Thursday, August 07, 2008

CRIKEY: Karadzic v Guantanamo Bay detainees: two very different trials...

Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, has just been found guilty of war crimes at a military tribunal held at Guantanamo Bay. He could face life imprisonment after a jury of six US military officers selected by the Pentagon found he had transported two surface-to-air missiles in his car which would be used against US forces during their invasion of Afghanistan.

Prosecutor Colonel Laurence Morris was quoted as saying: "We are confident that we can try cases to the highest standards of justice."

Justice? What kind of justice? Did Hamdan have access to all the evidence used to try him? Who was this evidence obtained from? How was it obtained?

In his recently published book, Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law, international law professor Phillipe Sands QC exposes unethical Defense Department lawyers joining forces with neo-conservative politicians to produce the Acton Memo. This document, signed by Donald Rumsfeld on 2 December 2002, enabled interrogators at Guantanamo Bay (and later at Abu Ghraib) to lawfully commit acts of torture in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

Only a week ago, al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj was released after over six years at the Guantanamo facility. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, first detained at age 16, remains in custody. He wasn't the only prisoner sent to Guantanamo as a minor. This 2006 list of detainees shows a number aged in the early 20s who must have been minors when they first arrived at Guantanamo.

Compare this to the procedures used to detain and try Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who led the 1990s war in Bosnia that resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Bosnians of all denominations and that included the establishment of concentration camps and gang-rape of tens of thousands of women. In the town of Srebrenica alone, over 7,000 men and boys were slaughtered.

Karadzic is being tried by a UN War Crimes Tribunal. There have been no suggestions of torture at this tribunal. None of the evidence will be withheld from Karadzic, and he will be free to engage lawyers if he wishes. Compared to the cages in which many Guantanamo detainees (including David Hicks) were kept, Karadzic's prison cell looks more like a 5-star hotel.

At its recent Big Ideas Forum, the Centre for Independent Studies asked five prominent speakers to talk about "Protecting the Legacy of Freedom: The Ideas of The Enlightenment in the 21st Century".

Not a single speaker mentioned the Guantanamo gulag or Radovan Karadzic. Sitting through that spectacle of self-congratulatory pomposity, I couldn't help but think of Mahatma Gandhi's response when asked what he thought of Western civilisation: "I think it would be a good idea".

We live in a world where terror suspects are kept in secret prisons and gulags and tried by military commissions, while war criminals are afforded civilised treatment and a fair trial. Perhaps Gandhi was right all along ...

First published in the Crikey daily alert for Thursday 7 August 2008.