Friday, 6 April 2007

Iran takes a leaf out of Bush's legal handbook

Iran takes a leaf out of Bush's legal handbook

Richard Ackland 6 April, 2007 SMH

What's to be made of all these peculiar parallel worlds? The Iranians released 15 captured British sailors and marines who, it is claimed, illegally entered Iran's territory in the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

Some of the servicemen had publicly confessed to this "crime", apologised and said they were treated well, compared to the inmates at Abu Ghraib. Iran claimed all of them admitted their guilt.

There was talk the Britons would be tried. Tehran's ambassador in Moscow said last week that legal proceedings had begun and that the prisoners would be "punished".

No doubt that would have involved fake charges requiring false confessions before a bogus tribunal.

It sounds all too horribly familiar. The Iranians must have adopted aspects of the American model for handling these sorts of detainee cases: release after coerced confessions and guilty pleas.

All of which made the protests of the US President, George Bush, and his collaborator, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, seem hollow. Bush said that Iran's seizure of the 15 servicemen was "inexcusable behaviour". Blair said the manipulation of the detainees into making confessions was a "disgrace" and his Foreign Minister, Margaret Beckett, said it was "quite appalling and completely contrary to international convention".

Quite so.

The "coalition of the willing's" lack of moral authority has been all too obvious. The David Hicks case was simply the most recent in a line of travesties that now sees Iran's laws of war pretty much in tune with our own.

While Hicks was the "Australian Taliban", John Walker Lindh was dubbed the "American Taliban". He was cited frequently by US prosecutors as the benchmark against which Hicks should be measured. Another bit of parallelism.

In February 2003 Lindh, a United States citizen, got 20 years for aiding the Taliban. As he was indicted the then US attorney-general, John Ashcroft, described him as "an al-Qaeda trained terrorist". Eventually the Government dropped nine of the original 10 charges and the case was settled without a trial on the day that Lindh was to challenge in court the evidence against him.

Lindh pleaded guilty to a charge that was not directly related to terrorism, contributing "services" to the Taliban, and the sentence was the outcome of a coerced agreement rather than a judicial determination. Ashcroft described it as "an important victory in the war on terrorism". In fact, the Government case had all but collapsed.

As a result of the Hicks plea bargain, lawyers for Lindh are now petitioning for his sentence to be commuted.

The military prosecutor Mo Davis thought that Lindh's sentence was the yardstick for Hicks, after all there were other similarities: both trained at the al-Farooq camp in Afghanistan, both met Osama bin Laden (Lindh said he found him "really boring"), and both were caught running away from the Northern Alliance.

If the definition of a terrorist is someone who conducts attacks on civilian targets then both Hicks and Lindh were never terrorists: their training was directed towards fighting the Northern Alliance.

Like Lindh, Hicks is subject to a gag order. The big difference in their settlements was that Hicks had a nervous Australian Government making overtures, which gave his defence team the opportunity to leverage a politically acceptable bargain, not with the prosecutors, but with senior officials in the Pentagon.

He still had to go through the usual show trial charade of incriminating himself.

What is remarkable is that a significant number of the major US terrorist cases have been botched by the prosecution. The Frenchman Zacharias Moussaoui said he was guilty of a conspiracy to hijack planes and crash them into the World Trade Centre even though he was in a Minnesota jail at the time of the attack. He got life instead of death because one of the prosecutors was caught coaching witnesses, which the judge described as an "egregious violation of the rules".

It sounds highly Iranian to me.

Nor is the moral authority of the British unimpeachable, as the Blair Government has the stain of the Bisher al-Rawi case on its hands.

Al-Rawi was a British resident born in Iraq who was engaged by MI5 to spy on a London cleric, Abu Qatada. Eventually, fearing exposure, he wanted out of his relationship with the intelligence agency and went to Gambia to help his brother set up a mobile peanut oil factory.

It was there he was arrested after a tip-off by the British, who "rendered" him to the CIA, which sent him to the notorious "dark prison" in Kabul to be tortured. Later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he was kept for almost five years, uncharged. The Americans suspected he had links to al-Qaeda - not bad for someone the British wanted for MI5.

Only last week was he repatriated after a belated request to the US by the Blair Government.

So is it little wonder that protests from the US and Britain about the Iranian capture and detention of the 15 military personnel sounded mournfully vapid.

A fair dose of the responsibility for that has to be sheeted to the debauchery of the civil and military "justice" system in the handling of terrorism cases.