Sacrificed for a fictitious war on terror

Friday, February 2, 2007

David Hicks's demonisation, and continued incarceration in Guantanamo Bay, helps the US and Australian governments' promotion of its endless "war on terror". The Australian government is keen for the US to prosecute Hicks rather than have him return home because he has done no wrong under Australian law.

Howard won the last election on "security" issues, partly by linking boat people with terrorists. Since then, Australian security agencies and the federal government have worked hard to dig up home-grown "terrorists" to promote the idea of a domestic terrorist threat, and their own credentials in combatting it.

This has resulted in Jack Thomas, a non-terrorist, being railroaded under so-called anti-terrorism legislation.

Unfortunately, the Labor party has jumped on the security bandwagon, supporting the government's "anti-terror" laws and failing to speak up for the rights of Thomas and others arrested on dubious grounds.

Labor also supports the idea of bringing Hicks back to Australia and placing him under a control order. Although it may be understandable that the Hicks legal team is willing to offer the government a way of "saving face" for the sake of removing David from his nightmare, ultimately this is a bargain with the devil that will hurt the struggle for human rights.

By acceding to control orders we will be approving what can amount to house arrest for individuals who have not been convicted of any criminal offence. This subverts the concept of justice and opens the door for the state to arbitrarily arrest people. It is a foot in the door towards the kind of society we do not want - totalitarian regimes. Applying a control order to Hicks would also help the government to continue to demonise him by suggesting that he is dangerous individual.

Control orders are used for political purposes, as is clear from the control order on Thomas: it is being used to help the government save face following the overturning of his conviction on appeal. It also sends a fallacious message to the public that we need to be protected from Thomas. This is despite the fact that Thomas was exonerated at his trial from having any intentions towards terrorism and is clearly no threat to Australia.

The Labor party supported the introduction of control orders and continues to support them. It has not spoken out about the unjust treatment of Thomas. That the party is now raising its voice over Hicks is a result of the strong campaign for his release. There could be no greater proof that politicians only move in response to strong public opinion. Neither of the major parties are driven by any innate commitment to basic principles of justice and human rights.

Public awareness of the mistreatment of Hicks must now be focussed on the underlying problem - the dangerous subversion of our basic rights in the name of "war on terror" through the "anti-terror" laws themselves.

[Colin Mitchell is an activist with the Melbourne-based Civil Rights Defence group.]

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