Alison Gilmore writes: Re. “Open and shut: Hicks is guilty” (yesterday, item 12). I think Peter Faris is a little naïve to think that the media campaign waged on behalf of David Hicks would force a US tribunal to listen to the evidence or lack of, and acquit Hicks if he were to plead not guilty (and of course, if he is in fact innocent). The US has shown itself to be completely without integrity when it comes to the issue of detainees at Guantánamo Bay – why would they change now? How much face would the Bush administration lose were they to acknowledge that they had unlawfully and in breach of the Geneva Convention held an innocent man? I personally believe that David Hicks was mixed up in something he shouldn’t have been, but regardless of innocence or guilt – the treatment he has received has been appalling and inhumane.

Darren Clear writes: Before we all get flustered over the fact that David Hicks pleaded guilty, perhaps people like Peter Faris and the conga line from the Australian should ask what it was he is actually guilty of? In my view, a trumped up and retrospective charge where even on the facts submitted by the prosecution Hicks never fired a bullet at American or Australian troops and declined to partake in suicide missions despite being asked to by a senior al-Qaeda operative. Given this we should ask how much “support” did he actually provide, and have we made the world a safer place by locking him away in appalling conditions for five years? Surely answering yes to this second question is the only way truly to excuse his treatment, and even then this would be debatable as, once we abandon the legal and moral principles that underpin our society, haven’t the so-called terrorists won anyway?

Andrew Lewis writes: Nice to read Peter Faris’s suggestion that Hicks shouldn’t plead guilty unless he really is. Fair enough, in principle. Unfortunately Mr Faris seems to have completely missed the fact that anyone locked up in Gitmo for five years would plead anything to get out. If he pleads innocent, he is going to stay there until either hell freezes over, or the US constitutes a fair court, or a Labor government is voted in and insists on his repatriation. Only one of those three is viable, and that is no certainty. Mr Faris laments that the question of guilt (or innocence) has been lost in this debate. He doesn’t seem to realise that it was the very process created by the US government and agreed to by John Howard that means that guilt or innocence, as we normally define it, will never be established. John Howard is kidding himself putting any importance on the decision to plead guilty, but what do you expect?

Peter Wotton writes: Peter Faris should be sent immediately to USA for work experience if he really believes that no lawyer would allow an innocent man to plead guilty in a plea bargaining situation. Possibly five years in Guantanamo Bay might convince Faris that he would make the same choice himself as the lesser of two evils. Do these right wing apologists actually live in the same world as the rest of us? Or do they simply think that every one else is stupid?

Daniel Nesci writes: When Peter Faris asks whether David Hicks is guilty he is missing the point. Context is everything. He would clearly not be guilty of anything in Australia, but in the disgrace of a kangaroo court that he finds himself in he probably is. Not surprising given that he was captured, charged, tried, and will be sentenced by the same arm of executive government. That the charges have been made to fit the crime, so to speak (ie retrospectively). And that the rules of evidence used bear no resemblance to those used here or in the US, in either civilian or military courts. The issue is not whether he is “guilty”, but whether he should even be in the position in which he finds himself. In addition, the claim that “the glare of world publicity would be on this trial” and that therefore “there is no way… the American tribunal would be so stupid as to convict him on no evidence or insufficient evidence” does not stack up simply because the Commission can convict on evidence that is not only not revealed to the public, but to the defence also. To have an experienced lawyer defending such a disgraceful sham is disturbing to say the least.

Cathy Bannister writes: Peter Faris suggests that “the one question that has been lost in the whole debate over Hicks is: Is he guilty”. Wrong! There is a lost question, but it’s a bit more complex: What has Hicks pleaded guilty to, is he guilty of that charge, and does that make him an irredeemable terrorist? Hicks has plead guilty to the charge of providing material support to a terrorist organisation. According to his US civilian lawyer Joshua Dratel, any support at all, no matter what the size, would be in violation of that new statute. Hicks in fact pleaded not guilty to providing material support in connection with any particular terrorist event. Obviously, if the trial is not going ahead, then the prosecution obviously doesn’t have a case to press that second charge, as Faris would be aware. With respect to Faris’s suggestion that in his experience, innocent people don’t plead guilty, it’s a fairly safe bet that none of Peter Faris’s clients had been on remand for five years in an American maximum security gulag.

Craig Brown writes: I find Peter Faris’s comments in “Open and Shut: Hicks is guilty” quite bizarre. He makes numerous legalistic comments about Hick’s guilty plea, but none about the tribunal itself, rendering his comments practically contextless. Rather than “being certain that his lawyers have advised him that they cannot get him acquitted”, perhaps we can rather surmise that it is likely that his lawyers have advised him that, after five years of incarceration without charge or trial, in a jail deliberately set up beyond the reach of the US Supreme Court and International Law, a guilty plea might be Hicks’s best bet of getting home. I also reject the comment that the question of Hicks’s guilt being forgotten in the debate – from my position, it seems to have been uppermost in the mind of many a media commentator over the last five years. The key questions seem to be of what, and who will judge him.

Sue Harrison writes: There is a flaw in Peter Faris’s argument that David Hicks is guilty. Mr Faris’s argument basically runs thus: A lawyer should not permit a client to admit to something he did not do; Major Mori permitted David Hicks to admit to what he was accused of doing; Therefore David Hicks did what he has been accused of doing; Therefore David Hicks is guilty of the crime as charged. While the first three points are conceded by almost everyone, the fourth does not logically follow because at the time the acts Hicks is accused of took place they did not constitute a crime: the law under which these charges were made was enacted in 2006. Major Mori has objected to the retrospective application of this law to Hicks – as has the Law Council of Australia on page 3 of its document In the Matter of the Legality of the Charge against David Hicks, which points out that the US Constitution prohibits retrospective criminal laws. Clearly Hicks did what he has been accused of doing, but equally clearly he is not guilty under any just system of law.

Les writes: Peter Faris writes, “I have practised criminal law for about 45 years” – keep practising Peter, one day you may get it right.

Sasha Marker writes: I’m getting sick of the justifications appearing in the media, excusing our government of letting an Australian citizen rot in an illegal prison for five years without a trial in a legal system that is not recognised by anyone except apologists for the Australian government and the Bush’s White House. The argument isn’t over whether David Hicks is innocent or guilty, it’s about governments deliberately ignoring the rule of law to further their political ambitions. The question those in favour of locking up David Hicks and throwing away the key might want to ask themselves is: what if he had been my son?

Shuman Partoredjo writes: David Hicks’s “guilty” plea seems neither relevant nor substantive, for retrospective (criminal) laws simply convert innocence into guilt. If you shift the goal posts and then score a goal, you simply “score a goal”! Is not the rule of law in Coalition-of-the-Willing countries in danger of becoming too similar to the capricious and repressive rule of those despots and dictators we are so ready to deprecate, invade, and liberate? We are dangerously moving into a new world order where the only Democracies that will proliferate are those that pretend best to be so.

Michele Stephens writes: Re: “Christmas Island – building our own private Guantanamo” (yesterday, item 2) will the official Christmas Island Tourism Association website need a major update?

Simon Buckland-Hemming writes: Re. “Broadband in Australia – just taking it slow” (yesterday, item 14). Another issue not canvassed by Thomas Hunter yesterday are the pathetic download caps that exist in Australia. Ask any recent overseas traveller and they will regale such beautiful stories of 10Mbps+ and unlimited downloads in such places as the UK. Caps are a fact of life for most broadband users, with all providers following Telstra’s lead in limited cap increase across speed plans and unlimited plans costing both arms and legs. This should not detract from Mr Hunter’s piece of which the basis is spot on.

Mike Martin writes: Thomas Hunter quotes Peter Coroneos, “One Australian user we surveyed was paying $160 per month for broadband and telephony”. An enterprising reporter can also go out and find investors who bought securities in Westpoint. That is not a competitive Australian broadband rate. We pay $60 a month for 12 Mbs broadband (10 GB peak download plus 20 GB offpeak) plus $35 per month for phone. It costs around $25 a month more than we were paying Telstra for dial-up and if we upgrade the router we could get a nominal 24 Mbs. Only a tiny number of sites (Microsoft upgrades is one) are equipped though to download at as much as even 5 Mbs. The push to very high speed, low latency broadband in Japan and South Korea has been fuelled by enthusiasm for massively multiplayer online games. Whether Australians will take to these with the same dedication and need the same bandwidth is an open question.

Fred Hodson writes: Just a small point: bits are the smallest unit of data while bytes are comprised of a cluster of 8 bits; confusing the two makes for errors of the order of eight times. Megabytes (Mb) and gigabytes (Gb) are units of storage capacity. Megabits per second (mbps) and gigabits per second (gbps) are expressions of the speed at which data can travel. Note the capitalisation or lack thereof in the abbreviations. Saying that the South Koreans will have five gigabytes is a bit like saying they drive their cars at 100 kilograms. The correct units of data (bits) have to be expressed in the context of time (per second).

Greg Angelo writes: Re. “A grim day for Australian journalism” (yesterday, item 1). The case of Allan Kessing the retired Customs official now convicted of leaking a classified report is a staggering example of pernicious government pursuing a whistleblower to cover its own appalling mismanagement. In February 2003, Customs management at Sydney Airport received a report into security which revealed gaping security breaches. This included the employment of baggage handlers and guards with criminal records, systematic theft and pillage, drug trafficking and other criminal activity. Not surprisingly, nothing was done. The leak appears to have been a catalyst for action being taken which reportedly led to over $200 million being spent on reform, which arguably would not have happened to this extent had the report not been leaked. This is due to the outstanding capacity for bureaucracy to hide its mistakes by limiting reform activity to minimise adverse publicity. The pursuit of Kessing and the judge’s direction to the judge to ignore public interest in this case must send a shiver down the spine of every potential whistleblower who is witness to appalling mismanagement and feels powerless to act. This is of course exactly what the governments of Australia want. The law must be changed to take account of public interest in such circumstances. Of particular interest in this case is the decision of the DPP to pursue the alleged whistleblower and not the journalists with the capacity to defend themselves. Instead they have pursued a retired public servant in what can only be determined as a deliberate attempt to target the soft option, which can be summarised in the alleged words of Mao Zedong – “execute one, educate a thousand.”

Des Ryan writes: This is chilling news indeed for public service whistleblowers and for journalism. All is not lost, however, according to a story in The Canberra Times (March 28, page 3) about a man charged with illegally selling fireworks. The alleged sale – a planned setup – was observed at a distance by a Canberra Times reporter and a photographer. Deciding this did not amount to unlawful entrapment, ACT Supreme Court justice Terry Connolly said: “The journalist and photographer, it seems to me, were engaged in a longstanding tradition of a free press of bringing to public attention matters of legitimate public concern. There is a long and honourable tradition of journalists exposing impropriety and illegality, which should not be condemned by the courts.”

Marcus L’Estrange writes: Re. “Job ads with a Santo clause” (Tuesday, item 10). Andrew Robb’s claim that Australia has added 260,000 “new” jobs since Work (non) Choices was introduced is nonsensical as it is a gross figure, not a net one. He doesn’t list the number of full or part time jobs lost in the economy nor the number of jobs broken up into two – three part time jobs or the normal process of reclassifying or name changing of jobs. Over all it is a magical or gross estimate as befits a politician, not a scientific one worthy of a would-be Minister. One only has to look at the web job sites to see the number of jobs advertised that are repeat advertisements or jobs (and also listed on another job web site) with a marginal or meaningless change to the job description plus “head hunting” (non existent jobs) advertisements to get an idea of how false the ‘new’ jobs claim really is. Like dodgy unemployment figures (real figure of two million with 1.75 million on the dole chasing 150,000 jobs – ABS figures), fudged job figures are also not the basis for gloating or rational economic planning. I have argued for a long time that the official unemployment figures significantly underestimate the level of under-and un-employment. I now also argue that dodgy job vacancy figures are in the same category. For this reason, it is disingenuous to undertake serious analysis, and make correct policy (eg, interest rates, 457 visas, WorkChoices legislation or a whole swathe of Government/Reserve Bank decisions), based on erroneous unemployment, under employment and job vacancy figures.

Michael Frost writes: Re. “How John Howard, like his hero, could simply walk away” (yesterday, item 6). It is possible the PM will step down soon to avoid defeat at the next federal election. Still, there’s an omen pointing to him staying on to become only the second PM, after Stanley Bruce, to lose both Government and his own seat. Howard is also only the second PM, after Bruce, to have a first name as his last name. It would be a neat piece of history for them both to go out the same way (with the side benefit of making any future Brendan Nelson Prime Ministership a jittery one).

Philip Carman writes: Howard stepping aside to allow another Liberal leader a chance to fall at the next election? That’s more likely by the day… But whether it’s Costello who gets the chance is also about the (unspoken but age-old) Sydney/Melbourne rivalry. Both towns want to be the epicentre of Australia’s financial world and Costello is/was the Melbourne old money choice while Turnbull is the preferred candidate of Sydney’s business community. Probably neither has much chance of stopping Rudd’s run without a major stumble by either him or the Labor party – and both might be better off allowing either Downer or Ruddock to get humiliated (their purpose in life, surely) leaving their powder dry for a tilt in 2011. By then Rudd’s undoubted charisma and statesmanlike qualities will have faded a little under the glare of the inevitable Labor infighting.

John Goldbaum writes: Re. “NSW Libs: here we go again” (yesterday, item 18). Christian Kerr’s piece just proves that David Clarke is still calling the shots. Rejecting the broad church approach to party politics, Opus Dei-vid has taken a leaf out of the book of Papal pruning: “A smaller but purer church may actually have more influence”.

David Siebert writes: Andrew Inwood’s and Alan Phillips’s comments regarding water returning to environment after being used to make food are correct (yesterday, comments). However the only problem with that line of thought is the water goes back to the wrong place. The water we use is taken from its natural courses and is no longer in areas where it is accessible. We then have flow-on problems with water tables, salinity, etc. It’s like saying that felled trees go into the environment somewhere eg, furniture in your home, so it’s OK to cut down as many as you like. They don’t help to replenish things sitting in your lounge room. The water used to cool the machines that process food doesn’t really help going down the drain to the ocean either.

Steve Johnson writes: The comments from your very clever correspondents Andrew Inwood and Alan Phillips on the Crikey Water Diet may well point out the stupidity of not recognising that water is ultimately recyclable, but if they had given it another couple minutes’ thought, they would have noted that the issue is not recyclability, but rather that water is being heavily consumed in a part of the country that cannot sustain it, and sent back to source in other parts of the country where it is lost to the sewer system and the ocean. Thousands of cattle sucking millions of litres of precious water out of the Murray Darling basin, just to piss part of it onto a bone-dry landscape while we p-ss another residual part of it into the sewage system where it is sent straight out to sea is the problem. This Water Diet theory helps to bring a few legitimate hard facts home. Or have I missed something too?

Christopher Betts writes: The Crikey Water Diet articles are fascinating. However I am disappointed to see there is no listing for fish. Please explain how much water the different types of fish consume, so that I can select the most environmentally friendly option.

Anthea Parry writes: Geoff Russell (yesterday comments) should have declared that he’s a member of Animal Liberation. And that he has a vested interest in getting people to eat a vegetarian diet, as he makes money writing articles for such illustrious publications as the Australian Vegetarian Society Magazine. Moreover, the “facts” he quotes about colorectal cancer are complete (pun intended) cr-p. The study he quotes fed groups of volunteers a high-meat diet or a vegetarian diet for 14 days – hardly enough to prove anything, let alone that meat supposedly “causes” cancer. Actually, there’s a substance in fatty meat that may protect against cancer (Ip C, Scimeca J. A., Thompson H. J.. Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anticarcinogen from animal fat sources. Cancer. 1994; 74(3 Suppl): 1050-4). Human beings evolved eating meat. It’s part of our species-appropriate diet, along with a good deal of vegetable matter, and whatever vegans like Russell claim, grains, beans and soy products are a recent, neolithic addition to the human diet, which we have not had time (on an evolutionary scale) to adapt to.

Geoff Russell writes: I’m a unpaid committee member of Animal Liberation. I have no ties with the Vegetarian Society, but they have printed an article of mine, and NO, I wasn’t paid for it or for anything else I do on behalf of animals. Otherwise I restrict my comments to environmental concerns because, unfortunately, concerns based on compassion are usually ridiculed. I am also a member of ACF and other groups and have long had serious environmental concerns. I am very careful about where I get information from and expect my comments to stand or fall based on evidence not on my affiliations.

Chris Vickers writes: Greg Cameron (yesterday, comments) continues with the myth that installing domestic rainwater tanks gives individuals a vast reserve of water to use as they please (providing, as he kindly points out, that they live in either Victoria or NSW). Anyone who has relied on rainwater tanks for their domestic supply knows that a tank of 4500 litres capacity is totally inadequate. Annualized figures of water collection overlook that, for Victoria, the rain falls mostly in the winter but water consumption is greatest in summer. By all means spend your money on tanks. You will see them overflow in winter but they will be empty in summer. And the amount of money that you save on your water account won’t buy you a decent bottle of red.

Cameron Bray writes: Re. Robin MacDonald (yesterday, comments). Like the rest of the “if you apologise for slavery/dispossession/the stolen generation you have to apologise for everything” school of playground moralisers, he is (deliberately?) missing the point. You apologise where: Your country is still gaining advantage from the wrong; the effects of the wrong are still present today and there is an identifiable group of people to apologise to. First: the maritime Empire of England waxed mightily on the triangular trade, and that giant fortunes made on that trade formed the bedrock of the wealth of the country down to today. Institutions and individual fortunes – The Bank of England, the Church of England, Lloyds, Barclays, many of the landed gentry – would not exist now without the trade. In short, the English are still benefiting economically from the slave trade. Second: the odious conceptions of racism we still struggle with today – racial stereotyping, the theory of white supremacy, the”’scientific” ordering of the races – were developed to buttress the “moral” basis of the slave trade. Third: the descendants of slaves are a clear, present diaspora. To compare this to the condition of the modern descendants of convicts is monstrous – white Australians are hardly suffering for their ancestors’ transportation, now are we? And on a personal level, taking the position that you won’t apologise for what you did wrong until everyone else in the world apologises for what they did wrong shows the emotional maturity of a five-year-old.

John Bowyer writes: I am with Robin MacDonald (yesterday, comments). Let’s have a go at the Poms for their treatment of convicts sent to Australia. Why stop there? I am from Britain so want an apology from the Romans, Scots, Picts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Vikings and Normans for their invasions of Britain. Why stop there? We can all carry on like little whinge buckets or just get on with life and just try and be nice to each other.

Len Gregory writes: Re. Michael Egan (yesterday, comments). “You’re almost as inaccurate, stupid and dishonest as the Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review”. For a moment then, I thought he was actually talking about the myopic view he has of his tenure as Treasurer of NSW and the wonderful state that Bob Carr has left us in.

Chris Hunter writes: Christian Kerr seems to have abridged his views on climate change. Or have his views been abridged, nay, snuffed out by the winds of change? If so it is a pity. By being (not playing) devil’s advocate he has encouraged in his readers an alarming range of argument, all healthy, all for the good. This is the way humans solve problems, it is the way of the Westminster system, government and opposition. Climate change strategists need to remember “love thine enemy” as the basic tenet. Come back Christian – stuff it up us, even if you are the “last cocky in the cage.”

Simon Hoyle writes: Re. “Patrick White’s house in the eye of the storm” (yesterday, item 3). I’m used to lesser mortals (newspapers and TV reporters, usually) using expressions incorrectly. I’m certain I’ve done it myself in the past, and will probably do it again. But the eye of a storm is the calm bit at the centre (esp of a hurricane or cyclone) – the bit where there is, in fact, no storm at all. It does not mean something is at the centre of a controversy, which is what I’m sure was the impression meant to be conveyed in yesterday’s item.

Mike Smythe writes: Re. “Yatala Labor Prison: David Hicks’s new home?” (yesterday, item 11). Christian Kerr, Bevan Spencer Von Einem may well be suspected of a number of murders – but I doubt that the victims were large North American bears. It’s “grisly” murders, not “grizzly”.

Christopher Ridings writes: I don’t want to do Charles Richardson’s job as resident pedant for him but can the Ukrainian swim coach and his daughter (yesterday, item 23) both have the same surname of Zubkova? Isn’t Zubkova the feminine form of Zubkov?

Richard Farmer, cheese eater, writes: The resident pedant Charles Richardson might know about typos but he does not know about cheese (yesterday, comments). For the record – most Bega cheese is made in Victoria and only put into packages in the NSW town of Bega. Goodness knows where Bodalla cheddar is made these days but it is no longer the town of Bodalla.

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