Once upon a time Australian journalists, politicans and lawyers were outraged by the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. That’s because two Australian citizens, David Hicks and Mahmoud Habib were held there by the US military. But now that both men are safely back in Australia – one in prison and the other in Sydney – Gitmo, as this infamous detention centre is known, has lost its sex appeal as an issue in this country.

That’s a pity because over the weekend life just got even tougher for the inmates of Gitmo, and if Mr Hicks and Mr Habib were still there there would be much frothing at the mouth by outraged Australians.

Last Thursday a US Federal District Court judge Ricardo Urbina threw out 16 lawsuits which challenged the indefinite confinement of the detainees at Gitmo. And that decision gave the green light to the US Justice Department to send out an email which told lawyers acting for detainees that they must agree to tighter restrictions on visits and mail exchanges to their clients.

For at least one lawyer, Wells Dixon, this new roadblock could prove fatal to his client. Mr Dixon says that unless he gets to see his client in October the US may go ahead with a plan to transfer the client to Libya where he will be tortured. And Mr Dixon’s is not an isolated case. The Center for Constitutional Rights which acts for a number of detainees says that their clients could now “be sent back to home countries where they will be tortured even further.”

To deny an individual access to legal advice is unconscionable and does Australia, as a loyal ally in the war on terror, really want to be associated with such a fundamental abuse of human rights? One doesn’t expect the Howard government to say boo on the issue given its sycophancy towards the Bush Administration, but could we perhaps hope that the ALP and minor parties like the Democrats and the Greens, combine with journalists and lawyers and send an unambiguous message to the Bush Administration that they have gone a step too far in denying innocent men access to their lawyers?

Peter Fray

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