Innocent until tortured guilty? Bring David home!

February 8, 2007

The announcement that charges have been laid against 31-year-old Australian man David Hicks, who has now been held in US military custody in Guantanamo Bay for more than five years, has been welcomed by the Howard government, which is unable to charge Hicks with any crime under Australian law.

Hicks faces charges of "attempted murder" and "material support for terrorism" under a military commission trial. Last June, the US Supreme Court rejected the military commission system as illegal, and US President George Bush's administration has modified it slightly. Now the charges filed by the prosecutor will have to be "reviewed" by a few other officials before the "enemy combatants" can be charged. Hicks and the 394 other prisoners currently being held in the black hole of Guantanamo without having had a trial must now be able to breathe easy, knowing justice and international law have prevailed after all!

Major Michael Mori, Hicks's military defence lawyer, slammed the charges, pointing out that even the prosecutor said there was no evidence that Hicks had shot at anyone in Afghanistan. Hicks's father Terry fears his son may plead guilty to the charges, which he has already twice pleaded not guilty to, due to his growing despair about his situation as well as the deterioration of his mental condition.

The new commissions will admit evidence procured under "coercion" — mental and physical torture including "water-boarding", where the victim is held still while water is poured over his or her face to simulate drowning; stress positions; extreme heat and cold; hooding; and the deprivation of clothing and sleep.

Melbourne lawyer and civil libertarian Brian Walters described Hicks's treatment in Guantanamo Bay: "David Hicks has been beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation — loud music, bright lights, intense heat, intense cold — and repeated lengthy interrogations. He has endured years of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation. Family letters that get past the censors have all expressions of love and support blacked out."

Australian officials are among those urging Hicks to plead guilty, so the issue can be dealt with quickly. This is in the face of a rapidly growing campaign to demand the Australian government act to protect the rights of one of its citizens, and for PM John Howard to demand that the US government return Hicks to Australia.

But this is not just an important issue because Hicks is being brutalised and his life destroyed: Hicks's treatment is part of the US government's far-reaching system of extrajudicial "extraordinary rendition", where unknown numbers of untried suspects have been kidnapped by CIA operatives and taken to countries other than the US to be imprisoned, tortured and "interrogated", far away from pesky things like laws that ensure due legal process and prohibit torture. Guantanamo Bay is one of these torture centres, but there are others thought to be in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere.

The Howard government, as a key US ally in the "war on terror", is in full support of these sickening practices, and is launching its own onslaught against civil rights here. The campaign to support David Hicks's human rights is a vital part of the resistance against this global crackdown on hard-won civil rights. We demand that David be released and returned to Australia; that the Guantanamo Bay prison (and other rendition centres) be shut down for good; and that the Howard government repeal its "anti-terror" laws, which have criminalised political dissent.

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