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Haneef treated like convicted terrorist: Aussie law body
July 24, 2007 16:00 IST
Australia's top legal body on Tuesday slammed the government's treatment of convicted terrorist David Hicks and said it finds an echo in the case of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef.
In a scathing report on the US military commission trial of Hicks, the former Guantanamo Bay inmate now in a South Australian jail, the Law Council said the case will remain a stain on Australia's reputation on law issues.
Melbourne barrister and human rights advocate Lex Lasry, QC, an observer at Hicks' March 2007 trial, said the proceedings were a farce and a veneer of due process over a political and pragmatic bargain.
The Australian government's support for the military commission system was shameful, he said.
"Australia's international standing and moral authority has been diminished by its support of a process so obviously at odds with the rule of law," Lasry said, adding, "The very real prospect of people being condemned to death and executed by such a system is truly Kafkaesque."
Law Council president Tim Bugg said echoes of the US military commission experiment were now being heard in Australia in the context of new anti-terrorism laws and the detention of Haneef.
"There's an Alice in Wonderland quality to both these cases -- first the sentence, then the verdict," he said.
"Hicks and Haneef both know what that feels like."
Bugg said the Hicks case is even more important in the light of the Haneef case.
"Clearly Dr Haneef is going to be subjected to a far better process because he is in the Australian justice system. But nonetheless the Hicks case highlighted that a citizens' rights were simply jettisoned because of political considerations, rather that considerations of principle," Bugg said.
"The Law Council is very concerned that there is more than a hint of the same occurring in relation to Dr Haneef".
Lasry said the Hicks case had also been the catalyst for public concern about the detainment of Haneef.
"A lot of people are concerned Haneef was in custody for two weeks without being charged while the prosecution assembled its case," Lasry said.
"The Hicks case has been the catalyst for the public interest in Haneef," he added.
He said it was unfair that someone should be held in custody while it was decided if there was a case against him.
Hicks languished for five-and-a-half years in the US military prison in Cuba before he was found guilty in March of providing material support to terrorism.
He was later transferred to Adelaide's Yatala prison to serve out the remainder of his seven-year sentence, and will walk free at the end of this year.
"Ultimately, there has been no benefit from this process -- only a corrosion of the rule of law," Lasry said.
Hicks' father Terry said he was not surprised the report concluded that the legal proceedings against his son were a charade.
"It reiterates what everyone who saw the process would say: 'It was a load of crock, it was a sham'," Hicks said.