NEWSHAM: Guantanamo diaries

Better Dead Than Red

Next week, Dick Cheney is releasing a memoir from his years as vice president, and he has promised that it will result in “heads exploding” all over Washington. The memoir, titled “In My Time,” apparently contains nothing unexpected to anyone who paid attention during the Bush years: Cheney was always right, torture saved America, and if we made any mistakes, it’s because we didn’t bomb enough countries.

But one of the most reviled figures in American political history didn’t stop there. As reported by the New York Times, which has obtained a copy of the book, Cheney grew frustrated as his neoconservative, unilateral approach to foreign policy was increasingly pushed aside by the administration. He portrays himself as a steady and experienced actor amid a group of naïve buffoons: former CIA director George Tenet’s decision to resign in 2004 was “unfair to the president;” Colin Powell’s resignation after going public with his misgivings about the war in Iraq was “for the best”; and Condoleezza Rice, after having expressed doubt about Iraqi WMDs, ultimately came before Cheney and “tearfully admitted [he] had been right.”

The book, written with the assistance of Cheney’s daughter Liz, has been panned by a New York Times book reviewer as “dry” and “highly selective,” and by Maureen Dowd, who pointed to “cherry-picking” throughout. Such bad reviews, however, aren’t anticipated to be an impediment to its success, if the $2 million advance Cheney received from Simon and Schuster is any indication.

Meanwhile, in Australia, David Hicks is fighting to keep the estimated $10,000 he has earned for his work, “Guantanamo: My Journey.” Hicks, perhaps better known as the “Australian Taliban,” was captured, unarmed and unresisting, in Afghanistan in 2001. He would spend the next six years of his life in the prison at Guantanamo Bay — a “model facility” that Cheney was “happy to note” has not been closed by President Obama.

At Guantanamo, Hicks alleges he was sodomized, beaten, deprived of sleep, forced to consume unknown drugs and subjected to what Cheney refers to in his book as “tough” interrogation techniques.

Besides being subjected inhumane treatment, Hicks was also a victim of the legal ambiguity that reigns in Guantanamo Bay. After finally being charged in 2004 after three years of abuse and ignored Australian requests that Hicks be treated fairly, the military tribunal trying Hicks was ruled unconstitutional in 2006, and the charges were dropped. However, with the passage of the Military Commissions Act later that year, Hicks was charged — ex post facto, in violation of the Constitution and numerous international declarations to which the United States is party — with providing material support for terrorism. Ultimately, Hicks entered an Alford plea — pleading guilty while professing his innocence, in exchange for reduced time — and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

The case against Hicks was unconstitutional and admittedly weak, and the former chief military prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis even said publicly that Hicks’ imprisonment was negotiated by Cheney and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Nevertheless, the Australian government is seeking to confiscate Hicks’ earnings, saying that they constitute proceeds from crime. The intent of such so-called “Son-of-Sam laws” are to prevent criminals like David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer, from profiting from their crimes. But in this case, Hicks is being prevented from being remunerated for writing about crimes perpetrated against him.

By contrast, Cheney is free to keep his $2 million payout. In spite of his admitted roles in launching a war of aggression, ordering illegal wiretapping and authorizing torture, Cheney will likely continue to be granted immunity by future administrations equally submissive to our national security state. Under this administration, accountability is for the foot soldiers, while the ranks of well-connected statesmen like Cheney walk free.

If he’s lucky, Cheney might even be able to retire to the Italian villa he recounts dreaming of for several weeks while recovering from heart surgery in 2010, free to walk its “little stone paths … to get coffee or a batch of newspapers.” Hicks, however, may not be so lucky, and his time at Guantanamo — a “safe, secure, and humane” facility, according to Dick Cheney — may be yet another whitewashed chapter in America’s history.


  • River_Tam

    Fact check for Mr. Newsham – David Hicks was a terrorist and member of both Al-Qaeda and Lakshar e-Taiba who provided material support to Al Qaeda including training others, translating materials, and conducting surveillance, and his sole “defense” is that he claims not to have raised a weapon against US soldiers. Never mind that by his own admission, he was an active member of Al-Qaeda (including personally meeting bin Laden over 20 times by his own count) at the time of the 9/11 attacks. This is all stuff he admitted, mind you, in letters to his parents at the time.

    Dick Cheney is the former Vice President of the United States and did not provide material support to an organization with the stated aim of destroying the United States. It is fitting, therefore, that Hicks was in Guantanamo and Cheney is not. In fact, Hicks was not released because he was found innocent of the charges (he plead guilty, and he had writt), but because Cheney (nice guy that he is) directly intervened to spare John Howard and the Australian government the embarrassment of Hicks’ foreign detention.

    Note: Nowhere in Mr. Newsham’s column does he mention that David Hicks was a terrorist. Instead, he was captured “unarmed and unresisting” in Mr. Newsham’s account.

    • jnewsham

      You can’t “fact check” things I didn’t say. Did I deny and am I denying Hicks’ criminal past? Not in the slightest. (Nor did I say that Hicks was found innocent, which you imply in your second paragraph.) I do, however, take issue with your parroting of the prosecution’s version of events as though it were objective fact, especially the laughable point – one refuted by other Qaeda members, US military counsel, and Hicks himself – that he was chummy with bin Laden. Take those letters with a grain of salt, by the way; in them, Hicks also alleges to have trained extensively with a veritable armory, claiming to be proficient with “ballistic missiles, surface to surface and shoulder fired missiles, anti aircraft and anti-tank rockets, rapid fire heavy and light machine guns, pistols, AK47s, mines and explosives.” But according to James Yee, a former chaplain at Guantanamo who counseled Hicks, “any American soldier who has been through basic training has had 50 times more training than [Hicks].”

      Did Cheney take up arms against the United States? No, but he did violate or order violations of the Constitution he swore to uphold, which is a far graver offense. In addition to that, he has defended the counterproductive use of torture, which does harm America, and he further launched a war of aggression, declared at Nuremberg and other US-backed venues to be “the supreme international crime.”

      Though we seem to concur that Cheney meddled in Hicks’ confinement, I don’t agree with your presentation of the reasons. If he wanted to spare Howard some embarrassment, they could have handed him over to Australia, something that some in the Australian government seem to have wished for: Hicks’ treatment and Howard’s consent to the military commissions system was subject to intense criticism at home, as well:

      Though I wouldn’t dispute the labeling of Hicks as a terrorist (as I did label him among the Taliban), I do think “terrorism” has become an increasingly meaningless word in contemporary political parlance. See and links for a breakdown.

      • River_Tam

        Your sole reference to Hicks doing *anything* wrong comes when you refer to Hicks as the “Australian Taliban” in quotes, and your reference to him being captured unarmed and unresisting are hardly relevant except in furthering the obvious aim of trivializing and/or completely misrepresenting Hicks’ crimes. (Do we care that Timothy McVeigh did not resist at the time of his arrest?). Even in your comment, you suggest that Hicks exaggerated his training, when in fact Yee’s comments are broadly true of every Al-Qaeda operative. Mohammed Atta’s flight training was inferior to every Air Force pilot’s too. More to the point, pretty much every Al Qaeda operative has less training than members of the best military in the world. Al Qaeda isn’t about training – it’s about killing unarmed civilians through asymmetrical warfare.

        Indeed, a reader of your piece would be hard-pressed to explain who exactly Hicks is – and that’s your point, really. It’s much harder to say “here’s a guy who knew bin Laden personally, translated training materials for Al Qaeda, and conducted surveillance against terrorist targets – feel bad for him!”.

        As for the deal Cheney cut with Howard – it was a balancing act between not embarrassing the Australians (who were under pressure to bring him home) and not being embarrassed domestically. The compromise was to get a conviction and then ship him out.

        Your paragraph about Cheney’s supposed violations of the constitution seem to imply that in your twisted mind, torturing terrorists (what I assume you’re referring to when alleging that he violated the Constitution) constitutes a “far graver offense” (your words!) than terrorism against the United States (“taking up arms against the United States”). If this is what you truly meant, you are depraved. If not, I will understand.

  • roflairplane

    A former member of al-Qaeda and convicted murderer doesn’t get to make money for his book, but the former Vice President (who committed the unforgivable crime of supporting policies that the Jack Newsham doesn’t like) gets to make money for his book. And that’s somehow unfair. Is that the point of this column?

    • jnewsham

      The first count is slander – the attempted murder charge against Hicks was dropped – and the second is just saddening. Even Amnesty International has called for Cheney’s prosecution. Just because you’ve grown inured to a political regime that protects its own and reserves accountability for the foot soldiers (see the five whistleblower prosecutions by the Obama administration alone, at least one of them groundless and thrown out) doesn’t mean it’s remotely legal or ethical.

      • River_Tam

        “Even Amnesty International”? Are you living in fantasy land? That’s like me saying “Even National Review thinks that Obama’s doing a bad job”

        Amnesty International thinks that the Death Penalty is a human rights violation, so we can safely say that they’re not exactly a centrist organization on these issues.

        • jnewsham

          No, but you can safely say that they’re not a centrist organization on the death penalty.

          • River_Tam

            Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the gulag of our times”, which demonstrates that no one in the AI leadership has ever seen an actual gulag.

  • Arafat

    Quoting Amnesty International as if it is a reliable source is a sure-fire way to discredit yourself. Might as well use the slop served up by the NYT as source material.

    • jnewsham

      Oh, no! You’ve completely discredited the crux of my argument! Whatever will I do now?

      • Arafat

        My intention was not to discredit the crux of your argument, but to show that your article utilizes highly prejudicial and sloppy source material.

        It follow from this that the crux of your argument is possibly, if not likely, equally flawed.

  • Omar_Mumallah

    Excellent piece!

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