Monday, April 02, 2007

War Tribunals at Guantánamo as farce

Reports came out Sunday about the sentence given to David Hicks the Australian Taliban wannabe captured in Afghanistan and imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention center for over five years. He finally received his day in court last week. It was part of the new system set up for special war crimes tribunals by the U.S. military. At the beginning of his trial Hicks asked for additional resources for his defense team. The judge not only turned him down but also then dismissed two of his three attorneys. This was followed by his guilty plea. He is the first person convicted by a U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War II.

The details of his sentence and the plea deal came out yesterday. He got a nine-month sentence as opposed to ten years the prosecution was seeking. In addition to the nine months he will get to serve his time at an Australian facility. The terms of the plea agreement also include not speaking to the media for one year about his capture and detainment. He has also agreed to drop complaints about mistreatment and waived any right to sue.

Apparently, Australian Prime Minister John Howard complained to Vice President Dick Cheney that the Hicks’ case was jeopardizing his reelection. Cheney’s office was able to get the Hicks’ case on the tribunal’s fast track and then went around prosecutors to negotiate a plea deal.

Either our national security is secondary to the reelection of the Conservative government of Australia or else U.S. officials were lying when they have said repeatedly the detainees at Gitmo are the worst of the worst. This is not a deal to punish a wrongdoer and keep him out of circulation. It is a deal to shut him up and get John Howard reelected. As someone said, this is a sentence you would give a repeat drunk driver, not a terrorist.

Here is Andrew Sullivan’s assessment:
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 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. Who negotiated the plea-bargain? Hicks' lawyer. Who did he negotiate with? Not the prosecutors, as would be normal, but Susan J. Crawford, the top military commission official. Who is Susan J. Crawford? She served as Dick Cheney's Inspector General while he was Defense Secretary.

… 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 Kevin Drum points out, the whole issue of what to do with those captured who allegedly are linked to terrorist groups intending to do harm is a complicated one with no easy answers. Under ordinary circumstances the majority of Americans would give the President the flexibility in the short run to do what he thought best and to come up with a plan for the long run that is compatible with American and international justice. This White House received the benefit of the doubt by the American people after September 11th and has abused that trust. The Gitmo charade is just the most recent example. Five and a half years after the September 11th attacks this administration is still clueless as to what it is doing.

No comments: