Bring David Hicks home!

November 3, 2006

The plight of Australian Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks continues, as the government's arrogance and subservience to the US shows no sign of abating.

Hicks has been held in US custody since December 2001 when Northern Alliance Afghan mercenaries handed him over to the US army for a bounty. In January 2002, he was transported to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay - an illegally occupied area of Cuba.

Since being taken prisoner, Hicks's life, like those of more that 13,000 other prisoners of the so-called "war on terror", has been hell. An article in the November edition of Rolling Stone, titled "Guantanamo: Inside the Torture Camp", graphically recounts the experience of Omar Khadr, who was 15 years of age when taken prisoner by the US army in Afghanistan.

Khadr's physical and psychological account of torture is one of many by former Guantanamo prisoners, including Australian Mamdouh Habib, who spent more than three years there. Khadr was transported to Guantanamo "dressed in an orange jumpsuit and hog-chained: shackled hand and foot, a waist chain cinching his hands to his stomach, another chain connecting the shackles on his hands to those in his feet. The cuffs permanently scarred many prisoners on the flight, causing them to lose feeling in their limbs for several days or weeks afterwards."

While at Guantanamo and under interrogation, "the MPs [Military Police] un-cuffed Omar's arms, pulled them behind his back and re-cuffed them to his legs, straining them badly at their sockets". Bolted to the floor he was left alone. Before Khadr passed out, the MPs returned, "forced Omar onto his knees, and cuffed his wrists and ankles together behind his back. This made his body into a kind of bow, his torso convex and rigid, right at the limit of its flexibility ... An hour or two later they came, checked the tautness of his chains and pushed him over on his stomach."

Many hours passed and Khadr "urinated on himself and on the floor. The MPs returned, mocked him for a while and then poured pine-oil solvent all over his body." Khadar was dragged and while still in chains he was used as a human mop.

Khadar is now 19 and, like Hicks and 450 other prisoners at Guantanamo, his life remains in limbo.

Only 10 Guantanamo prisoners thus far have been charged, among them Hicks. In June the military commissions, a Pentagon creation to "deal" with the trial of these prisoners, was declared "unlawful" by the US Supreme Court. All criminal charges also became void.

However, the Bush administration pressed Congress for new legislation that could accommodate the Pentagon's sadistic desires. By October 17, Bush had signed in a new law - the Military Commission Act, 2006, which does away with habeas corpus - the right of a prisoner to be brought before a court of law.

According to the US Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR): "The new law strips the right of non-citizens to seek review of their detention by a court through the filing of a writ of habeas corpus, the venerated legal instrument that for centuries has protected people from arbitrary detention, disappearance and indefinite detention without charge. The Act is also meant to erase the hundreds of habeas corpus petitions that CCR and others have brought on behalf of many of the 450 men being held at Guantanamo Bay, a move already once denied by the Supreme Court."

Characterising the new law as "an assault on the constitution", CCR executive director Vincent Warren said, "By trading our liberty for a false sense of security, Congress has effectively granted the President the power of tyrants to undermine the foundations of democracy". He added that "CCR intends to challenge this outrage at every turn, using every tool at our disposal, until we reverse this affront to the rule of law".

The Jurist website of the School of Law of the University of Pittsburg records that "In August, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock announced that Australia will pursue the return of Hicks if new charges are not brought and a military tribunal was not formed by November. According to Ruddock, such a promise was made by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and if not kept the Australian government will seek Hicks' return."

In September, Ruddock said he had demanded the trial be dealt with as quickly as possible. "We want to see it resolved as soon as possible, but we have to be realistic", he was quoted as saying in the September 29 Sydney Morning Herald.

This sounds good, but the truth is that neither Ruddock nor PM John Howard have pressed Washington to release Hicks, as the Blair government did for the Britons incarcerated in Guantanamo.

Australians are outraged at Hicks being denied justice and a Newspoll taken over September 1-3 found that more than 55% believe Hicks will not receive a fair trial under US jurisdiction.

In fact, a fair trial under any court is now almost impossible. A just legal process would involve bail for someone waiting their day in court, and if the case cannot proceed within a specified time frame then it must be dismissed. The demand for a fair and speedy trial is now redundant; the only recourse by law is Hicks's release.

Howard, Ruddock and foreign minister Alexander Downer's acquiescence to the new US military commission law means that they are also in favour of denying habeas corpus, and possibly not just for Hicks.

[Marlene Obeid is active in the Sydney Stop the War Coalition and the Canterbury-Bankstown Peace Group, which spearheaded the campaign for Mamdouh Habib's release, and is campaigning for David Hicks' release. Justice for Hicks and Habib, Fair Go for David and Stop the War Coalition are initiating a protest on December 9 in Sydney. If you'd like to get involved, phone Marlene on 0401 758 871.]

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