[JURIST] Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser [official profile] said Monday that the treatment and trial of Australian detainee David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay demonstrate that the US and Australian governments are "prepared to throw every legal principle out the window and establish a process that we would expect of tyrannical regimes." In an op-ed published on JURIST, Fraser decried the military commission procedures Hicks faced, saying they would not pass muster if applied to US citizens in America or Australian citizens in their home country:
Their rules of procedure are utterly inconsistent with the rules of procedure in the normal justice system of America or of Australia. The loose use of hearsay evidence and evidence obtained under harshly intrusive questioning is allowed. It is left to the President to define how far that intrusive questioning may go.Hicks pleaded guilty in March to a charge of supporting terrorism and received a nine-month sentence [JURIST reports].
This is the system established to try David Hicks and other people from Guantanamo Bay. In my view it was a system designed to achieve a guilty verdict on the basis of evidence that would be totally unacceptable if applied to American citizens or to an Australian citizen within Australia.
Fraser said, however, that the real problem posed by Hicks' treatment at Guantanamo transcended his own case. Rather, Fraser wrote:
The main story is a willingness of two allegedly democratic governments prepared to throw every legal principle out the window and establish a process that we would expect of tyrannical regimes. That our own democracies should be prepared to so abandon the rule of law for an expedient and as I believe, evil purpose should greatly disturb all of us. But how many are concerned? Too many are not concerned because they believe that such a derogation of justice can only apply to people who are different, in some indefinable way.Fraser echoed these sentiments in a speech [Reuters report] delivered Monday at Australian National University.
Only the other day I was speaking with somebody who quite plainly believed that Hicks deserved anything that was meted out to him because he was what he was, the rule of law did not need to apply. For somebody who has done terrible things, why does he deserve justice? That denies the whole basis of our system, the necessity of a civilised society which cannot exist unless there is an open, predictable justice system that applies equally to every person.
David Hicks at the best was clearly a very foolish young man. He was terribly misguided and may well have done some terrible things. I do not know. But if our government says he has had his day in court, he made a plea bargain, therefore he deserved what he got, it only emphasises its lack of commitment to the rule of law for all people.
If the government believes it to be expedient, we now know that it is prepared to push the rule of law aside. That is a larger issue than the tragedy of David Hicks.