FEDERAL ATTORNEY-GENERAL Philip Ruddock avoided detailing the Government’s plans with regard to David Hicks following the passage of new military commission legislation in the US.
The US Military Commissions Act 2006 was formed in response to Hamdan v Rumsfeld in which the US Supreme Court found the previous military commission system unlawful.
Ruddock told ABC Radio that he has “been pushing for the United States Government to resolve that issue, particularly before the mid-term elections, and that was done, and the President signing the law yesterday was the completion of that process”.
However, shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said that “given that [Ruddock] was satisfied with the last dodgy process thrown out by the US Supreme Court — it is hard to accept his judgement that this one will be any better”.
Ruddock refused to comment on whether the Australian Government had discussed a deal with the Bush Administration over the future of Hicks. Instead, he outlined the options facing the man who is enduring his fifth year of incarceration in Guantanamo Bay without trial.
One such option would be to challenge the legitimacy of the new military commission, which Ruddock described as “highly suspect now, given the changes that have been made, but that’s a matter of opinion”.
“Secondly, plead not guilty. And thirdly, in the context of the American system, to engage in plea bargaining,” Ruddock said, explaining that he believes the third option would see the matter resolved in the shortest possible time.
“That’s a process by which parties are able to negotiate a lesser charge and negotiate what level of penalty might be appropriate, and that agreed position can then either be confirmed or [rejected] by … the military commission,” Ruddock told ABC Radio.
When pushed on Australia’s involvement in the Hick’s matter, he said that the Government “is not consulted on those matters, and I think it’d be quite inappropriate for us to be party to it”.
But according to Ruddock, this still allowed room for him to engage on some level with the US Government.
“We’ve pushed ourselves into the game to say we want these issues dealt with as quickly as possible,” he said. “In all my discussions with the Americans I have not sought to form a judgment — to access the evidence or form a judgment on it. That’s a matter for the defendant and his legal representatives to deal with.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that Hicks is disorientated and depressed, having been in solitary confinement with lights permanently on, for the past seven months.