Thursday, August 24, 2006

COMMENT: Ruddock, Hicks & Fair Trial

On August 17, The Oz reported Australia's Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock comparing David Hicks to “Middle Eastern boys who raped some girls in Sydney”.

“It's very interesting to hear those sorts of arguments in relation to David Hicks,” he told The Australian. “I don't hear them very often in relation to people who have been charged with serious criminal offences in some of our states. I am looking at the cases involving the Middle Eastern boys who raped some girls in Sydney. It was finally resolved about five years later.”

Mr Ruddock said yesterday he was not surprised that the Hicks case continued to attract supporters while the terror suspect remained in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba.

“We saw it for a long time when we were in the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. There were people who joined a party, it was called the Communist Party,” he said.

“Yes, there will be some people who will say in relation to these matters until there's a trial or the evidence is out there, ‘perhaps this was an innocent lad who just happened to be seeing something of the world’.”

The comparisons makes little sense. The gang rapists weren’t denied natural justice. They were tried in an independent and open court of law, not a kangaroo military tribunal. They could not have been kept in custody without consideration of bail. They could receive regular visits from family members. They knew what they were being charged with and their lawyers were provided with a full brief of prosecution evidence.

David Hicks is receiving no natural justice. For years, he was held without charge. Much of the evidence that might convict him will be secret evidence that even his lawyers won’t have access to. He hardly gets to see his family. Guantanamo military tribunals aren’t open courts. I doubt the High Court of Australia pronounce NSW Court of Appeal procedures illegal or unconstitutional as the US Supreme Court has done with Guantanamo tribunals.

I’d love to see Mr Ruddock make such arguments to a gathering of lawyers. Before entering Parliament, Ruddock was a respected legal practitioner. Surely he of all people should know better than make such silly suggestions. Which begs the question: why are government ministers resorting to such non-arguments?

My theory is this. When facts and logic are against you, there’s nothing like a good dose of innuendo. The government’s treatment of David Hicks is an increasingly emotive issue in the electorate. Mixing David Hicks with all the emotion of gang-rapes and Middle Eastern nasties is an attempt to divert the electorate’s attention from the facts.

Ruddock is subtly reminding punters that David Hicks (or “Dawud Hicks” as Piers Akerman likes to call him, emphasising Hicks’ alleged adoption of an Arabic name) should be compared to gang rapists of the same religious background.

Or maybe he’s providing hints to those nasty Lebanese branch-stackers threatening his preselection.

I hate the Taliban. David Hicks was a dimwit for fighting with them. I also hate gang-rapists. But whether you're an enemy combatant or a sexual predator, you deserve a fair trial. Any lawyer denying this doesn’t deserve a practising certificate.

SPORT: Hair-raising protests in Pakistan

Pakistan is frequently reported as an epicentre of religious extremism. In some cases , this is no doubt true. Pakistan’s government did sponsor and support the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. It has also supported Muslim separatists in Kashmir and Sikh separatists in Indian Punjab. After 9/11, foreign journalists tripped over themselves reporting thousands of bin-Ladin supporters rallying in Karachi. Yes, thousands!

Now you don’t need a PhD in demography to realise a few thousand out of a city’s population exceeding 11 million is the equivalent to a few hundred people gathering outside Sydney Town Hall. You also don’t need a Nobel prize in anthropology (if such an award exists) to know that the religion most Pakistanis are really fanatical about is what my mum calls “kirkit”.

Confused? Here’s a clue. At the height of the Danish cartoon frenzy, I wrote:

“In my birthplace of Karachi, frenzied Pakistanis hit the streets with protests
that did more damage to the Pakistani economy than to anyone in Denmark … Then again, some of these men … will protest each time they think a Pakistani batsman is given out “lbw” unfairly.”

Once again, “some of these men” find themselves violently protesting over allegedly poor umpiring. Yesterday’s The Oz website showed a photo of Pakistani cricket fans burning effigies of an Aussie umpire with greater vigour than they might otherwise burn Danish flags.

These same allegedly staunch Muslims certainly weren’t burning Dean Jones effigies after he was caught out describing a South African Muslim cricketer as a “terrorist”. You’d think labelling your fellow believer as a terrorist would be more offensive than labelling your cricket team as a bunch of ball-tampering cheats.

But this is Pakistan, a land where cricket is religion. And Pakistan’s national team are idolised as much as Brazilian soccer stars are idolised in downtown Sao Paolo or Rio.

And if Pakistan’s cricketing fundamentalism had a Grand Mufti or Ayatollah, it would have to be former fast bowling legend (and playboy) turned conservative politician Imran Khan. Describing Aussie Umpire Darrell Hair as a “mini-Hitler”, Imran is now calling upon Pakistani players to sue the umpire for defamation. And if they pay me well enough, I’d be happy to act.

Still, I guess it’s better than Imran calling for the Australian High Commission in Islamabad to be burnt down. His litigious suggestion might have had legs but for a joint statement endorsed by the Pakistan Cricket Board which reads:

“In accordance with the laws of cricket it was noted that the umpires had correctly deemed that Pakistan had forfeited the match and awarded the Test to England.”

I used to be a huge cricket fan. I played the game until Year 9, when our dimwit sports master decided to scrap team sports in favour of a “Summer Skills Program” where you could sooner go abseiling or ring the bells of St Andrews Cathedral than rub your gonads with red leather and six stitches.

Now cricket bores the hell out of me. As does cricket conversation and argumentation, a staple for an Indo-Pakistani-Bangladeshi-Sri Lankan dinner party (at least when they get sick of arguing over religion and politics!).

It’s hard for cricketing agnostics like myself to take all this Hair-raising cricket protest seriously. I just hope Billy Birmingham finds enough material in this saga for another classic piece of spoof commentary.

(A shorter version of this appeared in Crikey on 23 Augist 2006.)