Thursday 6 April 2006


It is one of the more exquisite ironies of our time. Messrs Bush, Blair and Howard spend a good part of their careers telling us that governments are very bad at doing things like providing health care, education, building public infrastructure etc etc. Small government is good government we are told. The private sector does things best. Governments invariably waste money and stuff things up.

Then they ask us to trust them and their governments with our most precious asset of all – our freedom.

Well sorry guys, I’m happy to entrust government with lots more involvement in health, education and transport – something you seem less interested in - but get your dirty hands off my hard earned freedoms.

Of course I didn’t earn my freedoms. I happily inherited them though. They were hard earned over many centuries by all kinds of people using all kinds of means. If they lived now, they’d be dismissed by the Right as members of a reviled “commentariat” – unionists, political activists academics and idle bods who think that government requires scrutiny and analysis and good governance is a permanent struggle.

It seems to me though that these guys brought us democracy, the rule of law, labour standards, free press etc etc.

So now we’ve reached the point where we’re headed backwards. So many simple but important values trashed in a few short years - habeas corpus, freedom of the press, access to information, right to a fair trial, rights of children to humane treatment, compassion for victims of torture and abuse – all diminished. Our small government guru Howard has extended government significantly – but only in the most pernicious liberty destroying way.

If you want a look at where this might all be going, the story of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, extraordinarily rendited from Gambia in November 2002 gives some direction. They’ve received minimal coverage in Australia from what I can tell. I spotted their story in the SMH last week. Their case is in the UK courts and getting more press there.

These two guys were initially considered terrorist suspects when a suspicious device was found in their luggage at Gatwick Airport in the UK. They were later cleared by MI5, released and travelled on to Gambia to start a business. The suspicious device was found to be a souped up battery charger.

The CIA it seems received the initial data from MI5 without the subsequent clearance. They then dropped one of their special “extraordinary rendition” flights into Gambia and packed the two boys off to Guantanamo Bay where they have languished since.

How many other Guantanamo detainees have similar stories? How many terrorists have been created by the existence of Guantanamo? What of David Hicks? Whether Hicks is innocent or guilty, the Australian government’s refusal to defend his right to a proper judicial process is another of its countless gutless acts. Even our recent and beloved visitor Tony Blair insisted that British nationals be released from Guantanamo Bay. A request the US government accepted. None of them have been charged since.

Perhaps the most appalling thing about the war on terror has been the disposal of many of our great if imperfectly practiced legal traditions. This is not a wet plea for a kind and gentle approach to horrible crimes. No, it is based on a view that these traditions evolved not from nice soppy people that wanted to feel good about the way they treated their neighbours but that they are the best means for safe guarding the rights of all people. In turn they are the best hope against unjust or extremist government that leads to disaffected or victimised minorities who become the likely perpetrators of crimes against a state.

So why did we have September 11 when all of these rights were in some sense in tact? - Too many reasons to go into here. No level of “civilisation” or anti terror edicts will completely protect us. The question is whether we are safer or not because of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, approval of torture and the dilution of our domestic freedoms?

Every time we lower the bar, we give energise extremists and dictators. Every new Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo story creates another terrorist for our diminished system to defeat.

British agents set men up for CIA detention

MI5 tip-off to CIA led to men's rendition,,1741076,00.html

Richard Ackland Innocence ignored at Guantanamo

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