course, as Mike Steketee in yesterday's Weekend Australian reminds us, there is also the issue of Hicks' mental health to be considered.
Despite Mr Howard's claims I'm sure that we'll continue to hear more of the issues.
PS I find it interesting that of all the Australian media Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman (the latter only on the Adelaide Now website) seem to have received the most detailed information about the charges. They both refer to, and Bolt quotes at length from, them. I'll wait to see if anyone else makes much of them.