The official Government line on David Hicks may not have changed, but the tone of its comments suggests even John Howard and Philip Ruddock are becoming exasperated at the delays in bringing him to trial – or at least concerned that the affair is becoming a political liability. And so they should be. The continued detention of Hicks is a national scandal.

But the Attorney-General insists that Hicks can’t be brought home and charged in Australia. Ruddock says it “is more complicated than simply identifying a criminal offence”.  Absolutely. It’s a moral issue. Theories of moral equivalence have always been bankrupt apologies for despotism. Our governments are infinitely more moral than Saddam Hussein’s. Their sense of justice is infinitely more developed than that of the Islamicists we are fighting.

Yet the Attorney-General says: “The likelihood of success, available defences, the facts in question and the rules of evidence in Australian courts must all be considered.” In other words, our Government believes Hicks must be tried by a special tribunal in Guantanamo because a regular court in Australia might not convict him. It appears Ruddock wants Hicks to be found guilty – regardless of the evidence.

If the evidence is not weighed in open court we cannot make a judgement about what Hicks might have done. It beggars belief that it could be something so serious as to justify more than five years of inhumane detention, yet not serious enough to constitute a crime under Australian law.

Welcome back to Crikey for what promises to be a very big 2007.

Peter Fray

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