Friday, March 30, 2007

The Kangaroo Skinner's Trial

It's ironic that a former kangaroo skinner was subjected to a kangaroo trial, but it appears that the United States government has agreed to effectively release Australian David Hicks with a promise not to talk to the media for a year or profit from his story.

His potential 20-year sentence ended up being 7 years, with all but nine months suspended. It looks like he'll be free by New Year's. The Australian government is not pleased with the process accorded their citizen, but it seems that everyone's agreed to accept the minimal sentence to get it over with and get Hicks out of US custody (but not US custody, because if he was in US custody he would be subject to US laws and US courts, which he is not; while also not being subject to international laws or international courts. You can see why the Aussies might take issue with our "process").

The other angle of this story is that congress and the Supreme Court are both likely to substantially alter the Military Commissions Act that the GOP rammed through in the closing days of the last congress. My guess is that when everything is said and done, Hicks' conviction will be erased, at least according to his own government, and the lasting sanctions in his sentence (no profit from his story) will be ignored. He probably also can't be compelled to testify against others because of his irregular treatment, but we'll have to see what the ultimate shape of the rules of evidence is in the tribunals.

My guess is that in a fair court, the testimony of a person who was held in Guantanamo conditions for five years would be considered tainted. God knows who he implicated and why, but a defense lawyer should--in a fair court--be able to raise doubts about the origins of his claims in light of the evidence of torture at the facility.

And this is not to suggest that Hicks doesn't have valid testimony to give against others. That's the problem with what we've done at Guantanamo and other prisons around the world. We have dangerous criminals in our custody; we have evidence that can be used to build cases to keep those people in legal custody for the remainder of their lives in many cases. But we've tainted the elements required to such an extent that we will have to choose whether we believe in the rule of law or the rule of the terrified.

I know where I stand, even if I hate the outcome.

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