When a Confession Is Not a Confession


‘Whatever may be the rhetorical responses of the Iranian ‘Government’s critics,’ said John Howard, ‘the facts speak for themselves. The British sailors pleaded guilty.’

Oops! That’s not right. The Government Howard actually defended against critics was his own, not Iran’s, and the guilty plea that vindicated that Government came from David Hicks rather than the sailors in Iranian custody.

It’s easy to get confused. Even as Hicks appeared before the Guantánamo Bay Military Commission, rigged out in a new suit and haircut, a remarkably similar piece of political theatre was being played out in the Persian Gulf.

We’ve all seen the footage of an uncomfortable-looking Faye Turney, the only woman among the British crew. Like Hicks, she wears an unfamiliar costume, provided by her guards in her case, an Islamic hijab. And, like Hicks, she admits her guilt.

‘Obviously, we trespassed into their waters,’ she says. ‘They were very friendly, very hospitable they explained to us why we’d been arrested, there was no aggression, no hurt, no harm.’

A straightforward confession, if ever there were one. So how did Tony Blair, Howard’s great ally in the War on Terror, respond?

‘I really don’t know why the Iranian regime keep doing this,’ he said.’I mean, all it does is enhance people’s sense of disgust. Captured personnel being paraded and manipulated in this way doesn’t fool anyone.’

Well, quite. Yet it’s hard to see why that disgust should apply to Turney’s confession and not to Hicks’s.

‘The Iranian people have treated me well,’ wrote Turney about her captors. ‘They have proved themselves to be caring, compassionate, hospitable, and friendly. For this I am thankful.’

If we suspect (and who wouldn’t?) that these words reflect something other than genuine gratitude, then surely the same scepticism should extend to David Hicks’ recent pronouncements.

Like Turney, Hicks has lauded his captors, praising the guards at Guantánamo Bay for their ‘professionalism.’ His comments are, however, rather more remarkable than hers, given the earlier affidavit he’d signed in which he detailed how these particular professionals had beaten him, rammed his head into asphalt, threatened him with guns, and forced unknown medications upon him.

Hicks has now accepted the charges against him, and even issued an apology.

Thanks to Sean Leahy

But then, so too, have the British sailors. ‘I would just like to apologise for entering your waters without permission,’ says Turney’s shipmate, Seaman Nathan Thomas Summers to the Iranians. ‘Again, I deeply apologise for entering your waters.’

Western politicians have dismissed such remarks as macabre theatre. Yet, if anything, the sailors’ confessions are more credible than Hicks’s. They’ve been in custody only for a week or so. They’re fit and healthy. They don’t seem to have been separated certainly, the footage shows them eating together. They know the British Government stands behind them, and that the glare of international publicity makes it unlikely the Iranians will physically harm them.

David Hicks, on the other hand, made his guilty plea last week after more than five years in Guantánamo Bay, most of it spent in complete isolation. His physical and mental health are poor and, though he’s had little contact with the outside world, he understands that the Australian Government has done everything possible to blacken his name.

Then there’s the question of torture. There are scores of credible allegations about what goes on in the dungeons of Guantánamo Bay and the other US facilities. Most recently, a certain Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri explained the circumstances behind his own admission of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole :

From the time I was arrested five years ago, they have been torturing me. It happened during interviews. One time they tortured me one way, and another time they tortured me in a different way. I just said those things to make the people happy. They were very happy when I told them those things.

Doubtless they were just as Howard and Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock were unabashedly joyful at Hicks’s capitulation.

‘The bottom line,’ says the Prime Minister now about Hicks, ‘will always be that he pleaded guilty ‘ Which is, of course, pretty much what the Iranians say.

Tony Blair, a man with whom Howard usually marches in lockstep, had this to say on the televised confessions:

[It’s] completely wrong a disgrace, actually when people are used in that way. It’s contrary to all international law and convention.

Completely wrong, a disgrace, contrary to all law and convention. If those words apply to the charade in the Persian Gulf, how much more relevant are they to the David Hicks circus?

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