David Hicks may or may not be guilty of crimes other than naïve indiscretion. He almost certainly did things he probably regrets. But he hardly appears to have played an instrumental role in the terrorist campaign against the West. So why, after five years, is he still languishing in an American jail?

This is how former Australian diplomat Richard Woolcott explained it last month, in his compelling Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture at Newcastle University:

I do not know whether David Hicks is guilty or innocent of charges related to terrorism. It is, however, damaging to Australia’s reputation that an Australian citizen has been rotting in Guantanamo Bay for nearly five years without trial. It has taken his American Army lawyer, Major Mori, to argue that he cannot receive a fair trial before an American military commission and a British judge to state that the long detention and proposed trial of Hicks is contrary to the rule of law. Former Chief Justice, Sir Gerard Brennan, has said that the Australian Government’s supine acceptance of the situation “shows we are morally impoverished”, adding that an “Australian citizen’s right to justice should never be a mere trading item in international relations”.

Have a look at the list in today’s Crikey of all the people who support the return of Hicks to Australia: all state Attorneys General, former prime ministers, lawyers, former judges, nearly all political parties except the governing party, celebrities, human rights supporters. Then look at the list of those who publicly advocate keeping him in jail in Guantanamo Bay: the Prime Minister, the federal Attorney-General and the federal Health Minister.

More and more people are getting out of the Guantanamo camp, not to mention the Iraq camp, which is more than you can say for David Hicks.

Peter Fray

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