Forever Guantánamo

Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks

by Leigh Sales
Melbourne University Press, 322 pp., AUD$32.95 (paper)


On February 11, 2008, the Pentagon announced that charges were being filed against six men in connection with the September 11 attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the attacks and one of al-Qaeda’s most senior members, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a leader of the Hamburg cell that included several of the September 11 pilots. It has taken nearly seven years for these men to be indicted—while more than 240 other prisoners continue to remain at Guantánamo in a state of indefinite detention without charge. In contrast, Britain, after one of the longest and most expensive trials in its history, has already convicted and sentenced four men for the failed attacks on the London subway on July 21, 2005.

Last year, British officials also arrested three other men for involvement in the deadly attacks on three London subway lines and a bus on July 7, 2005, two weeks earlier; they are scheduled to go on trial at the end of March. Spain has convicted twenty-one of twenty-eight men charged in connection with the terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004; and Indonesia has held lengthy trials and convicted four men who were accused of the terrorist attacks in Bali in October 2002, two of whom have been sentenced to death, and two to life imprisonment.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a guiding principle of the American criminal justice system. The Bush administration has ignored this principle with impunity, and America’s image abroad has suffered greatly as a result.

The administration could have avoided much of the criticism it has received for its handling of terrorism suspects. It didn’t have to listen to the civil libertarians and human rights lawyers. All it needed to do was heed the advice of the country’s military lawyers. At a press conference in February announcing the charges against the six alleged al-Qaeda leaders, Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann outlined the basic principles of justice that would be observed in the trials, which were in line with what the military lawyers had long urged the Bush administration to uphold. He said the suspects would have the right to civilian counsel; the right to remain silent; the right to examine all evidence; the right to cross-examine every witness called by the prosecution; the right to be present. He also said that guilt would have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. During the questioning at his press conference, General Hartmann made emphatic promises:

There will be no secret trials. Every piece of evidence, every stitch of evidence, every whiff of evidence that goes to the finder of fact, to the jury, to the military tribunal, will be reviewed by the accused, subject to confrontation, subject to cross-examination, subject to challenge….1

General Hartmann did not say, however, whether all this evidence, which will certainly include allegations by the defendants that they were tortured while in US custody, will be made available to the public. While each defendant and his…

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