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Don't let them off the hook!

Mike Carlton, writing his weekly column in the SMH, rightly raises the question of David Hicks and how Lord Downer of Baghdad [former Australian Foreign Minister] and John Howard [former PM] repeatedly assured the public that all was fine with the military tribunal set to try Hicks - when the US prosecutor has now, recently, critically panned the entire process and procedure.

"On the same subject, but far more serious, John Howard and Lord Downer should not be permitted to get away with the lies they fed us about the infamous American military commission set up to try David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay. While I think of it, add Philip Ruddock to the list.

Time and again these three wise monkeys assured us this commission would see justice done. It would be fair and proper in every way, conducted with scrupulous regard for the rights of the accused. "We are satisfied that the rules that have been established for the military commission will deliver a process which is consistent with the criminal justice system in our country," Howard assured the nation back in August 2004.

A year later, Lord Downer was equally firm. "We have examined very carefully the structure of the military commission," he huffed, with his usual fatuous air of wounded innocence. "We believe that the appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure that the trial is a fair trial."

At about the same time Ruddock felt able to announce, with bottomless understatement, that while these military commissions were "not precisely the same as our civilian courts dealing with criminal matters", they were nonetheless "an appropriate medium" for trying Hicks and his fiendish ilk.

The final nail in the coffin of their deceit was hammered home this week by Colonel Moe Davis, the US Air Force lawyer who had been the hapless prosecutor in the Hicks farce. Giving evidence under oath at the so-called trial of Osama bin Laden's former driver, Davis came clean. He admitted that the commission process had been politically driven from Washington and rigged for convictions.

And as he later told Time magazine: "There is no question they wanted me to stage show trials that have nothing to do with the centuries-old tradition of military justice in America."

It is possible, I suppose, that Howard and Co were not deliberately lying. The alternative, equally disgraceful, is that they were willing dupes of the Bush Administration, blithely unconcerned about an Australian citizen's rights at law."

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