Hicks To Serve 9 Months In Australian Jail; Released After Election

David Hicks has been sentenced to seven years prison in addition to the five years he has already spent at Guantanamo Bay, but six years and three months have been suspended by the US military tribunal.

Hicks must be returned to Australia by May 29. He will likely serve out his sentence at Yatala Prison in Adelaide. He is gagged from speaking to the media for twelve months and from selling his story to the media. As part of the plea bargain, Hicks withdrew allegations of abuse by US military forces.

The sentence handed down today was reportedly agreed upon earlier this week. It follows a plea of guilty by Hicks to charges of supporting terrorism. Other charges were withdrawn. Hicks is the first person to be convicted by the Guantanamo military tribunals.

Politically, the decision represents a victory for the Prime Minister, John Howard. As concern about the delay in bringing Hicks to trial grew last year, Howard made representations to President George W Bush and expressed his “anger”. Backbench disquiet about the issue will now be allayed. Hicks’s return to Australia will similarly mute the criticisms of other groups. His 9-month incarceration will allow for his release in the new year and remove him from the election campaign prior to Christmas. The guilty plea, whilst seen by some as induced by captivity at Guantanamo Bay, has effectively killed off David Hicks as an election issue.

The Hicks deal has been attacked by the Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown:

“The 12 month gag on David Hicks when he returns to Australia is to save the Howard government from embarrassing truths in the run to this year’s election. Most people will be relieved he is coming home and that the ordeal for his family is nearing its end. The day David Hicks walks out of jail approaches and his father, mother and other family members now have a date to look forward to. But the shame of Prime Minister Howard’s failure to uphold Australian standards will go down in history.”

Senator Brown said he did not believe Hicks’ statement, including his reversal claim that he was not abused in Guantanamo Bay. “This is a plea bargain under coercion. If Hicks claimed abuse or refused the press gag he was staying in Gitmo. So he has agreed to this fabricated statement,” Senator Brown said. “This military commission farce shames Australia. The Howard government has been contemptuous of international and domestic law. But the truth will out,” Senator Brown said.


The President’s Prison: Scathing New York Times Editorial

The New York Times has published a scathing editorial attacking President George W. Bush over his attitude to Guantanamo Bay.

This is the editorial from the New York Times, March 25, 2007.

The President’s Prison

George Bush does not want to be rescued.

The president has been told countless times, by a secretary of state, by members of Congress, by heads of friendly governments — and by the American public — that the Guantánamo Bay detention camp has profoundly damaged this nation’s credibility as a champion of justice and human rights. But Mr. Bush ignored those voices — and now it seems he has done the same to his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, the man Mr. Bush brought in to clean up Donald Rumsfeld’s mess.

Thom Shanker and David Sanger reported in Friday’s Times that in his first weeks on the job, Mr. Gates told Mr. Bush that the world would never consider trials at Guantánamo to be legitimate. He said that the camp should be shut, and that inmates who should stand trial should be brought to the United States and taken to real military courts.

Mr. Bush rejected that sound advice, heeding instead the chief enablers of his worst instincts, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Their opposition was no surprise. The Guantánamo operation was central to Mr. Cheney’s drive to expand the powers of the presidency at the expense of Congress and the courts, and Mr. Gonzales was one of the chief architects of the policies underpinning the detainee system. Mr. Bush and his inner circle are clearly afraid that if Guantánamo detainees are tried under the actual rule of law, many of the cases will collapse because they are based on illegal detention, torture and abuse — or that American officials could someday be held criminally liable for their mistreatment of detainees.

It was distressing to see that the president has retreated so far into his alternative reality that he would not listen to Mr. Gates — even when he was backed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who, like her predecessor, Colin Powell, had urged Mr. Bush to close Guantánamo. It seems clear that when he brought in Mr. Gates, Mr. Bush didn’t want to fix Mr. Rumsfeld’s disaster; he just wanted everyone to stop talking about it.

If Mr. Bush would not listen to reason from inside his cabinet, he might at least listen to what Americans are telling him about the damage to this country’s credibility, and its cost. When Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — for all appearances a truly evil and dangerous man — confessed to a long list of heinous crimes, including planning the 9/11 attacks, many Americans reacted with skepticism and even derision. The confession became the butt of editorial cartoons, like one that showed the prisoner confessing to betting on the Cincinnati Reds, and fodder for the late-night comedians.

What stood out the most from the transcript of Mr. Mohammed’s hearing at Guantánamo Bay was how the military detention and court system has been debased for terrorist suspects. The hearing was a combatant status review tribunal — a process that is supposed to determine whether a prisoner is an illegal enemy combatant and thus not entitled in Mr. Bush’s world to rudimentary legal rights. But the tribunals are kangaroo courts, admitting evidence that was coerced or obtained through abuse or outright torture. They are intended to confirm a decision that was already made, and to feed detainees into the military commissions created by Congress last year.

The omissions from the record of Mr. Mohammed’s hearing were chilling. The United States government deleted his claims to have been tortured during years of illegal detention at camps run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Government officials who are opposed to the administration’s lawless policy on prisoners have said in numerous news reports that Mr. Mohammed was indeed tortured, including through waterboarding, which simulates drowning and violates every civilized standard of behavior toward a prisoner, even one as awful as this one. And he is hardly the only prisoner who has made claims of abuse and torture. Some were released after it was proved that they never had any connection at all to terrorism.

Still, the Bush administration says no prisoner should be allowed to take torture claims to court, including the innocents who were tortured and released. The administration’s argument is that how prisoners are treated is a state secret and cannot be discussed openly. If that sounds nonsensical, it is. It’s also not the real reason behind the administration’s denying these prisoners the most basic rights of due process.

The Bush administration has so badly subverted American norms of justice in handling these cases that they would not stand up to scrutiny in a real court of law. It is a clear case of justice denied.


Howard Admits Mistakes But Defends Iraq Commitment

John Howard has defended his government’s commitment to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute tonight, the Prime Minister admitted mistakes had been made but said that Australia’s presence was essential to bringing stability to the region.

The speech was carefully calibrated to challenge the foreign policy stance of the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd. At one point, Howard said it was difficult to know whether Rudd was “auditioning for the editorial board of The Weekly Standard or as a successor to Michael Moore”. [Read more...]


Rudd Launches Broadband Policy; Abandons Opposition To Telstra Sale

The Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, has announced an election policy which commits the ALP to investing up to $4.7 billion in partnership with the private sector to build a broadband service which will cover 98 per cent of the population and deliver speeds forty times faster than currently available.

Describing the policy as a contribution to “nation building for the future”, Rudd said a commitment to broadband infrastructure was on a par with the commitment to railway construction in the nineteenth century.

Rudd said the policy would be funded with $2 billion from the existing communications fund with the remainder to be taken from the Future Fund’s 17 per cent share of Telstra. This proposal led to a savage response from the Treasurer, Peter Costello, in Question Time.

The Shadow Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner, said the ALP now accepted that it had lost the fight to retain Telstra in public ownership and is now “absolutely committed to building the broadband network of the future”. [Read more...]


Santoro Resigns From Ministry Over Share Dealings

Senator Santo Santoro, the Minister for Ageing, has resigned from the Howard ministry after a week of allegations and revelations over an undeclared share ownership.

Senator Santo Santoro, former Minister for AgeingHe is the second minister to resign in the past fortnight.

It was revealed earlier this week that Senator Santoro had failed to sell off shares in a biotechnology company, CBio, after he was appointed to the Ageing portfolio last year. This constituted a perceived conflict of interest with his health-related position.

Santoro sold the shares sometime last year and advised the Prime Minister, John Howard. He went public with details of the shareholdings at the beginning of this week to head off media disclosure. Santoro claimed he donated the profits from the shares to a charity but it was revealed yesterday that the money was given to the conservative lobby group, Family Council of Queensland, However, the organisation is not a charity. Moreover, its president, Alan Baxter, is the person who originally advised Senator Santoro to purchase the shares.

At a press conference today, Santoro described his behaviour this week as “further oversights”. However, it now appears that he has traded shares in around 50 companies during his time as a minister. He said he had now made additions to his parliamentary statement of interests.

A former Queensland state minister, Santoro lost his seat in the 2001 Queensland election but was appointed to the Senate to replace John Herron in 2002. He is regarded as an important factional powerbroker in the Queensland Liberal Party.

Santoro’s resignation follows Senator Ian Campbell’s resignation on March 3. Three other Queensland Liberal MPs (Andrew Laming, Gary Hardgrave and Ross Vasta) are currently under police investigation over alleged rorting of their electorate allowances. A week ago, an ALP shadow minister, Kelvin Thomson, resigned over revelations he wrote a reference for crime figure Tony Mokbel. This week, Prime Minister Howard came under attack over attending a function in 2004 which was also graced by a pornographer who is now in prison.

This is the text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Earlier today I accepted the resignation of Santo Santoro as Minister for Ageing.

After a detailed review of his financial records, required by me, he provided advice indicating a number of investments not hitherto disclosed to the Senate or to me.

He has written to the Registrar of Senators’ Interests today providing the relevant information.

While commonsense needs to be applied to issues of ministerial conduct including the capacity to accept inadvertent error, circumstances such as those now outlined by him are unacceptable.

Senator Santoro clearly has failed to comply with the rules of the Senate and has not made the disclosures to me required of him as a Minister.

He had no option but to resign.