Politics

Published on March 30th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck

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Three Things About David Hicks

Five years without a trial.

Five years without a trial.

I wasn’t going to write about this. I really wasn’t. I vowed that no matter how biased, unfair, stupid, and self-congratulatory Miranda Devine and Janet Albrechtsen were, I wouldn’t write anything about their “analysis” of David Hicks’ guilty plea. I mean, pointing out fallacies in their arguments is practically a full-time undertaking. You can never stop debunking because they never stop distorting.

It’s actually a paralysingly huge task to unpack their self-satisfied smarm. Every 800-word column from them could provoke a 4000-word debunking, but who’s gonna devote that much time to stupidity that egregious? Not me. I just don’t have the stamina.

But I couldn’t — just couldn’t — let their bullshit ooze by unremarked. So, I’ll comment, but I’m gonna limit myself to making three points:

1. Hicks’ guilty plea, Devine says, “has plastered egg all over the faces of his supporters”, who she describes as “naive hysterics” who believed that David Hicks was a “tortured innocent”.

Sigh. Even a cursory glance at newspaper op-eds and the comments on Albrechtsen’s blog at The Australian shows that most critics of Hicks’ detention are supporters of the rule of law, and not necessarily of David Hicks. Therefore, Hicks’ guilty plea does nothing to invalidate their arguments. They simply believe that all people deserve a fair trial — no matter who they are or what they are alleged to have done.

I’ll say it once more for the mentally impaired: most critics are disgusted with this saga not because they believe butter wouldn’t melt in David Hicks’ mouth, but because they think the rule of law has been cynically and disgracefully perverted.

Recap. David Hicks was detained without trial for five years. Five years. That is wrong, and Hicks’ guilty plea doesn’t retrospectively make it right.

2. Hicks’ guilty plea proves that he was, er, guilty.

Does it, though?

The Bush Administration’s attempts to “game” the system means many believe that Hicks pleaded guilty to bring an end to his ordeal. Now, maybe that’s right, and maybe it’s wrong. Perhaps it was a genuine admission of guilt. I don’t know.

The point is, one of the effects of trying to rig the system is that it taints the whole process. I mean, how can anyone have faith in this outcome when on the day Hicks entered his guilty plea the presiding judge threw two of Hicks’ three lawyers out of the courtroom on what appears to have been a pretext? (Not to mention the farcically unfair military tribunals where Hicks was originally slated to be tried. Tribunals that the US Supreme Court rejected as unfair in the Hamdan case.)

This is exactly why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession to every terrorist crime of the last decade was greeted with derisive laughter. How much credence will anyone give to a confession from a man who’s been waterboarded? Unlikely as it seems, maybe his confession was genuine? Then again, maybe it was the words of a man who’ll say anything to stop the torture?

And that’s the thing. Mistreating prisoners, whether its by denying them proper recourse to the law or by outright torture, compromises the whole system. You see, not only is torture immoral, it’s also impractical. Torture people for long enough and they’ll probably confess to anything to make it stop. The problem is that the credibility of those confessions is tainted because of the methods used to secure them, as is the credibility of the people and governments using those methods. And once people, organisations, and governments lose faith in the transparency and fairness of a legal apparatus, everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

One final point, the Australian government stood by while the rights of an Australian citizen were trampled. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the very idea of laws is that they apply to everyone without fear or favour. Once governments become selective about how they apply laws, everyone should be disturbed. If the rule of law isn’t inviolate, who’s to say it won’t be violated when it’s you or me in the dock?

And no, that’s not just an abstract principle. Since 9-11 the Western democracies have seen civil liberties abridged and law enforcement powers expanded. David Hicks is one part of a much larger fear-based assault on civil liberties. By defending David Hicks’ right to fair go, we’re defending our own rights.

No one’s asking for special treatment, just insisting that laws that are already on the books be adhered to.

3. Both Janet and Miranda insist that David Hicks is not an “angel”. Both of them seem incensed by the campaign that distributed the photo of a nine-year-old David Hicks. They think it’s misleading propaganda.

I don’t doubt that pro-Hicks people have engaged in some shrewd PR. But ask yourself: why was that necessary? Could it have been because the US and Australian governments demonised David Hicks and other Guantanamo detainees? Could it simply have been a case, then, of Hicks’ supporters fighting propaganda with propaganda?

The fact is that the Australian and US governments assumed what they ought to have proven, namely David Hicks’ guilt. George Bush himself described the detainees at Guantanamo as the “worst of the worst”. But isn’t that exactly the conclusion that should be reached AFTER a trial? You know, after prisoners have an opportunity to respond to the charges levelled against them in front of an impartial tribunal. Instead, David Hicks was viewed as guilty until proven innocent. He was treated as if his evilness had already been established, and it hadn’t.

Excuse me for being a “naive hysteric”, but if the government is going to demonise Hicks, I can’t get too worked up about “supporters” going out of their way to humanise him.

Conclusion

No matter how ferociously Janet and Miranda try to spin Hicks’ plea, they have not been vindicated. Nor have critics of the manner of Hicks’ detention had egg plastered on their faces. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Devine/Albrechtsen all-terror-all-the-time faction is that they always attribute their own frailties to the other side of the debate. I mean, tell me, who really are the “naive hysterics” here? The people who insist that laws must be abided by, and that even people suspected of doing scary things should be accorded due process? The people who aren’t prepared to give away civil liberties at the very mention of the name Osama bin Laden?

No, the real bedwetters here are people like Albrechtsen and Devine who are so scared that they don’t care who we invade, who we vilify, and whose rights we trample so long as it makes them feel safe.

UPDATE: An American take on the whole sordid saga.


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