The apparent shift in public opinion on the David Hicks case seems to have the Howard government rattled – to the extent that it’s having difficulty keeping its story straight.

Here’s Attorney-General Philip Ruddock last month (The Age, 7 January), on “Why [Hicks] can’t return“:

The US made it clear early on that a detainee would not be repatriated unless the detainee would be prosecuted.

Now here’s Ruddock yesterday, exactly one month later, on the prospect of bringing Hicks home (as quoted in The Australian):

While any decision that would be taken, would be taken by the United States, it is reasonable to assume that if the Prime Minister made such a request, there would be a probability that people would want to accede to it.

Ruddock Version 1 says that the Americans won’t send Hicks back unless we prosecute him (which both Ruddocks say we can’t do). Ruddock Version 2 says they (probably) would if we asked.

Either the US has changed its view in the space of a month – which seems highly unlikely – or else one of the two Ruddocks is being less than truthful.

Here’s a suggestion: if we’re confused about what would happen if we requested Hicks’s repatriation, let’s try it, and find out.

Or an alternative: if repatriation is too much to ask for, why don’t we ask that Hicks be transferred to a regular American prison, and tried in an American civilian court? What possible objection could there be to that?

Peter Fray

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