06 January 2008

Observations on the release of David Hicks

David Hicks was released from Yatala prison just over a week ago. The media interest in his whereabouts and various other things, including whether he should apologise to the Australian people, has been intense for a few days (perhaps more intense than it would have been had it taken place outside the normally quiet holiday season).

The Advertiser sent a reporter to locate where Hicks was staying, which he duly did and was rewarded with a photo (on the front page from memory) of him knocking on the door of the house.

A selection of other material I've noted recently:

# An editorial in The Advertiser on 4 January which was more even-handed than most of the rest of the media treatment:

Questions linger in Hicks affair

ANOTHER chapter in the public debate over David Hicks' involvement with al-Qaida and subsequent imprisonment has drawn to a close.

Hicks has had fewer than a handful of opportunities to make public comment but has chosen to remain silent since his release from Yatala Labour Prison last weekend.

Perhaps this is understandable, given the strict conditions governing his release, which include limits on speaking publicly.

However, this leaves questions unanswered on both sides of this important debate.

Some relate to the injustice of his long detention without trial – indeed the validity of that trial – and the conditions in which he was held at Guantanamo Bay.

Others questions relate to the level of his involvement with al-Qaida and activities in Afghanistan, when that country was governed by a murderous, misogynistic and anti-democratic regime.

Given the secretive nature of the "war on terror", perhaps these questions will be answered only when, or if, U.S. documents are declassified.

Hicks might choose to reveal more by finding loopholes in laws preventing him profiting from telling his story.

It would be unfortunate if he were seen to profit in any way, even though many of his supporters might believe he is entitled to compensation.

Whatever the case, it seems key questions about one of the most important issues of our time – terrorism and the fight to prevent it – will remain unanswered for now.

# Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy qualifying his previous support to some degree

# The ABC website running a poll asking whether Hicks should apologise (with some interesting alternative responses):

Should David Hicks make an apology to the Australian people?

Yes, at best he caused immense trouble through his actions and at worst intended harm to his own society.
No, the whole affair should be allowed to subside and Hicks should get on with his life.
The Australian government should instead apologise to him for the handling of his case.

Interest seems to have abated over the last few days, a fact noted by Michael Coulter's Postscript in today's Sunday Age (p14, not online):

Last week, as Hicks savoured his first taste of freedom since 2001, only eight readers (four supportive, four substantially less so) were motivated to put their thoughts in writing.

Perhaps it's that people cared more deeply about the issue of natural justice (the five years of detention without trial or charge) than about the man himself. You rather suspect that if he'd been whacked with a five-year jail term after a proper and appropriate trial, one in which evidence was actually heard and contested, he wouldn't have received much sympathy.

Sadly, the dominant impression left by the whole affair is one of mistrust - of the system that created Guantanamo Bay, of the Australian government that allowed one of its citizens to rot there, and of Hicks himself, because we still don't feel we know all the facts. It's been an ugly episode , and one we'd do well to remember.

I find it bizarre that Coulter implies that a five year term in (presumably) an Australian prison after a sentence imposed by (presumably) an Australian court applying (presumably) Australian law would have cost Hicks much of his support. There are too many hypotheticals here.

On the other hand I agree with his final paragraph. This is why I'll still be interested in the fate of the man (eg will the control order be modified or removed over time?) as well as in the general principle that all Australians should be subject to the rule of law.

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