On Saturday the 9th of December, approximately 1000 protesters rallied
outside Sydney Town Hall to call upon the Government to push for David
Hicks to be released from Guantanamo Bay.
The day, which saw a prolific contingent donning Guantanamo standard
issue orange, marked the fifth anniversary of Hicks’s condemnation as
an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ by the United States.
Pressure is now mounting for Howard to formally request that Hicks be
repatriated back to Australia. Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock
experienced the heat first hand when greeted recently with a firestorm
of criticism from the State Attorneys-general and served with the
Today, outside Sydney’s Town Hall, we see the hard left’s call to arms
to bring David home. With the usual suspects including the Socialist
Alliance, the GreenLeft, CFMEU, Stop the War Coalition and the Greens
in attendance, one has to expect an antagonistic vitriol to be sprayed
over Howard and Co.
Early on in the piece, on the perimeter of the orange sea, I caught a
barrage of comments from the vanguard of common sense and straight
shooting conservatives insisting that ‘Hicks went to another country to
kill people and now he wants to come home. He can fuck off.’ Such
ferocious sentiment is echoed, with force, in many pockets of
Australia’s political economy.
Howard, in 2002, ignited this retributive tone with such simplistic
catchphrases as, “he's in detention. He knowingly joined the Taliban
and al-Qaeda. I don't have any sympathy for any Australian who's done
that”. Of course this resonates with Howard’s ordinary Australians.
Like these sidewalk political commentators, Howard to, is landlocked in
a blazing desire for a collective retribution to be borne down upon
Hicks. Hicks’s demonisation is a demonstration of Howard’s unyielding
determination to conflate terrorism and middle Australia’s collective
Howard, Ruddock and Downer have just become so addicted to and so
dependant on, the loving caress of the racist, anti-Muslim components
of Australia’s talkback fodder. No degree of incursion upon the basic
tenants of natural justice will ever dilute their smearing of David
Hicks with overtures of guilt.
For the rest of us, democracy and due legal process must go on. The
burning question is whether the hard left can mobilise the necessary
articulation and cite the true root of Howard’s beguiling conversion of
democracy into a big business junta?
Justice for Hicks and Habib Collective spokesperson and rally MC,
Antoni Voguel opened the rally with stinging criticism of the Howard
“Our government, the Howard government, for five years has, with
unfettered zeal has supported Guantanamo Bay. It has been five years in
which David Hicks [has] been in detention and not taken to trial or had
a charge laid against him.”
“All of us here know that Howard doesn’t intern David Hicks in
Guantanamo Bay for no reason. We know he uses the fear of terrorists
and rhetoric about security threats to maintain his rule in the country
and push through his regressive agenda on other fronts.”
Andrew Ferguson, CFMEU’s representative further elaborated the
intersection of Work Choices’ oppression of Australian workers and the
denial of procedural justice for Hicks.
“The opposition to the imprisonment of David Hicks is part of this much
broader battle about civil liberties and democratic rights in this
Voguel, Ferguson and Senator Kerry Nettle in their speeches, all
recruited Hicks’s plight as a symbol of Howard’s perpetual attack on
civil liberties, each new Liberal reform edging us closer to a 1984,
free market, neo-liberal Armageddon.
What was omitted but continues to encircles both Hicks and the
Australian political conscious is the moral question of whether someone
is a terrorist by mere association or sympathy of cause.
Hicks did not shot a single bullet. Nor did he see or participate in
combat. He trained at camps administered by the Taliban and al-Qaeda
though it appears from Australian Federal Police interviews that he had
no real aspirations for international jihad.
Are these groups arguing that political freedom of association, the
foundation of union membership or political party membership, be
extended to membership to groups whose ideology and actions are
impregnated with brutality and desire to wage holy war on civilians?
Isn’t such a stance implicit when one claims that David Hicks has done
nothing wrong, as some of the speakers have done today? Though a
pressing ideological undertow, the torture of both Hicks and Habib must
trump for today.
Mamdouh Habib, former Guantanamo Bay detainee, was held for three years
without charge, tortured, and then released without explanation. Unlike
David, he did not attend al-Qaeda or Taliban training camps, yet was
held hostage in a U.S concocted ‘legal black hole’.
“John Howard doesn’t want to bring David Hicks back for so many
reasons. Because he is a witness to the crimes of the government
overseas. John Howard kidnapped Australian citizen[s] and kept them
away for torture and bring[s] him back secretly and no one knows about
Mamdouh, in leveling charges of human rights violations at Howard,
specifically claims that both he and Hicks were transferred to a
division of Guantanamo Bay named Camp Five at the request of Howard and
Downer. According to Mamdouh, the sole purpose of Camp Five is the
infliction of serious psychological damage and torture.
We were not lavished with tales of brutal torture, which have been
subject to wholesale rebuttal from Howard and Ruddock, even in the face
of Hicks’s military lawyer, Michael Mori, claiming to have proof.
Mamdouh simply asked the crowd to reflect upon the different ways in
which himself, Hicks and Jack Thompson have been judicially and extra
judicially dealt with.
What had been neglected by the other speakers in the rally but was
highlighted by Agnes Chong, the co-convenor of the Australian Muslim
Civil Rights Advocacy Network (AMCRAN), was the indictment upon the
rule of law and democratic rights that the U.S military tribunal
“What is our place in the world, when we let one of us, an Australian
citizen, to be held in solitary confinement for five years without
charge or conviction?”
“What is the freedom that we are fighting for if we allow David Hicks to remain in Guantanamo Bay?”
The resounding anthem of Bush’s war on terrorism has been the
protection of ‘our way of life’. Just as Bush charges Common Article 3
of the Geneva Convention - which should guide the treatment of the
Guantanamo Bay detainees - with vagueness and unclear definition, ‘our
way of life’ is becoming an increasingly opaque political catch cry
with each allegation of torture.
If ‘our way of life’ is truly and sincerely to equate with democracy,
rule of law, inalienable respect for human rights and due process of
law, then Guantanamo Bay represents as much of a threat to civil
society as does al- Qaeda.
The abrogation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is
corroding ‘our way of life’. It is eroding the boundary between the
benevolent state and the terrorist and erasing any monopoly over
morality that Western democracies believe they have.
If a world superpower cannot adhere to the rule of law and notions of
natural justice within five years, I think it can be safe to assume
they never will.
In Pulse | Opinion, on 12 December 2006