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North urges Australia to press US for answers

North urges Australia to press US for answers

THE RECENT release of former Australian terrorist suspect Mamdouh Habib and the mounting criticisms of the US military commission process make the Australian Government’s support for the legal…

THE RECENT release of former Australian terrorist suspect Mamdouh Habib and the mounting criticisms of the US military commission process make the Australian Government’s support for the legal procedures used by the United States at Guantanamo Bay untenable, legal commentators said last week.

The credibility of the legal system used at the US military base in Cuba is in tatters, according to the Law Council of Australia (LCA), which said also that this country’s government should concede that its complicity with the US was wrong.

“The Government must now turn its attention to the plight of the other Australian detainee [David Hicks] held without charge to ensure that further injustice is avoided,” said Law Council president John North.

As well, a US court decision last week found that Guantanamo Bay detainees have been denied due process during that country’s determinations about their status as enemy combatants.

This decision is said to add further weight to arguments that the US approach at Guantanamo Bay does not afford detainees fundamental and basic legal rights. The LCA said the decision should spur the Australian Government to revisit its support for that system.

The LCA said in a statement that the Government had apparently demonstrated indifference towards Australian Ahmed Aziz Rafiq, who has been detained without charge in a southern Iraq prison for nearly 12 months.

“Despite requests, the Government has been unable to advise the Law Council what, if any crime [Rafiq] is accused of, why he has not been charged and whether he has been granted access to a lawyer,” North said. “And as [Habib’s] case has shown, ongoing detention without charge can have quite tragic consequences for the person affected and their family.”

North suggested the Government ensure Rafiq is charged or that it press for his release and repatriation to Australia as soon as practicable.

The Law Council’s condemnation of the Australian Government came as North took up the top position as president and former LCA president Stephen Southwood was elevated to Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory last week.

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