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Labor’s false claims about the treatment of David Hicks.

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31 January 2007

Labor’s false claims about the treatment of David Hicks

Labor's new shadow attorney-general, Kelvin Thomson, demonstrated today his unsuitability for senior public office by spreading falsehoods about the treatment of David Hicks by prison authorities at Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Thomson has issued a press release claiming Mr Hicks was shifted to a solitary cell after a visit by an Australian consular official in March last year. Mr Thomson went on to claim this was an act of retribution or "punishment" by US officials because David Hicks had exercised the right to speak his mind to the visiting Australian official. This accusation could not be further from the truth.

Disturbingly, Mr Thomson has persisted with this accusation despite Labor knowing this version of events had been comprehensively discredited in a formal written response by my department to questions from the Senate estimates committee in November.

In May 2006, DFAT acted on a concern raised by email from Mr Terry Hicks that his son saw his move to Camp 5 as punishment for speaking to the Australian Consul-General during a visit in March. The US authorities categorically rejected this claim.

In fact, David Hicks was moved to Camp 5 as part of consolidation from older to newer facilities and, consistent with army regulations, because individuals charged with offences are separated from the general prison population.

The Consul-General subsequently visited David Hicks on 8 June and had a 90-minute meeting with him. Mr Hicks told the Consul-General he was fit and well and did not complain he had been punished for raising concerns.

The Consul-General again visited Mr Hicks on 27 September 2006. Despite the opportunity of a private meeting, Mr Hicks did not complain either that he had or would be punished for raising concerns.

Indeed, on every occasion that allegations of maltreatment have been raised with the government by Mr Hicks, his family or his lawyers, Australian consular officials have taken them up expeditiously with US authorities. At the Australian Government's request, separate US agencies have conducted two investigations into Mr Hicks' welfare and treatment whilst in detention. Neither has revealed any evidence of abuse.

Moreover, David Hicks continues to have daily access not only to exercise but also to reading and writing materials if he wishes.

Media releases and speeches are available from DFAT via the internet.

Although the government is yet to receive a detailed report on the current visit by a senior Australian consular official to Guantanamo Bay, our advice suggests there is no truth to media reports asserting Mr Hicks is shackled in his cell for 22 hours a day.

Guantanamo Bay authorities advise that it is not their policy to shackle prisoners in cells. After close inspections at Camp 6, where Mr Hicks is now held, the consul-general reported that he found none of the other detainees were shackled in their cells. A camp psychiatrist had also advised that Mr Hicks underwent an examination on January 29, and that his mental health was assessed as good, although he was "frustrated".

The Australian Government takes its consular protection role very seriously. Currently, there are more than 180 Australians detained or imprisoned overseas in various jurisdictions. The government continues to exercise its responsibility to ensure all are treated properly, that all have access to legal representation, and that allegations against them are tested in accordance with due legal process.

Not only are Mr Thomson’s claims a disgraceful slur on the professionalism and competence of Australia’s consular service, they are also plainly untrue. The allegations that he had been punished by US authorities were canvassed before Senate Estimates Committee on 2 November 2006 and the senior official in the consular section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised the Committee of the facts of the matter in a subsequent letter.

That being so, it is wholly irresponsible for Mr Thomson to persist with these unfounded claims.

Mr Thomson aspires to be Attorney-General, the chief law officer in the land. His disregard for the truth is deeply troubling.

This episode reveals not only the inexperience of Kevin Rudd's new frontbench, but also Labor's contempt for the facts.

Media contact: Tony Parkison (Ministerial) 02 6277 7500