Leopold: Hicks trial may reveal explosive information about current and former Government officials

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In an exclusive interview with IA, Jason Leopold says that, if it proceeds, the Australian Government’s action against David Hicks to stop him profiting from his book will “…force quite a bit of explosive information to be revealed that would be highly embarrassing for current and former Australian government officials”. David Donovan reports.

Jason Leopold is one of America's most prominent investigative journalists, as well as the deputy managing editor of Truthout. His explosive stories on the Enron collapse, BP, Halliburton, the US Government and a vast range of other public interest matters have been published all over the world, been read into Congress, cited by 60 Minutes and won him numerous awards. Lately, he has been focussing on the US administration of the Guantanamo Bay military prison, particularly the allegations of torture and mistreatment of inmates there. Of particular relevance to Australians, his stories on David Hicks have included detailed accounts of torture and explosive allegations of collusion between former Prime Minister John Howard and former US Vice President Dick Cheney in getting charges laid against Hicks for political purposes, without US officials being in possession of the requisite evidence.

On February 23rd this year, an amazing piece by senior correspondent Barry Everingham on Queen Elizabeth attempting to intervene in Hicks’ case somehow came to Jason Leopold's attention. In a boon for IA, Jason Leopold generously sent a transcript of his interview with the former Guantanamo inmate, which included a shocking personal account by Hicks of the torture he had endured, along with another piece he had written which included details of his interviews with Guantanamo guards corroborating Hicks’ allegations of mistreatment. IA published both of these pieces and we since have been publishing all the subsequent investigations Jason Leopold has published on Guantanamo and the terrifying US “War on Terror”.

Of course, we also published Jason Leopold’s story from last month detailing the evidence of Colonel Morris Davis, the US military prosecutor in the Hicks’ case, who alleged John Howard had called in a political ''favour'' from the US government in 2007 to get Hicks prosecuted. More recently, Jason Leopold provided Fairfax media with a previously unpublished – and undelivered – letter Hicks had written to his father from Guantanamo seven years ago, which was published by Fairfax on Saturday. Finally, it seems Jason Leopold’s investigations into David Hicks are receiving the attention by the Australia popular media they so thoroughly deserve.

And, in The Age yesterday, it was reported:

Jason Leopold, of the internet publication Truthout, says he has material, including documents from the office of the former vice-president Dick Cheney, stating that Mr Howard met Mr Cheney in Sydney on February 24, 2007, and told him the Hicks case had become a ''political threat'' to his re-election campaign.

Leopold, who has not released the documents, says he was told Mr Howard not only pushed for a war crimes-related charge against Hicks, but he refused a US government offer to have Hicks sent home so Australia could deal with him instead.

Independent Australia conducted an exclusive interview with Jason Leopold yesterday to follow up on his investigation into the David Hicks case, and specifically about his evidence of collusion between John Howard and the US Government.

In some of the key points coming out of the interview, Jason Leopold said:

  • Leaked documents show John Howard used his influence to get the US Government to level war crimes charges against Hicks that were unsupported by the evidence.

  • Hicks never pleaded guilty, yet the media wrongly reported he did.

  • The media reporting of the Hicks case has been poor and the Australian media have allowed their hatred of Hicks to interfere with their reporting on his case.

  • The Australian Government’s current action against Hicks to prevent him deriving profits from his autobiography appears politically motivated after pressure from "unknown individuals" and may lead to more explosive revelations.



Independent Australia:  How do you feel about the material in your possession and what it suggests – in broad general terms – about [former Australian Prime Minister John] Howard's interference in the case?

Jason Leopold:Through interviews I've conducted over the past nine months with certain individuals knowledgeable about David Hicks's case and documents I have obtained it's clear that former Prime Minister John Howard used his influence to get the US government to level war crimes charges against Hicks, even though he was told it was unlikely the US government would be able to support the charges with evidence. Howard was clearly desperate to save face having made many public statements characterizing Hicks's "crimes" that he knew was untrue.

What I have found remarkable is how much of the Australian media has, for years now, allowed their hatred of Hicks to interfere with their reporting on his case. You don't have to like David Hicks. In fact, you CAN hate him. But those feelings should not and cannot interfere with a reporter's obligation to its readers to disseminate truthful information. Natalie O'Brien's reporting in the Sydney Morning Herald is an example of what solid reporting on a difficult subject looks like. She followed all leads and interviewed most of the key players and did not allow her personal feelings to influence what was ultimately published.

That John Howard refused to respond to one question she asked of him speaks volumes. The letter I supplied her with, that Hicks wrote years before he was released, provides insight into his state of mind and is clear-cut proof, in my opinion, that he was being coerced. It's a crucial document and I think it should change the public's perception about his case and it may also prove to be helpful in legal proceedings involving his memoir.

I will note – and this is a very crucial point and an example of how disgraceful the reporting on Hicks has been – that Hicks never "plead guilty" to anything. What he agreed to prior to his release from Guantanamo is what is known as an Alford plea. In an Alford plea the defendant concedes that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict, but the defendant still refuses to admit guilt. So when reporters write that Hicks is a "confessed terrorism supporter" that is technically wrong since he did not admit guilt to any charges.

IA: Has there been any pressure from the US authorities with respect to the documents in your possession and when might you be thinking of releasing them?

JL: The documents I have obtained is part of a lengthy investigative report I have been working on regarding a number of current and former Guantanamo detainees, including Hicks. I can't say when it will all come out because I still have quite a bit of work to do and many interviews I still need to conduct. Due to the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers there is a fear that releasing any documents could place certain sources in legal jeopardy.

IA: What you think of the Australian Government's action against Hicks to stop him profiting from his book?

JL:  The case against Hicks with regard to the publication of his book is truly stunning. It appears to be another politically motivated case and seems to have been launched due to pressure from unknown individuals. However, I believe if it does move forward it will force quite a bit of explosive information to be revealed that would be highly embarrassing for current and former Australian government officials. Perhaps that would be poetic justice. I will note that I do not understand how Chopper was able to write a book and "profit" from his crimes without facing a similar charge.

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