17 October 2012

Boarding Houses Bill 2012 introduced in the lower house of NSW Parliament

Yesterday in the lower house of the New South Wales Parliament, the Boarding Houses Bill 2012 was introduced. 

Previously I discussed serious issues I had that could potentially affect veterans living in boarding houses in the Exposure Draft bill here and here.  Since my original blog posts I had meetings with state lawmakers and senior government lawyers, to include the bill's proponent, Minister Andrew Constance, MP who is the NSW Minister for Disability Services.

The introduced bill, I am happy to report, has addressed my earlier concerns on unintended consequences to disabled veterans and privacy issues.  This introduced bill is a good bill.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Minister Constance and his chief of staff for looking at the issues I raised and addressing them in the introduced bill.

16 October 2012

U.S. Court of Appeals (DC) reverses Military Commissions' conviction of Hamdan; similar charge against Aussie David Hicks was illegally retrospectively applied

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has reversed the Military Commissions' conviction of Salim Hamdan.  The opinion can be found here.

The reversal of Hamdan's conviction could now affect Australian David Hicks' conviction as invalid.

The D.C. Circuit held, in Hamdan:
Because we read the Military Commissions Act not to sanction retroactive punishment for new crimes, and because material support for terrorism was not a pre-existing war crime under 10 U.S.C. § 821, Hamdan’s conviction for material support for terrorism cannot stand. We reverse the decision of the Court of Military Commission Review and direct that Hamdan’s conviction for material support for terrorism be vacated.
Australia's former top military lawyer retired Air Vice Marshal Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC in 2006, had briefed the Australian Government and had given a legal opinion that the charge against David Hicks could not be applied retrospectively.  However, that opinion was ignored by the then-Howard Government. Further, the Law Council of Australia had issued this report noting:
From the outset, the position of the Australian Government was that David Hicks’ alleged conduct did not amount to an offence in Australia at the time it was committed and that it was not appropriate to introduce laws to retrospectively criminalize his actions. Nonetheless the position of the Australian Government was also that, if the allegations against David Hicks were true, he should be subject to punishment. Thus the inability to prosecute David Hicks in Australia was consistently cited as a reason for refusing to seek his repatriation. The public comments of senior government Ministers reflected the view that, if David Hicks were returned to Australia without facing trial, he would be free, not by virtue of the fact that he had committed no crime in Australia but because of a technicality or loophole which meant only that his conduct was not a crime at the relevant time.
The Law Council report then went onto note:
On 8 March 2007 a written advice was provided by nine eminent lawyers [Peter Vickery QC; Professor Tim McCormack; The Hon. Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC; Professor Hilary Charlesworth; Gavan Griffith AO QC; Professor Andrew Byrnes; Mr. Gideon Boas; Professor Stuart Kaye and Professor Don Rothwell] some with expertise in international law. In essence, that advice concluded that the offence charged against Hicks of providing material support for terrorism under section 950v(25) of the MCA was not a charge constituting a war crime contrary to Law of War. They also opined that the charge was clearly retrospective in its application to Hicks and was a “recently invented and new war crime”. The authors note that retrospective criminal laws are prohibited under Article 1 of the US Constitution. To the extent that it was claimed by the Australian Government that the MCA was some kind of “codification” of existing law, the authors also noted that there are offences under the domestic law of the US and contained in the US Criminal Code and which carry a similar description. However as they point out there are some fundamental differences including the substantial difference in the maximum penalties, the simplification of the elements of the offence, and the fact that the domestic offences were not, at all relevant times, applicable to a foreign national operating outside the territory of the United States as Hicks was.
Mr Hicks waived his right to appeal his conviction pursuant to a plea agreement. However, this may be overcome by the filing of an extraordinary writ petition in the American courts.

01 October 2012

U.S. Army releases August suicide data

Late last week the U.S. Army released suicide data for the month of August 2012. During August, among active-duty soldiers, there were 16 potential suicides: three have been confirmed as suicides and 13 remain under investigation. For July, the Army reported 26 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers: 13 have been confirmed as suicides and 13 remain under investigation. For 2012, there have been 131 potential active-duty suicides: 80 have been confirmed as suicides and 51 remain under investigation. Active-duty suicide number for 2011: 165 confirmed as suicides and no cases under investigation.

During August, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were nine potential suicides (five Army National Guard and four Army Reserve): none have been confirmed as suicide and nine remain under investigation. For July, among that same group, the Army reported 12 potential suicides (nine Army National Guard and three Army Reserve); four have been confirmed as suicides and eight remain under investigation. For 2012, there have been 80 potential not on active-duty suicides (49 Army National Guard and 31 Army Reserve): 59 have been confirmed as suicides and 21 remain under investigation. Not on active-duty suicide numbers for 2011: 118 (82 Army National Guard and 36 Army Reserve) confirmed as suicides and no cases under investigation.

"The loss of any life is a tragedy, and this loss is preventable," said Sergeant Major of the Army Ray Chandler. "As an organization, we've taken huge strides in providing our Soldiers, Department of Army Civilians and Family members the needed resources to aid in suicide prevention, but our work isn't done. Army leaders will continue to do everything we can to reverse these trends.”