The politics of David Hicks’ release from Guantánamo confirmed: plea bargain arranged between Cheney and Howard

23.10.07

David HicksAs if there was any doubt that politics, rather than justice, drives much of the US administration’s Guantánamo policy, Harper’s Magazine reports that a US military officer has shed light on the murky process involved in the release of Australian detainee David Hicks from Guantánamo in May.

Hicks, a convert to Islam who was sold to US forces after the fall of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, was sent back to Australia to serve a nine-month sentence after accepting a plea bargain during his trial by Military Commission in March. Commentators at the time were deeply suspicious of the deal, as it involved him renouncing well-documented claims that he was tortured and abused in American custody. By agreeing to drop these allegations, and to admit providing “material support for terrorism,” he was given a sentence far shorter than that which prosecutors had first mooted –- up to 20 years, according to some reports, which would have been comparable to the draconian sentence imposed on John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” in 2002 –- and was allowed to fulfil his dearest wish: to be freed from Guantánamo, and to return home.

David Hicks during his trial by Military Commission

David Hicks during his trial by Military Commission in March.

According to the officer who spoke to Harper’s, Hicks’ deal was arranged by Vice President Dick Cheney and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. “One of our staffers was present when Vice President Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks’ plea bargain deal,” the officer said. “He did it, apparently, as part of a deal cut with Howard. I kept thinking: this is the sort of thing that used to go on behind the Iron Curtain, not in America.” He added, pointedly, “And then it struck me how much this entire process had disintegrated into a political charade. It’s demoralizing for all of us.”

Although Howard, perhaps protesting a little too much, claimed after the deal was cut, “We didn’t impose the sentence, the sentence was imposed by the military commission and the plea bargain was worked out between the military prosecution and Mr Hicks’ lawyers,” there are good reasons for doubting that this was the case.

In the first instance, the deal appears to have been the first time that major disagreements arose between the Commissions’ convening authority, retired judge Susan J. Crawford, who, many years ago, worked with Cheney at the Department of Defense, and Col. Morris Davis, the Commissions’ chief prosecutor, who recently resigned after complaining about interference from his superiors. In a move that would have humiliated and enraged Morris, he was sidelined completely while Crawford arranged the deal with her political masters (i.e. with Cheney).

And secondly, both Cheney and Howard had much to gain from the deal. Cheney, the chief architect of America’s post-9/11 torture policy, got to keep a lid on allegations of torture by the US military, and Howard –- who faced a growing backlash in Australia against his refusal to act on Hick’s behalf –- managed to placate his critics while ensuring that Hicks would remain in prison until after the next election.

Their ploys will hopefully backfire –- with Howard losing the forthcoming election and Cheney unable to keep the torture genie in the bottle forever –- but there seems little reason to doubt that the unnamed military officer who spoke to Harper’s was embellishing the sordid truth about political maneuvering that his recollections have revealed.

Note: For further information about David Hicks (and John Walker Lindh), see my newly-published book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

11 Responses

  1. The politics of David Hicks’ release from Guantánamo confirmed … | Political news - democrats republicans socialists greens liberals conservatives says...

    [...] post by Andy Worthington This was written by . Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2007, at 4:08 am. Filed under [...]

  2. True Blue Liberal » The Politics of David Hicks’ Release from Guantánamo Confirmed: Plea Bargain Arranged Between Cheney and Howard says...

    [...] Read more Plea Bargain [...]

  3. java says...

    [...] evidence obtained through torture. The politicization of the process became apparent when it was revealed that the only person convicted in a Commission to date, the Australian David Hicks, had been [...]

  4. Latest Gitmo Charges Questionable | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] to secure a conviction (the closest they came was the plea bargain negotiated with the Australian David Hicks last year, who returned home to serve just seven months in prison) and have been plagued by [...]

  5. Fact Sheet: The 16 Prisoners Charged in Guantanamo’s Military Commissions | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] of which was served in Australia. It has been claimed, plausibly, that his plea bargain was the result of political maneuvering between US Vice President Dick Cheney and Australian Prime Minister John [...]

  6. exotraxx division says...

    [...] process was illegal, but he was one of the first prisoners to be charged again (with the Australian David Hicks and the Yemeni Salim Hamdan) when the Commissions were revived by Congress later that [...]

  7. qwstnevrythg.com » Shake-Up at Gitmo: A Prosecutor Resigns, Citing ‘Ethical Qualms’ Over Suppressed Evidence says...

    [...] happened, it was later revealed, was that Australian Premier John Howard, who was seeking re-election, had been struggling in the [...]

  8. The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials says...

    [...] its new-found legitimacy was soon punctured when the first prisoner to face a trial, the Australian David Hicks, was repatriated in May 2007 following a plea bargain negotiated by Vice President Dick Cheney as a [...]

  9. Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List (Part 1) « Muslim in Suffer says...

    [...] Hicks, David (Australia) Chapters 9, 15, 18, 19, 20, MILITARY COMMISSION (nine-month sentence after plea bargain), also see The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials [...]

  10. Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] attacked by the  government’s own military judges and lawyers, and unable to deliver more than three dubious convictions, but to propose reviving the Commissions at the same time that the Justice [...]

  11. Andy Worthington: 9/11 Trial At Guantanamo Delayed Again: Can We Have Federal Court Trials Now, Please? | TipTe.com says...

    [...] this appeared to rule out two of the Commissions’ only three verdicts — in the cases of David Hicks and Salim Hamdan, who were both convicted solely on the basis that they provided material support [...]

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