Close Guantanamo Bay!

January 18, 2008

As part of a global day of protest to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay about 50 people gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide on January 11. Guantanamo Bay has a particular meaning in this city, as the home town of David Hicks, one of the first detainees to arrive at Guantanamo Bay and the first to be put through the military commission injustice system.

Hicks' show trial graphically illustrated for the world what is wrong about the military commissions and how far we have strayed from basic principles of justice. After six years in cruel and inhumane conditions at Guantanamo Bay, Hicks was offered an exit ticket — the price was a guilty plea. It was a mockery of justice. Yet back in Australia the mockery of justice continues with a Labor party-sanctioned control order on Hicks.

The action was addressed by Terry Hicks, Sarah Hanson-Young (newly elected SA Greens member for the federal Senate), myself and Kris Hanna (independent SA MP). Speakers noted that we were not just calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay but the end of what it stands for — operating outside established norms of justice, violating of human rights and using torture.

Speakers called for the closure of all the detention camps operating outside international law, including the detention camp at Bagram air-force base in Afghanistan (where a number of detainees have been murdered) and the network of secret CIA prisons. We called for an end to the use of torture.

The response to terrorism by the west has opened up a dark side of western governments, including in Australia: the willingness to jettison human rights through using fear.

Here in Australia we have our own versions of Guantanamo Bay. We keep alleged terrorism suspects in the maximum security units of maximum security prisons. Thirteen of them have been held at the maximum security unit of Barwon prison in Victoria for over 2 years now without trial. They are kept in solitary for much of the time and shackled every time they are moved.

Like Hicks in Guantanamo Bay, the "Barwon 13" are presumed to be guilty and are being punished before trial. One aim of this strategy is to break the men down psychologically and to pave the way for confessions of guilt.

Speakers noted that the Labor party supported the introduction of all the Howard government's terror laws which violate principles of justice and human rights, including control orders. Will PM Kevin Rudd's government continue down Howard's path of trashing civil liberties for anti-terror posturing? The control order on David Hicks is not a good sign.

Hanna condemned the Mike Rann ALP state government for following the same drum-beat and noted that our refugee detention camps also violate justice and human rights.
A challenge was issued to the Rudd federal government: take a strong and principled stand for human rights and reject the use of anti-terror laws for cynical political advantage. No-one is holding their breath for a positive response.

Global public opposition is forcing the US administration to think about closing the most visible symbol of the "war on terror": Guantanamo Bay. It is only the first step in a process which must include our own government in Australia.

Protest actions also took place in Sydney and Newcastle. In Newcastle, the NoWar collective held an action in Hamilton, demanding that former PM John Howard be charged with war crimes. In Sydney, around 300 protesters gathered in Martin Place, wearing orange jumpsuits. The crowed spelt out the numerals "275" — the number of detainees left in Guantanamo — and formed and human triangle. The stunt was organised by Amnesty.

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