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A Presidential Pardon for David Hicks?

As the twilight of the Bush Administration falls, discussion in the US media is beginning to focus on those to whom President Dubya might grant a Presidential pardon. Much as he might like to, there's no way that he can do anything for those who may later be convicted for following his orders, such as those who have tortured specially purchased prisoners into "verifying" his War On Terror propaganda. He should, however, consider repairing his international reputation by improving the circumstances of his scapegoats. He won't, as this would only discredit both himself and Dick Cheney even further. He'll make pardons appropriate to his political necessities, and then hand that power onto Obama, a man who is quite unhappy about what's happened at Guantanamo.

David Hicks springs to mind as a fine candidate for a pardon. When he made a public appeal for complete freedom last week, the Australian Federal Police granted his request without taking any time for consideration. The fact that the decision to not extend the control order that restricted Hicks' activities was nearly simultaneous to an announcement of the handing down of the results of an inquiry into other apparently politically motivated counterterrorism activities may not be coincidental. The AFP has a lot of egg on its face because its role in imprisoning Dr Mahommed Haneef, and the opportunity to portray themselves a little more kindly would have been hard to pass up. It also gave the AFP a chance to play Pontius Pilate on the world stage, washing its hands of the dirt of further participation in activities related to the shameful practices involved in the obtaining of convictions (in the case of Hicks, personally by US Vice President Cheney) by the Guantanamo military tribunals.

In doing so, they've shown the control order as unnecessary. The idea of asking the AFP for the order was passed to the South Australian Government by our Foreign Minister, Bush sycophant Alexander Downer. There are two perceivable useful political purposes for such an order. One is that it showed the South Australian public that Hicks was a bad man that needed watching. The other is that it showed the world that another government was prepared to participate in the Guantanamo military tribunal system by honouring its findings.

The activities that Hicks pled guilty to are no longer regarded by Guantanamo as crimes within its jurisdiction. The tribunal, in handing down the verdict against Osama's driver Hamdan, made it very clear that participating in the war in Afghanistan did not mean that somebody was a terrorist attempting to destroy Western civilisation. Prisoner 002, arriving at Guantanamo as one of the Bush Administration's "worst of the worst", had been doing nothing more anti-U.S. than guarding a Taliban tank. For that he was imprisoned and interrogated for more than five years without charges being laid against him.

Before Bush's Presidency ends, Hicks will be walking the streets of Adelaide as a completely free man.

South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson by now should be becoming extremely embarrassed by his government's participation in such a shaky legal scenario. He no doubt believes he and his cabinet colleagues have been misled. They face an interesting political quandary. It looks like incoming President Obama will close Guantanamo immediately, leaving South Australia's government as the only incumbent one in the world that has participated in a legal system that will have been discredited into nonexistence. They are seeking to be re-elected for a third term. A continued condoning of Hicks' treatment, flying in the face of both U.S. and world-wide sentiment, will be something difficult to sweep under the rug of a law-and-order campaign, even in the birthplace of the Murdoch media empire. To be perceived as an implementer of true justice, Atkinson also needs to be seen as capable of recognising injustice. If he, along with SA's Premier and more importantly the Deputy Premier who vilified Hicks in the newspaper, do not publicly retract their support of Hicks' brutal treatment then they could be perceived as being too legally inept to oversee a justice system. Given that this government's lack of concern of prisoner mistreatment, embodied in Deputy Foley's now-infamous " Rack 'em, pack 'em, and stack 'em" comment, has been observed with public alacrity, continued support of an internationally notorious inappropriate imprisonment will cost crucial votes in a difficult third term re-election attempt.

The trouble is that the Government-spearheaded publicity campaign against Hicks has been successful. While there are many who believe Hicks was a dickhead who doesn't deserve the treatment he received, there are many, especially outside of Adelaide's city limits, who believe Hicks is a bastard who should rot in Hell. It's those people that who have been gullible enough to believe the misinformation who will be the quickest to mistrust the Rann Government should they reverse an opinion that was created with so much effort. Mistrust, as we know spreads easily.

So which choice does an Attorney General in such a predicament take? Does he show that he and his Government are truly trustworthy to administer law when to do so jeopardises the faith of his constituents? There is a way that he can do so and still win votes. Can you guess?

If the Rann Government, in a reversal of the chain of events that led to its support of Cheney's desperate attempt to secure a Guantanamo conviction as a precedent for future trials, raises a call for a U.S. Presidential pardon for this South Australian citizen, and that call is heard by President Obama, it will win the respect of many South Australians; not necessarily for administering true justice, but for placing this little democracy on the world stage as heroes in tune with, and with the ear of, the most powerful man in Western society. That's a lot of kudos.

There's already one movie about to open in the U.S. that depicts imprisonment in South Australia, Look out for me in the prisoners' orchestra. While this one is a kid-friendly "feelgood", the next one most certainly won't It will show a man that was handed over to cash in on a bounty scheme, beaten, butt-probed, psychologically tortured for years, coerced into a conviction (without evidence being presented against him) by an illegally-administered justice system and then returned to his hometown to serve his sentence, while the methodology of his conviction is renounced globally until it ceases to exist. Hardly a good image for South Australia to the world, and definitely not a holiday flick to take the kiddies to. While a Hicks pardon may not be a completely happy ending, it would show us to the world as fair-minded people who have enough sense to recognise our participation in an atrocity.

With the change in U.S administration and policies, there is only a small window of opportunity in which the S.A. Government can act. When Obama closes Guantanamo, he'll also close that window. The apologies for abuse and torture would then not include Hick's Adelaide jailers and we and our State leaders will quite rightly be perceived around the world as gullible simpletons with no sense of morality.

Where would the new Prime Minster of Australia stand on such a course of action? Here's what he said in an email a couple of years ago:

It is a national obscenity that David Hicks has remained in Guantanamo Bay for five years without a trial and furthermore, when it comes to the prospect of him obtaining the most rudimentary forms of justice, he’s not going to get those under a US military tribunal.

Guantanamo Bay should be shut, and David Hicks should be given access to a fair trial, because he’s not going to get one under the current arrangements.

It is a disgrace – an absolute human rights disgrace – that this individual, who is an Australian citizen, should be treated in this fashion. He should be given proper recourse to a fair trial.

In light of such sentiments, and given that a "fair trial" did not occur, the Government of Australia shouldn't be anything less than supportive of the injustices against David Hicks being rectified as soon as possible. It's surprising, really, that nothing has yet been done.

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Father and son

Felixroni, a thoughtful comment.  Welcome.  I hope you fix your name so we can talk some more.

I'd be interested in how you think that Hicks might, if not for the control order, served as an al Qaeda operative from Adelaide?  Even without a control order, he would assume that his activites would be closely  monitored by ASIO and the AFP.  Do you think he'd be organising a training camp in the Adelaide Hills (knowing that he'd be back in jail, and possibly back in Guantanamo for vioilating his plea-deal) while Australian officers photographed him over the fence?   No way.  Relaying al Qaeda information through his phone and email?  Again, the results would be too hideous to contemplate such an action.

The Melbourne terrorism trials have shown that our authorities have no need of any such control orders to monitor such a suspect, so I disagree with your opinion that the order was necessary.

Eliot, you're too late.  Terry was nominated for the award by Jon Stanhope in 2006.  Perhaps someone could put him up again.  I was awestruck when I met Terry in January this year, one of the most sincere and compassionate people I ever expect to encounter.  This is a man who believed in his son so much that he took a cage to Wall Street and placed himself in it.  Hard to top.

I offered Terry a place for David to stay, out of town, hopefully away from the hounding he was getting from the media after his release.  The offer was declined due to the fact that it would violate the control order. Hicks was stuck in the spotlight, and I'd be unsurpised if (for propagand purposes) this was part of the order's true intent.

Scott, I could understand Rudd taking some time to look at information that he would have had new access to on becoming Prime Minister.  After that, action should have been taken.

The purpose of the control order

Hi Richard,

I believe the control order has a slightly different purpose. It is not intended to merely monitor David Hicks's activities, as that can be achieved through surveillance. I think it is intended to do two things, 1 - to prevent any chance of Hicks establishing contact with people who are a danger to his or the community's interests; and 2 - to discourage anyone with questionable motives from contacting him. Certainly it places some very onerous limits on what he can and can't do; but he was accused of terrorism, not shoplifting. 

You seem to make some assumptions about David Hicks's character that I think should be challenged. You say that it is hardly likely he would organise terrorist training camps if released into the community because that would be stupid given the surveillance he is likely to be under. For a reasonable person acting on logic, yes it would be stupid. But this is someone who was fairly mixed up before he went to Guantanamo Bay, and then spent six years in a horrendous prison camp. He might be vulnerable to all kinds of manipulation if left to his own devices.

You also seem to be assuming that at heart Hicks is a decent bloke who just got caught up in some bad stuff at the wrong time. Perhaps he is, but we don't really know that. There is such scant information publicly available about what he really thinks that we can't reasonably make that assumption. I think the idea that Hicks has now been 'cured' of his fundamentalist leanings because of his ordeal is as flawed as its opposite, that fighting with the Taliban made him a terrorist.

Ultimately the government had to make a decision based on the risks, which were low, and the potential consequences of not taking out the control order, which were potentially very bad. It's not surprising the government chose to be cautious - I don't think anyone would want them to be cavallier about the threat of terrorism.


Veronica Le Nevez


So what's changed?

Veronica Le Nevez, if those were the reasons that the control order was placed, then how could they succeed?  Apart from the curfew hours Hicks could go wherrever he wanted, and talk to whoever he wanted. As far as "to discourage anyone with questionable motives from contacting him" goes, again, if such people wanted to then, with or without the order, they could do so.  

You say that Hicks' reasoning may have been addled by his experiences, but this doesn't mean that those who hadn't been there would have their rationality similarity hampered.  Would you, as a potential terrorist, attempt to manipulate somebody who had such a spotlight on him?

We are both making assumptions.  You are assuming that the control order stops a bad man doing harm.  I'm assuming it stops Hicks doing good.

Why do you think the control order is being lifted now?  Same man, same circumstances. If it was so necesssary before, why are the AFP getting rid of the order now?


Why are they removing the order?  Because they've monitored him for a year and reassessed the risk. If I was a terrorist would I attempt to manipulate someone with a control order on them? Of course not - that's the point. It's a way of broadcasting with a megaphone that anyone who comes within cooee of this guy is going to have an ASIO file on them, which is precisely what I meant by 'discourage'.

Oh, yes. The cage. I nearly forgot...

Richard Tonkin: "This is a man who believed in his son so much that he took a cage to Wall Street and placed himself in it.  Hard to top."

I don't know. This is much funnier...

"You were given two blankets, two sheets, two towels, a hand towel, a pair of slippers and shoes, a t-shirt, two pairs of shorts, a uniform, a book/magazine, a toothbrush, soap, a roll of toilet paper, a razor for shaving your head during shower time, a polystyrene cup, and a half-litre bottle of water that was replaced when needed. You were allowed three recreational (“rec”) periods a week and showers any time."

That was David Hicks’s personal ration allocation according to Mamdouh Habib, Good Weekend magazine, p24, October 25, 2008 - 3:34pm.

So, while Terry was freezing his arse in that cage on Wall Street protesting against David's 'torture'....

I mean, you have to laugh, don't you?

How about a Distinguished Service Medal?

A presidential pardon for David Hicks!?

Gee, why stop there? How about a Distinguished Service Medal from Kevin Rudd?

David Hicks stayed at the same Islamic "guesthouse" in Kabul in the days before the September 11 attacks in the company of the Melbourne man Jack Thomas (later known as Jihad Jack), and Richard Reid (the Briton who became known as the "shoe bomber" after he tried to blow up an aircraft with explosives hidden in his shoe).

Maybe honourary Australian citizenship for Reid and an Australian Tourism Award for Thomas?

We could make Terry Hicks 'Father of the Year'.

Pardon for David Hicks

I think you are mistaken in suggesting that the S.A government was participating in the Guantanamo system by requesting a control order.  Given that David Hicks had admitted training in terrorist camps, I think the government would have sought a control order whether convicted of anything in the shameful Guantanamo system or not. I also think the government would have been right in seeking such an order. The government has a duty of care to its citizens to try and prevent terrorist attacks from occurring, and to prevent the establishment of terrorist networks. David Hicks held knowledge and experience that, were he of a mind to do it, could have been disseminated to others to assist in the setting up of terrorist cells. This may be unlikely, but nonetheless I think the community would expect caution from the government on such an issue.

This needs to be considered separately to David Hicks's treatment by the American government. That treatment was appalling, and violated his human rights. However, that is not a valid reason for ignoring any threat that he may pose to others.

Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, Felixroni. Please note Webdiary's policy regarding usernames, and amend yours appropriately.

On the subject

My first disappointment  Richard, (well it wasn't really, nothing else was expected,) in the Rudd goveernment was that they didn't immediately release Hicks on assuming power.

You know rhetoric when you see it. Business as usual, just a change of management.

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