US: Guantanamo's war-crimes process never to be seen as legitimate by rest of the world Print E-mail
 Friday April 13 2007

Secrecy, coercion, torture: This is legal?


The recent case of David Hicks -- the first terror suspect convicted in the U.S. war-crimes tribunal at Guantánamo -- clearly shows that the process is fatally flawed. The military tried to characterize his conviction as the outcome of a ''fair, legitimate and transparent forum.'' The opposite is true. The proceedings were marred by secrecy, political influence and possible coercion.

Gates is right
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is right: The Guantánamo facility for terror suspects should be shut down. Congress should also restore habeas corpus, the basic right to challenge an arrest, to the captives.

Hicks, an Australian convert to Islam, was supposed to be one of the ''worst-of-the-worst'' when he landed in Guantánamo five years ago on the first plane with captives from Afghanistan. Pentagon prosecutors had sought a life sentence for him. Instead, he took a plea deal to serve nine more months in jail, most of it in Australia. Ironically, his guilty plea says that despite months of training in terrorist camps, Hicks fled when the real shooting started.

The deal was convenient for him -- and for the U.S. and Australian governments. Hicks gets to go home and soon will be released. In exchange, he affirmed that he wasn't ''illegally treated'' while in U.S. custody, won't sue the United States and won't talk publicly about his detention for a year. Australia's prime minister wins a political victory at home and is assured that Hicks will not be making negative statements during this election year. The United States helps out an ally and, at last, can claim a terrorism conviction.

The losers here were the bedrock U.S. right to due process, even for those accused of heinous crimes, and our already low credibility for abiding by international legal standards. The way the plea deal was handled -- by the top Pentagon official overseeing the tribunals without the participation or knowledge of Hick's prosecutors -- is even more disturbing.

Whose interest was the Pentagon protecting? Although Hicks initially told a British court that he had been tortured, he later said in the plea deal that he wasn't mistreated. Which was it? Was he so desperate to get out of Guantánamo that he signed what was demanded?

Legitimate process
No war-crimes process at Guantánamo will ever be seen as legitimate by the rest of the world. The problem, Mr. Gates says, is that 100 or fewer of the nearly 400 captives at Guantánamo are the ''hard-core'' who would return to attack the United States if released. Congress should allow detainees, most of whom are held without charges, to challenge their detention with habeas corpus petitions. Those who remain detained should be tried in a legitimate judicial process with established rules, such as that of the Uniform Military Code of Justice. That would be a start to restoring U.S. credibility.