MADELEINE BRAND, host:
The U.S. military said today that Guantanamo Bay prisoner David Hicks is expected to be sentenced sometime this week. Late last night, the Australian entered a surprise plea of guilty to charges of providing material support for terrorism. He was the first to be tried before the new military tribunals at Gitmo.
Here with us to discuss the case is Michael Ratner. He's head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and his center represents many of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay facility. Welcome to the program.
Mr. MICHAEL RATNER (The Center for Constitutional Rights): Thank you for having me.
BRAND: Do you consider the guilty plea that Mr. Hicks entered last night as a victory for the prosecution?
Mr. RATNER: Well, I think the government will say somehow that this legitimizes the system. But, in fact, in my view, it does the opposite. I mean, they could have tried David Hicks in a regular court for materially aiding terrorism. They didn't. He entered the plea - at least according to lawyers and his father - in part because after five years in the detention facility with no rights, he's desperate to get back to Australia.
And apparently one of the conditions of the plea is that when he gets his sentence, he'll be able to serve it in Australia. And so I think his choices were relatively stark, and in that situation, I think he decided rather than spend the rest of his days in Guantanamo, he'll go to Australia.
BRAND: And it was extraordinary yesterday, two of his attorneys were barred from the courtroom.
Mr. RATNER: Well, that's a real issue here. I mean, getting civilian counsel down to Guantanamo has been opposed by the government from the very beginning. For the people we represent, most of whom will never see tribunals - some 300 plus, 380 plus - those people are never going to be charged. But even those people, it took us two years to get attorneys there. These attorneys, who are civilian and defense attorneys assisting the military attorneys, have had terrible problems.
And in this one, Joshua Draytel, who is one of David Hicks' civilian lawyers, apparently he refused to sign a number of papers that were going to allow the government to change the rules as he went along. And he said, how can I do this ethically, when it may make it impossible for me to really represent my client? So there's been a continuous effort by the U.S. administration to deny real counsel to the people at Guantanamo.
BRAND: Now, you originally represented Mr. Hicks. Is that correct?
Mr. RATNER: David Hicks was my first client. He was within the first group of people who were sent to Guantanamo, and he was the first case really filed challenging Guantanamo. We represented David Hicks, trying to get his right of habeas corpus. As soon as he got turned over to a military commission proceeding, he then engaged both military lawyer, as well as his civilian attorney - Josh Draytel.
BRAND: What does this mean for your cases?
Mr. RATNER: Our cases, as I said, most of them will not go before military commissions, and people are just going to be there indefinitely. What we're waiting on is for the Supreme Court to grant review for the third time to determine whether our clients have the right to go to court and challenge their detentions - their indefinite detentions without trial. And so this has some significance but not really very much, because most of our clients will never face one of these military commissions. The big question for us is can the government hold people in detention in an offshore penal colony without giving them any right to go to court?
BRAND: Well, tell us about the other nine, I believe, detainees who have been charged.
Mr. RATNER: There are now three people who were potentially facing military commissions. One was David Hicks, another is named Kadir and the third person is Hamdan, whose case had originally gone to the Supreme Court when they held the first set of military commissions illegal. The government claims they're going to try anywhere from 20 to 60.
We'll see if that really happens. There's a serious question in my mind whether these tribunals will be upheld because of this issue of coerced evidence. So we actually don't know. Then the next two cases, Kadir and Hamdan, there's challenges filed, challenging the legality of that commission. What will happen in that is very hard to say.
I question deeply whether any of these commissions will ultimately be upheld. In general, sort of this kind of military commissions were used on the battlefield. They weren't used in this kind of situations. They weren't used in situations when civilian courts are opened. So it's actually a pretty shocking statement about American justice, in my mind.
BRAND: Michael Ratner, thanks for joining us.
Mr. RATNER: Thank you very much for having me.
BRAND: Michael Ratner runs the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
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