Australia urged the US on Monday to tighten legal procedures to ensure the hearings at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are fair – prompting claims that the call was linked to general elections scheduled for 9 October
“This is just to do with election politics and has nothing to do with ensuring Australian citizens are treated properly overseas,” Nicola Roxon said, a spokeswoman for the opposition Labor Party.
Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch supporter of US President George Bush, has long rejected calls for David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib to be returned to Australia for trial.
Howard says Washington has assured him that US military justice will satisfy the basic tenets of the Australian legal system.
The opposition said if the government was sincere, it would have acknowledged much earlier that the hearings were unfair.
Australia was one of the few countries to have expressed satisfaction with the US military commission process at Guantanamo Bay, even suggesting it might adopt the controversial commissions itself for terrorist trials.
|Terry Hicks (L) says government
concerns are fuelled by elections
“Everybody under the sun who has known the rules that were going to apply to this military commission have known for many, many months that the process was not fair,” Roxon told ABC radio.
Hicks’s father Terry Hicks, asked why the government only expressed concern now when legal experts have been questioning the fairness of the proceedings for months.
Britain, another key US ally, has expressed concern about justice at the trial.
“It’s possibly political with the election now set for October, to try to appease the public who have been saying it’s unfair,” Terry Hicks said in his home city of Adelaide.
Hicks’ Pentagon-appointed lawyer, marine corps major Michael Mori, said the commission process needed a fundamental overhaul.
“It could be [made fair],” Mori told ABC radio. “You’d basically scrap what they’ve created now and create a system based on an established judicial system like the court martial process.”
Hicks’ Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny, accused the government of lying about the military commission system.
“They’ve been telling the Australian people it incorporated the safeguards of our criminal justice system, it never did,” Kenny said.
“They clearly lied about that.”
David Hicks is one of two Australians held in Guantanamo Bay. The second, Mamdouh Habib, has yet to face the controversial hearings.
Legal hearings at Guantanamo
Hicks, a 29-year-old convert to Islam, is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy by fighting alongside the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
His lawyers say he will plead innocent to all charges.
Habib, a 48-year-old Egyptian-born father of four from Sydney, was arrested in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border three weeks after the 11 September attacks on the United States. He has yet to be charged.
Opposition Labor Party leader Mark Latham called for Hicks and Habib to be brought back to Australia for trial.
“I think it makes the point that the Australian people should have been dealt with under Australian processes in the first place,” Latham said. “The government shouldn’t have given away our legal sovereignty to another country.”