Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard proved over the weekend that she will go weak at the knees at the first sign of a potential nasty scare campaign on the part of her political opponents.
Ms Gillard, having late last week indicated the government was considering a request from the US to take some of the remaining prisoners at the world’s most notorious torture chamber, Guantanamo Bay, ruled out such a move on Saturday, after the Opposition had indicated that it would whip up community fear about the idea that “some of the world’s most dangerous” men might be living in Australia.
This latter spurious claim came from George Brandis, the Queensland frontbencher and opponent of a charter of rights for Australians.
What a pity that Ms Gillard, and no doubt the ever-on-duty-even-while-holidaying Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, ruled out Australia’s participation. Having supported the treatment of prisoners in clear defiance of Geneva Convention by the Bush Administration, Australia has a moral obligation to take some of these men.
For a start, most of those at Guantanamo Bay are not dangerous. Remember David Hicks was detained there, and he of so little threat to Australia that the control order placed on him when he returned home and completed his jail term in 2007 was lifted by the Rudd government last month.
Many of those still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should not have been captured in the first place, but were being held on the basis of dubious sources of evidence or in some cases simply on the basis of guilt by association. In November last year a US District Court judge ruled that there was no basis to hold five Algerians at Guantanamo Bay because they were being held on the evidence of a single source whose credibility was completely untested.
The conclusion of an exhaustive examination of the profiles of those at Guantanamo Bay published in February 2006 by the Washington weekly, the National Journal proves Senator Brandis and those who think like him to be simply wrong.
The Journal’s Corinne Hegland, observed on February 3 2006:
Most of the “enemy combatants” held at Guantanamo — for four years now — are simply not the worst of the worst of the terrorist world. Many of them are not accused of hostilities against the United States or its allies. Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time.
And much of the evidence — even the classified evidence — gathered by the Defence Department against these men is flimsy, second, third, fourth or 12th-hand. It’s based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars.
Hegland’s detailed breakdown of detainees makes for fascinating reading in light of the Opposition’s claims:
The Defense Department accusations fall into only two categories — those who participated in hostilities and those who did not. But the boundaries between the two categories can be fuzzy. In the nonhostile category, for example, is a suspected Qaeda financier picked up in Pakistan. In the hostile group, on the other hand, are a few men whose most direct link to hostilities appears to be getting wounded by one of the thousands of American bombs dropped on Afghanistan.
By buckling so quickly to the apologists of Guantanamo Bay and the flawed legal basis that lies under it, Julia Gillard and the Rudd government have shirked a clear responsibility on the part of Australia to take men who have been tortured relentlessly for seven years now and who in the majority of cases should never have been detained at all.