Tuesday, June 26, 2007

David Hicks In The Hands Of The United States

Many times when perusing stories of how the United States is pursuing terrorists abroad, it becomes very simple to disconnect from the "terrorists" since they are faceless, nameless for the most part, and are seeking to do us harm here. At least, that is the essence of most reports where the Administration talking points are concerned. As long as the enemy combatants are anonymous, then things are not all that bad.

Then examples pile up of those that are less than anonymous, and slowly the process employed to detain and interrogate the "terrorists" is revealed to the public. Jose Padilla, Yaser Hamdi, and David Hicks have shed some of that missing light on the way in which America handles this new threat.

And it has become apparent for some time that the threat is handled via grotesque methods. Glenn Greenwald's post today regarding the Hicks case jumps off from the U.S. Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis's op-ed in the New York Times defending the process. Colonel Davis cited the admission by Hicks that his treatment was fine, and that he was guilty of what the government said he was guilty of. From his opinion piece:
"Critics liken Guantánamo Bay to Soviet gulags, but reality does not match their hyperbole. The supporters of David Hicks, the detainee popularly known as the "Australian Taliban," asserted that Mr. Hicks was mistreated and wasting away. But at his March trial, where he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization, he and his defense team stipulated he was treated properly. Mr. Hicks even thanked service members,..."

Contrast that with statements by Hicks to his family members and other detainees before the government was forced to drop its charges and bring new charges after the Hamdan decision.
"In an interview with ABC TV's Four Corners program, Hicks's father Terry has detailed allegations of physical and sexual abuse of his son by American soldiers.

"He said he had a bag over his head and he said, 'Oh look, I know their accents - they're definitely American' - some pretty horrific things that were done to him," he said.

David Hicks also told his father he was given injections by the Americans and then anally penetrated with various objects.

Another detainee says David Hicks told him of being flown by helicopter off a warship to an undisclosed location where he was spat on and beaten before being brought back to the ship."

So why would Hicks sign a deal with the U.S. military and why was such a deal proffered to him, a terrorist?

From the thorough articles by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman on the Vice President in the Washington Post:
"Air Force Two touched down in Sydney this past Feb. 24. Cheney had come to discuss Iraq. Prime Minister John Howard brought the conversation around to an Australian citizen who had unexpectedly become a political threat.

Under pressure at home, Howard said he told Cheney that there must be a trial "with no further delay" for David Hicks, 31, who was beginning his sixth year at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay. Five days later, Hicks was indicted as a war criminal. On March 26, he pleaded guilty to providing "material support" for terrorism.

At every stage since his capture, as he changed taxis at the Afghan-Pakistan border, Hicks had crossed a legal landscape that Cheney did more than anyone to reshape. He was Detainee 002 at Guantanamo Bay, arriving on opening day at an asserted no man's land beyond the reach of sovereign law. Interrogators questioned him under guidelines that gave legal cover to the infliction of pain and fear -- and, according to an affidavit filed by British lawyer Steven Grosz, Hicks was subjected to beatings, sodomy with a foreign object, sensory deprivation, disorienting drugs and prolonged shackling in painful positions.

The U.S. government denied those claims, and before accepting Hicks's guilty plea it required him to affirm that he had "never been illegally treated." But the tribunal's rules, written under principles Cheney advanced, would have allowed the Australian's conviction with evidence obtained entirely by "cruel, inhuman or degrading" techniques.

Shortly after Cheney returned from Australia, the Hicks case died with a whimper. The U.S. government abruptly shifted its stance in plea negotiations, dropping the sentence it offered from 20 years in prison to nine months if Hicks would say that he was guilty.

Only the dramatic shift to lenience, said Joshua Dratel, one of three defense lawyers, resolved the case in time to return Hicks to Australia before Howard faces reelection late this year. The deal, negotiated without the knowledge of the chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, was supervised by Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority over military commissions. Crawford received her three previous government jobs from then-Defense Secretary Cheney -- she was appointed as his special adviser, Pentagon inspector general and then judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Emphasis not in the original article.

So Hicks was marched through quickly to help out the Prime Minister of Australia. And his admission that he was treated fairly had absolutely nothing to do with his enduring five years of imprisonment with no knowledge of when or if he would ever see freedom or whether charges would keep appearing before him, holding him in limbo. It is also incredibly curious to find a plea deal where one must acknowledge the style of treatment one has received up to that point. "We will let you go only if you sign a statement saying how good you were treated, otherwise if you do not sign said paper we will keep you here." From Greenwald's post, he linked to this article on Boston.com which expands on the plea deal.

Does anyone put forward that this sounds even remotely approximate to justice? Place the person in a cell and throw away the key? Even worse, interrogate the individual with disturbing techniques that likely provide little in the way of intelligence? To those in the West Wing it seems alright.

It used to be unthinkable that a high official within the United States could ever be tried for war crimes. I don't think that is so far-fetched any more, and that is truly sad.

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