Saturday, March 31, 2007

David Hicks cuts deal for nine month sentence

Well, after being incarcerated at Gitmo for five years as allegedly one the worst terrorists we have in custody, Australian prisoner David Hicks pled guilty to terrorism charges after agreeing that "he faced damning evidence taken from 'notes by interrogators' that he had been shown." Our government had recommended a seven year sentence but under the terms of the plea deal, Hicks will be released within 60 days, or probably sooner, and returned to Australia to serve a nine month sentence. We have teenagers in America who get stiffer sentences than that for possession of a couple of grams of marijuana in a school zone.

And what did Hicks have to give up in order to score this sweet offer?
Under his plea deal, Hicks stipulated that he has "never been illegally treated by a person or persons while in the custody of the U.S. government," Kohlmann said. In the statement read by Mori, Hicks thanked U.S. service members for their professionalism during his imprisonment.

Furthermore, the judge said, the agreement bars Hicks from suing the U.S. government for alleged abuse, forfeits any right to appeal his conviction and imposes a gag order that prevents him speaking with news media for a year from his sentencing date.
He also can't profit from writing a book about his experiences after the gag order expires. Any money he makes on his story must be handed over to the Australian government. And he had to agree to appear as a government witness in future trials for either the US or the Aussies, although what useful testimony he could possibly offer after being held incommunicado for five years is unclear.

So what are we to make of this outcome? Either he was a dangerous terrorist or he wasn't. If he was a real terrorist, it's outrageous that the US let him go with such a light sentence. If he wasn't really a dangerous terrorist, the terms of the plea agreement suggest the Bush administration was more afraid of what he might say about his treatment at Guantanamo than they were about the possibility that he might commit terrorist acts against our country.

It's difficult not to be reminded of Jose Padilla, an American citizen held for three years as a "dangerous terrorist" and then when his illegal detainment was finally challenged by the courts, the Bush administration moved him to civil jurisdiction and charged him with -- well, basically nothing.

And what's up with the signing of a statement saying he wasn't mistreated? Isn't that what the terrorists who have kidnapped westerners in Iraq have repeatedly done? In fact, isn't this exactly the sort of coerced statement that Iran forced the British hostages to sign? As the "good guys" in the war on terror, shouldn't we be conducting ourselves more honorably than the people we're fighting?

Padilla is "lucky" that he's an American citizen or he would still be confined indefinitely and without counsel under Bush's "enemy combatant" rule. Hicks is "lucky" that he's a white guy from an allied nation whose government needed some good PR for their reelection campaign.

I fear for the 80 remaining less well connected prisoners scheduled for trial, the outcomes won't be so lenient. As for the 305 others who aren't even scheduled for trial, it looks like they're going to face at least another two years of forced gag orders from the inside of Gitmo, since it seems unlikely Bush will take his own Secretary of Defense's recommendation to shut that hell hole down.

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