As 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 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.
[…] post by Andy Worthington This was written by . Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2007, at 4:08 am. Filed under […]
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Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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