Close the Guantanamo Bay gulag

David Hicks's conviction is a ludicrous political stitch-up. We will never accept it, writes Mark Kelly.

David Hicks is the first person from Gitmo to be tried. There is no obvious procedure for trying people, nor for meting out the sentences handed down from any trial. Hicks is unique, however, in the fact that he is the subject of a significant campaign with majority support in his homeland to have him returned.

As Tom Allard points out in the Sydney Morning Herald (March 28), it is all a "perfect solution" for the criminal Australian Howard administration. The Howard government needs to make the issue go away, the issue that it allowed Hicks to rot in Cuba without charge, a victim of the imperial hubris of Australia's international patron. By convicting Hicks, this means that his time in Guantanamo becomes legitimised as a punishment, so all ends well. By having Hicks confess, they avoid a legal battle in which the absurdities of the kangaroo trial would become clear.

It looks like it was planned from the get-go. WIth opinion polls going badly against him, there is no question that Howard orchestrated the latest trial through explicit representations to the US government. It seems most likely that what was decided was precisely that Hicks must be sent home, but first be found guilty in order to legitimise the injustices so far heaped upon him. The big remaining question is whether Hicks will be sentenced to further time, to be served in Australia. Doubtless, the Australian government would rather he be locked up, but their carrying out of a dubious American sentence is hardly to their advantage. More likely is a repeat of the 'Jihad Jack' scenario, with Hicks released under a control order. We will see. But a deal where Hicks confesses and recognises the righteousness of his own mistreatment in return for repatriation seems to be what has happened. If Hicks is imprisoned in Australia, a vigorous campaign will surely erupt for his release. If he is not, the campaign for justice will I think still not completely evaporate, since this military court surely does not convince Australians.

But the release of David Hicks does not make Camp Xray or the abomination of the continued US presence in Cuba go away. While the confessions of David Hicks may make liberal opinion wobble, for consistent democrats it was never centred on whether Hicks himself supported the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The war on civil liberties and democracy unleashed by Bush and Blair and Howard in the aftermath of 9/11 is central to our struggle. Hicks has been denied all natural justice, yes, but we must fight for the end to the imperialist war on terror abroad and the war on democracy at home.

A confession made under duress cannot be given credence. David Hicks's apparent plea-bargain with the US kangaroo court is perhaps the best thing for his personal well-being under the circumstances, but it has nothing to do with justice, or the truth. Hicks has apparently admitted to being a 'member of a terrorist orgnisation', presumably meaning the Taliban. But the Taliban was not and is not a terrorist organisation, despite its obvious character as a gross suppressor of human rights. Suppressing human rights is not terrorism. Using terror as a political tool is. Perhaps the Taliban do that, but if so it is rather incidental to their overall function as Draconian civil authority.

Moreover, it's hardly clear that Hicks was a 'member' of the Taliban – one wonders whether that organisation even has a membership structure, and moreover if it does, whether Hicks was part of it. Hicks was a foreign fighter, a blow-in, someone who does not look like he was committed to the long-term future of the organisation in question, merely someone who found common cause with the rather questionable project of political Islam it represented, but at that time represented not as a terrorist force but as the de facto national government of Afghanistan.

It cannot be forgotten that the main reason Howard left Hicks to rot in Cuba while Blair brought the British detainees home is that he was happy for Hicks to be tried under retrospective legislation - something that would not be legal in Australia.

If Hicks must serve out a sentence in Australia on a conviction from a kangaroo court around a crime delimited by retrospective legislation, we must campaign for his release. And no matter what happens to David Hicks, we must fight for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay gulag and demand an end to Howard's war on democracy.

March 30, 2007

Mark Kelly writes for the Auswatch blog.


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