COMMONWEALTH Attorney-General Philip Ruddock faced, if not a barrage, at least a moderate salvo of questions about Guantanamo Bay detainees Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks at a recent lawyers’ dinner. Having offered to take questions, Ruddock found guests’ interest focused not on legal reform or the national profession, but almost exclusively on the two Australian suspected terrorists. Hicks has been declared eligible for trial before a US Military Commission.
The Howard Government has come under fire from several quarters for its stance, with critics claiming it is not doing enough for the welfare of two Australian citizens detained overseas. The prospect of their appearing before a military tribunal has raised particular concern.
Asked whether the Government is “prepared to support [Hicks’ and Habib’s] opportunity to be heard”, Ruddock said the American legal system is currently “working its way through” the issue. “We believe we’re involved in a new form of warfare,” he said. “That’s why there’s concern about using a non-military system where there are still battles going on.”
He said Australians could not reasonably expect that if they get involved in committing offences under the laws of another country they can then “forum shop” for a favourable jurisdiction in which to be heard and expect to come back to Australia. “There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what we can do for our nationals overseas who’ve committed offences,” he added.
Ruddock said he disagreed with one guest’s suggestion that Australia should draw a balance more in favour of its citizens and that the current situation is “jurisprudentially very dangerous”.
The A-G was addressing the 2003 City of Sydney Law Society dinner, honouring the retirement of Commonwealth Bank general counsel Les Taylor.