On February 6, 400 people converged on the lawns outside the national parliament building in Canberra to protest of the continued detention of Australian citizen David Hicks at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The 31-year-old Adelaide-born father of two has been detained by the US military since shortly after he was captured with Taliban forces in December 2001, during the US invasion of Afghanistan. At the time, the Taliban was the government of Afghanistan.
US military prosecutors have recommended he be charged with "providing material support for terrorism" and "attempted murder".
Hicks was originally charged by a US military commission in August 2004 with "aiding the enemy" while being an "unprivileged belligerent" in Afghanistan. These charges had to be abandoned after the military commission system set up by President George Bush was ruled last June to be unlawful by the US Supreme Court.
However, last October, the US Congress approved the Military Commission Act 2006, establishing a new military commission system to prosecute "terrorists and other unlawful enemy combatants".
The Canberra rally was addressed by numerous members of parliament including Labor Senator Kate Lundy, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, and Democrat senators Lyn Allison, Andrew Bartlett and Natasha Stott Despoja. The rally was also addressed by NSW Socialist Alliance candidate Jakalene X, former Guantanamo detainee Mamdouh Habib and ACT anti-war activist James Crafti.
Habib told the protesters that the Guantanamo Bay prison was an "experiment" in finding out what would make prisoners go "crazy". Hicks is being held in solidarity confinement and in a small all-metal cell for 22 hours a day.
"That's the treatment of David Hicks, and they give him the wrong medicine to make him sick", said Habib. "When we sit down and watch this man, what he's been through, we are ashamed. We have to stand up for this guy and if we don't do it now he is lost, he is gone."
Senator Stott Despoja told protesters the military commission system was unlawful and she would be raising the issue in the federal parliament. "You have heard the flaws in the MCA (Military Commission Act), like the inability to challenge evidence [and] the fact that evidence can be obtained through coercion… We ask the [Howard] government and they say it's acceptable."
She also called for a cross-party parliamentary delegation to visit Hicks. "Let's see ministers look David Hicks in the eye and say that these facilities are humane and appropriate and abide by international laws", she said. "David Hicks has been in the hell hole for five years and it's time to bring him home."
The protesters, many wearing bright orange shirts reminiscent of the Guantanamo prison garb, then marched to the US embassy.
The draft charges against Hicks were "outrageous", Crafti, who is also a member of the socialist youth organisation Resistance, told Green Left Weekly. "Hicks was captured while being a soldier in the Taliban forces, which were the Afghan government armed forces at the time of the US invasion, yet he is going to be charged with 'assisting terrorism' and 'attempted murder'. What the US military is attempting to do with these charges is to make it a crime for anyone, including foreign government soldiers, to resist US military aggression."