29 April 2008

Worst of the worst? Not according to the prosecution

The mainstream Australian media, including The Age, the ABC and News.com.au report that Colonel Moe Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, has said that David Hicks should never haver been charged with terrorism offences.

Extract from News.com.au:

Australian man David Hicks should never have been charged with terror offences, according to Guantanamo Bay's former chief prosecutor.Colonel Moe Davis, who oversaw the prosecution of Hicks, quit the war court last year.He testified overnight that evidence for the war crimes tribunals was obtained through prisoner abuse, and political appointees and higher-ranking officers pushed prosecutors to file charges before trial rules were even written.

Col Davis was giving evidence at a pre-trial hearing for Osama bin Laden's driver, Yemeni prisoner Salim Hamdan, in a courtroom at the remote Guantanamo naval base in Cuba.

Since the US began sending foreign captives to Guantanamo in 2002, only one case has been resolved - that of Hicks. Hicks avoided trial by pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism and served a nine-month sentence as part of a plea negotiated by a Pentagon appointee without the chief prosecutor's involvement.

Col Davis testified that he "inherited" the Hicks case from a previous prosecutor and would not otherwise have charged him because he wanted to focus on cases serious enough to merit 20 years in prison and the Hicks case did not meet that test. He said a supposedly impartial legal adviser demanded prosecutors pursue cases where the defendant "had blood on his hands" because those would excite the public more than mundane cases against document forgers and al-Qaeda facilitators.

While he was chief prosecutor, Col Davis appeared to be a stickler for the rules. He was a vocal critic of Hicks's defence team and criticised his military lawyer, Major Michael Mori.Col Davis threatened to charge him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with using contemptuous language towards the president, vice-president, and secretary of defence.Col Davis said Maj Mori was not playing by the rules and criticised his regular trips to Australia. He said he would not tolerate such behaviour from his own prosecutors.

“Certainly, in the US it would not be tolerated having a US marine in uniform actively inserting himself into the political process. It is very disappointing,” he said in May last year. “He doesn't seem to be held to the same standards as his brother officers.”

In an interview with ABC TV's Lateline program in March last year, Col Davis insisted the tribunal process was free from political influence and was evasive on whether abusive interrogation techniques were used on prisoners. In today's testimony, Col Davis said pressure was ramped up after "high-value" prisoners with alleged ties to the September 11 plot were moved to Guantanamo from secret CIA custody shortly before the 2006 US congressional elections and amid US presidential campaigns.

"There was that consistent theme that if we didn't get this thing rolling before the election it was going to implode," he told the court."Once you got the victim families energised and the cases rolling, whoever won the White House would have difficulty stopping the proceeding."

26 April 2008

Anzac Day

Yesterday was Anzac Day. As usual it was commemorated throughout the Antipodes and at Gallipoli with services, marches etc.

For the first time there was also a ceremony at Villers Bretonneux in France, the scene of a major battle in WW1 involving Australian troops around Anzac Day in 1918.

Apart from its own merits the French commemoration may in future become a handy replacement for the Gallipoli one should circumstances in Turkey change. This seems unlikely at the moment, but that part of the world remains volatile.

Enough of that for now. I was impressed to see the turnout and demeanour of the diplomats at the Wellington (NZ) ceremony which was telecast on Sky News. The wreath layers included the Iranian ambassador, which surprised me, given the picture of Iran which is usually painted in our media.

A couple of stories worth a look:

Ashley Porter in The Independent Weekly on Bob Quinn, Port Adelaide footballer, second AIF member (2/43 Battalion) and Military Medal winner.

David Tiley in Barista on several forgotten, and one remembered, if for other things, Aboriginal servicemen and women from WW2:
Can you guess who this might be?

She joined the army after her two brothers were taken prisoner in Singapore. Her training in typing and shorthand, partly in a post-war rehab scheme, left her working again as a domestic servant, but ultimately helped her as an activist.

She wrote a few lines which stand both as accusation for the present mess, and as true words about the way we should see April 25th -

“To our father’s fathers
The pain, the sorrow;
To our children’s children
The glad tomorrow.”

To find out read the entire post, which also has a good photo.

14 April 2008

The last Governor-General?

Ms Quentin Bryce AM will be the next Governor - General of Australia. She is exceptionally well-qualified for the job, in fact for many jobs.

Whether she will be the last Governor-General is a question which many have already asked. The tide of opinion in favour of a republic is certainly flowing strongly, even if we judge this only by the lack of support for the current arrangements, except, and it's a significant exception, when a new appointment is made and obviously widely accepted.

Today's Australian editorial "A safe pair of hands" reflects the dilemma:

Like Major General Jeffery and Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen before him, Ms Bryce has been apolitical, non-controversial and non-interventionist during her time as Queensland Governor. She has been a safe pair of hands, respecting the boundaries of the office. Aside from a well-publicised turnover of personal staff that has not impacted on her public role, her tenure has been smooth, characterised by enthusiasm and hard work in cities and small towns across Queensland.

While there are those eager to see an Australian republic replace the constitutional monarchy, Mr Rudd, wisely, was not being drawn yesterday on whether Ms Bryce would be Australia's last governor-general. The move to a republic is a standing commitment of the Rudd Government and Mr Rudd put the debate back on the public agenda in London. As he said yesterday, however, it is "not a top-order question" in the face of many other priorities. Given her discretion in Queensland about Australia's constitutional future, Ms Bryce would be unlikely to indulge in any such speculation.

The Government House website defines the governor-general's role as being "to encourage, articulate and represent those things that unite Australia as a nation". Ms Bryce is well-qualified to carry it out, and we wish her well.

It is easy for all us couch republicans to wish for the inevitable transition to take place sooner rather than later, but the PM's assessment that it isn't a "top order question" is accurate enough at the moment, and with our political system already being a de facto republican one in so many respects, not to mention the protracted processes necessary to obtain approval for any constitutional change, I'd be surprised if Ms Bryce is our last GG.

Update 15 April

There's a great Bill Leak cartoon in today's Australian (published online in colour, but in print only in B&W)":

10 April 2008

More regular service will be resumed shortly...

I've now replaced my old computer, which was crashing more and more frequently until last Sunday, when it gave up the ghost. An autopsy indicated that, while it might be possible to restore it to life, there was no guarantee that the procedures required would restore it to its former degree of efficiency. Four and a half is a good age for a computer, so I'm not complaining.

All this means that I hope to resume more regular posts shortly, once I've come to grips with the special qualities of Windows Vista.

01 April 2008

At last, recognition of service and suffering

Ted Jones, one of two living survivors of the Royal Marines Band of HMS Exeter was honoured at the weekend with a presentation at Glenelg.

The photo above shows Ted receiving a commemorative plaque from the RM captain who, with a senior NCO, travelled to Australia for the occasion.

Ted only served on one ship, HMS Exeter , which was sunk by the Japanese in the Battle of the Java Sea. As a consequence, he spent more time ashore as a Prisoner of War than he did afloat. He was 19 when he was captured and 22 when released.

It took a long time to find him and to recognise his service and suffering (about which he speaks little) but this has now been done in a most appropriate manner.