Monday, April 30

Don't cry for Hicks, but cry for our nation's failure to demand a timely trial

If David Hicks reached his hand out to me, I would spit on it.

So I've been bemused by the legion of supporters who've rallied around him. They even call him “David”, not “Hicks”. Hicks is a contemptible turd. Just a misguided adventurer? He was accepting training in how to kill people. Some adventure.

But he was also a silly little person of little consequence. Even his US prosecutors thought so.

I hadn't planned to write about the Hicks affair. Anything I said was not going to be about Hicks, but about the role of Prime Minister John Howard. I've said before, and I wasn't anxious to return to the topic, Howard's actions – or lack of action – proved latter-day conservatives have contempt for the rule of law and the conventions of civilised society.

But now we have further insights into the issue, as we read newspaper excerpts from Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks, which appears to be a well researched book by ABC journalist Leigh Sales. Melbourne University Press launched the book on Monday (April 30).

Sales makes public the previously private views of Hicks's US military prosecutors, revealing they described Hicks as a man of "no personal courage or intellect" who submitted when he was questioned.

To quote the ABC Online report: "I think he read Soldier of Fortune magazine too many times," said John Altenburg, the top US official in the Office of Military Commissions from 2004 to last year.

"His case was a very ordinary case; there was nothing special about it in that clearly he was but a foot soldier, not a leader or a planner . . . for people wanting to see the worst of the worst, this was not going to be it."

Sales writes that the prosecutors said the convicted Australian's crimes were relatively minor compared to those of his fellow inmates, damaging the Federal Government's description of Hicks as a dangerous terrorist.

Hicks was detained for five years at the American military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba before pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism.

The Australian today (Monday, April 30) runs a further instalment under the heading, "Keeping Truth At Bay". The first instalment, "Inside the Hicks Deal," ran in The Weekend Australian (April 28-29).

“The Australian Government was clueless about the crisis in the Office of Military Commissions. The Pentagon kept assuring it that everything was going well. But the Australians were uneasy,” The Australian's excerpt begins.

“They were not happy with the lack of progress. Prime Minister John Howard was agitated and constantly asked for answers about when the case would be resolved. He was now well and truly out on a limb.

“British Prime Minister Tony Blair had refused to allow his nationals to go through the system, and in March 2004 the first five Britons were sent home.”

Australia conveyed its attitude to the US: “We did what you said; we went along with the process, and now the Brits have done this and so, in a sense, we have been penalised".

"The Australians were very concerned that the Brits had pulled out," said a Bush administration source. "We were worried it was all going to unravel. We were grateful when they held firm."

When the charges against Hicks were finally laid, instead of being relieved, the Australian embassy in Washington and the Attorney-General's department were more anxious than ever. The delay had been inexplicable.

From my reading of The Australian's excerpts, it's clear that although Tony Blair had the guts to demand the US hand over the British nationals imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay hellhole, Howard was worried that if he did the same, Hicks would walk free because he'd not broken any Australian laws.

Instead, the Deputy Sheriff believed his personal friendship with President Bush would ensure a speedy US trial for Hicks.

But Howard was cosying up to the wrong person. The Pentagon had no intention of giving Hicks or any other detainees a speedy trial.

This is my conjecture, but it wasn't until this year, when the Pentagon realised its inaction could result in its steadfast Aussie ally being voted out of office, that Hicks got his trial opportunity, and the plea bargain which is about to end his ordeal.

And another thing. The Australian (Wed, May 2) quotes Philip Ruddock that he's prepared to pass legislation, retropective if necessary, to strip David Hicks's father, Terry Hicks, of any profits should he write a book about his son. Terry Hicks has not been convicted of any offence, and it's hard to see how proceeds of crime laws could be applied to him. Ruddock is, of course, Howard's Attorney-General. Which sort of proves my point about the Howard mob's contempt for the rule of law. Read the report.

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