Australian citizen and former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks is now back in Australia, at a cost to Aussie taxpayers of more than half a million dollars just for the flights. But the political cost may be far greater for the current Australian government, when voters go to the polls later this year.
How long will it be before the other detainees at Guantanamo, those without western nation passports, can expect fair treatment?
David Hicks was detained as an unlawful combatant in 2002, and has spent most of the time since then at Guantanamo Bay, with alleged mistreatment the United States government denies. In March of this year, he confessed to vague charges under disputable laws that had not even been written when he was detained, in order to avoid a trial. His deal included less than a year of further prison time in Australia, and an eminently unenforceable one-year ban on speaking to the media , which (conveniently for the current John Howard-led Australian government, fueling speculation the gag order came at their request) keeps him quiet until after the next Australian elections.
Hicks is now back in Australia, and dominating the news down under: it's the top spot on the Australian edition of Google news with more than 600 stories - with greatest coverage in Australia, the UK, and practically every English-speaking developed nation except the United States. Unless I'm misusing the Daily Kos search function, there has been no mention of his transfer on this site. So I'll provide a few of the more interesting excerpts below.
American refusal of airspace and commercial aviation for Hicks made it expensive for the Australian government:
$520,000 one-way - Herald Sun
COSTLY and comfortable, it was an unusual way for a convicted terrorism supporter and one of Australia's most controversial prisoners to be brought home.
The flight, chartered by the Australian Government from Adagold Aviation, will cost taxpayers $500,000.
In a fact sheet accompanying a joint statement, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer confirmed the cost of the charter.
The Government has said it was not possible for Hicks to be sent home on a commercial flight, as the US would not allow him to travel through its airspace or stop on its territory.
The same thing happened back in 2005, when fellow Australian Mamdouh Habib was released from Guantanamo detention - on his case, without any charges. He was refused U.S. air travel and it cost around half a million to fly him home.
Hicks is relieved to be home:
'Elated' to be in solitary confinement in Adelaide - The Age
In Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, where he was held for almost 5½ years by US authorities who declared him a prisoner in the war on terror, he spent most of his time in solitary confinement.
In Yatala Labour Prison, in Adelaide's northern suburbs, he will also be in a small cell by himself, allowed out for exercise for one hour a day before his release in late December - possibly in time to be reunited with his family for the New Year.
Hicks was grateful to be a prisoner of the Australian Government, after years as a prisoner of the US Government, a situation that, in the end, embarrassed both governments.
"In the last 5½ years he hasn't walked in a straight line for more than about 10 metres," [Hicks' civilian lawyer] Mr McLeod said. "Just the actual getting onto a plane and feeling relatively free and being able to talk and enjoy the moment - he has been very grateful for that."
Sounds as though Australian solitary confinement isn't too different from American practice, apart from the sensory deprivation and waterboarding and whatever else the CIA dreamed up for Gitmo detainees:
Harsh home for high-risk inmate - The Australian
HE may no longer be incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, but convicted terrorism supporter David Hicks will hardly be staying at the Yatala Hilton over the next seven months.
Other than when speaking to visitors, Hicks will spend his time in a bare 2mx4m cell without natural light. He will be allowed an hour of exercise a day.
Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services chief executive Leigh Garrett said Hicks would not be held in comfort. "It is stark, harsh and a cold-natured environment with no windows," Mr Garrett said. "You wouldn't want to live there."
He said G Division was designed for punishment, to protect prisoners and as a place "that changes people's behaviour so they would want to get out".
The treatment of David Hicks has outraged many Australians, who hopefully should (on current polling) react with retribution for Howard's government on voting day later this year. Hicks has retracted all claims of abuse as part of his deal, but no sensible person could doubt for a second that severe mistreatment happened.
For me, the most striking apsect of this whole story is what it indicates for other detainees. Hicks has had the advantages of pressure from western governments and intense media coverage (outside the USA, at least). What about the vast majority of detainees? The ones who were not born in western nations and will probably never have their name on the front page of an English-language newspaper.
I'm sure some are terrorists, but I'm equally sure even more were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of them were barely teenagers when they were detained, and now they are still being kept in a bizarre non-American non-Cuban limbo-land facility with ongoing mistreatment, inadequate legal representation, and no trial in prospect.
How long will they be kept there, before enough Americans speak up and make their five-year nightmare stop?