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Australia, U.S. Behave Tyrannically, Says Ex-PM

Reuters staff

CANBERRA, Australia - Australia's government and close ally the United States behaved in a tyrannical way and for "evil purpose" by jailing militants at Guantanamo Bay, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said on Monday.Fraser, a conservative and mentor to current Prime Minister John Howard, said Australia seemed to have lost its democratic path under the man who served as his treasurer and centre-right Liberal Party deputy before becoming leader in 1996. 0430 05

In an election year criticism of U.S. influence over political direction in Australia, Fraser said Howard should never have agreed to a citizen and accused Taliban fighter, David Hicks, being locked up for five years at Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial.

"We used to believe that those in positions of political authority would respect and work to protect the rights of all Australian citizens. We now know that to be naive and incorrect," Fraser said in a speech to the Australian National University.

"Policies now applied suggest that the rule of law and due process for all people, regardless of influence, race, religion, color or country of origin, is under threat."

Fraser, who led Australia from 1975 to 1983, has become alienated from his political roots and has been a staunch critic of many Howard policies, including enforced detention for refugee hopefuls in remote offshore processing centers.

In one of his strongest anti-Howard speeches so far and with polls showing slipping support for Australia's leader ahead of elections later this year, Fraser said Australia's agreement with Guantanamo military tribunals was a disgrace.

"The main story is a willingness of two allegedly democratic governments prepared to throw every legal principle out the window and establish a process that we would expect of tyrannical regimes," he said.

"That our own democracies should be prepared to so abandon the rule of law for an expedient and as I believe, evil purpose should greatly disturb all of us."

Hicks, 31, the first war crimes convict among the hundreds of foreign captives held at the Guantanamo prison camp, is due to be sent back to Australia soon under a plea bargain agreement.

He was sentenced by a U.S. military commission to seven years' jail after pleading guilty to supporting terrorism before his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001, where he trained with al Qaeda.

© Reuters 2007.

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