PRIVATE MEMBERS BUSINESS: Australians in Guantanamo Bay
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (1.31 p.m.) —This is a difficult case, I acknowledge that. But we are dealing here with something that is a little unusual for Australia, and that is the prospect of one of our citizens being involved in a terrorist organisation or, as is alleged, having links with Al-Qaeda.
David Hicks has been passed over to the US authorities, along with about 280 other detainees from countries around the world. These detainees have come from all nations. Australian officials have had contact with David Hicks. They have been in to see him and have had access to him.
I think that all members of the House would be terribly concerned if, by some omission, by either the American or the Australian authorities, David Hicks or anybody else were given their freedom, only to have proved at a later stage that they had been heavily involved with a terrorist organisation; there would be an outcry from the Australian people that their lives and their freedom and peace had been placed at risk by the prospect of a terrorist being allowed to go free. Therefore, I would argue that due process has to be observed in examining whether or not there are links to terrorist organisations. Nobody with a hint of terrorist activity in their background is allowed to migrate to Australia. We have very stringent controls on the way in which we accept people into the country, and it is a matter of concern to the United States that these detainees are properly dealt with.
There is dispute about how they have been dealt with. The fact of the matter is that they have been dealt with under the Geneva Convention. They have not been dealt with as prisoners of war, because they have not been classified as prisoners of war under the convention. But they have been subject to the laws of war, and under those laws of war the US has categorised Mr Hicks as an unlawful combatant. I do not know what other sort of classification you can place on him. As an unlawful combatant his role is being thoroughly investigated. I understand that within the last short period the legal commission appointed by President George Bush has been started. Three to seven military officers will comprise the tribunal, and Colonel Borch has indicated that he has been named the acting chief prosecutor. That process is now about to begin. Whether there will be charges brought against David Hicks remains to be seen.
I can only refer to access that the international press has had to the camp at Guantanamo Bay. This was reported in the Age of 23 May. It was reported that conditions—food and general conditions of care and support for all detainees—are more than adequate for prisoners of war. There is a strong description of the varieties of foods, the living conditions and the opportunities for exercise and proper health and care that people have within Guantanamo Bay. There is good medical support and assistance and there is the appropriate provision for religious practice. I quote from the article:
Conditions at the prison have improved—the detainees no longer wear hoods and shackles, and each gets a copy of the Koran, plus a bed with an arrow pointing the way to Mecca.
Then, as I have said, there is a significant description of the food and conditions.
Australia must exercise real care here. The role of the Australian Attorney-General in saying that the government has had opportunities to gain access and verify Mr Hicks's good conditions is important. We have sought to establish the legal condition of Mr Hicks and the processes are now in train for the implementation of the military commissions that the US has established, with the appointment of the acting chief prosecutor and the prospect of due legal process commencing.
Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard -26th May 2003
Release Date: 26 May 2003