In a well argued and scathing piece for Malcolm Fraser’s Australians All website, respected former Victorian Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles QC has bitterly criticised the Australian government’s handling of the David Hicks case.
Posing the question “what is the Government’s real position in relation to Mr Hicks?” Charles says the government “wants Mr Hicks convicted, and as soon as possible”.
After all, he argues, it is “difficult to imagine an outcome that could be more politically embarrassing or damaging for the government than for David Hicks [five years on] to be found not guilty of the charges suggested.” It is therefore “of major importance to the government now that he be tried and convicted of serious offences, and before this year’s election takes place.”
That’s why, despite Attorney-General Philip Ruddock’s assurances, “the evidence suggests that far from receiving anything like a fair trial, Mr Hicks will be charged and tried under procedures amounting to a kangaroo court of the most noxious kind”.
It appears that he is “now to be tried before a military commission which can deny him the right to be present, the right to cross-examine, and to know all the evidence used against him. It can accept evidence obtained by coercion and on hearsay…” None of this would be possible within the Australian criminal system.
Charles singles out Ruddock for particular scrutiny.
In September last year, he writes, the Attorney-General went to Washington to discuss revised military arrangements for the trial of suspects such as Mr Hicks. “On his return to Australia, Mr Ruddock told the ABC’s Insiders program that sleep deprivation should be permitted as “coercion” rather than torture”.
The implication – that sleep deprivation is not torture – was “immediately challenged” by the National President of the RSL, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, and Federal Police Commissioner Keelty. And yet, Ruddock doesn’t seem to have “modified or retracted these remarks”. Neither has much been made of them. “This may be because most Australian lawyers would prefer not to acknowledge the fact that the titular head of Australia’s legal profession holds such views”, ventures Charles.
Foreign minister Alexander Downer also comes in for a serve.
[Last year] the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions said that the treatment of David Hicks was “disgraceful”. The Minister for Foreign Affairs “responded by telling the DPP to ‘mind his own business’, surely one of the most impertinent and arrogant comments made by an Australian Cabinet Minister”, says Charles.
Indeed, one would have thought the Government’s “total desertion of David Hicks was very much the business of every thinking Australian, certainly of every Australian lawyer”.