The report, in Harper's magazine, quotes a US military officer as saying Hicks' freedom was negotiated directly by US Vice President Dick Cheney and Prime Minister John Howard.Here's a link to the Harpers magazine article. This raises some serious questions for Mr Howard:
“One of our staffers was present when Vice-President Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks' plea bargain deal,” the unnamed officer told today's edition of Harper's magazine.
“He did it, apparently, as part of a deal cut with Howard.
“I kept thinking: this is the sort of thing that used to go on behind the Iron Curtain, not in America.
“And then it struck me how much this entire process had disintegrated into a political charade.
“It's demoralising for all of us.”
A month before the plea deal, Cheney visited Australia and Hicks, who had been incarcerated at the US military prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five years, was a raging issue in Australian politics.Stop press: Howard lied!
Hicks' plea deal surprised observers at Guantanamo for his trial because it was not negotiated by US Colonel Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor for Hicks' military commission, but by the commission's convening authority, Susan J Crawford, a former top official of Mr Cheney's Defence Department staff.
Mr Howard, after the deal was announced, denied involvement in the plea bargain.
“We didn't impose the sentence, the sentence was imposed by the military commission and the plea bargain was worked out between the military prosecution and Mr Hicks' lawyers,” Mr Howard said on March 31.
After the plea deal was made public, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said, “the message has gone very clearly from Canberra to Washington to Guantanamo Bay: don't allow Hicks to be released until after the elections and certainly don't allow him to speak”.
Mr Howard rejected this too.
“And the suggestion from (Greens leader) Senator Brown, that it has something to do with the Australian elections, is absurd,” Mr Howard said at the time.
UPDATE: Alexander Downer constructs a straw man:
He says while Mr Howard discussed the Hicks case with Mr Cheney when he visited Australia a month before the plea deal, there was no direct political interference.Well, d'uh! Howard did a deal with Cheney, then Cheney contacted his protegé, Susan J. Crawford, the senior status military appeals court judge who served as "convening authority" for the case. And she over-rode the lawyers - even the prosecuting lawyer said he wasn't even contacted about the deal!
"No, you can only do a plea bargain of course with the accused," he said.
"Dick Cheney couldn't do a plea bargain, or I do a plea bargain with Defence Secretary Gates or whatever - no that's not how it works.
"It has to be done by the prosecution with the defendant and that is what happened."
Who could have guessed, eh???
UPDATE: Rudd calls on Howard to come clean.
UPDATE: Scott Horton reveals that the staffer overhead the conversation while he was in the office of Susan Crawford, the convening authority of the military commissions. Howard plays the same game as Downer:
Mr Howard said yesterday that the plea bargain did not involve him or the Bush Administration.Well, obviously Cheney DID have the power to do it - all it took was one phone call. Blatant political interference? Exactly.
"It involved a separate judicial process," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.
"Clearly I complained to the President and the Vice-President and anybody who would listen about the time it was taking to bring Hicks on to trial, but the plea bargain is something that was struck quite independently of the two governments.
"There was no deal because he (Cheney) didn't have the power to do it. There was an independent process."
Last night, Mr Horton told The Age that five or six officers had cited the Hicks case as an example of blatant political interference in their work as prosecutors.
UPDATE: Even Hicks' former prosecutor agrees the whole thing was a farce:
Speaking to The Australian, former chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis said he was subject to continuing high-level political interference in his handling of the Hicks case.UPDATE: Downer tries another tack:
"In my opinion, as things stand right now, I think it's a disgrace to call it a military commission - it's a political commission," he said...
Colonel Davis said the Harper's story "made as much sense as any other reason I can think of".
"(The deal) was significantly more lenient than anything I would have agreed to," he said.
Colonel Davis resigned as chief prosecutor in October following a dispute with the legal adviser to the Convening Authority, which runs the US military commissions.
He said on January 9 this year he received a phone call from the General Counsel for the US Department of Defence, Jim Haynes, asking when he could charge Hicks.
He said the date was significant because it was the same day Mr Haynes's nomination for a seat on the US Fourth Circuit of Appeals was withdrawn by President George W. Bush.
The nomination was withdrawn following Mr Haynes's involvement in the so-called "torture memo", dealing with interrogation techniques to be used by US forces.
Colonel Davis said he told Mr Haynes the charges could be ready two weeks after the Manual for the Military Commissions, which defined the offences, had been produced. He was told that was too long.
Immediately after the phone call, Colonel Davis said he received a second phone call from Mr Haynes's deputy telling him to disregard what he had just been told.
"(The deputy) said, 'I went in and took a wire brush to (Mr Haynes) and explained he cannot have those kind of conversations with you, so disregard everything he just said'," Colonel Davis said.
However, on January 31, Mr Haynes called again, demanding to know why no charges had been laid. "He said, 'You told me you'd have charges two weeks after the manual came out. You promised me you'd have charges and I promised other people we'd have charges. Where are the charges?"' Colonel Davis said. He said Mr Haynes wanted others tried with Hicks, presumably to prevent the impression the charges were "a political solution to the Hicks case".
Colonel Davis said Mr Haynes was acting on pressure from higher up, although he did not know from whom.
Mr Downer says he consistently lobbied the US to accelerate the process, but he completely rejects the allegation of improper conduct.Let's not forget that the Howard government repeatedly said it didn't want Hicks brought home at all, because there were no laws applying to his case, so he could not be tried or imprisoned here. That too went out the window when it became politically expedient.
"The Government didn't argue against the process, the Government argued against the time that the process was taking, that is the point I'm making," he said.
"Excuse me if I sound slightly exasperated, but we get Hicks back, we get the process accelerated and now we're criticised for doing that."