When it comes to David Hicks, the Rudd government should either hang its head in shame for succumbing to base political opportunism last year, or feel like it’s been made to look a fool by the Australian Federal Police.

Twelve months ago, lawyers for the AFP told a Federal Magistrates Court hearing that Hicks was so dangerous he should be subject to a control order the conditions attached to which meant that it could not be described as anything other than draconian. But now the AFP says all is well with Mr. Hicks, and it won’t be applying to renew the order.

It is hard not to conclude that those, like former Democrats senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, who argued that the case for a control order on the mentally and physically drained former Guantanamo Bay prisoner was simply a political stunt and not grounded in any real assessment of risk were absolutely right. In twelve months we have gone from curfew, restrictions on travel, reporting to the police, lists of people with whom Hicks was forbidden to make contact, and a gag on Hicks talking to the media about his story, to total freedom for Hicks.

This time last year lawyers for the AFP told the Federal Magistrates Court hearing in Adelaide that because Hicks had allegedly trained with Al Qa’ida in 2001 this meant that he had “the capability to execute plans for terrorist acts or to provide instruction to others in this regard”. And, the Court accepted the AFP line that “the fact that Mr. Hicks has trained in LeT and Al-Qa’ida training camps, and associated with senior Al-Qa’ida figures in Afghanistan may lead aspirant and current extremists to seek out his skills and experiences to guide them in achieving their potentially extremist objectives.”

Without a control order, the Federal Magistrates Court said, “Mr Hicks could be exploited or manipulated by terrorist groups. Due to his knowledge and skills, he is a potential resource for the planning or preparation of a terrorist act”.

All very heavy allegations indeed. So why the change of heart on the part of the AFP and Mr McClelland in the past year? What has Hicks done that convinced the AFP and Mr McClelland that they no longer have to keep tabs on a man whom they thought was still so dangerous to his fellow Australians last year?

Not much at all, is the answer to the second question. As to the first, perhaps the Attorney-General has decided that he was sold a pup by the AFP last year and that the persecution of David Hicks has gone on long enough.

The application for a control order on Hicks last year was nothing more than a PR stunt by the Rudd government and the AFP. Yesterday’s about face and soothing words from the Attorney-General about allowing Hicks to get on with his life in peace, and the AFP’s 180 degree change of heart are testament to that fact.

Peter Fray

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