This morning came the news that David Hicks has pleaded guilty. We should not be surprised.
After the legal drama in his initial hearing today, David Hicks surely would have reflected on the fact that years after his initial plea of innocence, he was still locked in a cell 1.8m². Any normal Australian, facing a system weighted so heavily against them and broken by five years of unimaginable privation, is likely to have signed a document that would get them out of Guantanamo – regardless of their guilt or innocence.
David Hicks’ guilty plea is not justice served, nor does it necessarily reflect Hicks’ guilt – it is simply further evidence of a rank system, and Australians can smell it from afar.
Almost every eminent jurist and legal body in the country has condemned a tribunal that has more in common with a circus than justice. Australian and international jurists agree this system was designed to guarantee convictions. It should come as no surprise, then, that it has. It reflects a system that is no more than justice on the make – offending basic legal principles of independence and impartiality.
This is evidenced by the shenanigans at today’s arraignment. Hicks’ civilian lawyer was dismissed as he refused to sign a document that compromised his own ethical standards. It would also be highly unusual in any normal court for a counsel to question the presiding judge over their impartiality – as Major Mori had to, concerning Judge Kohlmann’s rulings.
This is what happens in a flawed system where the tribunal, the “jury”, the chief prosecutor, the charges and the plea agreements are determined by the executive branch of government – the same Administration with so much invested in Hicks’ conviction.
The Federal Government should not think today’s guilty plea lets them off the hook. They have diminished Australia by legitimising an unfair system by allowing an Australian — guilty or innocent — to languish in detention for five years, only to face a severely compromised legal process. When John Howard sifts through his mail this weekend he’ll find over 10,000 GetUp! postcards from residents of his own electorate angry at his disregard for basic Australian rights — a sentiment they are likely to carry with them to the ballot box later this year. The key question now is: will David Hicks be home by then and, of equal importance, under what conditions?