The same day the US formally charged David Hicks with the retroactive “providing material support for terrorism” offence, the Sydney Morning Herald published the most detailed account of Hicks’s torture yet. It gives a very clear view into methods used by the US government to elicit “dependence and trust”.
Hicks’s time in detention has been marked with “silent, disoriented dread”. At Guantanamo’s Camp X Ray, Hicks was woken up every hour by guards. He was not permitted to speak to any human being except his interrogators. Once a week he was allowed 15 minutes of exercise. In his cell, Hicks was allowed to assume only one of two physical positions: sitting while looking straight down or supine looking up. Hicks said he was forced to “say anything” to avoid further punishment.
In Camp Delta, “comfort items” like toilet paper and clean drinking water were doled out to detainees who cooperated with interrogators. Korans, Hicks alleged, were frequently kicked or dropped in the toilet. At one stage, he was shown a photograph of a battered Mamdouh Habib, then held in an underground Cairo prison. He was told that if he didn’t confess to crimes against the United States he too would be “sent to Egypt” for brutal torture.
After 15 months of psychological torture, Hicks signed the following statement penned by his interrogators: “I knew after six months that I was receiving training from al-Qaeda, who had declared war on numerous countries and peoples.” After confessing, Hicks was placed in solitary confinement for 244 days, then later moved to Camp Six – a facility that has been described as a “dungeon above the ground”.
Given the rules governing US military tribunals, Hicks will likely be convicted. Although his confession was drawn by coercive means at Guantanamo, the commissions permit coerced statements. Evidence “in which the degree of coercion is disputed”, drawn before 30 December 2005, is permitted provided it possess “sufficient probative value”. Given all evidence is, by definition, probative, all coerced evidence will be allowed.
This is a situation that some in US intelligence circles have privately wished for since the the early Cold War period. For instance, in 1958 the CIA’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, printed an article by an agent under the pseudonym Don Compos titled, “The Interrogation of Suspects Under Arrest”.
The article begins with ominous advice: “The recalcitrant subject of an intelligence interrogation must be ‘broken’ but broken for use like a riding horse, not smashed in the search for a single golden egg.” Citing methods used in Soviet and Chinese prisons, the article suggested interrogators “control the psychological factors in every aspect of the subject’s life from the earliest possible stage”. Methods like sensory deprivation and constantly changing cell conditions were central to ensuring “a continuing flow of information”. He adds: “Everything possible must be done to impress upon the subject the unassailable superiority of those in whose hands he finds himself and therefore the futility of his position”.
The Compos article includes a sober observation. A coercive intelligence interrogation is “usually incompatible with one intended to produce legal evidence for a court conviction, since statements by the accused may be barred as court evidence on the ground that they were made under duress, during prolonged detention without charge, or in some other violation of legal procedure.”
50 years later, the US created a system where evidence drawn from coercive methods can be used in court. David Hicks – the first detainee to be charged – will be the first victim of this injustice.
Michael Otterman is the author of American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib. His website is www.americantorture.com.