Although Britain’s High Court has ordered that David Hicks be given UK
citizenship, his troubles are not over. The British government is still
considering an appeal, and now our own Alexander Downer has indicated that even if Hicks is freed, he may not be allowed to return to Australia.

But even Downer looks like a bleeding-heart liberal in comparison to Ted Lapkin, writing in this morning’s Australian, who is brazenly dismissive of the idea that terrorism suspects have any rights at all.

Lapkin argues that the prospect of military trials is necessary to
“discourage future war criminals.” But he gives no explanation for why
civilian trials can’t do that. No-one, as far as I’m aware, has argued
that Hicks should be above the law. If he’s committed crimes, charge
him. But charge him in a court, not a one-sided makeshift tribunal.

If it’s true that “the evidence against [Hicks] is overwhelming,” then
there are any number of ordinary crimes he could be charged with in an
ordinary court. The fact that the American and Australian governments
have taken every possible step to keep him away from the courts
suggests that they’re not nearly so confident.

Of course, if you start from the assumption that someone is guilty,
almost any procedure can be made to seem justified. And that’s what
Lapkin does, describing Hicks in his opening sentence as “a
combat-hardened expat who twice took up arms on behalf of al-Qa’ida.”

Now that might be true – I don’t know if it is or not, and I’ll
wager Lapkin doesn’t either. But that’s what we have courts for, to
adjudicate such accusations. And regardless of how serious they are,
provided the civilian courts are functioning there’s simply no excuse
for resorting to military “justice.” And there’s even less excuse for
the Australian government to consign one of our fellow-citizens to that
fate in a foreign country.

Peter Fray

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