This week marks a disturbing 10 year anniversary. It was on 11 January 2002 that the United States’ infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp opened and David Hicks was one of the first inmates incarcerated there.
On this anniversary we should pause to reflect on the role played by the Australian government when two of our fellow Australian citizens – David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib - were being held by an ostensibly friendly ally, in conditions that were deplorable.
It’s a stark truth that no US citizens were held in Guantanamo Bay. And the UK and Europe were not willing to subject their own citizens to the highly flawed legal process that occurred there, insisting that they be repatriated home. But our two countrymen were subject to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and no fair trial... with the complicity of the then Australian government, despite the consistent warnings of respected legal commentators and human rights organisations.
This then raises a troubling question for those of us who travel abroad – how can we be sure that, given an unhappy circumstance, we can rely on our government to protect our legal and democratic rights?
I am a mother and, probably like any parent, I would like to believe that my children would never do anything that might bring them into conflict with the law, here or overseas. Be that as it may, if for some reason they did get into trouble, I would want to be sure that the Australian government would do everything it could to uphold their rights to a fair trial of any allegations against them, just as we would expect in Australia.
As Australian citizens surely we are entitled to expect to have our fundamental rights promoted and protected by our government. In Australia we don’t scale down our legal standards or deprive a person of a fair trial because of what we might think of them or what they might have done. We expect that our government will uphold the rule of law and protect the fundamental rights of all us irrespective of whoever – or wherever – we may be. These governmental responsibilities are the central tenets of any democracy.
Fundamentally, we must ensure that what happened to David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib will never happen again. To any of us.
I will be talking more about this anniversary throughout the week. If you’re interested in more information about this important issue, keep an eye out for my online opinion piece that will be published on ABC’s The Drum this week.
Amnesty International also has an online petition calling for Guantanamo Bay to be closed, which can be accessed here.