Discussing: David Hicks

We were watching SBS News last night (Australia's best - and therefore most important and depressing - source of world news) and Jelena asked why there is such an obsession with David Hicks in Australian news. (There had also been an update on Dateline preceding it)

Her overall point was certainly a valid one - that this is just one guy but because he is Australian, hours and hours and hours of airtime and miles of print are dedicated to him but at the same time, who knows half of anything at all that is going on in South America. (Apart from Hugo Chavez perhaps.)

I had to think about this for a bit but I think that there are a few main reasons for this.

It's easier and more engaging to hang a story on a person than a set of ideas

The war on terror and particularly the whole debacle that is the U.S "system" of military commissions and Guantanamo Bay AND the Howard government's subordination to U.S will is a pretty complex bunch of issues, ideas and problems that can be hard to focus a story on. Particularly a story that viewers/readers can necessarily connect to.

Having a person in the mix adds an essential human quality to a story - people are able to make more emotional connections to someone - whether it be "string the lousy traitor/terrorist up" or "well everyone deserves a fair trial regardless of what they may have done".

It brings our (Australia's) responsibilities in the issue to the fore

There are a lot of things going on in The War Against Terror (or TWAT as I like to call it) that are horrible but which we (Australia) don't have a lot of sway over.

Violence against the innocent (obviously), monsterous war profiteering by big well-connected corporations (e.g Dick Cheney's Halliburton and big oil), erosion of civil liberties, torture, militarism gone mad and divisive attempts to create fear in the name of greater power.

Australia, through our elected government, can jump up and down and stamp our feet about some of these things but in the grand scheme of things, our opinions won't get more than a diplomatic "I'll take that on board now smile for the cameras"

(And of course, that's assuming that the Prime Miniature is of a mind to object to anything in the first place, little neo-con that he seems to be)

The David Hicks matter however is another kettle of fish.

Australia is the only Western "Coalition of the Willing" nation to allow their nationals to be kept at Guantanamo Bay and put through the Military Commission system, a system which to all purposes appears to be highly dubious under any reasonable interpretation of international or American law. (I'm not a lawyer but it certainly doesn't appear to offer any sort of fair trial in any established sense)

This is one area where Australia (more specifically the government) is able to take a position and their (I guess our) refusal to do so is an important issue.

In an election year, this is particularly pressing.

It's like a frackin soap opera

Recent developments in the Hicks case have just gotten more and more out there, giving it a definite (though possibly legal trainspotterish) soap opera quality.

The sudden dismissal of two (out of three) members of Hick's defense team at the last minute and the gradual dropping of all charges but one suggest a lot of game playing and situation manipulating by an increasingly desparate (and seemingly highly politicised) system.

The fact that the outspoken military lawyer Major Michael Mori (thinking woman's crumpet to a number of women I know here) is also under threat of disciplinary charges for his actions in Hicks' defense is just another episode.

It's a wedge issue

Over the last few years the Howard Government has been very effective at using highly emotive and divisive issues to define itself and create a lot of froth and bubble in Australian society as a tool for holding on to power.

Australia's role in the war in Iraq - directly tied to our part of TWAT - has become one of the more substantial issues of our day and is one that is hard for people to be neutral about.

As opposition grows and it looks like this issue could be one of many that forces a change of government, interest grows - just as anything that changes existing power structures anywhere is interesting.

(Let's just hope that if a Rudd government gets in - please, please,please - that there is in fact a more enlightened approach to things. )