Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hollow Howard "unhappy" over Hicksy - Not good enough!

JANUARY 24, 2007: "Prime Minister John Howard's unquestioning support of the US military trial of David Hicks needs to end..."

John Howard has issued a hollow ultimatum to the US over the future of Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. The Adelaide-born man has been held in Guantanamo Bay for more than five years. John Howard says he is unhappy it has taken so long for new charges to be laid.

The Prime Minister says he has asked the US to charge the Australian terrorism suspect by mid-February. Hicks has been detained since his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001. Supporters is showing more signs of mental anguish...

Shadow attorney-general Kelvin Thomson says John Howard's time line for the trial of Mr Hicks is meaningless: "It's a hollow ultimatum, the Howard Government continues to be in denial about the prospect of more legal challenges to an unfair process and the prospect that David Hicks will languish in Guantanamo bay indefinitely," said Mr Thomson.

"I think effectively he is calling for something which he believes that the US authorities intend to do in any event, I think that the Australian Government may well have had a nod and a wink from the Americans concerning their timing," he said. Mr Hicks appeared before a US military commission in August 2004 and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

But all charges were dropped when the US Supreme Court ruled last June that the military commissions were unlawful.

Greens Senator Christine Milne says latest regulations concerning the military trial "breach accepted standards and will continue to deny David Hicks a fair trial." "Would Prime Minister Howard allow one of his own children to be tried under these rules?" Senator Milne said. "The chorus of opposition in this country to David Hicks' mistreatment during five years' incarceration and to the Howard government's abandonment of an Australian citizen grows louder each week."

She said Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's admission earlier this month that he has never even asked to see the evidence claims against David Hicks demonstrates the government's disregard for David Hicks' rights: "The government's treatment of David Hicks contrasts with its claims to stand for Australian values of fairness, decency and support of families.


Meanwhile, the US Defence Department has drafted a manual for trying detainees at the American naval base in Cuba. The manual allows terrorist suspects to be imprisoned, convicted and executed on the basis of hearsay evidence or coerced testimony. The Pentagon manual says so-called enemy combatants "are prosecuted before regularly constituted courts affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognised by civilised people".

The Law Council says these new rules fall short of fair trial standards: "After the Military Commissions Act was passed last year, we knew that this new regime... was fundamentally flawed and unfair," council president Tim Bugg said. "The manual, which contains the rules of evidence, simply confirms our fears." Mr Bugg said Hicks could be convicted on the basis of hearsay evidence that he won't have the opportunity to challenge.

"The rules even allow hearsay within hearsay, meaning that Mr Hicks could be placed in a position where he doesn't have the opportunity to cross-examine the person twice removed from the witness who actually made an allegation about him," Mr Bugg said. "The manual also makes it clear that evidence... used against Mr Hicks may come from informants in the field, former Guantanamo detainees long released and US and foreign security agents - none of whom the prosecution is required to produce at trial."

"Regardless of what lip service they pay to defendants' rights, the military commissions are designed to rubber stamp decisions about guilt that were made long ago," says Mr Bugg.

Hicks' defence counsel, US Marine Corps Major Michael Mori, said the new rules were even worse than the old system overturned by the US Supreme Court last year. "We have the same broken-down house with a fresh coat of paint," he said. "There is no difference. The same people who wrote the illegal system created this system..."

Major Mori said the manual denied Guantanamo inmates fundamental rights and placed unfair burdens on the defence. "Actually things are worse under this new system," he said. "Under the old commission system, a military defence lawyer was allowed to see all the classified evidence. Even if David Hicks couldn't, I could. Now they want to, basically, say that I may not see classified evidence. They may only use a summary and I may never get to see to check the classified evidence."

"It's very crafty how they put the burden on the defence to show why the Government's hearsay evidence is unreliable and yet they now give the ability to the government to classify how evidence was obtained and the methods by which it was obtained."

The rules, he said, "just don't provide for a fair trial". Major Mori said the rules diminished his client's rights substantially and made his job as defence counsel more difficult. "The right to a speedy trial - that's gone, any right against self incrimination has been taken away, the right to confront your accuser..." he said. "They say all hearsay can come in and the burden is on the defence to show why the prosecution shouldn't be able to use this."

Major Mori is examining avenues for a legal challenge, but said the US Supreme Court would not rule on such a case before 2009 or 2010, by which time Hicks would have been in detention for up to nine years. He said there was no indication from the Pentagon about a timeframe for laying fresh charges against Hicks.

Laying of fresh charges does not guarantee a quick trial, due to delays from legal battles in the US for those brought before military commissions.


Meanwhile, David's father, Terry Hicks, has expressed concern about his son's psychological state as he enters his sixth year at Guantanamo Bay.

However Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has rejected a suggestion Hicks might not be mentally fit to face trial. "There is no evidence of that from what I have heard from Guantanamo Bay. None at all," he said.

However, a US embassy spokeswoman has confirmed that a staff member spent "five minutes with Hicks" last Friday and a report of the meeting was given to the American ambassador to Australia, who briefed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"The official that met David Hicks is not a doctor so it wasn't an assessment as such," the embassy official said. "His quick impression was that David Hicks was physically healthy and mentally alert."

Major Mori questioned Downer's claim that Hicks was mentally fit to face trial. Major Mori said he understood Hicks had been "put on display for some visiting dignitaries". "He's being used as a monkey in a cage for people to come to stare at," he said.

The party included officials from the US embassy in Australia and there were no health professionals involved. "What I'm concerned about is, I don't believe David would want to reveal the problems he's having to the people who are controlling his life down there," Major Mori said.

Law Council slams 'unfair system'
Father's fury at Hicks visit
Hicks like 'a monkey in a cage'
Five years on, Howard sets deadline for US to charge Hicks
PM Howard must demand David Hicks' return in wake of new rules

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