The Guardian 28 March, 2007

Hicks before kangaroo court again

As The Guardian goes to press, Australian David Hicks is being brought before a US military commission on the sole remaining charge against him of "providing material support for terrorism". His arraignment on the catch-all charge will take place in the same room where his first trial commenced in 2005. The trial, along with the charges and the very court hearing them was declared illegal in June 2006 by the US Supreme Court. This time, despite an appeal by Hicks’ lawyers against the same unjust procedures (like the denial of evidence to defence lawyers, the admissibility of hearsay and testimony obtained through "coercion"), the kangaroo court will start deliberations. It is reported that Hicks turned down the offer of a plea bargain and will plead not guilty.

Hicks’ lawyers, family and supporters are apprehensive about the irregular legal process. "David has been through an illegal trial system once already", defence lawyer Major Michael Mori told ABC Radio. His father Terry, who accepted an Australian Government offer to fly him to Guantánamo for the trial, will be seeing his son for the first time in nearly three years. "We don’t know what condition David’s in, mentally or physically, so you’ve got to think about that and what the reaction’s going to be," he said last week.

Fears have not been allayed by reports that Hicks was forcibly injected with a sedative after a recent visit by his Australian legal team or by the release of a document Hicks wrote in support of his application for British citizenship. It formed part of an affidavit before a British court where Hicks is seeking to over-ride a Blair Government decision to deny him citizenship. The claims were summarised in last Wednesday’s Herald Sun. Hicks wrote that:

  • His abuse begin soon after capture in Afghanistan at the hands of US military interrogators dressed in black

  • He was repeatedly struck on the back of the head and told he was lying

  • He was stood in front of a window from which he could see six US soldiers pointing their weapons at him

  • His interrogator would wave his pistol in Hicks’ face

  • Aboard the USS Peleiu, he could hear other prisoners "screaming in pain"

  • Aboard the USS Bataan, he was fed a handful of rice three times a day and repeatedly blindfolded, hooded and handcuffed

  • At an airstrip, he was forced to kneel for up to ten hours at a time

  • He was hit on the back of the head several times with a rifle butt, slapped, kicked and spat on

  • His body was shaved and a plastic object forced into his anus.

    Hicks has been detained at Guantánamo for more than five years. He has endured long stretches of solitary confinement and, since late 2006, has been held at the Camp Six facility. The complex, built at a cost of US$37.9 million by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, has been described by US lawyer Sabin Willett as a "dungeon above the ground" where he witnessed "a degree of cruelty universally condemned under all bodies of law related to incarceration."

    An Australian Federal Court judge in Sydney recently allowed a suit to be brought on Hicks’ behalf against the Federal Government which names Attorney General Philip Ruddock and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for failing to protect the rights of an Australian citizen. The lawyers bringing the suit point out that the British Government has secured the return of its citizens and that Howard has claimed he could get Hicks back if he requested it. Instead, the Howard Government has left one of its citizens in the hands of authorities that freely admit to the use of "coercion" on detainees.

    More and more Australians are speaking out against this neglect. Last weekend, Melbourne’s Anglican Archbishop, Philip Freier, wrote to Howard expressing his concern at the length of time Hicks has been detained and the inadequacies of the trial procedure he is set to face. He wrote of his disapproval of the admissibility of hearsay evidence and statements obtained through coercion:

    "Coercion, as I understand it, is defined as up to and including the point of organ failure, at that point it becomes torture, but that seems to me to be an unacceptable thing, that those kinds of admissions or information obtained through those means are acceptable in a court that David Hicks is being tried through."

    Aside from some belated, poll-driven concern at the length of time it has taken to bring Hicks to "trial", the Howard Government has no problem whatsoever with the methods of the US military.

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