It is a pattern that is being repeated over and over worldwide. Security agencies conduct secret surveillance of suspects, record their conversations, then convict them under anti-terrorism laws so broad that expressions of opinion and radical talk are sufficient to define a terrorist.
On February 3, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, the alleged leader of a “terrorist organisation”, was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. His six “followers” were sentenced to between four and seven-and-a-half years for being members of a terrorist organisation.
The October 23 acquittal of Jack Thomas from a terrorism charge highlights what is wrong with Australia’s anti-terror laws and the way they are being applied.
A dangerous precedent for an ambiguous anti-terrorism law has been set by the conviction of a majority of the 12 Melbourne Muslim men accused of constituting a terrorist cell. Almost all the charges were based on a law that turned on the definition of a terrorist organisation.
Colonel Moe Davis, former chief prosecutor at the US prison Guantanamo Bay, has finally told the world that David Hicks was never a serious terror threat and that his pursuit was politically driven. Davis has also now said that evidence was obtained through prisoner abuse.
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.
For two years 13 Muslim men from Melbourne, have been held in Barwon prison near Geelong and nine men from Sydney in Goulburns super-max prison without trial.
On August 2, the High Court of Australia upheld the constitutional validity of a control order on Jack Thomas.
As Green Left Weekly goes to print David Hicks is on his way back to Australia — to Yalata prison in South Australia. But Lady Justice is sailing off in the other direction.
Preliminary arguments have started in the retrial of Jack Thomas at the Supreme Court. The case demonstrates that the Howard government’s “anti-terror” laws can be used to criminalise non-terrorists.
While the Howard government has succeeded in partially defusing David Hicks’s unjust imprisonment as an election issue, it has still not convinced most people that Hicks’s guilty plea means he is a terrorist.
After five years imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without trial, David Hicks has agreed to a plea-bargain deal at his military commission trial to hasten his return to Australia. “I think most of you would be pleading guilty to something to get out of the place”, Hicks’s father Terry told the assembled media after returning to Adelaide from Guantanamo Bay on March 29.
While all eyes have been focused on the terrible plight of David Hicks, Willie Brigitte has been convicted and sentenced in France, nine Muslim men are undergoing a committal hearing in Sydney, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has allegedly confessed to a multitude of terror attacks and calls to ban the Muslim group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, in Australia have become more strident. This is all cause for concern, not because of a sinister threat by “terrorists”, but from the government-driven “war on terror”.
Coalition leaders have had a rush of blood to the head over David Hicks. After five years of inaction, PM John Howard and foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer are trumpeting what a hard line they are taking with the George Bush administration to get Hicks back to Australia — after he is found guilty at a military commission of course!
According to former French intelligence security chief Alain Chouet, the terrorism-related charges against Willie Brigitte, who is being tried in France, are “weak”. Quoted in the February 5 Australian, he said Brigitte is a “person without importance whom the Australian authorities continue to play on to create fear”.
After five years of incarceration at Guantanamo Bay without trial, it is increasingly clear that David Hicks has committed no serious crime and that he is no threat. Yet, he is being held in a prison camp, often in solitary confinement, subjected to endless interrogations and physical and mental abuse to try and break his resistance to a guilty plea. Hicks is now in such a state that he cannot even bear to talk to his father on the phone.