Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Prime Minister : I Can Free David Hicks Whenever I Want...

But I'm Not Going To

David Hicks is probably the most famous and easily recognised name in Australia at the moment. His plight has generated enormous publicity in the Australian media, and for the past three months, much of that spotlight's glare has been downright sympathetic.

Which is remarkable, when you consider that the US military accuses 31 year old David Hicks of aiding terrorists and attempting to commit murder.

He is one of the Guantanamo Bay detainees that President Bush, and former US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, used to refer to as, "killers who kill" and "the worst of the worst."

For five years, Hicks has been isolated, tortured, deprived of sunlight, of sensory stimulation, of human contact. His lawyers claim he has become like a tired, old man, desperate and despondent. They fear he may prove to be mentally unfit to stand trial.

Hicks spends 22 hours a day in what his lawyer has described as a "steel cell". He is under constant surveillance, in order to prevent suicide attempts.

Hicks's lawyer, David McLeod, spent four days visiting Hicks In Guantanamo Bay last week :

"...when I left David on the Thursday, in my 30 years of professional life it was one of the hardest and most heartrending things I had to do.

To look him in the eye and say "David, I don't know when we'll be seeing you again, we'll do our best for you", but it was like looking into the eyes of someone dying from a potentially fatal illness who is being denied the life saving drug that would cure his ill and to leave him in that state alone with his thoughts, nobody to talk to, nobody to comfort him, it was a very heartrending thing for me to do...."

The US military have denied Hicks the opportunity of independent psychiatric assessment. No doubt they fear that any psychiatrist given access to a man like Hicks, who has been detained in such conditions for so long, is going to shout long and loud about the intolerable inhumanity inflicted upon him.

Last week the US Military announced they were planning to finally charge Hicks, but last night they revealed it could be months more before Hicks even gets close to facing trial by the reconstituted military tribunal.

Three years ago, most Australians would have not recognised David Hicks' name, or known why he was being held hostage by the American military in Guantanamo Bay.

But they know who he is now.

They know his face, they know parts of his life story, they are seeing images of him as a bright-eyed kid on a televised ad campaign, and they know the pain and torment his aging father has suffered while the Howard government refused to even pressure President Bush to get the Australian charged and on trial for four long years.

It was only after shocking polls showed just how much support the 'trial now or release him' demands by campaigners had found amongst the Australian public that John Howard was finally seen to be putting at least some pressure on his "close friend" President Bush.

As a sign of the extraordinary change in how Australian view Hicks' plight, a story about his extended detention and shattered mental state was aired last night on the highest rating current affairs in the country, and there was barely a mention that he was a suspected terrorist, or that he had been 'captured' by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks and sold for a bounty to US forces.

The story on Today Tonight stuck to a new script determined by polls that showed more than 70% of Australians were vastly unhappy with how the Howard government has dealt with the Hicks fiasco.

Almost 50% of Australians said that what happened to David Hicks would affect the choices they made come election day.

Remarkably, the demands by the Australian public that Hicks either face a fair trial for his alleged crimes or be set free is now shaping up to be one of the four key election decisions that will determine whether or not John Howard remains prime minister of Australia come 2008.

Prime minister Howard admitted yesterday that he can get David Hicks out of Guantanamo Bay any time he wants to.

But he won't do it, because he believes Hicks must face the terrorism-related charges set to be filed by the US Military, despite the fact that virtually no reputable law firm or expert in the world believes the trials proposed by the US military will come close to being fair, or just.

When Howard told his coalition MPs yesterday afternoon, on the first day that federal parliament resumed for 2007, that he could get the United States to set Hicks free, at least six MPs demanded to know why Howard wouldn't allow Hicks to come home.

Howard replied that Hicks couldn't be tried for his alleged crimes in Australia, as no offence under Australian law been committed at the time he was captured.

What Howard is saying is that he cannot stomach the fact that Hicks could be flown home to Australia and go free, to be reunited with his family after five long years.

But Australians have grown very aware of how their prime minister has manipulated them over the past decade, and they will be extremely suspicious if Howard manages to secure the release of David Hicks in the coming weeks.

If Howard thinks he can now boost his rapidly diminishing chances of winning the upcoming federal elections by Hicks out of Gitmo, before he faces trial, he's going to be in for a shocker of a surprise.

Hicks coming home would make the vast majority of Australians very happy, but that is unlikely to translate into votes for Howard. If anything, it may make Australians even more cynical about the prime minister's motivations, and his humanity.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

(Howard) indicated yesterday he would not let him languish indefinitely, saying he would set the US further timelines for the case to be dealt with.

He earlier gave the US until the middle of this month for Mr Hicks to be charged. At the weekend, two new charges were sworn against Mr Hicks but have not yet been approved or laid.

Lawyers from the US State Department said yesterday it was unlikely he would be formally charged by mid-February, and it was too early to say whether he would be tried within a year.

The Prime Minister said public sentiment was shifting and the matter had not been well handled by the Americans.

But this did not deter backbenchers from speaking out, saying it was not the person but the process that concerned them.

....MPs pointed out that Mr Hicks's case was becoming a "big concern" in the community.

The West Australian senator Judith Adams said a Labor victory in a state byelection in Perth over the weekend was in part fuelled by anger over Mr Hicks and Iraq.

Mr Howard dismissed this.

Labor's legal affairs spokesman, Kelvin Thomson, said Mr Howard's claim exposed the whole process as a joke.

"If the Prime Minister is claiming he can determine, and therefore by default, is determining David Hicks's fate, this is outrageous," Mr Thomson said.

New Charges Against David Hicks Announced : Is That All They've Got On Him?

Attorney General Approves Use Of "Coerced Evidence" Against Hicks In Trial

Hicks' Lawyer : "He's Clearly On The Spiral Of Despair"