It is appropriate that a person from Australia, home of the kangaroo, should be the first one dragged before the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. David Hicks, imprisoned there for more than five years, pleaded guilty last week to providing material support for terrorism.
Hicks offers us a glimpse into the Kafkaesque netherworld of detentions, kidnappings, torture, and show trials which are now, internationally, the shameful signature of the Bush administration. Hicks’s passage through this sham process affords us all an opportunity to demand the closure of Guantanamo and an end to these heinous policies. The government may soon find the political will to shutter the prison, with George Bush’s lame-duck status, the Democratic takeover of Congress, the possible departure of Guantanamo’s archdefender and architect, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and, if recent reports are true, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s desires to close the prison. These bogus military-commission trials amplify global contempt for the Guantanamo prison.
The Pentagon claims that Hicks was in Afghanistan fighting against the U.S., and was apprehended by the Northern Alliance in late 2001 while fleeing to Pakistan. After he was transferred to U.S. military control, he was moved around various detention facilities and, he says, brutally beaten and sodomized. By January 2002, he was in Guantanamo, where he was subjected to repeated interrogations. He witnessed other prisoners being beaten and terrorized with dogs. He was at times kept in total darkness, at times in continual bright light (he has grown his hair to chest length so he can cover his eyes to allow him to sleep). He had no access to a lawyer for more than a year or knowledge of the charges against him. Others, those lucky enough to have lawyers or to have been released, tell similar tales of continual cold, of desecration of the Koran, and of sexual humiliation designed specifically to torture Muslim men.
During his five years of detention, people fought for Hicks. His father, Terry Hicks, traveled to the U.S. He donned an orange jumpsuit like his son was forced to wear, and stood in a 6-by-8-foot cage on Broadway in New York while fielding questions from the press.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court, the body that appointed Bush president in 2000, agreed that the prisoners must have some access to a court under habeas corpus, the right to challenge one’s imprisonment. This central tenet of Western law, established in the Magna Carta in 1215, has been thrown out the window, along with the Geneva Conventions, by Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Gonzales, and others.
Guantanamo has sparked one of the United States’ major growth industries: protesting against Guantanamo. From campuses to churches, the anger has driven regular citizens to action. Cindy Sheehan and members of the Catholic Worker Movement actually went to Cuba and marched overland to Guantanamo to challenge the illegitimate prison and its jailers in person.
Even in Hicks’s brief moment in the controversial “trial,” the government did what it could to strip him of what few rights they claim he has. The presiding military judge, Marine Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, dismissed his civilian lawyer, Joshua Dratel, and a Navy Reserve attorney, Rebecca Snyder, who was assisting Hicks’s government-appointed attorney. Hicks was stunned, and at first refused to plead. Hours later, after the trial was reconvened, he pled guilty to his one remaining charge. Having no hope for a fair trial, he reportedly believed that pleading guilty would allow him to serve his sentence in Australia — his only hope of escaping Guantanamo.
There are still more than 380 prisoners at Guantanamo. Almost none have been charged. Those ultimately charged with murder could be sentenced to death by the military commission. The decider of the death penalty after appeals are exhausted is none other than George Bush, who, as governor of Texas, oversaw the most active death chamber in the United States. Back then his lawyer was Alberto Gonzales.
The U.S. attorney scandal is threatening to take down Gonzales. But it is his condoning of torture from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib that should seal his fate.
The grim Guantanamo experiment is reaching its climax. The house of cards that has been erected to support this immoral, criminal enterprise is poised to collapse. Call, shout, sit down, march, donate, write, protest ... demand that Guantanamo be closed.
Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.