In February, Vice President Cheney traveled to Australia to visit with his close ally Prime Minister John Howard. At the top of Howard’s agenda was a plea to release Australian Gitmo detainee David Hicks. Last Friday, Hicks became the first person to be sentenced by a military commission convened under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, accepting nine months of imprisonment and a gag order that will not allow him to discuss the case for 12 months.
Howard lobbied Cheney during the February visit for the trial to “be brought on as soon as humanly possible and with no further delay.” The plea bargain itself was brokered by Susan Crawford, the top military commission official and a former Department of Defense inspector general under then-Secretary of Defense Cheney, without the knowledge or input of the lawyers prosecuting Hicks. The lead prosecutor expressed shock over the light sentence.
Given the nature of the deal, suspicions are being raised that the plea agreement may have been an orchestrated gesture by Cheney to benefit Howard in his re-election fight. Howard, who is lagging behind Labor Party rival Kevin Rudd in the polls, faces a tough election contest in less than nine months. Now, legal experts on both continents are sounding alarms. Some examples:
— Terry Hicks, David’s father, said in a statement that “it is clearly a political fix arranged between Mr. Howard and the Bush administration to shut up Hicks until after the election in November.”
— Bob Brown of Australia’s Green party described the deal as a political “fix” meant to benefit Howard, saying that “the message has gone very clearly from Canberra to Washington to Guantanamo Bay: don’t allow Hicks to be released until after the elections and certainly don’t allow him to speak.”
— Lex Lasry, an Australian who observed the trial, remarked, “What an amazing coincidence that, with an election in Australia by the end of the year, he gets nine months and he is gagged for 12 months from talking about it.”
— Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, said: “I’m not naive. I know that they probably worked out – I’m quite sure they worked out – a plea bargain, that would allow the United States to appear to have effected a reasonably fair proceeding, would allow David Hicks to return to Australia, and satisfy Prime Minister Howard’s needs.”
Andrew Sullivan emphatically states, “If you think this was in any way a legitimate court process, you’re smoking something even George Michael would pay a lot of money for. It was a political deal, revealing the circus that the alleged Gitmo court system really is.”