In March 2007, Australian native David Hicks, who was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, became the first person to be sentenced by a military commission convened under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Last February, Col. Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor in Hicks’ trial, told the Australian that the Pentagon “leaned on” him to rush Hicks’ trial, even though at the time he “had no regulations for trial by military commissions.”
In an interview with WAMU’s Diane Rehm yesterday, Morris added details of how “political influence” was involved in Hicks’ trial. On January 9, 2007, Davis says the Defense Department’s general counsel, William Haynes, called him up and asked, “how quickly can you charge David Hicks?”
Davis then noted that Haynes call came the day after “there was a meeting with the Australian ambassador” to the United States:
DAVIS: So, the major pieces were not in place and I’m having the DoD general counsel calling me up, the day after there was a meeting with the Australian ambassador, asking, “how quickly I could charge David Hicks.”
Bush administration political appointees appear to have meddled in Hicks’ case in order to help their key conservative ally, Australian Prime Minister John Howard. In early 2007, Howard was facing a serious electoral challenge from Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who eventually went on to defeat him. Hicks’ incarceration at Guantanamo Bay was a contentious issue in Australian politics at the time.
In February 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney visited Howard in Australia, where the PM lobbied for the trial to “be brought on as soon as humanly possible and with no further delay.” A month later, Hicks was sentenced and released back to Australia with critics airing suspicions that Cheney had interceded.
In October 2007, an anonymous military officer told Harper’s Scott Horton that “Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks’s plea bargain deal” as “part of a deal cut” with Howard.
EHM: I would like to have a specific example of how you believe in your case political influence was involved?
DAVIS: Well, I can give you an example of, I believe it was on January 9 of 2007, Jim Haynes was the DoD general counsel. He had been nominated for a seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, he had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but before he came up for a vote of the full Senate, you know, what became known as the torture policy, the torture memos surfaced, became an impediment for his confirmation. So, my first year on the job, Mr. Haynes had pretty much had a hands off policy. He had minimal contact with me about military commissions. On January 9 ’07 of the night that President Bush announced he had withdrawn the nomination of Jim Haynes for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and two hours later, Mr. Haynes calls me up and says, “how quickly can you charge David Hicks?” You know, at that point in time, we had that statute in place, the Military Commissions Act, we had no convening authority, we had no manual for military commissions, we had no regulations for trial by military commission. So, the major pieces were not in place and I’m having the DoD general counsel calling me up, the day after there was a meeting with the Australian ambassador, asking, “how quickly I could charge David Hicks.”
REHM: Were you told specifically that there were not to be any acquittals?
DAVIS: There was a meeting, which I would call a hiring interview on August 2 of 2005, where I met with Mr. Haynes before being appointed as chief prosecutor. During that meeting, Mr. Haynes brought up that these trials would be the Nuremberg of our times, and I told him that during Nuremberg, there were some acquittals, and certainly as a prosecutor, you never go into court aiming for an acquittal, but I said in my view, if that should happen, that at least it in some respects would tend to validate that this is a fair process. And that was when he kind of, it struck me as he never considered that thought before that there could be acquittals. And he looked at me and said, “acquittals? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve been holding these guys for years. How would we explain that if we had acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.”