This is an autobiographical book, written when David Hicks was 35 years old. He was born in 1975, and grew up in Adelaide, Australia. After leaving school at 15 he began working on remote cattle stations. His experiences in the outback gave him the skills needed to take a job in Japan pre-training racehorses. He became friends with an Israeli adventurer who planted ideas of travel in his mind. Hicks decided he would ride a horse along the old Silk Road to China. But before he could start that adventure, while still in Japan, he began watching news items about Kosovo, where the Serbians were carrying out atrocities against the Moslem population. He became convinced that he must go and help the people of Kosovo. Hicks joined up with the Kosovo forces, who were supported by NATO, but before he got into actual combat, the war ended.
Back in Australia he applied to join the army, but was refused due to his limited education. About this time there was conflict in East Timor, Hicks felt ashamed that Australia was not defending the local population, once again he tried to join a group to defend the East Timorese, but the Australian government took military action, and so he turned his thoughts elsewhere. At this time he began questioning the way politics and religion worked in the world. He made enquiries with his local mosque, and on his first visit he converted to Islam on the spot.
He felt sympathetic towards Islamic culture and customs, but was not entirely happy with the spiritual side.
Hicks decided to start his next trek in Kashmir, Pakistan. As was his custom, when Hicks arrived in Kashmir he talked to locals, dressed like them, visited mountain districts, and read books on the history. Before long he met members of a military wing who were fighting in Kashmir to defend the population; that was a magnet for Hicks. He spent some time on the mountainous frontier with India, but after a year he became disappointed with the internal bickering of his militia who were supposed to be defending the people. He eventually moved on to Afghanistan which he believed was a place of history and excitement.
He travelled alone through Pakistan by train and bus, eventually walking into Afghanistan with some locals. He met various people, and had broken conversations that were not clearly understood as his language skills were not strong. The Taliban were not impressed and they threatened to kill him. The next day Hicks returned to Pakistan, where he stayed for months learning the Koran and language skills. Eventually he returned to Afghanistan to undertake military training.
In Afghanistan there were some 30 or 40 military training camps where Muslims could learn basic army training as volunteers for use in Chechnya, Kashmir, or anywhere else. These camps were run by the Taliban, although most of the men were not Afghanis. Hicks said that Bin Laden visited the camps a few times and made speeches — which he did not understand — in Arabic.
He took a few eight-week courses in military training, at the end of the time he was fed up with it and decided he would spend two weeks exploring Kabul before returning to Australia, then return to Kashmir. But events overtook his plans: September 11 occurred in New York. The problem he now had was in returning to Australia, his passport was still in Afghanistan, and he had little money. The next day he caught a ride back to Afghanistan, gathered up his belongings and documents. Kandahar was in a turmoil, no one understood what would happen next. People began moving to safer locations, believing the Americans would bomb the country. Hicks thought things would quieten down in a few weeks, and then he would get out, but already the borders were closed. Over the next few days he stayed outside the airport, but it was bombed by American jets. He knew the situation was dangerous and wanted to leave. There was now civil war with the US supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban.
While trying to return to Pakistan, he was taken prisoner by Northern Alliance soldiers and sold to the Americans for $1,000 bounty. After five days, he was turned over to the Americans who began beating him and threatening him while carrying out interrogation. This was to continue, in various locations, for the next five-and-a-half years.
From that point on, it was all downhill. The beatings, the solitary confinement, the questioning, the lights on day and night, the air-conditioning set to freezing, the lack of food, the abuse, the shouting, the kicks and punches, the chains, never ended.
The book goes into great detail as to how both Hicks and the other prisoners were abused, bashed, kicked, threatened, and tortured. Everything was done to humiliate the prisoners — for example — forcing them to urinate and defecate in their clothes. The guards employed many different tactics, from solitary confinement in the dark, running noisy engines outside their cages for hours on end, to setting the air-conditioning to freezing and removing their clothes. The Red Cross intervened, but once they left the camp things returned to the usual abusive state. George W Bush insisted that the detainees were not POWs, and so the Geneva Agreements did not apply. They could do what they liked to the prisoners. And so they did.
The Americans wanted to make an example of Hicks, to convict him as a cold-blooded murderer (although it was doubtful that he ever fired his rifle at anyone). The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, went along with the American plans, but after 5 years without charge, the Australian people were getting more than annoyed. With an election coming up, Howard insisted that the Americans give Hicks a trial. The trouble was Hicks had not broken any American laws, any international laws, any Australian laws. He had not confessed to anything, he had not done anything more than military training for some unknown purpose.
So they updated the Military Manual with some new crimes and backdated them (which were later ruled as invalid). Hicks was charged with “providing material support to terrorists”. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed David Hicks was “the worst of the worst”. Yet that was the best they could charge him with; it sounded more like a misdemeanour than a murdering terrorist.
After five-and-a-half years of this treatment Hicks was ready to commit suicide, he was in constant pain, his mind confused, his sanity eroded, he could see no hope for release.
So Hicks pleaded guilty and was given a further nine months imprisonment in Australia in a civilian prison.
There were a number of high-ranking Americans who fought to bring sanity to this case, indeed they opposed the whole system of sham justice. The FBI were shocked by the illegality of procedures, but the outcome was rigged at the Presidential level; in the end it was all political.
It was injustice and manipulation that won, but Hicks had his freedom after six years.
Although this is David Hicks’ story, it details not just his problems, but the demise of the rule of law, the demise of justice, the demise of freedom, the very things the Americans preached.
For a less personal view read: DETAINEE 002, The Case of David Hicks, by Leigh Sales.