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“When appalling crimes against humanity, such as the 11 September attacks, have been committed, the temptation to vengeance is strong.

Freedom and justice cannot be served by waiving standards of procedural justice in relation to those accused of aiding, abetting or committing terrorist acts”, said Bishop Morris, Acting Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

“War crimes and crimes against humanity must not go unchallenged.  Captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters must be tried in an open process by an impartial tribunal.  The United Nations could set up a tribunal for this purpose - something like The Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia would be appropriate.  If there is no evidence of international criminal activity against a prisoner, they should be sent back to their own country”, he said.

“No matter what a person has done, their rights and dignity must be respected.  It is very important that prisoners taken in the ‘war on terrorism’ are dealt with according to the law, and that their human rights are respected.  States that wish to eliminate terrorism must not behave like terrorists themselves.  Places like Australia and the United States should be giving good example of the values and standards of behavior which we wish to defend”, Bishop Morris said.

“Captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters were combatants, and as such should be treated as prisoners of war subject to the Geneva Convention.  They should be treated humanely, their conditions monitored by the Red Cross, they should be protected against coercive interrogation and torture, and be tried only by a court which offers the basic guarantees of independence and impartiality”, he continued.

“We are deeply concerned about the nature and processes of the military commissions set up by the United States Government late last year.  They appear to have no rules of evidence or rights of appeal.  They are to sit in secret and are staffed by military personnel.  They will have the power to impose death sentences but can convict on a standard of proof lower than ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.  They are, in short, kangaroo courts”, he concluded.