The frontispiece of Mori’s book includes the words of that great eighteenth century battler for human rights, Thomas Paine.
“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach unto himself.”
Thomas Paine, an opponent of monarchism, slavery, imperialism and a friend of democracy, was a Deist, he believed in One God and rejected Pauline Christianity. Denounced as an atheist at the time, he was anything but. He participated in the American Revolution then the French Revolution, during which he was imprisoned for opposing the execution of the king.
Michael Mori, an American marine for 28 years, during which time he served as a Prosecutor, Defence Counsel and Military Judge, remained true to the democratic ideals espoused by Thomas Paine. He is also proud of his Massachusetts background, which may also help to explain his stand for justice.
As a former Unitarian, I am well aware of the proud history of Boston Massachusetts and its Unitarian Minister, Theodore Parker. He too stood up for justice, in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act and took part in rousing opposition top slave kidnappings by the authorities in the streets of Boston. His history has had a profound effect upon Massachusetts and the whole USA.
It is from this democratic background that Michael Mori emerged to defend Australian citizen, David Hicks, wrongfully locked up in disgusting medieval conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
Mori seems to have believed that his attitude towards democracy and civil rights was shared by the Bush Administration. He assumed that proper legal process was well established in the United States and that basic human rights would be respected.
He learnt a lot through defending Hicks and then in the years that followed as the military cowards tried to give him pay-back for his courageous role. One great benefit of that narrow vengeful attitude is that he is now living and working in Melbourne as a Social Justice Consultant at Shine Lawyers.
As he says in the beginning, he does not try to explain why Hicks was in Afghanistan. He has left that up to Hick’s book. “I try to address how an Australian was left by the Australian government at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) to face made-up charges before an illegal United States Military Commission.”(p.xi) This book is worth reading for an explanation.
Howard’s Australia does not come out well in this case. Its response smells of political cowardice of the meanest type. In the beginning of the saga, Alexander Downer said that the Australian attitude would be the same as that of Britain. However when Britain insisted upon international standards for the Military Commissions and had 5 British citizens repatriated to the UK, to be released a few days later, Australia did nothing. As Mori comments “It seemed as if Howard was going to allow the US to do to Hicks what Australia could not do, and what Britain had not permitted.”
With the Bush USA departing from international norms in the treatment of political prisoners, Hicks was held for three months in a wire cage, like a dog kennel, in Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo. Mori relates how Hicks was chained hand and foot when being interviewed and how he was tossed like baggage into a transport van. He had to sign a statement that he had not been mistreated to get out of GTMO, but this was not a reflection of reality.
When Mamdouh Habib, the other Australian in Guantanamo, was released in 2005 Attorney General Ruddock was asked why nothing had been done for Hicks. He replied that Hicks was facing three terrorism related charges under American law, which was not true.
The Military Commission had been stopped, the federal court action had been stopped and the charges against him were invalid. As Mori concluded, the Australians were leaving Hicks locked up “for political reasons, pure and simple.”
Australian public opinion by this time had begun to wake up to the injustice being done. Bob Brown, leader of the Greens, said that the Howard government had “devalued Australian citizenship” and that David Hicks had effectively been a political prisoner of the Howard government at the leisure of the Bush administration. He insisted that he should be brought home immediately.
In chapter 23, “Desperation” Mori records what he had realized about the Howard government.
“But what was truly horrifying about the Australian government’s position was that they were not pushed to it by the Americans. It was my impression now that the United States wanted to wash its hands of Hicks, and send him out of GTMO at the first opportunity. It was the Australians, on the other hand, who were insisting that Hicks stay locked away – based on the position that he had not violated any Australian law. It went to Howard’s very integrity. He measured his actions by their political weight. Soon he would pay the ultimate political price.”
By the time he visited Australia in 2006, Mori noticed that there had been a major shift in public opinion. A Newspoll showed that 67% of Liberal voters wanted Hicks returned to Australia. Members of the coalition government were raising the issue in the party room.
The Law Council presented Ruddock with a legal opinion which held that Australian officials might be complicit in war crimes against David Hicks.
Pressure on Howard mounted. A charge was laid against Hicks for providing material support to terrorism. Australian legal experts declared that this charge was invalid. The absurd attempted murder charge was dropped. As the campaign to free Hicks from Guantanamo became more successful, Mori came under personal attack.
A political deal was eventually worked out. Hicks pleaded guilty to the invalid charge and he was returned to serve a few months in an Australian prison. In the subsequent election, Howard lost his majority in parliament and his own seat.
Mori’s book is a valuable study in military maneuvering and cowardly politics and reveals very clearly the political opportunism of both the Bush and Howard governments.
Hopefully Michael Mori will make a major contribution to our civil life in Australia in the years ahead. Americans like him are more than welcome.