THE AUSTRALIAN Government confirmed a program has been set down by the United States for the trial of David Hicks, according to federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.
The chief legal officer’s comments followed discussions with the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in Melbourne about Hicks last week.
“The Australian Government has made it clear to the United States that it continues to expect appropriate procedures will be in place to ensure a fair trial,” Ruddock said.
The Government’s stance was communicated to US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales in a phone call last week, in which Ruddock claimed to emphasise the need for urgency in bring Hicks to trial. “The US is aware of our ongoing concern. Otherwise there wouldn’t be discussions,” he said.
“The principle concern I have is that all the assurances that have been given to us — and there are a number of them — are honoured. And I am sure they will be.”
Ruddock stated that the Attorneys-General were all in agreement over the need for an accused to be given a timely trial, especially in the face of serious allegations. However, in Hick’s case, Australia was not in a position to do this, and could not be expected to reveal what the American program might include, he said.
“While the United States will pursue the prosecution of Mr Hicks, any announcement on the details will be a matter for them.”
He stressed that Hick’s case differed substantially from that of other detainees sent home by the US to Britain and Australia, in that he has been charged.
The Law Council of Australia has previously described the Pentagon’s decision to treat Guantanamo Bay detainees in accordance with the Geneva Conventions as “too little, too late”.
While the peak body representing the national legal profession said any move that will help restore the rights of Hicks was a positive one, “this eleventh hour decision by the US provides little consolation for [Hicks] and his family”, said Law Council president Tim Bugg.
“If it was genuinely concerned about the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees, the US Government would have treated its prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Conventions from the outset.” The recent gesture is “way too little, way too late”, said Bugg.