Chain up Cheney! Free David Hicks!

February 17, 2007

On February 16, ABC News featured the US military prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis vilifying Adelaide father of two David Hicks as a war criminal. Davis would not specify when Hicks would be brought before a military tribunal of the type that was ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court last June but reinstituted by Congress a few months later.

Hicks has been held mostly in solitary confinement in the US concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay for five years and subjected to regular physical and psychological torture. He has been demonised by US President George Bush as one of the "worst of the worst" and Prime Minister John Howard as being guilty of serious offences. So much for the presumption of innocence.

The legally dubious rules of the military tribunals and the conditions under which Hicks is being held make the case for the defence impossible. Hicks's Australian defence lawyer, David McLeod, has described the military tribunals as being set up so as to find defendants guilty.

The onus of proof is on the defence. Furthermore, the prosecution does not have to produce witnesses and can submit hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations as fact. In the best traditions of the medieval Inquisition, it can also submit, as fact, confessions extracted by torture.

When the US Act of Congress reestablishing the tribunals was passed, the establishment media made much of an anti-torture clause. However this order defines torture extremely narrowly, and specifically allows evidence obtained by various forms of physical and psychological torture that would not fall outside a dictionary definition of the term.

Hicks has been beaten, spent months in solitary confinement without seeing daylight (and even more time only seeing it for 15 minutes a week), suffered sleep deprivation, been subjected to extreme heat and cold, been denied visitors (often including his lawyers), been punished for visits, had visits from US intelligence officials posing as lawyers and human rights workers (probably with the collaboration of Australian consular staff), had letters from family members censored to remove words of affection and, most recently, been taunted with pictures of Saddam Hussein's execution.

Posters depicting the execution specifically warn Guantanamo Bay inmates that this is the risk of not cooperating with their captors. Furthermore, evidence obtained by any form of torture before December 30, 2005 is permissible.

Despite one of Hicks's "serious offences" being attempted murder, Davis has admitted that Hicks never fired a shot at anyone. The charge is based upon a conjecture of what Hicks might have done in Afghanistan in 2001 to hypothetical members of the US-led multinational invasion force in a situation that never took place.

"They made that one up", Hicks's US military defence lawyer Major Michael Mori told ABC TV in August 2006. Davis told ABC Radio on February 16 that Hicks's other war crimes included learning how to wear disguises and covertly take photographs.

The US has acceded to requests from other Western allies for their prisoners in Guantanamo to be released. However, the Howard government's penchant for public displays of servility to the US has meant that Australia has insisted that Hicks must face trial in Guantanamo Bay. As it is Cuban territory illegally occupied by the US military since 1901, Guantanamo Bay is not subject to the laws of any nation.

Howard, his attorney-general Philip Ruddock and foreign minister Alexander Downer have insisted that the arbitrarily created rules of the military tribunals will guarantee Hicks a fair trial. At the same time, they argue that it would be wrong to return him to Australia because there is no basis to charge him under any Australian law!

Mori has suggested that the Australian government is happy for the US to do its dirty work. Howard is accomplished at using the racist hysteria and fear created by "war on terror" hype to political advantage. Australian politicians and corporate media vie with their US counterparts to paint Hicks as a dangerous prisoner of an everlasting war who, if released before this eternal conflict ends, will bring violent catastrophe to Australia.

However, this surreal story could backfire. The images of a broken Hicks, hog-tied to a chair and dressed in the prisoner's uniform of orange overalls, has galvanised nation-wide support for him. Thousands of Australians rallied in December for Hicks's release and solidarity actions have continued this year.

Sacrificing Hicks is part of Howard's strategy of gaining the benefits of being a loyal ally to the world's global imperialist power while avoiding the military casualties that have fuelled the anti-war movements in the US and Britain. While Australia's commitment to the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq may be of little significance militarily, acts of politically symbolic servility are a significant contributor to the US's unconvincing charade of acting on behalf of "the world community".

While Hicks — who has not been accused of causing injury or death to any actual person — is incarcerated, those responsible for brutal wars of conquest in which millions have died are free to continue to wage their "war on terror".

For Howard, this week's visit by US Vice-President Dick Cheney is a perfect opportunity for some high visibility displays of servile mateship.

Cheney is not only Hicks's jailer, he is a war criminal whose body count rivals those of Pol Pot and Henry Kissinger.

In the Gulf War of 1991, as secretary of defense in the Bush senior administration, Cheney played a key part in planning the intentional destruction of Iraq's water, electrical, sewage, transport and food systems, causing a high civilian death rate in violation of international law. He was also a major architect of the sanctions enforced by a US-led military operation that killed more than 1 million Iraqis — mostly children, the sick and the elderly.

As Bush junior's vice-president, Cheney has been a key driver of the "war on terror", from the invasion by Ethiopian proxy of Somalia to the brutal occupation of Iraq, in which more than 650,000 people have been killed. His crimes are not only motivated by the strategic needs of the US global imperial project but by a large element of personal gain.

In the US, as in any imperialist state, there is a revolving door between corporate and political positions of power. Cheney has alternated between being a senior politician and CEO of the vast Haliburton-KBR corporation.

Cheney has helped Haliburton-KBR secure government contracts. In Iraq, Haliburton-KBR has made billions from its virtual monopoly over the occupying army's infrastructure as well as a range of economic activity from the small amount of civilian reconstruction for mercenaries and foreign carpet-baggers. Haliburton-KBR has also been given extensive rights over Iraqi oil production. Despite his role as US vice president, Cheney continues to receive a six-figure salary from his old company.

Another of Cheney's dubious achievements is the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp. Once again, he was both political driver of the project and a financial beneficiary through Haliburton-KBR getting the contract to build it.

Cheney's visit provides supporters of David Hicks with an opportunity to join with opponents of US military brutality everywhere to tell him that he is not welcome here. It's also a chance to tell Howard to stop supporting US wars and stop sacrificing Hicks to the US-Australia alliance.

This message is anti-Cheney, anti-Howard and anti-war, but it is not anti-American. On March 17 we will be back in the streets joining with protesters in the US, and all over the world, to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and to oppose the violence and oppression being carried out under the guise of the "war on terror".

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