It was an extraordinary occasion. The senior vice-president of the Bar Association, Anna Katzmann SC, invited the common room audience to thank a visiting US Marine for his poised, informative seminar on Guantanamo Bay detainee, David Hicks. More than 400 members of Sydney's legal profession, solicitors, barristers and judges, responded with a standing ovation for Major Michael Mori. There was just the slightest hint of embarrassment on his face at the collective show of appreciation.
He shouldn't have been surprised. In the preceding hour, Mori delivered a wide-ranging talk that began with an overview of the origins and development of US military commissions. He summarised the laws of war and the specious arguments used by the US Defense Department as it tried to apply them to ‘unprivileged combatants' captured in Afghanistan. He ended with a briefing on the US Supreme Court's decision in the case of Hamdan and Congressional moves to legislate on new procedures for the military commissions. Mori suggested that, had military lawyers been consulted earlier in the process, the process established to try the Guantanamo Bay detainees would not have been so seriously flawed.
Following his presentation, Major Mori fielded questions covering the broad spectrum of legal and political issues surrounding the case of David Hicks and the Guantanamo Bay detainees. In delivering his responses, he shifted effortlessly between narrow questions of practice and procedure in US courts-martial to political motives underlying the creation of the military commissions and the conduct of the ‘War on Terror'. Members of the audience also asked about conditions endured by David Hicks and the other detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
One member of the audience, perhaps reflecting the views of many others on the night, expressed surprise that the US military could appoint such a ‘robust' advocate - something which contrasted with the inherently flawed system set up to try the detainees. Another common theme in the questions from the audience was “What can we do?” In response, Major Mori suggested that the legal profession in Australia should focus its efforts on writing to majority leaders in the US Senate and House of Representatives who will be considering legislation on the system of military commissions.
Michael ‘Dan' Mori has been David Hicks's military lawyer for three years. Prior to this, he spent four years in the enlisted ranks, left the Marine Corps to attend law school, and then returned as an officer. He has acted as prosecutor and defence lawyer in the US court martial system. Major Mori was recently reappointed by the US Defense Department to represent David Hicks for another year.
The evening was an outstanding success, made possible through close cooperation between the Bar Association the Law Society of New South Wales.
The address, along with questions and answers, was recorded and DVDs are available for loan from the Bar Library. The New South Wales Bar Association is a constituent body of the Law Council of Australia, which has repeatedly called upon the Australian Government to repatriate David Hicks if he cannot be fairly brought to trial in a properly constituted court. The LCA also sent Lex Lasry QC as an official observer to proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. For more information visit the Law Council's web site at www.lawcouncil.asn.au