We haven’t heard much about ex-Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks since he returned to Australia — thanks largely to the gag order imposed on him until the election is safely out of the way.
Until now, the strategy has worked a treat. Hicks has been out of sight and out of voters’ minds.
Whether the issue still has any traction could be tested with the allegation in Harper’s magazine that US Vice President Dick Cheney orchestrated Hicks’ early release — for John Howard. The piece quotes a US military officer, according to news.com.au:
“One of our staffers was present when Vice-President Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks’ plea bargain deal,” the unnamed officer told 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.”
In a sense, news of a possible interference is hardly a shock. When Cheney visited Australia in February, Howard was very keen to see Hicks’ trial brought forward, and applied pressure to the VP accordingly, noting “I have asked that within the constraints of the separation of powers in the United States system between the executive and the judicial process, the trial be brought on as soon as humanely possible with no further delay.”
Those constraints melted away with surprising ease due to the unusual plea deal orchestrated by Cheney protege and US military convening authority at Guantanamo, Susan Crawford. With the stroke of a pen (literally), and apparently without consulting the prosecution, she wiped out Hicks’ charges (as reported by Crikey at the time).
But Cheney distanced himself from the Hicks process during his Australian visit. “We can’t interfere with that process,” he said. “It’s a judicial process. We can’t influence it. That would be a violation of the procedure.”
He then added. “But I do expect that in the not too distant future that … will get resolved. I can assure you we will be doing everything we can to deal with these matters in as expeditious manner as possible.”
The Harper’s allegations are not a good look for Cheney, who has a reputation for getting employees (or former staffers) to do his political dirty work.
For Howard however, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, speaking as it does of his pulling power with the US. Either that or he offered something in exchange for Hicks’ expedient return. But what?