Major Michael "Dan" Mori, the military lawyer who successfully represented Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks, fears the United States’ use of targeted killings of suspected terrorists might set an example for other countries.
Mori spoke on Thursday night in Melbourne at the Ashurst law firm for an event supporting the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH).
The hot topic in international armed conflict law is targeted killing, Mori explained. He sees Western governments as setting the standard on use of force which smaller, destabilised countries like Syria could use to their own advantage in putting down rebellions.
The concept of "kill or capture lists" (which identify people eligible to be killed by a government’s military forces) is a tactic easily copied by other countries.
"The kill or capure list can be used by executives in governments to bypass the judicial system," Mori said.
In the Hicks case for which he is best known, Mori said his greatest difficulty was learning new areas of international law. He credits the Australian legal and academic communities in helping him prepare the Hicks legal challenges in the United States and Australia.
"There were just a lot of people in Australia behind the scenes who were helping David and I. They made it possible to take on the Australian government, the Bush administration andUS Department of Defense."
Mori helped Hicks get a "lifeline" deal where Hicks effectively admitted to a charge in exchange for return to Australia.
"We were offered the Godfather deal, one you can’t refuse," he said.
Mori also touched on other areas of US power during his address. He expressed concerns that in the case of Julian Assange, it was possible for the US government to use administrative measures to restrict or monitor his communication with third parties. This would potentially include the Wikileaks founder’s legal team.
When asked about the Afghanistan War, Mori was guarded, as he remains on active military duty until 1 October 2012. He pondered whether parallels could be drawn between the current conflict, Russia’s war in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam.
Mori will retire from the US Marine Corps next week. He moved to Melbourne two months ago to practice with the law firm Shine Lawyers in the newly formed social justice team led by Sydney solicitor George Newhouse.
In addition to helping build Shine’s social justice practice, he is looking forward to having the opportunity to partner with PILCH, community legal centres and other legal firms to help those in need of access to the legal system.
Although Mori was presented with an honorary membership of the Australian Bar Association for his defence of David Hicks, he still has to complete two legal classes at a Victorian law school to be admitted as a solicitor.
In his concluding remarks, Mori thanked organisations like PILCH for all their help, and said he looks forward to his work in Australia.
"But I still have to pass administrative law," he said.