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Trial and (T)error

The American concept of justice has evolved into something very strange indeed.

Last year, American justice gave us the farcical Saddam trial. Last week, we were treated to another burlesque performance: the trial of David Hicks.

After spending five years in illegal and debilitating detention, the young Australian was offered a deal -- a plea bargain -- to get him off the hook and out of Guantanamo. In return for his "confession," he was sentenced not to twenty years, as originally suggested, but a mere nine months. Probably what he would have gotten had he been caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart.

Any sane person would surely confess to anything to get out of Guantanamo. That the American government, through its ill-conceived military court, would extort such confessions is appalling. Will the same manipulation be employed for the 80 other detainees who are scheduled to be "tried"? And what about the remaining prisoners -- close to 400 of them -- who are not scheduled to go before this cartoon court? They are doomed to remain in that penal colony, simply on grounds of suspicion.

This is not a miscarriage of justice: "justice" here is a total misnomer. It is akin to the malady that infuses our judicial system, so that if we can't convict a gangster for his crimes, we get him on tax evasion. If we can't prove conclusive guilt, we get a plea bargain.

David Hicks will have quite a story to tell, once his enforced year of silence is up. Meanwhile, his case and the others that undoubtedly will follow will be used as fodder for the Bush administration's propaganda machine. "We got 'em!," they will proclaim. Got who? Some hapless individuals who may or may not have been al-Qaida sympathizers, and who, like Hicks, are not likely to be suicidal Muslim terrorists plotting another 9/11.

Let's remember the facts as we watch this play out: Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq has been devastated, and our government is treating us to a little "divertissement" with some monkey trials.

Bring on the clowns.