Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I have this holiday memory of being proud to be Australian: a Paris youth hostel, I'm standing in the foyer, a group of young men arrive (obviously a sporting team), happy and joking, and one calls to another: "Hey, Boofhead!"

Only an Australian can say "Hey, Boofhead!" properly, and that's what they were. Hearing that voice, I felt so damn proud, and I don't even know why. Maybe it was just their manner: sunniness, camaraderie, joy. They probably represented an idealised "Australianness" or something. The point is just that I stood there as an Australian and felt proud.

I don't feel that way any more, and it's not just because I've turned grumpy. Australians have changed. We're not the same people we used to be, we're not the same country. Yes, change is inevitable over a lifespan, including that of a nation. It's also probably inevitable that the present international climate is making everyone hostile and jumpy. But... but...

David Hicks, Australian, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for nearly 4 years, has applied for British citizenship. (Laws which changed during his imprisonment mean that, as the child of a British mother, he qualifies for a UK passport and dual nationality.)

It's quite obvious he'd want to be British, and not just because England can beat us at cricket. The British government secures the release of its citizens from Guantanamo. But the Australian government?

Despite the outcry over human rights abuses, Australia's right-wing government has raised no objections to Hicks's detention at Guantanamo, nor to his impending trial there next month before a military commission. Australia is the only EU or Commonwealth government not to have protested about Guantanamo.

[... In contrast, in 2004 Britain’s Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith said]: There are certain principles on which there can be no compromise. Fair trial is one of those - which is the reason we in the UK have been unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantanamo offer sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards.

[... And in case you’ve forgotten]: Hicks says he has suffered physical and psychological abuse from his captors. In an affidavit last December, he said he
had been beaten with fists and rifle butts while blindfolded, subjected to extreme cold and strobe lights, and 'had my head rammed into asphalt several times'.
- David Rose, The Observer

Whether David Hicks is guilty as charged is not for you or I to judge. He should get his day in court (a real one). And here's the saddest fact: he won't and can't get that opportunity as an Australian.