Does David Hicks know it’s Christmas?

So, David Hicks has been locked up in Guantanamo Bay for nearly five years. Britain and the US pulled their citizens out years ago, but John Howard doesn’t see any need to avoid a trial by the US military commission that Britain, justifiably, feared would not try its citizens fairly. And how would someone react to five years of hellish, seemingly unending captivity? In particular, someone who, judging by his decision to fight alongside the Taliban, probably wasn’t exactly tip-top mentally to begin with? Well, they’d have enormous problems. Which is why when I ask whether David Hicks knows it’s Christmas, I don’t mean it in the Band Aid sense of “can he, in his suffering, recognise that this is supposed to be the season of goodwill towards others”. I’m asking whether, given his evident mental disintegration, he is even aware it’s Christmas.

The news today is that he won’t talk to his long-suffering, endlessly supportive Dad, which must be enormously hard for the man who’s been tireless in his efforts to get something to happen. Clearly, David’s doing it tough. And he’s in solitary confinement, which is gruelling for anybody – let alone someone who’s been locked up for five years and doesn’t even get to contend with a normal, sensible, fair trial process.

Even some basic information about why Hicks is so dangerous that he has to be locked up would be nice. My suspicion is that he’s the same as “Jihad” Jack, someone quite fragile and easily-led who made some mistakes, but ultimately not much of a threat to anyone. In particular, it’s hard to imagine he’s done anything warranting serving of more time than the five years he’s already spent locked up.

So, if someone’s clearly doing it tough, and there are grounds for believing they have become significantly disturbed, what do you do? Well, you send in an expert to assess them. But the Americans won’t let us. What, pray tell, could possibly be wrong with sending the clinical director of Victoria’s Forensic Mental Health Service in for a checkup? But no. Only US military psychologists, who we can have about as much confidence in as the kangaroo court he’s about to face, are allowed to assess him.

As the indefatigable Major Mori said: “I want him to get help. He’s not going to open up to his jailers.” Yeah, you can imagine the conversation. “Hey David, it’s getting up to five years that we’ve locked you up here – now, tell me how that makes you feel?”

But it’s no less stupid, I guess, than being tried by the US military for something it isn’t even clear is an offence. The argument the likes of Philip Ruddock run is that there’s doubt he could be charged under Australian law. Fine, that’s probably true. But uh, shouldn’t he then be released? Why should American military law apply to an Australian in Afghanistan, anyway?

Amnesty has set up a page where you can email the PM about it. An admirable idea, and they’re nearly at their goal of 30,000 messages. But I’m not confident John Howard would do anything about it even if he received 3 million emails.

Really, I’m tired of being angry about this issue. I’m tired of signing petitions, and talking about it, and hoping that humanity will prevail. I’m tired of pointing out that it’s hypocritical for a nation to crow about introducing freedom and democracy to the Middle East while treating its captives in an inhumane way that violates centuries of hard-fought legal tradition over minimum human rights. I hardly have any anger left over David Hicks. All I have left is frustration and disappointment.

Apparently Hicks’ rights are less important than John Howard’s refusal to rock the boat with George Bush. American voters and even most Republicans have deserted Bush on Iraq. John Howard’s about the only buddy he has left.

It’d be nice to think that for Christmas, the Prime Minister could show some clemency for once and call in the favour President Bush owes him, and get Hicks released. Hell, they can lock him up in one of the Howard Government’s own dubious detention facilities if they want to. But at least they could let his family see him, and let him get proper psychological care at the very least. But of course, there’s no chance of any of that. And even if Hicks is released, how much of his personality is even left after five years of Guantanamo brutality?

Perhaps, though, John Howard, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock and the rest of them might like to remember that a country really shouldn’t be trying to lecture others about human rights and “civility” when it won’t treat its own citizens with even the most minimal shred of humanity.

Dominic Knight