The first military trial of a terror suspect at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was a “charade” played out for the public and media to protect U.S. government interests, Australia’s leading lawyers’ association said Tuesday.
The Law Council of Australia released the scathing report in the case of former kangaroo skinner David Hicks, 31, who is serving a prison sentence in his hometown of Adelaide after pleading guilty at the U.S. naval base on Cuba in March to providing material support to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Hicks, who was captured by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in December 2001, will be released from prison in December under the plea deal after spending more than five years at Guantanamo Bay.
The council sent leading barrister Lex Lasry to Cuba as an independent observer of the court proceedings, and he found that the trial “was a charade” that was “designed to lay a veneer of due process over a political and pragmatic bargain,” according to his report.
Aspects of the plea bargain appeared to be “an attempt to protect the credibility and interests of the U.S. government,” the report said.
Lasry described the proceedings he observed as “shambolic” with “a degree of improvisation by the judge.”
“Much of what was occurring was contrived and being done for the public and media consumption,” the report said.
'The sham is still going on'
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, defended the Guantanamo proceedings.
“Hicks was held accountable for his material support of terrorism while in Afghanistan in the days after 9/11,” Gordon said. “It is entirely appropriate that Hicks is imprisoned in Australia after taking responsibility for his own actions.”
Law Council President Tim Bugg endorsed Lasry’s report, saying in a statement the military commissions, redesigned after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year ago that the initial model was illegal, “could not rise above its flaws to provide anything remotely like an internationally acceptable justice system.”
Hicks’ father, Terry, a vocal critic of the military commission system, agreed with Lasry’s conclusions.
“David is home and he’s better off here, but the sham is still going on,” said the father, who lives in Adelaide.
The Law Council is Australia’s top lawyers’ professional association, representing more than 50,000 legal practitioners.