Originally published March 26, 2007
Later this morning in a small building in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, an Australian citizen named David Hicks will appear before a Military Tribunal. Not to be confused with a courtroom, he will be judged by this tribunal against charges of being an enemy combatant and aide to terrorists. The Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) is closed to the public and press. During this proceeding Mr. Hicks, like the other 13 people scheduled to appear this month, will not have a lawyer present. This is not by choice, but by “law”, as non US citizens tried before a US mlitary tribunal are not treated as regular people, in many, many ways.
It would be inappropriate to tell David’s story without mentioning that he has been charged with serious crimes that could carry a life sentence in prison. It would be wrong to dismiss the evidence claimed to be held by his prosecuters. It would be with bias that I tell his tale without alluding to the fact that David Hicks adamantly opposed US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and visited the region as a participant in the conflict by most accounts, and not an observer.
So we have a man who travelled to a volatile region in the midst of major combat operations initiated by the United States, which did so based on since debunked evidence of a credible threat to the free world. A man who believed in Islam (he may still, I am not sure), who met with (allegedly) terrorists and even participated in training exercises and was issued a weapon with which to fight against the US led forces, at least according to what the US government says. This sounds like a rather simple case, one that could be processed fairly in a court of law with little difficulty or delay.
The wrinkle in the fabric is that David Hicks has been held in various prisons around the world as an enemy combatant for more than 5 years. The first 3 years he was held without charge, during which time he was not allowed access to lawyers, family, or embassaries of his government. David has been incarcerated in Cuba for over 3 years, during a time when allegations and scandal concerning prison conditions, abuse and even torture have been widely reported.
Imagine for a moment any 3 year period of your life. Consider your successes, failures, and every detail in between. Ponder if you will the bulk of your life encompassed in that window of time. Now imagine spending that 3 year period in a 6 foot by 6 foot chainlink cage in Cuba under the careful watch of soldiers who routinely interrogate and even perhaps, torture you. Your reward for this? To finally have charges brought against you by the most powerful country in the world that will not be heard for another 2 years, and without legal representation to boot.
This is David Hicks life…..wanna trade?
I do not presume to say whether David is guilty, innocent or somewhere in between. I only suggest that the process by which enemy combatants are detained and brought to “trial” is murky to say the least. This is not a story of David’s purported crimes, nor could it be, as the people who have brought charges against him, the same people who wear the name of my country across their uniforms, have not fully explained the charges publicly or privately.
Despite all of this, David Hicks will stand before the CSRT this morning without a lawyer and have his fate determined by a group of people not of his country, not of his beliefs, not of his own.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be clear that the spirit of justice and freedom, the spirit my government sent troops halfway across the world to shove down the throats of ever Arab, is sick, and needs tending.
David Hicks was found guilty of a single charge of providing material support to terrorists and sentenced to 7 years in prison, all of which except 9 months were suspended under an Alford Plea.