Howard Wanted The Hicks Issue Dealt With Before Election Began, BushCo. Were Happy To Help Out Their 'Man Of Steel' Down Under
UPDATE : How The Cheney & Howard Intervention In US Military Commission Saw Terror Suspect Charges Drop From Attempted Murder Of US Soldiers To Merely 'Supporting Terrorism'
If David Hicks was still being held in Guantanamo Bay, it would be just one more political nightmare for John Howard as he faces an uphill battle to win the federal election.
That Hicks was electoral poison for Howard was widely discussed in the media in late 2006, and many speculated that Howard was pushing his White House friends to get the issue off table, and out of the media, before he began his 11 month long election campaign.
Howard didn't want Hicks released, at first, he wanted him to face the military commission at Gitmo. Howard himself admitted that he could get David Hicks released from Gitmo whenever he wanted to, but he wasn't going to do that.
But by the time US Vice President, Dick Cheney, arrived in Australia for a controversial visit,
marred by 'Free David Hicks' protests, Howard knew he couldn't wait a month or two more. Hicks had to be brought home, and locked away somewhere, with no access to the media until after the election was over.
According to this story, Dick Cheney was more than happy to grant Howard's request :
The report quotes a US military officer.
"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."
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Hicks is set to be released from an Adelaide prison in December. He agreed to a plea deal in March, where he would take nine months in jail, back home in Australia, in exchange for pleading guilty to the extremely weak charge of 'providing material support for terrorism'.
For years we were told Hicks was an extremely dangerous terrorist, a "murderer" according to President Bush, and "the worst of the worst" according to some of Howard's senior ministers. We were told he would be charged with being a member of Al Qaeda, attempted murder of Australian and/or American soldiers and being involved in the plotting of terrorist attacks. Such a range of charges could have taken months to get through the military commission system. But a plea deal on the greatly reduced charges saw Hicks in and out of the commission in a matter of days.
In the timeline of events, Hicks became a fresh political nightmare for Howard in December, when claims of torture and mistreatment hit the headlines. The pressure on Howard to do something about the David Hicks problem increased through January, with the media filled with past prime ministers, members of Howard's own party and headline grabbing celebrities asking why we were allowing Americans, our allies in the 'War on Terror', to torture an Australian citizen.
When Cheney visited Australian in February, Howard was ready to cut a deal with the vice president to get the Hicks problem dealt with as soon as possible. Cheney returned home to the US in late February and kicked the process of getting Hicks before a military commission, on vastly reduced charges, into gear.
Within a month, Hicks was in front of a military commission, his plea deal was quickly cut and he was heading back to Australia.
The plea deal caused controversy within the legal ranks of the American military because it was negotiated by the military commission's convening authority, Susan J. Crawford, instead of the chief prosecutor, US Colonel Morris Davis, who had previously expressed great confidence that Hicks would go down for his crimes and not surface for decades.
No great surprise that Susan J. Crawford turns out to have once been a senior official in Cheney's Defence Department, when he was secretary of defence during the reign of President George HW Bush, the current president's father.
Howard furiously denied he was involved in a plea bargain for Hicks, or that he had asked Cheney to do him a favour, to get the Hicks issue out of the way before the federal election campaigning really began.
Howard said the idea that Hicks being cut a plea deal and sent home to face an almost token prison sentence (with the all important proviso that he not be allowed to talk to the media) had anything to do with the coming election was just plain "absurd."
But he didn't outright deny that he asked Cheney to get the Hicks issue rushed through.
March 2007 : Hicks Admits To 'Backing' 9/11 Attacks In Plea Deal, Is Given Suspended Sentence
February 2007 : Howard Says He Can Get BushCo. To Release Hicks Whenever He Wants Them To
December 2006 : David Hicks After Five Years In Gitmo : Unconvicted, Tortured, Broken
Dick Cheney Down Under : Inside The "Violent" Protests