Gitmo and Gulag

My namesake, Canadian terrorism expert Tom Quiggin, takes a look at the Guantanamo Bay trials, and notes their adherence to the principles laid down by Stalin’s chief prosecutor, Andrey Vyshinsky.

Quiggin notes that

According to Col. Morris Davis, who is a former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, it appears that the plan was made ahead of time to have no acquittals, no matter what the evidence was to reveal. General counsel William Haynes is quoted as saying (according to Col. Davis) “We can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? … We’ve got to have convictions.”

As Australian readers will recall, Davis resigned his position in disgust after the only trial to reach court, that of David Hicks, was shut down after the Australian government intervened to secure a plea bargain, with Hicks pleading guilty in return for a sentence that saw him returned to Australia then kept in prison just long enough to ensure his silence for the election.

Hicks’ guilty plea led to his being described by the Howard government’s fan club as a “self-confessed terrorist”. Of course, the same description applies to many of those convicted in Stalin’s show trials, where charges of sabotage and terrorism were a routine part of the rap sheet (as with all show trials, some may even have been guilty, but their confessions prove nothing).

39 thoughts on “Gitmo and Gulag

  1. The point I actually made was that the Lindh case … resulted in a relatively light sentence. Why? Because Lindh was tortured, and US courts don’t like that kind of stuff happening to defendants.

    Utter rot.

    He copped a plea bargain for 20 years without parole. He was sentenced without trial.

    If his treatment was so abhorrent to the US courts (and by implication US jurors), why did he agree to such a heavy sentence?

  2. mugwump,
    As many regular readers of this blog may know, I certainly cannot be accused of “unthinking, knee-jerk anti-Americanism” nor, I trust, can I be admitted to that group known as “the Australian left.”
    Guantanamo, and the legal limbo it attempts to create, though, are an abomination. The idea that you can kidnap (or even legally capture) anyone and simply by flying them to somewhere else you can remove them from judicial oversight of their detention and effectively deny them the coverage of international law is simply and utterly beyond the pale. This was the argument of the USG.
    The idea that anyone supports such an exercise of arbitrary power by a government, for whatever reason, makes me worried about their belief in the role of the rule of law in our society.

  3. Mugwump,

    Wedge politics is messing with your brain.

    You can be against what you see as “the unthinking, knee-jerk anti-Americanism so characteristic of the Australian left” without necessarily supporting the unthinking, knee-jerk pro-Americanism so characteristic of the Australian right.

  4. “gandhi Says:
    March 6th, 2008 at 7:59 am
    People like Jack and Mugwump have already made up their minds to accept without reservation every word of the GWOT claptrap.”

    Perfectly true, gandhi. If David Hicks did not exist it would be necessary for the GWOT-swots to invent him. The wages of trying to justify Gitmo uber alles and dismiss the relevance of the Geneva Convention seems to be an Enegizer Bunny-style doubleplusgood blogspeak.

  5. Nonsense EC. As far as I can follow that (short) tirade I disagree with it. David Hicks would not need to be invented by anyone. He was a bl**dy idiot and one of the real problems was that Australian (or any other applicable) law did not allow for his prosecution for (allegedly) assisting what was (allegedly) a terrorist organisation.
    The fact it did not allow for his prosecution means that he should have been immediately released or accorded PoW status. The fact he (and everyone else at Gitmo) was not so released, prosecuted under the norms of international law for any alleged offences or accorded PoW status was the other problem.
    No need for anyone to invent him. He was all out there on his own.

  6. The hilarious thing about people who complain about “unthinking, knee-jerk anti-Americanism” is the unthinking knee-jerk way they toss around the accusation.

    The not at all hilarious thing about them is the way in which they fail to understand that the policies of the Bush administration which they so mindlessly applaud have done such enormous harm to American interests.

    Remember folks, criticising a pointless war that’s killed 3,000 Americans (not counting civilians or “contractors) and cost well over $1 trillion and counting is anti-American.

    Becaase in their minds, they ARE America. (The especially sad thing about Mugwyump of course is that no matter how he loathes and despises Australia and hates himself for his base shameful birth here and no matter how much pathetic sycophancy he directs at the American far right, he will always remain in their eyes a dirty foreigner.)

  7. Andrew, your thoughts are nicely nuanced and a deftly argued rendition in support of international justice. Sure, Hicks was a young fool, but as you suggest he didn’t deserve five and a half years in an offshore hell-hole as a political prisoner.
    No doubt those who were content to leave him to rot in Gitmo for political expediency, eg. JWH, Ruddock, Minchin and Downer et al., only changed their minds,(too late to save their bacon), when the likes of Crosby-Textor said it was damaging their Party in the lead up to our last election.

    However, when a country joins a coalition that wages war upon an abstact noun, it’s always necessary to have “the other” to focus the citizens’ venom upon. Therefore, I don’t think my “(short) tirade” is quite as nonsensical as you state.

  8. The especially sad thing about Mugwyump of course is that no matter how he loathes and despises Australia and hates himself for his base shameful birth here and no matter how much pathetic sycophancy he directs at the American far right, he will always remain in their eyes a dirty foreigner.

    Whoa there Ian old chap! You’ve managed to exceed even your usually large falsehood density by quite a wide margin.

    – I was not born in Australia.

    – Self-hatred is not my forte; I quite enjoy my own company.

    – I am not a sycophant for the American far right (they’re generally odious and rather bad for business)

    – In hindsight I think the Iraq war was a *bad* idea.

    – Australians are very well regarded by Americans (note to fellow Australian males: American chicks dig the accent)

  9. EC,
    We will just have to disagree on some of that. I have little doubt that JWH thought (wrongly IMHO) that he was doing the right thing – but I would agree that the deal over Hicks was an expedient.
    The focus on “the other” was never going to work when “the other” was one of us – even if “a young fool”. Abu Hamza, or another “other” would have been much better – which is why I feel the press focussed on Sheik Hilali as much as they did.
    A war on an abstract noun is no war at all. Difficult to target a missile at.

  10. “If his treatment was so abhorrent to the US courts (and by implication US jurors), why did he agree to such a heavy sentence?”

    I don’t know, but I’d guess a) to avoid more of the same and b) worse. Why would anyone cop a plea bargain for 20 years? The question is not why he accepted, but why was the deal on offer? This is clearly a difficult conceptual framework for you, so let’s try it analogous terms – what would you say about a deal whereby Martin Bryant was offered a plea to, say, unlawful killing or aggravated manslaughter with a maximum head sentence of 15 years. Would you be asking why Bryant took the deal, or would you instead be asking what motivated those offering it, given the open-and-shut evidence?

    Of course, the Tasmanian prosecutors quite rightly took the view that a public trial for the maximum charge was a necessary step in justice being seen to be done, and that the Tasmanian community was entitled, as far as was possible, to see and comprehend the evidence on what had happened. Justice being done at all, let alone being seen to be done, isn’t part of the Team Bush lexicon.

    But back to the central point I keep on making and you keep on avoiding: torture is counterproductive, even in the severely circumscribed terms of the GWOT. (It’s also obscene and barbaric, but I understand that’s not cutting any ice with hard-heads like you) Logically, then, either Team Bush knows this and does it anyway, in which case they’ve shown that the war on terror is just a decoy for another agenda, or in spite of all the evidence they don’t know, in which case they’ve shown themselves to be crazed zealots.

    Since the whole Gitmo and rendition thing was set up precisely and consciously to permit torture, which is it, mugwump: evildoers, fools or madmen?

  11. “If his treatment was so abhorrent to the US courts (and by implication US jurors), why did he agree to such a heavy sentence?�

    I don’t know, but I’d guess a) to avoid more of the same and b) worse.

    But he wasn’t getting more of the same (whatever that was), he was in custody in the US at the time.

    Since the whole Gitmo and rendition thing was set up precisely and consciously to permit torture, which is it, mugwump: evildoers, fools or madmen?

    Actually, the whole Gitmo and rendition thing was set up under Clinton so the US could pull terrorists off the streets without judicial oversight. The torture thing came later.

    My question to you is: how many terrorists attacks have been thwarted and how many lives saved using information gained under torture that wouldn’t have been obtainable via other means?

    I am not saying torture is right, but that seems like the relevant question.

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