After five years of solitary confinement in a small metal cell, David Hicks pleaded guilty on March 26 to one of the two charges brought against him by US military prosecutors on March 1, to finally get out of the notoriously brutal US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Hicks's case has revealed just what a sham the US-led "war on terror" really is.
For five years Washington, backed to the hilt by Canberra, has claimed that Hicks was one of the most dangerous "terrorists" being held at Guantanamo. He was charged with offences that carrying life sentences.
Now, under the plea bargaining deal, his US military prosecutors are talking about him being able to be "home before the end the year". Indeed, on March 31, Hicks was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, with all but nine months of the sentence suspended. He will serve most of this in an Australian civilian prison.
Commenting on the Hicks case, the March 29 Washington Post observed: "This case so far has been less about who Hicks is or what he did than about starting the Bush administration's military commissions … Commission officials have praised the case as showing a transparent and fair system; human rights groups have painted the commissions as a sham with still-unwritten rules."
It is not just human rights groups that have condemned the military commission system. It has been rejected as contrary to international law by all of Washington's imperialist allies — all except Canberra.
In testimony before a congressional committee on March 29, US defence secretary Robert Gates admitted that trials at Guantanamo Bay "lack credibility" with "the international community". Because "of things that happened earlier at Guantanamo there is a taint about it", Gates said, alluding to detainees' alleges of being subjected to torture.
Of the 385 detainees still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Hicks is one of only 10 to be charged with any "criminal offence", and the first to be tried by a military commission. By contrast, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged architect of the September 11, 2001 attack on New York's World Trade Centre, has not been charged with a crime, though he has been in US custody for years and has taken responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks on US citizens.
While much of the Australian media has reported that Hicks pleaded guilty to "providing material support to terrorism", he in fact pleaded guilty to a charge of "providing material support to terrorists", namely Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group.
The charge sheet alleged that in 2001 Hicks had undertaken military training at an al Qaeda camp in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, not that he had provided material support for any terrorist act.
A secondary charge of "attempted murder" of US soldiers was dropped after the retired military judge, who supervises the military commission system, concluded there was "no probable cause" to justify it.
In February 2004, PM John Howard stated on ABC TV that "it's fundamentally wrong to make a criminal law retrospective". But this is exactly what has been done to Hicks.
The only offence he was charged with — "providing material assistance to terrorists" — was introduced into US law in October 2001. But it could not be applied to Hicks — a non-US citizen who was captured by US-backed rebel forces in December 2001 after serving as a soldier in the army of Afghanistan's Taliban government — until the US Congress passed the 2006 Military Commissions Act (MCA).
In direct contravention of international law and the US constitution, the MCA made jurisdiction of the "material support for terrorists" offence retroactive.
Of course, neither the US Congress nor the Bush administration has any intention of using the MCA to launch criminal prosecutions against the US government personnel, including the CIA officers, who helped bin Laden set up his terrorist training camps in Afghanistan in the 1980s during Washington's jihadi war against the Soviet Union.
The aim of the MCA is to legitimise US President George Bush's military commission system — kangaroo courts intentionally designed to convict as "war criminals" anyone captured resisting Washington's illegal 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
This invasion was a prelude to the real goal of Washington's "war on terror" — regime-change invasions to (re-)impose US corporate ownership of the nationalised oil resources of the "rogue states" of the Middle East, beginning with Iraq, and then later, Iran.