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Following a recent meeting of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC), its Chairman, Bishop Christopher Saunders has written to the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock calling on the Federal Government to do more to secure natural justice for the two Australians detained by U.S. Authorities at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Bishop Saunders said the ACSJC was deeply concerned about the fate of the two Australians for a host of reasons. He said, “David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib have been detained for two years. They have not been charged with any crime. They have yet to be brought before any court. They have been denied contact with their families and have had no legal representation. Reports from reputable human rights agencies such as Amnesty International and the International Red Cross have raised concerns about the conditions in which they are being held – apparently indefinitely.

“Encouraging is the news that the U.S. Supreme Court is willing to rule on a case that could determine that detainees at Guantanamo Bay have a right to challenge the legality of their detention in a U.S. court. However, the Australian Government could do more to secure the fundamental rights due to these Australians under the international laws to which Australia and the U.S. are both parties.

“The ACSJC urges the Government to make every effort to end the indefinite detention of these two citizens and to ensure they have access to the ordinary process of justice through the laying of charges to be brought before a civilian court.”

Bishop Saunders recognised it was natural for people to wonder about the guilt or innocence of David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib in relation to any terrorist offences. “But the fact remains that they have yet to be charged or to have any claims tested before a court. In Australia, as in other countries which respect the rule of law, we settle questions of guilt or innocence in a court of law. We hold strongly to the belief that citizens are entitled to the presumption of innocence and the protection of the rule of law regardless of the charges that may be laid against an individual.”

Bishop Saunders urged the Government to use its close ties with the United States to end the legal limbo which has meant that two Australian nationals are being denied their most basic legal and human rights.

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