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The View from Guantanamo Bay

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					     News and Views




The View from
Guantanamo Bay
Lex Lasry QC



A
        week or so before the opening day
        of the case of the United States v.
        David Matthew Hicks I imagined
a few lighter moments for myself on the
way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It seemed
logical that Havana, Cuba, would be one of
my stops with some time to hear and learn
a few of those complex Cuban rhythms;
enjoy a quality cigar or two and experi-
ence a culture somewhat different from
the grey atmosphere of Melbourne’s legal
precinct.
    But it can’t be done. You may not fly to
Havana from the US and if you go there         Part of the military area to the bay.
via Canada, as would be required, you cer-
tainly cannot then fly from Havana to the      cheque since 1957 although that tactic
US military station at Guantanamo Bay. So      does not seem to be having the effect he
we did it the American way: Washington         hoped for.
DC; Norfolk Virginia (where you are                If you are looking out over the water,
either in the military or unemployed);         the view is pretty appealing. If you are
Jacksonville and on to Guantanamo.             looking at the camps that include Delta
    The American lease at Guantanamo           and Echo (Hicks is in Echo) the view is
Bay, Cuba, is essentially a Naval Station      somewhat more depressing. For the aver-
which, as it happens, is also the conven-      age US soldier whose job it is to guard
ient place to keep “detainees/enemy com-       the camps, most of the American com-
batants” like David Hicks and Mamdouh          forts are laid on. Everything can be deep
Habib if their access to the US civilian       fried. There is AFN TV — Armed Forces
justice system is to be avoided. Leased        Network TV — from which personnel
by the US as a coaling station since 1903,     are regularly reminded what a good job
Guantanamo Bay itself is a sparkling blue      they are doing and what a great country
stretch of water with somewhat barren          America is. Naturally Fox and CNN are
shores and an American military town of        there too. CNN is perceived as very left
about 6,000 occupants and 600 or so of         wing and some times referred to as the
the detained “killers” as President Bush       “Communist News Network”. And to
described them. Most of the population         service almost every other need there is        Leaving Guantanamo Bay looking
is military personnel with some civilian       a very large supermarket and, inevitably,       towards the military camp.
workers from the Caribbean. Fenced off         a McDonalds.
from the rest of Cuba, I am told the line is       The edge of the bay is punctuated with      Colonel from the Air Force and the Major
mined on both sides of the fence. The last     various forms of accommodation, military        from the Army who looked after us. I
US military death in “Gitmo” (as they call     equipment, its own electricity generating       started to think that there might actually
it) was in the early 1990s from an explod-     plant (which regularly breaks down) and         be a few supporters for the Democratic
ing land mine. Fidel Castro wants the area     a de-salination plant. The water is close to    Party down there from the way they
back but the US is not keen. Gitmo has         undrinkable. And if that was not enough,        talked, although I think it was for show.
a new use since 11 September 2001 and          there is an open air theatre (regularly         The more Stephen Kenny went on US tel-
the detention or interrogation camps have      screening “A Few Good Men”) and a               evision and criticised the place, the mili-
become the main purpose for its existence      swimming pool. Apparently the scuba div-        tary commissions and the US government,
in this violent 21st century.                  ing is exceptional but it is not my thing.      the friendlier and more helpful our escorts
    Indeed, Fidel has wanted this area             A striking feature of our visit, at least   became. It was quite disarming.
back at least since the 1950s and it is said   for me, was the almost overwhelming                And then there is Dan Mori. He
that he has not cashed a lease payment         hospitality shown to us by the Lieutenant-      has been here — we have met him in

54
Melbourne. This man is an emotional and
physical dynamo. He is always moving. He
talks with his whole body and his enthusi-
asm for the defence of the Hicks case is at
such a high level that some people won-
der how he can survive in the US Marine
Corps. He will survive.
   High on the hill above Guantanamo
Bay under a huge American flag is the
military commission building. Anyone
who gets sensitive to the idea of firearms
near a court room should never go near
this place. My report to the Law Council
of Australia carries the detail of what hap-
pened on 25 August 2004. Interestingly,
perhaps incongruously, the motto for the
“Joint Task Force Guantanamo” which
appears over the doorway of the military
commission is “Honor Bound to Defend
Freedom”. David Hicks has been incarcer-
ated for nearly three years without trial.
   So far there is a hero in all this. It is
not the lawyers or the observers — it’s
Terry Hicks. He has changed attitudes in
Australia by his determination to support
his son and by his raw courage in track-




ing down information in Pakistan and
Afghanistan. Terry Hicks is a knockabout
Australian who loves footy and loves his
son. His sustained straightforward cam-
paign against the injustice being done to
his son is inspiring.
   In the meantime, the nearest I came to
those Cuban rhythms was the music from
Cuban radio just across the land-mined
fence — I couldn’t speak the language but
I enjoyed the music.
   And let’s not get too smug about the
US. Camps Delta and Echo remind me of
home — where we keep the refugees.

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