Australia lawyers group says Hicks military commission trial ‘a charade’

Australia lawyers group says Hicks military commission trial ‘a charade’

[JURIST] The Law Council of Australia, the country's national organization for lawyers, on Tuesday issued harsh criticism [press release] of the trial of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks [Law Council backgrounder; JURIST news archive], saying the trial was "a charade." The council's report [PDF text; summary, PDF], prepared by lawyer Lex Lasry, criticized the American and Australian governments on the trial, concluding that:

The "trial" of David Hicks, which took place in March 2007, was a charade.

A pre-trial agreement had been signed and the balance of the legal proceedings was entirely surplus to requirements, although designed to lay a veneer of due process over a political and pragmatic bargain. The veneer cracked immediately.

Ultimately, there has been no benefit from this process; only a corrosion of the rule of law.

No ground can be claimed to have been made in the so-called War on Terror. The Military Commission process at Guantanamo likewise has neither gained from it, nor shown any prospect of improvement.

Predictably, there has been no response from the Australian Government to the consistent and widespread criticism of the Military Commissions and Guantanamo Bay generally. Their support for this process has been shameful.

They have never put an argument to the Australian public as to why the Military Commission process is "full and fair". Now that the Hicks case is over, no doubt the hope is that the issue will disappear – and, regrettably, perhaps it will.

However, Australia's international standing and moral authority has been diminished by its support of a process so obviously at odds with the rule of law. Those with a concern for the protection of due process should be very concerned about the future of this process, particularly given its jurisdiction to impose death penalties.

Hicks was transferred to Australia [JURIST report] in May to serve the remainder of his nine-month prison sentence at a maximum security prison near his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. Hicks spent more than five years in US custody after being captured in Afghanistan and pleaded guilty to a charge of supporting terrorism [JURIST reports] in March. Under the plea agreement [text], Hicks was required to state that he "has never been illegally treated" while held as an enemy combatant by the United States and that his detention was lawful pursuant the laws of armed conflict. He also agreed not to take any legal action against the United States for his treatment during his five-year detention. The plea agreement includes provisions limiting Hicks' contact with the media. The Australian attorney general has said the gag order cannot be enforced, but Hicks' lawyer has said that Hicks will not violate the order [JURIST reports] because he is not interested in speaking to the media. BBC News has more.