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A Presidential Pardon for David Hicks?

By Richard Tonkin
Created 24/11/2008 - 04:01

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 [1] 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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