The ABC has made a documentary about David Hicks and screened it in an double episode of Australian Story. It’s still on iView and I suggest you go check it out if you’ve not seen it. It went to some lengths to be ‘balanced’ but somehow the balance seems to me to tilt too far towards Hick’s persecutors. Here are the basic facts as I understand them (Feel free to correct me on this). Hicks trained with the Taliban. He was a combatant for the Taliban for a short while. He was captured and no-one knew what to do with him because he hadn’t committed any crimes. He was detained without trial and without access to basic justice for five years. He was then returned after he pled guilty in a situation in which it is clear that his guilty plea was extracted for political face-saving reasons and the circumstances of the guilty admission are such that there is not a court in any civilised country that would regard it as properly obtained.
People like Howard, Ruddock and Downer are interviewed along with an anti-terrorist security analyst. They make it clear that there are some inconsistencies in Hick’s story concerning what he knew when and also the degree to which he supported Islam, although nothing very substantial emerges from this. Howard, Downer and Ruddock say things like that the Australian diplomat who went to see Hicks said he wasn’t being mistreated. In one extraordinary comment I think it is Downer says that terror suspects who have been detained by the Americans “always claim that they’ve been mistreated”. This is apparently evidence that they have not – or perhaps that some of them are lying – who knows?
Now I’ll admit to the fact that my own dim view of human nature is that people can do some seriously nasty things when encouraged to do so in groups, and when they’re away from the cleansing power of sunlight. Abu Ghraib didn’t surprise me in the slightest. However one doesn’t need to be suspicious. One doesn’t need the pictures of the tortures at Abu Ghraib. One just has to look at the pictures the Americans circulated of hooded suspects, bound on stretchers, isolated in open cages in camps. And yet these kinds of statements by Downer and co. to the effect that Hicks was not mistreated repeatedly went unchallenged. It illustrated the shabby depths to which ‘he said-she said’ journalism can descend when these spokespeople for the Howard Government were not held to account for the fact that, whether you think Hicks is a stupid and possibly dangerous kid who got himself in way too deep or think he was a horrible terrorist, what happened to him was a gross violation of the rule of law. I’d even be sympathetic to the idea that, in the right circumstances one might want to lock suspects up without being able to prove much against them. But why torture them for years and years?
And it’s true I’m just going on David Hicks’ assertions that he was treated the way he says he was, which I’d call torture. I’m also going on my commonsense all other things considered. And I’m outraged that the other side of this argument – was never really tested. How do these guys think he spent his days? Was he in solitary confinement? For how long? What do the camp records tell us? What was the size of his cell. Was he in an open cage for weeks? What did the Australian diplomat see? Why was he confident that Hicks wasn’t being mistreated? How could he have known?
We didn’t get any accountability of that kind out of this program.
In the end the program wasn’t made by people who understood the real principles at stake. David Hicks suffered terribly I’m guessing. But there was a war on. A lot of other people suffered much more, and were completely innocent of his stupidity. It shouldn’t have been a he-said she-said drama in which one either sympathises with Hicks or his assailants. It should have been a program which, amongst other things sought to hold our officeholders to account on matters of principle that concern us all .
And good on former Liberal leader in NSW John Dowd for believing in something – like liberalism. Like he said, the disregard for basic principle, the preparedness to sit around while someone to whom you owe a basic duty of protection is tortured for five years, made you ashamed to be Australian.