Tuesday, March 27, 2007

David Hicks : The Friendly Terrorist

Public Will Lose Interest As Feuding Over Justice Vs Injustice For Hicks Enters More Shrill Phase

David Hicks became the first 'terror' suspect to face what passes for justice at the Guantanamo military tribunal, and he will go down in the history books for that reason alone.

In the end, the military tribunal hearing, which was supposed to be the start of the first Gitmo terror trial, wasn't much of a show at all. It barely lasted a few hours in total.

Despite the charges against him, such as they were, it's hard to go past the convincing argument made by his father, Terry Hicks, that his son would plead guilty to just about anything if it meant he would be set free from his "living hell".

A huge slice of the Australian public would appear to be in agreement with Terry Hicks, if the thousands who commented on talkback radio and on media news blogs are to be believed.

In the long-term, Terry Hicks' argument for why his son pleaded guilty will over-ride the "justice delivered" claims now being made by the Australian and American governments.

That he pleaded guilty to get out of Gitmo and will settle in the long-term memories of most Australians as the reason why Hicks 'confessed' to giving material support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The US has now re-paid an Iraq War support favour to the Australian government by running Hicks through the military tribunal and allowing him to return to Australia before the Australian federal election campaign begins.

Hicks could be back home and in an Australian maximum security prison to serve out what might be a few months or a few years in a matter of weeks, if not days.

It's taken five years to get to this stage. But Hicks did exactly what the US and Australian governments hoped he would, or knew he would, if he was locked away without a trial for long enough. Hicks pleaded guilty to a terror-related charge. Come his sentencing on Friday, Hicks will officially be a convicted terrorist.

The Americans wanted the whole David Hicks fiasco to be over with years ago. That's why they offered Hicks back to the Australian government to do as they so wished, as they had offered to allow Saudi and UK suspects to go home without a trial.

But the Australian attorney general, Phillip Ruddock, refused to let Hicks return home to Australia without being tried by the US military.

The Howard government wanted the Americans to deal with Hicks because, as Ruddock repeatedly admitted, there were and are no laws in Australia to convict a suspected terrorist for undertaking actions in Afghanistan, or Pakistan.

Hicks' legal limbo lasted until the vast majority of the Australian public, surprisingly, started to back Hicks (to varying degrees) in mid-2006.

Prime minister John Howard then realised Hicks was going to be a dangerous liability at the next federal election, due towards the end of this year.

Howard publicly demanded action from the Americans, claiming he had talked to President Bush about Hicks by phone, but White House officials told the media Bush and Howard hadn't talked "in months".

In an attempt to placate the growing public anger and frustration, foreign minister Alexander Downer started complaining about how long it was taking for justice to be done. Downer's damp-down effort only ramped up the public's dismay at the US, and at the federal government.

When Howard heard Hicks was about to formally charged in February, he announced he had "set a deadline" for the American military to either charge Hicks or release him.

Naturally, they charged him, just as they were planning to do. Howard thought Australians would believe that he had shouted "jump" to the Americans and they had replied, "How high, sir?" He was wrong. Nobody believed him.

The US military charged Hicks with giving material support to terrorists, and it turns out this was the very least of his alleged crimes.


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For years, Australians were told that Hicks had tried to kill people, that he was Osama Bin Laden's "mate", that he had tried to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, that Hicks had conspired to commit acts of terrorism, and that he wanted to blow up his fellow countrymen back in Australia. Some of those claims came directly from government ministers like Alexander Downer, who never bothered to say "allegedly".

But despite the hype from the Australian and US governments, Hicks only ended up pleading guilty to to the lesser part of a double charge of providing material support for terrorism, and the US military prosecutor accepted this to get Hicks out of Guantanamo Bay and get him off the front pages of Australian newspapers.

The charge Hicks pleaded guilty to was a serious enough charge by itself. But it's a long way from earlier claims by President Bush, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and a cacophony of pro-torture, pro-war opinionists in Australia and the US who collectively claimed Hicks was "the worst of the worst" and an incredibly dangerous man.

But thanks to the (eventual) intervention of John Howard, David Hicks could now walk free within a matter of days.

If he is so dangerous, so virulent a jihadist bent on destroying Western society as they all had claimed, and such a threat to all, aren't John Howard and Bush Co. now putting Australian citizens at risk by allowing David Hicks to walk among us a free man?

The military prosecution were claiming as recently as four days ago that once the trial began, they would present evidence of Hicks' terror adventures that would change forever the opinions of those Australians who supported Hicks, and/or demanded he be given a trial or set free.

All that evidence will now, most likely, never see the light of day.

For the US military tribunals, this may turn out to be a good thing. For Hicks at least, the tribunal won't have to try and use evidence collected under torture and duress.

Providing material support for terrorism is serious, but it's also a weak and immaterial charge, compared to what he was alleged to have done.

Compared to claims he had attempted to murder American soldiers, and that he had intended to take an active part in terrorism, the charge of providing material support for terrorism is the kind of charge you might cop if you're a Muslim in the UK who has donated money to dodgy Palestinian charities and you've been busted with copies of John Pilger and Michael Moore DVDs next to your TV, and been spotted hanging hung out at mosques frequented by pro-jihadists, and written "We must destroy President Bush" at a few internet chat rooms.

Providing material support for terrorism is the kind of vague charge that is wide open to legal interpretation, and it's no doubt meant to be.

But regardless, Hicks is now a convicted, self-admitted terrorist.

So let the feuding begin :

The pro-Hicks crowd is right because the US Military decided to go with what amounts to a plea bargain, to get a victory for Bush and his war tribunal system, instead of having Hicks face the full charges they had long promised. Was justice delivered? No. Was there evidence of serious war crimes? No. Was Hicks tortured? Oh yes. Was what happened in Gitmo yesterday a farce of a trial held in a kangaroo court? You bet.

The anti-Hicks crowd is right because David Hicks pleaded guilty to a terrorism-related charge, he propagated Jews-Control-The-World conspiracy theories, he'd met Osama Bin Laden, praised Sharia law in Afghanistan under the Taliban and expressed his desire to die for Allah. And don't forget Hicks had also converted from being of the Christian faith to being of the Muslim faith back in the 1990s. And don't forget he also changed his name, from a Christian one to an Islamic one.

The arguments from both sides are about to get a whole lot more heated, louder, and more shrill, but not for long I suspect.

Once Hicks is home, and his requisite Major TV Interview is over and done with, interest in this story is likely to fade fast, even if Hicks' Australian lawyers work the local courts to try and get his American conviction dismissed, or recognised as legally null and void.

Nobody can expect this story to occupy the front and centre attention of most Australians for much longer. We all know the story, and know we all know the ending.

Hicks The Terrorist Vs Hicks The Victim Of Injustice has been relentlessly flogged by both sides for more than eighteen months solid now, and frankly I'm surprised that the public interest level has stayed so high, for so long.

It won't last. It can't last.

And after a short grace period, perhaps a day or two, you can expect Howard and Downer and their media mouthpieces to relentlessly ram home the fact that Hicks was charged with terrorism, and that he pleaded guilty.

Just as those who think Hicks was denied justice and used as a political tool in a dodgy war will bullhorn their version of what happened.

And on and on it will go.

Some details on the charge Hicks pleaded guilty to from The Australian :

Hicks’s US military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, entered the plea to the charge of material support for terrorism which was broken into two counts or specifications.

Major Mori rose and said Hicks pled guilty on specification one, and not guilty on specification two.

Specification one of the charge detailed at length Hicks's links to terrorist organisations and his activities in Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden and completed al-Qa'ida training courses.

Specification two simply alleged that Hicks entered Afghanistan from about December 2000 to December 2001 to provide support for terrorism and that he did so in “in the context of and was associated with an armed conflict namely al-Qa'ida or its associated forces against the United States or its coalition partners”.

The Age has a good story on the long-awaited father and son reunion :

Terry Hicks has told of his emotional reunion with his son, hours before David Hicks told a US court at Guantanamo Bay he was guilty of a terrorism charge.

"We shook hands, hugged and cried," Terry told reporters during a break in proceedings.

Terry and his daughter, Stephanie, today spent three hours with Hicks before today's first military commission hearing.

The 31-year-old was shackled by an ankle and was in his pale green prison uniform during the reunion.

"It was hard at the start because of all the emotions," Terry said. "Once we got going it was OK."

Asked if there were tears, Terry replied: "Too right, yeah. Of course there was. It's good to have emotions."

Many topics of conversation were covered, as Terry and Stephanie had not seen Hicks for almost three years.

Hicks was especially keen to hear how his children were.

"He just wants to try and get back to Australia, see his kids and have a normal life," Terry said.

John Howard and Alexander Downer spin the news with enthusiasm.

From the ABC :

"I'm pleased for everybody's sake that this saga has come to a conclusion," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

He said Hicks could be back on home soil soon, under a prisoner exchange deal with the United States.

"We have an arrangement with the Americans whereby he can serve any residue of his sentence in an Australian prison," Mr Downer said.

Mr Downer admitted that the US legal process took too long.

"First of all there was the view that Hicks clearly couldn't have done anything wrong, and we hate the Americans and all of that," he said.

"There were people who thought David Hicks should just be strung up, he was obviously a horror.

"And there were people in the middle, which is where I was, really. My view was always that the legal process had just taken far too long."

Prime Minister John Howard has told Parliament the plea is welcome but he is still not happy the process has taken this long.

"The Government remains concerned at the length of time that has passed before reaching this point," he said.

"However, the Government does welcome the progress towards resolution of Hicks's case. It has always been our view that Hicks should face justice but we have been very concerned about the time that it has taken."

Howard and Downer claim they were concerned about the length of time the justice-facing took to become a reality.

Of course they were.

It was dragging the government down in the polls, giving highly flammable fuel to the Opposition to attack Howard and Downer, and Bush Co. and was making the government look like they were letting The Americans smack around a young, white Australian who didn't deserve what was he copping.

Last year, Howard and Downer were "concerned" at the time it was taking for Hicks to be charged and tried.

But they've been extremely concerned since polls earlier this year said at least six out of ten Australians thought Howard should demand the Americans try Hicks or release him.

It was the monumental shift in public opinion, and the fact that the David Hicks story was a media event that would not die down, that forced the Howard government to act.

They didn't want to. But they had to.


Despite the guilty plea from Hicks, the news that the first military tribunal hearing gained a "positive" result has not exactly set the American media on fire.

It will be interesting to see how Bush Co. try to capitalise on what happened yesterday, and if the public gets behind the military tribunals, which at the moment seems highly unlikely.

Coming Soon : David Hicks Arrives Home In Australia, Quickly Fades Into Relative Obscurity

Father And Son Reunited Before Military Tribunal Hearing

Hicks Will Be Home This Year, Suggest Prosecutor

Downer Claims He Was "Always In The Middle" On Hicks Guilt

Prosecutor Says Deal Cut For Hicks Was Not A Plea Bargain

Foreign Minister Downer Welcomes End Of Hicks '"Saga", Says Bush Co. Made Mistake In Not Creating Military Commission By Act Of Congress

'Tourist' Mementos From Guantanamo Bay

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