The case of the ‘Australian Taliban’

After calling David Hicks one of the worst of the worst of terrorists and keeping him in solitary confinement for over five years, in a lightning turn of events, he was suddenly sentenced to just nine months imprisonment, to be served in Australia. This was the first case under the so-called ‘military commissions’ system which has been strongly criticized for their rules of operation which violate the kinds of basic judicial protections designed to provide fair hearings.

According to Josh White writing in the Washington Post on April 1, 2007:

In what became a highly politicized situation involving the Australian government, [Susan J. Crawford, the top military commission official] allowed Hicks a short sentence in exchange for a year-long gag order, a guarantee that he will not allege illegal treatment at the hands of his U.S. captors, and a waiver of any right to appeal or sue.

Though Australian officials have said they were not directly involved in plea negotiations, [Hick’s lawyer Micahel “Dan”] Mori declined to answer questions about what, if any, influence they had. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, up for reelection this year, has been under public pressure to bring Hicks home. He turned to Vice President Cheney to implore that the case be resolved. Crawford was the Defense Department’s inspector general from 1989 to 1991, when Cheney was defense secretary.

“What an amazing coincidence that, with an election in Australia by the end of the year, he gets nine months and he is gagged for 12 months from talking about it,” said Australian lawyer Lex Lasry, who was in Cuba to monitor the case over the past week.

Notice that the deal was not even made by the defense and prosecuting attorneys along with the presiding judge, as would be customary in a normal trial. Instead it was made by the defense lawyer directly with the civilian political official overseeing the military commissions, showing that all these ‘trials’ are really political theater. Conveniently enough, this person [Susan Crawford] has a long relationship with Dick Cheney, so the suspicion is strong that the Hicks plea agreement was a deal put through by Cheney’s agent to give political cover to his Australian supporter.

Josh White and Carol Williams writing in the Sydney Morning Herald of April 2, 2007 point out that this trial and sentencing has little credibility.

Robert Richter, QC, one of Australia’s most experienced criminal lawyers and a Hicks supporter, said the trial was a sham that had wholly discredited the Pentagon’s war-crimes process.

“The charade that took place at Guantanamo Bay would have done Stalin’s show trials proud,” Mr Richter said in a commentary for The Sunday Age.

“First there was indefinite detention without charge. Then there was the torture, however the Bush lawyers, including his attorney-general, might choose to describe it. Then there was the extorted confession of guilt.”

Even former Bush and Iraq war supporter Andrew Sullivan is disgusted by what these proceedings reveal:

So Cheney goes to Australia and meets with John Howard who tells him that the Hicks case is killing him in Australia, and he may lose the next election because of it. Hicks’s case is then railroaded to the front of the Gitmo kangaro [sic] court line, and put through a “legal” process almost ludicrously inept, with two of Hicks’ three lawyers thrown out on one day, then an abrupt plea-bargain, with a transparently insincere confession. Hicks is then given a mere nine months in jail in Australia, before being set free.
. . .
If you think this was in any way a legitimate court process, you’re smoking something even George Michael would pay a lot of money for. It was a political deal, revealing the circus that the alleged Gitmo court system really is. For good measure, Hicks has a gag-order imposed so that he will not be able to speak of his alleged torture and abuse until after Howard faces re-election. Yes, we live in a banana republic. It certainly isn’t a country ruled by law. It is ruled by one man and his accomplice.

As Josh Marshall sums up:

What we have here is a plea bargain in which the government leverages its vast control over the life, liberty, and body of the defendant to obtain for itself a release from potential liability for its own conduct and a one-year protection from bad PR. Truth, justice, and the Gitmo way.

And Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights that is coordinating the representation of detainees in many suits challenging Guantánamo detention adds his own take on the convenient silencing of Hicks: “It is a modern cutting out of his tongue.”

I am currently reading The US Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amar, a professor of constitutional law at Yale University, where he gives the background to how that document came about and the debates about specific articles and clauses. It is interesting to see, despite all their faults when it came to the rights of slaves and women, what pains the drafters of that document took to try and ensure that ordinary people would not be tyrannized by the government. He says that the framers were clear that Congress would be the first among equals of the three branches of government. But the present Bush/Cheney administration has systematically concentrated power in the executive branch and gutted the intent of that document in ways that even the most ardent Federalist of that time would have found horrifying.

The blogger Tbogg has said that Bush is not only the worst US president of all those who have already held that office, he is clearly aiming to be the worst even when allowing for future presidents. I think that’s right.

POST SCRIPT 1: I’ll be talking about atheism on WCPN 90.3

Tomorrow (Wednesday, August 4, 2007) from 9:00-10:00 am I’ll be on WCPN 90.3’s Sound of Ideas to talk about atheism. A fellow guest on the show will be Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition for America, who is also speaking Wednesday at the City Club.

You can also listen online (though the Safari browser does not work for this) and there will be a podcast..

POST SCRIPT 2: Kucinich on Iraq occupation and Iran clouds

US congressman and Case alumnus Dennis Kucinich will be speaking “Iraq and Iran: The Way Forward”, followed by Professor Pete Moore of the Political Science department. Professor and chair of History Jonathan Sadowsky will moderate as well as give some introductory remarks.

The talks are promised to be brief leaving a lot of time (50 minutes) for questions and discussion.

When: Tuesday, April 3 at 4:00pm
Where: Strosacker Auditorium

The event is sponsored by Case for Peace, and co-sponsored by the Center for Policy Studies of the Department of Political Science.

The event is free and open to the public.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *