Philip Ruddock verses the brutal power of laughter.

It was compelling telly.  All the actors were there. A testament to how high profile the continuing detention of David Hicks has become.  

Col. Moe Davis of the prosecution: Representing the rights of politicians to make up laws and arbitrarily detain people for political reasons.  Maj. Michael Mori (faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound): representing truth, justice and the once great American way.  Terry Hicks- The Dad : Bloodshot eyes. Exhausted from his ordeal, but still doggedly determined to get a fair-go for his son, and who in his humble suburban Adelaide way has shown John Howard what family values are really about.  The Extras : Some tinted bearded fellows whoâve been inside Gitmo and werenât particularly complimentary.  The Eye Candy : A handful of dusky maidens who didnât offer any on-air opinions, but certainly ensured the cutaways were pleasant viewing, and of course in the middle of the front row of the amphitheatre, in the spotlight, as though he himself was on trial sat Mr. Ruddock.  The Federal Attorney General, the biggest legal bigwig in the land. Stiff and awkward in his best blue conservative suit with his tiny Amnesty badge of hypocrisy pinned to his lapel.  A grey bouffant reminiscent of French foreign ministers, and a weird unnatural colouring on his face that on anyone else would be called a healthy tan, but on Mr. Ruddock…well …letâs just say the phrase âtrying is lying❠comes to mind.

As television goes, it was blood-sport through paper cuts.  The hollowness, and âmake it up as they go alongâ nature of the military commission process was exposed.  Col. Davisâ defence of it was weak and unconvincing. Retreating behind bland legalese to argue its legitimacy, but cleanly skewered by Major Moriâs sharp logic.  Mori boxed Moe into a corner on the laws.   Either the laws being applied were retrospective, or they were US federal laws and therefore shouldâve be tried in the US federal system five years ago â not at a Naval Base in a legal no-mans land at some indeterminate time in the future.

Like everything to do with these neo-con wars, managed by one of the worst Secretaries of Defence in history, itâs a botched job.   The military commission process is irretrievable.  It is a failure, and it was evident on this show how much of a total stuff up it is.

Importantly though, it wasnât the debauched nature of the process that was really being judged.  That was just the backdrop for the trial, by public opinion, of Philip Maxwell Ruddock, Member for Berowra. And it was the presenter Jenny Brockie who prosecuted the case against him.

Hereâs a taste of some of the blame shifting and evasion employed by Mr. Ruddock.

On the Australian Governmentâs past statements that implicitly presume Hickâs guilt.  

 âWell, let me just say I speak as the principal law officer for the Government and I have never asserted guilt.❠

On why Australian intelligence services havenât been used to verify or dismiss the American claims against Hicks as MI5 have done.  

 âWell, I don’t talk about intelligence issues❠

On the fairness of the process:   

âthe assurances that we have sought ….blah blah blah❠

Major Mori had a nice answer to that last one: 

I’d like to address the Attorney-General’s comments just a little bit on receiving assurances about this system. You know, that’s what happened four years ago, three years ago, hearing assurances from the US on the first system. It clearly violated the Geneva Conventions, the Attorney-General from the UK could see it, every organisation outside of the US Federal Government and those that created it could see that it was fundamentally flawed. You know, and now we’re just given the same people, the same “Hey, create the same system.” You know, at some point you can’t just keep relying on assurances, you’ve got to make your own independent assessment.  

Our own independent assessment? Can we?  Really?  Whoâd a thunk it?  But Mr. Ruddock falls back on handy blame shift again. Heâs ânot responsible for the American systemâ,  but accepts their assurances that its okay, and so no need for any independent assessment.  A stonewalling tactic that has become pretty transparent, hence Ruddockâs need to bolster his credibility by demonstrating some reasonableness: 

No, five years is far too long and that’s the point that we’ve been making and continue to make.   

Starting from when the polls started to look bad. 

We made it very clear that in the context of Australia, we were not prepared to legislate retrospectively.

 But hey, if the Yanks want to do that, who are we to object? 

No, in my view it’s totally unacceptable to torture anybody.   

Goodness. The man has limits!  The climax, as it should be, was at the end.  âWhyâ, he was asked, âdonât you just ask for him back?❠

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, um, I mean, people making assumptions that if you were to ask, people would behave in a particular way, I don’t make those assumptions. 

Well, Gee Philip, if you donât ask how will you ever know? 

And now Mr. Ruddock, realising that heâs looking a bit stupid,  tries to duck a bouncer from Brockie who reminds him about the Prime Minsters claim that if he asked the Americans,  Hicks would probably be returned. 

PHILIP RUDDOCK: The Prime Minister said if he asked he thought it would be persuasive and I think that’s highly likely, 

So go on?  If it would be persuasive why doesnât the Prime Minister ask for him back? 

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Because we want to see the trial dealt with as quickly as possible so he’s got no â 

At that point the studio audience erupted with laughter.   Asking for Hicksâ return – An action that might short circuit the whole thing, and bring him home now,  shouldnât happen because…. why?  Itâll slow down the trial?  Was that what Ruddock meant?  It was certainly what cracked them up.  That and the delicious irony of hearing a government that was happy to leave the Hicks problem in Americaâs hands, and had wrung Hicks for all the political mileage it could, while he languished uncharged for more than five years, now pushing the incredible line that it was anxious to speed things up.   A multi-layered joke perpetrated on himself. An own goal.  It was perfect. It was beautiful.  The audience laughed at Mr. Ruddock. Not with him.  Mr. Ruddock blinked and squirmed under this mocking laughter of his fellow countrymen, and tried to retrieve some dignity. 

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I am surprised in a society where we believe in the rule of law where there are serious allegations that one would take the view that they should not be properly tested and dealt with so if somebody is not guilty, they can clear their name. I’m surprised at the mirth because the principle is a very important one. 

Mr. Ruddock, we believe in the rule of law,  but the reason we are laughing at you, and not with you, is that we kinda suspect that you donât.

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Paul W
17 years ago

Will this be more than the Tampa, more than children overboard, more than Cordelia Rau? Is the government’s cynical treatment of Hicks enough to finally convince the electorate that it can not be trusted? This was superb television – not just because of the theatrics, but because it held the AG to account for his (in)action in a manner usually only possible inside a parliamentary chamber.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
17 years ago

There is now a vague feeling in the community that five years is long enough and it is time to see some progress. Up to this point we have been perfectly happy with the Government’s cynical handling of Hicks. Me I’d actually like to see some more cynical handling at least until the end of the year, but I am a bit of an enthusiast.

17 years ago

Colonel Moe Davis – essentially the prosecutor came off quite badly if you watch his body language. And clearly Ruddock’s was just as bad but was much more controlled. Davis looked like a rabbit trapped in headlights.

Graham Giblin
17 years ago

While I agree, and it seems tantalisingly close, I think it’s too early to be claiming victory. As they keep saying, don’t underestimate the bastardry. Howard probably hopes that Hicks going to trial will assuage what he calls “the mob”, although I don’t think it will, especially not if Moe Davis has confirmed that hearsay evidence will be admitted and in the same hour Ruddock has laid claim to “the rule of law”. Not our law, it’s not. On the positive side is that the electorate has seen Howard pull rabbits out of hats that they now know were actually skunks, so they’ll be looking for it this time, and they hopefully won’t be fooled again.
Everyone understands that Howard was hoping the Hicks case would be an electoral plus for him but he’s been hanging onto it for so long it’s beginnning to stink, so when it turns out to be electoral pus, it would be poetic to see him hoist with his own petard (to mix a metaphor). But I’m not letting myself get my hopes too high this early.
And by the way, how excited do you think he is to have Darth Vader in town?

J Simpson
J Simpson
17 years ago

Poor old Ruddock. Crossed the floor years ago on immigration. And then, Howard’s revenge – sucking Ruddock into two killer jobs, Immigration and then AG, which were bound to corrupt his liberal ideals. It must give Howard a warm glow to see the extent of the corruption. The Amnesty badge is for memory; deliberately exposing himself to the studio audience is perhaps an unstated recognition that he has been complicit in some terrible things.

Joshua Gans
17 years ago

It was indeed fantastic television. Jenny Brockie pulled off a very ambitious plan, it seems to me. Ruddock deserves credit for turning up and engaging. And I think it’s true that (unlike Howard) he has adhered to the presumption of innocence in his own choice of words about Hicks.

Could Michael Mori have imagined, five years ago, that he would one day be a national hero in Australia of all places? What a funny twist of fate.

Thanks for the tip, Rex.