Some Bumps At Start Of War Tribunals At Guantanamo




 
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Some Bumps At Start Of War Tribunals At Guantanamo
 
April 1st, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Some Bumps At Start Of War Tribunals At Guantanamo


Some Bumps At Start Of War Tribunals At Guantanamo
New York Times
April 1, 2007
Pg. 26
News Analysis

By William Glaberson
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba, March 31 — As the first of the war crimes cases under a new law began here a few days ago, a military law specialist said it was a test run “to show that this plane will fly.”
It was a bumpy ride.
The military commissions being convened here are special war crimes tribunals to try terrorists that do not offer the legal protections of civilian courts. One justification for the looser rules is that they will deal with the worst of the worst.
But the first man through the double doors of the heavily secured courtroom here was no Osama bin Laden. He was David Hicks, a 31-year-old Australian whose lawyer described him as a ninth-grade dropout and “wannabe soldier” who ran away when the shooting started in Afghanistan.
From the start, Guantánamo, its detainees and the legal proceedings here have provided enough grist to support the competing views of the detention center: a necessary mechanism for dealing with a new kind of enemy, or the embodiment of the war on terror gone awry.
Mr. Hicks’s conviction with a guilty plea provides something for each side. He admitted training with Al Qaeda, guarding a Taliban tank and scouting a closed American embassy building. But there is no evidence he was considering a terrorist attack or capable of carrying one out. Yet he was held five years and four months before he got his day in court. And at the end of a very long day at the tribunal Friday, his actual sentence was only nine months.
To the prosecutors and the extensive public relations apparatus assembled by the military here, Mr. Hicks’s case proved, as one spokeswoman regularly repeated, that the military commission system offers a “fair, legitimate and transparent forum.”
In the somber, makeshift courtroom, the lead prosecutor of the Hicks case, Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail of the Marines, tried to portray Mr. Hicks as public enemy No. 1.
“Today in this courtroom, we are on the front lines of the global war on terror,” Colonel Chenail told a panel of military officers assembled from around the globe Friday to hear arguments on the appropriate sentence. Mr. Hicks pleaded guilty on Monday to providing material support to Al Qaeda. “The enemy is sitting at the defense table,” Colonel Chenail added, gesturing to Mr. Hicks. “We are face to face with the enemy” who was “trying to kill Americans,” he said.
But to some in the courtroom, the proceedings proved only that the system was rigged to show detainees that the only way out of Guantánamo was to give the prosecutors what they wanted. Not only did Mr. Hicks plead guilty, but he also signed a plea bargain in which he recanted his accusations about being abused in detention and promised not to speak to reporters for a year.
In the courtroom, the military judge had Mr. Hicks acknowledge each of the contentious provision of his deal. Mr. Hicks, the judge read, agreed that he had “never been illegally treated” while in American captivity, including “through the entire period of your detention by the United States at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Mr. Hicks agreed to that statement.
Mr. Hicks’s lawyer, Maj. Michael Mori of the Marines, said he was speaking for his client, who he said was too nervous to speak for himself. “He wants to apologize to Australia and to the United States,” Major Mori said during the proceedings, adding that Mr. Hicks wanted to thank members of the armed services who, he said, had treated him professionally.
In the cadre of observers from advocacy and human rights groups here to monitor the proceedings, the plea deal Mr. Hicks reached was fresh evidence of the coercive power of this place. The plea bargain included a provision that will get Mr. Hicks out of detention here and into an Australian prison to serve the rest of his sentence within 60 days.
That provision as much as any served as a reminder of the international crosscurrents that will swirl around many of the cases here. There had been growing diplomatic pressure on the Bush administration to return Mr. Hicks to Australia, where his case has drawn wide attention and where Prime Minister John Howard, one of President Bush’s most stalwart supporters, is facing a tough re-election fight.
Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is one of the regular observers in the courtroom here, said the deal showed that the military commission was intended to bring cases to the conclusion the government wants. “A person here, in order to have any hope of going home,” he said, “has to play by whatever rules the government sets.”
Jennifer Daskal, an observer for Human Rights Watch, said after the sentencing that the unusual rule silencing Mr. Hicks for a year showed that the government’s primary goal was “the protection against the disclosure of abuse.”
Both sides agreed that the nine-month sentence was unexpectedly short. But there was no common interpretation of what that meant.
Military officers quickly began to refer to Mr. Hicks as the “convicted war criminal” in the not-so-subtle battle of competing words here.
Away from the scrubby patch of land that is the naval station and detention camp here, a prosecutor who bargained a case with a potential life sentence down to an additional nine months of imprisonment might take that as a loss.
But the chief military prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis of the Air Force, told reporters that the deal and the days of surprising developments in the Hicks case could be seen in a different light. It was not a loss for the prosecution, Colonel Davis said, but a victory for a much maligned system that he said had been unfairly criticized before it was given a chance to prove it could deliver justice.
“There’s a notion that this is a rigged system,” he said when asked if he was disappointed by the outcome. “I think this shows that’s not true.”
Other than a few muted words in court, Mr. Hicks was not heard from directly. But as developments unfolded, David H. B. McLeod, an Australian lawyer working with the defense, provided insight into Mr. Hicks’s thoughts.
“He says that if he is the worst of the worst, and the person who should be put before a military commission first,” Mr. McLeod said, “then the world really hasn’t got much to worry about.”
 


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