David Hicks’ Guantánamo hell: “I am not well, I am not OK”


2-7-07, 12:19 pm

The full horror of the abuse of David Hicks at the US concentration camp at Guantánamo is becoming clear to the Australian public. Last week, more details were added. “His mental condition is the one that’s a significant concern … he has simply aged. His eyes are sunken, his cheeks are sallow and he looks like an old man.”. The comments came from David McLeod – an Australian lawyer who is part of a team working for Hicks. He visited the detainee for two hours in an observation room while his client remained chained to the floor.

Hicks had just refused to see an Australian consular official on January 30. His letter declining the visit is chilling in its implications:

“I don’t want to see you. I am afraid to speak to you.

“Only last week an American impersonated an Australian embassy official by claiming he was ‘from the Australian embassy in Washington’.

“This deteriorates my trust even further.

“In the past I have been punished for speaking to you. I am not well, I am not OK and yet you have not done anything for me and the Australian Government keeps saying I’m fine and in an acceptable situation.

“To speak with you and tell you the truth and reality of my situation ‘once again’ would only risk further punishments. You are not here for me but on behalf of the Australian Government who are leaving me here. If you want to do something for me then get me out of here. [signed] David Hicks”

Hicks has been in US custody since he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. He has been in isolation for 10 months. His new cell inside the new Camp Six concrete fortress has no windows. He is only allowed outside his cell for two hours a day and has only seen the sun three times since early December. Another detainee has described the $37 million maximum security facility as being like a Nazi concentration camp.

Joshua Dratel, a US lawyer on Hicks’ legal team, said last week that his client and other detainees at Guantánamo have been shown photos of the hanging execution of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi government officials. They have been forced to view images of the hanging of Hussein’s half brother Barzan Ibbrahim. During that execution, the victim was decapitated.

“Unfortunately, it demonstrates that the lessons of Abu Ghraib and the humane treatment of detainees have not been learned. For David, who is at the mercy of his gaolers for more than five years now, it is a constant reminder of the oppressive and brutalising system that detains and seeks to try him”, Mr Dratel and Australian lawyer Michael Griffin wrote in a joint statement.

Howard and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock have clearly been caught off-guard by the strength of public opinion now insisting that David Hicks be brought home. Howard, who likes to boast of his supposed understanding the Australian character, has misjudged the importance Australians attach to the right of an accused persons to their day in court regardless of the nature of the charges against them. Australians have also been shocked at how little assistance has been given to an Australian citizen by a government that stridently promotes the value of citizenship.

Howard has tried to appear tough lately on the question of hurrying the judicial process along. “The delay of the last five years has been very regrettable”, the PM told the media recently. He wrote to the US government requesting a deadline of mid-February for David Hicks to be charged. Last Friday, Hicks was reportedly informed that he will now face two charges: one of attempted murder and another of providing material support for terrorism. Both carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Old charges of conspiracy and aiding the enemy have been let slide.

The PM’s claim to have secured the desired response on time from US authorities appears very shaky. The charges are not official until they are approved by Judge Susan Crawford – a Bush appointee who has worked under US Vice-President Dick Cheney. The Convening Authority for the military tribunals she is to head has not yet been constituted. It is unlikely these bureaucratic hurdles will be cleared by mid-February.

Howard has suggested that a large part of the responsibility for the justice delayed belongs to Hicks’ own legal team. The PM conveniently omits the fact that the previous charges and the structure of the previously established military tribunals were found by the US Supreme Court to be unjust and illegal. There is every chance that the re-jigged kangaroo court will also be found lacking. Hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through coercion (torture) will be allowed. Testimony can still be withheld from defence lawyers.

In sentencing, there is no guarantee that, should Hicks be found guilty, the time he has served in detention would be deducted from any prison term imposed. Ruddock had previously suggested that the US would observe this long-established judicial practice.

“These things are geared up for David to be found guilty, this is how I’ve been looking at it”, David’s father Terry Hicks said last week. “David’s been pre-judged over the years, so it’s a system that’s not there to find them not guilty.”

Nobody except Howard, Ruddock, Downer and a handful of the most die-hard reactionaries in the government are still saying that Hicks will be dealt with justly by the US military tribunals. Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has signed a letter to US Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for Hicks to be sent home. Sources have it that Liberal MPs Bruce Baird, Petro Georgiou, Judy Moylan, Russell Broadbent and Danna Vale intend raising their misgivings in an upcoming party room meeting.

By now, Howard must be praying for a miracle. He needs Hicks home to meet the just demands of the Australian people. At the same time he needs him locked away and muzzled in Guantánamo at least until after the next Federal Election. What Hicks could say about the “War on Terror” and our US allies would certainly not help the chances of a Coalition victory.

From The Guardian