Writing in the New York Review of Books, Joseph Lelyveld states that the Bush Administration "came close to asserting the power of the commander in chief to declare anyone in the world, of whatever citizenship or location, "an unlawful enemy combatant" and—solely on the basis of that designation—to detain the person indefinitely without charge, beyond reach of any court."
Australians, through the office of the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues responsible for foreign policy dealings with the US administration, have signed up to this strategy. Howard has acted in our name. Lelyveld goes on to expose the twisted logic of what I call the ' Guantánamo syndrome':
"The five years since the first shackled prisoners were unloaded at Guantánamo have not been uneventful for constitutional scholars, lawyers concerned with human rights, and journalists of an investigative bent. Their questions and discovery motions have shaken loose information, including the names of many detainees, out of a government committed to secrecy. That information has been used as kindling for a slow-burning debate on coercive interrogation that eventually led Congress—nearly two years after publication of the notorious pictures of naked Iraqis stacked and taunted at Abu Ghraib prison—to affirm legislatively in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 that existing laws and treaty commitments barring torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (sometimes called "torture lite") were still binding on American interrogators in what was grandiosely called "the Global War on Terror."
At least the question of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment had been addressed; how effectively is another matter. The Supreme Court has also cautiously asserted its jurisdiction on detention issues, picking apart arguments made on behalf of an executive branch that hubristically called on the Court to stand aside and, essentially, let the President reign. But—as the remaining 395 captives at Guantánamo enter the sixth year of their imprisonment without a single one of them having been put on trial—the question of whether we're prepared to hold terrorist suspects without charge for the rest of their natural lives has yet to be squarely addressed by either Congress or the courts. Decisions on detention issues have been handed down and laws have been passed. Some of these may now be revisited by the incoming Democratic Congress—in particular, the recent Military Commissions Act, which, among other things, denies non-US citizens who have been arrested and held in prison recourse to the writ of habeas corpus. But the question of indefinite detention itself —which might be construed as a core issue—hangs over our discussions like a far-off thundercloud, darkening a little with each passing year and each report of another suicide attempt at Guantánamo. From the standpoint of the detainees, nothing much has changed over the years."
We now have the first so-called 'trial', a pale imitation of a free and independent court process, which saw two key members of the plaintiff's legal team disbarred on day one. Isn't it interesting that the first detainee to be subjected to this travesty of justice is an Australian.
Hicks has plea-bargained in a desperate bid to get the hell out of that hell-hole. Now we have the spectacle of the government and camp-followers claiming vindication for the abusive treatment of Hicks and all the other souls detained at 'the pleasure of the President'.
This will not stand. It cannot be allowed to stand. If it does we are all compromised and the principles of a fair and independent justice system will be irreparably damaged.