An Australian prosecutor Tuesday abruptly abandoned a government bid to seize the profits from freed Guantánamo captive David Hicks’ memoirs rather than defend the legitimacy of President George W. Bush’s first war crimes conviction.
Hicks, now 36, is the first man convicted of war crimes at Guantánamo Bay. In March 2007 he pleaded guilty to supporting terror by fighting with Taliban against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. His plea came with a deal that let him serve out nine more months of incarceration at an Adelaide prison in his homeland.
At issue in Australia was whether Hicks could lawfully keep the proceeds from his memoirs, Guantánamo: My Journey, published in October 2010. His profits reportedly topped $10,000.
Hicks’ plea agreement included a promise to turn over to the Australian government “any profits or proceeds” he earned by publishing or granting interviews about the “illegal conduct alleged in the charge sheet.”
But once he was released, Hicks disavowed the plea. He also alleged that he was tortured while in U.S. custody.
A year ago, following a federal police investigation, the Australian prosecutor had the proceeds frozen and moved against Hicks in federal court.
The government provided as proof of its case both Hicks’ guilty plea and a transcript of the war court proceedings at Guantánamo.
Hicks challenged the admissibility of the documents as well as the plea. That meant the Australian prosecutor would have had to defend the workings of the Bush-era commissions, which the Obama administration subsequently reformed in collaboration with Congress, saying the current war court gives the accused greater protections.
“I reached the view that this Office was not in a position to discharge the onus placed upon it to satisfy the Court that the admissions should be relied upon and decided that these proceedings should not continue,” said the prosecutor, Christopher Craigie, in a statement published on a government website.
Craigie, whose title is Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, was a public defender who became the prosecutor in 2007 — the same year Hicks was repatriated.
One complication, said Craigie, was that Hicks had made an “Alford plea,” which Australia does not recognize. In an Alford plea, a criminal defendant in a U.S. court case does not admit the act, but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge.
Hicks was always a bit of an outlier in the prison camps — a rare Westerner, a Christian convert to Islam who was described as a one-time kangaroo skinner who ran away from home and joined a jihad in Kosovo.
His 2007 release came under a deal between the Bush administration and the government of then Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch war on terror ally who was facing a tough re-election campaign in which U.S. detention policy at times came up. Hicks was released from Guantánamo before the election, but Howard was defeated.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday that, once the prosecutor withdrew the case, a South Wales state judge ordered the Commonwealth to pay the court costs of Hicks, who afterward declared himself vindicated.
“In a way, I feel that this has cleared my name and I hope now that the Australian government acknowledges that Guantánamo Bay and everything connected with it is illegal,” The Herald quoted Hicks as saying. “I’ve always felt that it’s always been political.”