While Australian David Hicks stands trial on terrorism charges in Guantanamo Bay under the widely criticised US military commission, Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has said he cannot rule out the use of military commissions here in the war against terror.
A major terrorist attack on Australia might force the Government to revive military commissions, used in this country after World War II, despite their being criticised here as an unfair process, Ruddock said on the weekend.
“We are at war with people who are not donning uniforms, who do not accept rules of engagement, who do not accept the Geneva Convention and who deliberately target civilians,” Ruddock told The Sunday Telegraph.
“So what you are dealing with is something that is quite different to anything we’ve ever had to put up with… that’s why we’ve got to get our armour ready,” the paper reported he said.
“At the moment, we are doing it the way I’ve outlined, but that is not to say that in a situation in which Australia was clearly attacked, that we might not have to look at what further steps you should take,” he said.
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) this week, in response to Ruddock’s comments, expressed concern about the possibility of a military commission in Australia. The LCA was concerned that such commissions would be based on the US model adopted for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, “which is attracting very substantial criticism both within the US and elsewhere”, LCA president Bob Gotterson told Lawyers Weekly.
The trial of Hicks has received criticism in Australia, and leading the protest against it has been the LCA, which recently sent Lex Lasry as an Australian independent observer to the Hicks trial.
As far as the LCA has been able to ascertain, president-elect Steve Southwood said, the military commission process being used to try Hicks “is a wrong headed and unfair approach”.
“The LCA thinks when you think of prosecuting people it is inappropriate if it is dealt with by the executive,” Southwood said. “It should be dealt with by ordinary legal institutions.”
However, in saying he would not rule out the use of military commissions in Australia, Ruddock was not necessarily endorsing their introduction.
While The Sunday Telegraph’s report on the weekend was followed by those of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sunday Tasmanian newspaper and numerous online news sites, Ruddock did not actually suggest that the Australian Government was considering introducing military commissions in this country.
A spokesperson for the A-G said that in Ruddock’s interview on the weekend, the A-G was asked whether he would consider introducing military commissions in Australia. He replied that he was not going to rule it out, but then again he was not going to rule it in.
The Constitution gives the federal government the power to establish military courts during war times. Although he “wouldn’t say that forever the circumstances are such that [military commissions] might never be required”, there were no plans to introduce them, he told the paper.
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