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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14845

Mr KERR (1:26 PM) —I move:

That this House conveys to the Ambassador of the United States of America its:

(1) concern at the ongoing detention, without charge or trial, of two Australian citizens in Guantanamo Bay; and

(2) request that the United States of America advises what processes will be put in place to allow the detained Australians to be put on trial or to be released.

In January 2002, David Hicks, an Australian citizen, was captured in Afghanistan and handed over to the United States military. Later that year, Mamdouh Habib, also an Australian citizen, was detained in Pakistan but later handed over to the United States military. Each, in turn, a convert and adherent to the Islamic faith, are or were suspected by the United States of some level of involvement in assisting the Taliban government of Afghanistan or al-Qaeda during the period of military hostilities that followed the refusal of the government of Afghanistan to expel Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from its territory after the horrendous terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon by al-Qaeda recruits.

The suppression of al-Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan was a legitimate objective for the United States to have undertaken as part of a global campaign against terrorism. However, the United States' conduct since the removal of the Taliban government has less legitimacy. Ironically, there have been recent reports that the embattled interim government in Kabul has met with remnants of the ousted Taliban leadership in an attempt to build a new alliance with them because of the continuing failure to meet promises made of security and pledges of rebuilding after the war.

But this House has a responsibility to speak out on a matter far closer to home. Those captured or held by the United States, including Hicks and Habib, were transferred, shackled and hooded, to Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, a US military base leased by the United States from Cuba. That degrading treatment has been widely televised. They were not accorded prisoner of war status, on the implausible basis that the conflict in Afghanistan had not been between two uniformed armies. None of the detainees have been charged with any criminal offences. Instead, they linger indefinitely, first housed in wire cages, now housed in small cells without access to courts, lawyers or relatives. Amnesty International has been denied access to Camp X-Ray.

Imagine how the United States would react if some of its citizens were held indefinitely in such conditions without the prospect of trial by any other country on the basis that its military authorities suspected them of some unspecified conduct directed against that government. Or imagine how Australia would react if our citizens were held on orders from Jakarta, Beijing or Belgrade. In fact, we know. In three well-publicised recent cases where Australians were detained in other countries the Australian government demanded consular access and made representations on their behalf for their trial or release. But in David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib's cases our government has been complicit in the abuse of their civil rights. The New York Times has reported that Australia was reluctant to ask for Hicks's return because it had no evidence he had broken the law. The foreign minister has denied that report but it has the ring of truth, and certainly there has been only evasion and avoidance of this subject from the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the foreign minister. This is not necessary. Many other governments, friends and allies of the United States have expressed concern at their citizens being held in legal limbo in US military custody.

Hicks and Habib remain in catch-22 nightmares. The United States government claims it is entitled to detain them until the end of the war on terrorism. But this is not a war in any ordinary sense, and the claim can only mean that the United States asserts the right to impose life imprisonment on these men, without giving them access to legal representation and without putting them on trial.

David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib may have committed criminal acts. If so, let them be prosecuted according to law. If not, let them have what the constitution of the United States guarantees to all United States citizens—their freedom. They are not lesser for being Australian rather than American. I ask the House to express its respectful concern to the Ambassador of the United States, in the terms proposed by the motion. I refer to the motion and ask that the Speaker refer to the Ambassador of the United States of America this House's concern at the ongoing detention without charge or trial of two Australian citizens in Guantanamo Bay and convey to his excellency this House's request that the United States of America advise what processes will be put in place to allow the detained Australians to be put to trial or released.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Mr Melham —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.