Friday, February 20, 2004

Britain 5, Denmark 1, Australia Nil

There are plenty of news reports on the release of five Brits from Guantanamo Bay; such as this report from The Independent.

The five freed British detainees at Camp Delta in Cuba will be flown home in the next few weeks after the Government admitted they posed no terror threat. To minimise the humiliation of its closest military ally, the White House allowed the Foreign Secretary to announce the news first.

Mr Straw said that police would consider whether they should face questioning under the Terrorism Act 2000. But within minutes of his statement, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said that "no one who is returned ... will actually be a threat to the security of the British people".

The Foreign Secretary said that discussions were continuing with the US authorities over the other four Britons
[still in custody] but the Government still believed they "should be tried in accordance with international standards or returned to the UK".

Meanwhile, here in Australia:

Australian terror suspects David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib would remain in Guantanamo Bay despite the decision to release five Britons from detention, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said today.

Mr Ruddock said the British developments made no difference to Hicks and Habib as Australia would not be able to charge them if they were returned to their home country.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today announced that five of the nine Britons being held at the United States's base in Cuba would be returned to the UK, where they face arrest under the Terrorism Act.

But Mr Ruddock said the same situation would not apply if Hicks and Habib returned to Australia because terrorism offences did not exist under Australian law at the time they were believed to be associated with terrorist groups.

"Being associated with terrorist bodies was an offence created after September 11, (2001)," Mr Ruddock told Sky News.

"At the time that these people as alleged were involved with al-Qaeda ... those offences were not offences under Australian law.

"So if Hicks and Habib were returned to Australia we would not be able charge them with terrorist related offences."


Mr Ruddock said the men had been the subject of extensive examination by the American military and were regarded as being involved in terrorism at a senior level.

So the government's highly principled position on Hicks and Habib isn't going to change; because they're in the embarassing position of having no laws which would allow us to put Hicks and Habib on trial in Australia, they'll continue to accede to their detention. Whenever the government is questioned on whether it might have some responsibilities to Hicks and Habib as Australian citizens, we'll be reminded that these men are regarded as terrorists. No evidence need be produced for this assertion - the word of the American military was good enough for Dazza and it's good enough for Phil. The fact that neither Hicks nor Habib has yet been tried or convicted is irrelevant; it might matter to lawyers, judges and the occasional legal academic, but it hasn't mattered to Federal Attorneys-General for the best part of two years.

No comments: