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Dec 16, 2010

David Hicks: responding to the critics

On Sunday, December 12, the Sun Herald printed an article that falsely claims that i have broken my silence "for the first time". At no time did I agree to an interview with the Sun Herald. At this time I have still never given an interview to any media, writes former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks.

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On Sunday, December 12, the Sun Herald printed an article that falsely claims that I have broken my silence “for the first time.” At no time did I agree to an interview with the Sun Herald. At this time I have still never given an interview to any media.

I provided the Sun Herald with an opinion piece that I had written independently a few weeks previously, which I understood they would print as I had submitted, apart from agreed upon standard editing. The opinion piece comprehensively addresses the criticisms of my recently released book, Guantanamo: My journey.

However, the final article that went to print was edited to resemble a question-and-answer interview that I did not take part in or agree to. It was also edited out of context and contained additional material that replaced my own. Below is my original opinion piece. A comparison between my article and the Herald’s will show the differences.

The original article:

Before my book was released, and since its publication, there has been a lot of interest from various media sources for me to do a televised interview. I have received some criticism for not accepting these offers, and been accused of cowardice, fear or having something to hide.

The straight forward answer to these unreasonable accusations is that after spending six years in isolation with little human contact, contact often hostile and abnormal, the most comfortable way for me to communicate is by writing in the privacy of my home. I have attempted with some effort to speak on TV but I cannot control the interfering emotions. The lights, cameras, and being the focus of an interview is reminiscent of a Guantanamo interrogation.

Two exceptions to this rule have been appearing on the GetUp! website and recently on Q and A. These segments were filmed in quiet and privacy, and yet I struggled to get through them. As a result of my reaction to being interrogated, I have chosen not to do an interview for now. This is why I chose to write a book, and address any criticisms as an opinion piece.

In the days and weeks of my book being published I watched the response and reviews with interest. A number of authors of reviews that trickled out after some initial criticisms admitted they had not  read my book but just relied on those first few opinions. These critics are a small group that do not reflect the personal feedback I have received or the response from the public at large who have actually taken the time to read my book. I have had people approach me in tears and thanking me for sharing my life with them.

I have written this article to address some of the points raised in the reviews that have been critical of my book.

Near the end of 1999, I had never met a Muslim person before and knew nothing about the religion, so is it really that surprising that I would use the yellow pages to find a local mosque? Adopting Islam on that first day that I entered a mosque was a young person searching for a place to belong. To become a Muslim, or to be accepted as one, takes no more time or effort than saying a few words. It is not a difficult or daunting task.

My motivation was not a religious search for spirituality; it was more a search for somewhere to belong and to be with people who shared my interest in world affairs. In my youth I was impulsive and unfortunately many of my decisions of that time are a reflection of that trait, which I reflect upon in the book.

Appallingly, an early article suggested I was implicated in some way in the deaths of two children. Even a casual reading of my book clearly explains that it was in fact Indian military personnel that shot and killed those innocent children. The book details how I actually risked my life to attend one of these victims and carried them to safety. No reasonable reading of my book could give the impression that I was remotely responsible for the death of these children.

I have never been responsible for the death or physical harm of any human being. Civilians being targeted by Indian security forces along the border was a common occurrence during my time in Pakistan, and is an example of why they were being protected and defended. Unfortunately the situation has still not changed and today some of the biggest protests by the Kashmir people in years against state violence and the right to determine their future have been occurring in the Indian administered parts of Kashmir.

It has also been suggested that I visited Osama Bin Laden camps. There were three or four camps under the name of ‘Camp Farouk’ at that time in Afghanistan. This has been explained by independent journalists, such as Jason Burke, not just me. As I explain in the book, I attended the open mainstream camp, not terrorist camps. I would not have been there if there was any suggestion of terrorist activity or the targeting of civilians.

How would a white boy new to Islam, who didn’t understand local customs or languages, largely uneducated in the ways of the world, get access to such supposedly secret camps planning acts of terror? If someone like me could so easily gain the trust needed to access such places it begs many questions about intelligence agencies that spend a fortune training people to infiltrate them and gain information about them.

If it was so easy for me to infiltrate these secretive groups, how much did our governments know about terrorist operations before they occurred? I think terrorists would have been much too security conscious to let an amateur, uneducated and naïve boy bluff and blunder his way into their inner terrorist circles.

The camps I attended were not Al-Qaeda, and I did not learn or hear about such an organisation until my arrival in Guantanamo Bay. Firstly, how can anyone make such an assumption when they were not in Afghanistan at the time that I was? Most importantly, it has never been proven that they were al-Qaeda camps because I was never given a trial. The journalists who allege I was associated with Al Qaeda are relying on the same politicians who claimed all GTMO detainees were the world’s ‘worst of the worst’ and the same people who said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

There is also an accusation that I was offered a suicide mission. That never happened. In 2004 Major Mori came to visit me in GTMO and showed me a TV interview of an interrogator who claimed I was a high value asset because I was a literal ‘treasure trove’ of information about Al-Qaeda, no torture was necessary to get me to cooperate, and in the same interview he mentioned for the first and only time this suicide story. This US soldier claimed he learned such information by personally interviewing me.

Mori asked if I recognised this man and I didn’t. Mori did some investigating and discovered that this individual was in fact the head of an interrogation team, but had never personally met with any detainees, let alone me. It turned out this interview was just a propaganda piece on behalf of the US to demonize me, which they did to all detainees at one point or another to try and justify holding us without charge. The accusation is false and was resolved a long time ago along with many other ‘stories’ that are still occasionally cast as factual, though not as often now. I was never even accused, let alone charged, tried or convicted, of being involved in a proposed suicide mission.

The critics like to confuse the intentions of my return to Afghanistan after September 11th. When I left Afghanistan for Quetta in Pakistan in early September I planned to stay in Pakistan for only three or four days so as to begin the process of organizing a visa and airfare to get back to Australia. The plan was to return to Afghanistan where I planned to spend the approaching month of Ramadan.

This is why I left my passport and everything behind in Afghanistan; I had every intention of returning. My plans were to return to Pakistan once Ramadan was over, this time with all my belongings, leaving Afghanistan behind for good, and hoping that everything was ready on arrival in Quetta so I could continue on to Australia as soon as possible. Needless to say those plans were unexpectedly interrupted.

Travelling to Kandahar from Quetta is like driving from Sydney to Wollongong, and remember, border crossings were not monitored. Had I travelled directly into the main centres of Pakistan without returning to Afghanistan first it would have been equivalent to driving from Sydney to Adelaide. Had I made that journey I would never have seen my passport or belongings again. It made sense at the time in that environment to make the two to three hour journey to Kandahar to collect my documents while I was still so close and because of the confusion following the September 11 attacks.

It was never my intention to return to Afghanistan to fight US or Australian troops, and I never did. US and Australian troops did not deploy on the ground in Afghanistan till long after I had gone.

Another section of my book for which I have been criticised is where I say, ‘Any and all inconvenience … brought about … was at the hands of others’. That is not an attempt to dismiss myself of any responsibility. I take full responsibility for naively travelling to dangerous locations and understand the US wishing to talk with me for a day or two.

But were it not for my rendition, my illegal imprisonment, the years of detention without a fair trial and the fact that I was used as a political scapegoat, no one would have ever heard my name. There would be no book, and you would not be reading this now. I would have ended up back in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, with a 9-5 job, just one of many unknown faces in a crowd.

I have also been criticized for not explaining the training I received in Afghanistan in enough detail. Such description was in earlier drafts, along with Kosovo and Kashmir as well, but I ended up editing it out and decided the eventual manuscript was sufficient. I could not imagine the public wanting to wade through pages of descriptions such as how I learnt to smear mud on my face and to camouflage a uniform, or basic map reading, using compasses, taking back bearings etc.

I didn’t think the audience wanted to be bored with the way in which we all had to build up strength, stamina, and endurance day after day by marching with increasing weight in a back pack, marching further and further accompanied with less rest stops, less sleep, and less food and water. One critic even doubted I did any sport orientated training in Kashmir, whereas in reality fitness was the main focus everywhere I went. If someone is really that interested in what basic military training consists of, the outline can be found in any country’s military training manuals or on the internet.

In my case, the training always centred around the conditions in Kashmir, Chechnya and other conflicts of that nature, where soldiers engage soldiers in guerrilla or conventional warfare; situations very far removed from acts of terrorism such as bomb making or high jacking or targeting civilians. If that was the training one was looking to receive they would have to have been in places other than where I was.

I wonder whether the critics who spent eight years painting a particular picture of me have been exposed to scrutiny and challenge now that I have given them a painting different to their own. They want my book to contain stories and information which just does not exist; they want me to claim something that just never happened. I don’t reflect their images or fit their long created fictional character.

Discrediting me and my book seems to be their solution. I just have to accept that some people will respond in this way. There are so many good books and reports out there that explain what was happening on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan while I was there; all I can do is suggest that anyone who wishes to write upon the subject or have an educated opinion is to take the time to do the research and some serious reading. I have tackled this subject in some detail in my book.

I have observed an interesting blanket of silence around the part of my book describing my treatment in Guantanamo. My story from a journalistic viewpoint must be a boring, un-s-xy truth. After five and a half years of interrogation in a lawless world, if I had actually injured someone, attempted to, even just being taught bomb making with no target in mind, don’t you think I would have been charged, shipped off to court, prosecuted and made an example of? It never happened.

New retrospective laws and commissions had to be created. And when the Australian government repeatedly said I had never broken any Australian law, are we to assume that Australian law is so inadequate that Australian citizens can travel the world being involved in terrorism and or murdering people? Of course not. Australians are responsible for their activities overseas and crimes as heinous as terrorism are covered by Australian legislation.

I did not break any Australian laws, which should be seen as bizarre considering the seriousness of the allegations against me, and all the more so because I also did not contravene any US or international law. Anyone who thinks the laws of the world are so inadequate that terrorists can run free and murder should ponder what they are saying. There are many courts and international tribunals that deal swiftly with terrorists, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Thank you for your time and I hope you find the opportunity to read my book because it is not just about me: there are still more people illegally imprisoned in Guantanamo without charge or trial. My book also has an important message that boils down to this: an aim to prevent an Australian citizen being held indefinitely again in the future, being treated inhumanely, tortured, and being subjected to ‘second class justice’, in the words of the US.

This is why no US citizen was exposed to military commissions, combatant status review tribunals, or even sent to Guantanamo. If nothing is done and we don’t learn from the experience Australian citizenship will remain cheap abroad and be disrespected, and it will certainly happen again. Maybe to someone you love.

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30 thoughts on “David Hicks: responding to the critics

  1. ninetenthsofthelaw

    Thanks for writing this David, thanks for posting this Crikey.

  2. zut alors

    ‘There are many courts and international tribunals that deal swiftly with terrorists, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.’

    Unfortunately, Mr Hicks, not one of these jurisdictions has yet caught up with George Bush, Tony Blair or John Howard.

    Thanks for this well measured response to your critics but, please, in future don’t put any effort or faith in lowlife publications such as The Sun Herald.

  3. Kevin Cox

    Your response is mature, considered and the right way to address the situation in which you have found yourself. Keep it up.

  4. Rena Zurawel

    The most intriguing part is, that there are still people criticising David. Where they too scared to criticise the Australian government for the abuse of Australian citizen’ rights?
    And now, Australian citizens in foreign countries’ uniforms – shooting Australian citizens on international waters- do not attract the attention of David Hicks’ critics.
    David, whoever criticises you for whatever … is a bloody twit and a coward..

  5. David

    David may I respectfully suggest whenever you a e dealing with the MSM, have your lawyer present at all times, draw up a contract and sue the bastards if they try that slimy trick again.
    Thanks for clearing the matter up, I am not surprised at the Heralds actions they are as bad as
    Murdochs sleeze bag publications.

  6. Tamas Calderwood

    Tell me David, do you also take responsibility for taking up arms to fight for the Taliban?
     
    The Taliban prohibited employment and education for women, they executed homosexuals by burying them alive, publicly shot women for adultery, chopped off the hands of thieves, banned music and enforced a generally barbaric system of rule.  They also helped the terrorists that murdered three thousand people in downtown New York City and Washington DC.
     
    Why did you fight for them David?  Do you admit that it was wrong to do so?
     

  7. w9241

    Great article. Thank You.

  8. plonk oclock

    First thing, David, the correspondent whose name appears above this post is widely known by Crikey subscribers for his ridiculously long-winded, misinformed and pompous offerings. While you a probably just a little bit accustomed to such drivel, take no notice, no-one else does.

    On a lighter note, thank you for this piece. I will be reading your book this Christmas.

  9. nicolino

    Injustice prevailed with David Hicks even down to the cowardly Australian Government’s handling of this infamous episode. They run scared of the Yanks every time.

  10. zut alors

    Nicolino: ‘They run scared of the Yanks every time.’

    You make a valid point. And it raises the question: is the Australian government more intimidated by the USA than by potential enemies? Appears to be so.

  11. MLF

    Does David Hicks deny the accuracy of reporting (copied below) as appeared in The Australian in December 2007? It is an abomination if what is recorded below as being written by David Hicks himself is actually a fabrication, and I imagine a mighty lawsuit would be in order if so. Link to file: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/defence/in-david-hickss-own-words/story-e6frg8yx-1111115167069

    ***

    A range of letters written by David Hicks in 2000 after training in Pakistan.

    Dear family I spent around three months in a muslim military training camp in the mountains.I learnt about weapons such as ballistic missiles, surface to surface and shoulder fired missiles, anti aircraft and anti-tank rockets, rapid fire heavy and light machine guns, pistols, AK47s, mines and explosives. After three months everybody leaves capable and war-ready being able to use all of these weapons capably and responsibly.

    That night we crossed the LOC (thought to be Line of Control in Kashmir) four people each with rocket propelled grenades 200m from a bunker holding two soldiers. I hope one (soldier) was the same one who killed the two civilians. (from an incident earlier witnessed in which Indian soldiers killed civilians)

    There is a very heavy war in the north (of Afghanistan) I have arranged to go to the front. Slowly I am becoming a well trained and practical soldier. As a muslim we believe in destiny that when it is my time then so be it. If it is my time that is called martyrdom I will always fight for Islam.

    The Christians and Jews are fighting the Muslims. As a practicing Muslim with military experience I can go to help in any of those conflicts contacts are not a problem.

    In letters to his mother Sue King in October and November 2000:

    There is one thing I wish to explain about jihad the non-believers, Jews and Americans in the western world are determined to prevent it to come back again. Jihad is still valid today and will be for all time. The West is full of poison. The western society is controlled by the Jews with music, TV, houses, cars, free sex takes Muslims away from the true Islam keeps Islam week and in the third world.

    Real jihad is possible just like before in the Prophets day where martyrs die with a smile on their faces and their bodies stay smelling of beautiful perfume for weeks after death.

    The West lives in the dark in a narrow sort of living. Allah will use his servants to punish non-believers in this world.

    As a Muslim young and fit my responsibility is to protect my brothers from aggressive non-believers and not let them destroy it. Islam will rule again but for now we must have patience we are asked to sacrifice our lives for Allahs cause why not? There are many privileges in heaven. It is not just war it is jihad.

    We must do this because we are forced simply because the West knows how strong Islam is when practiced.

    One reward I get in being martyred I get to take ten members of my family to heaven who were destined for hell

    But first I also must be martyred. We are all going to die one day so why not be martyred?

    As a post script: If I do get martyred that is what I want. If Dad rings and says that, you know that your son is dead, say congratulations. Allah will help just let him know that you are happy about it.

    The only true Muslims are those fighting.

    I am now very well trained for jihad in weapons some serious like anti-aircraft missiles.

    The Jews have complete financial and media control many of them are in the Australian government.

    On the Middle East (in letters in late 2000):

    The Western World has mastered the art of propaganda global ignorance stresses me at times.

    The Muslim world is ready for war but not the governments. (talking about Muslims going to Iraq before the war though) It is exciting and promising but it is not the answer. The other governments are worried about losing their luxurious lifestyles and wont take serious action.

    In a letter in May 2001:

    I have told you about the non-Muslims they send a lot of spies here especially to Osama Bin Ladens Arab organisation which is where I am.

    One way to get around (the spies) is to direct a letter to Abu Muslim Australia I have met Osama bin Laden about 20 times he is a lovely brother the only reason the West call him the most wanted terrorist is because he got the money to take action.

    Im going back again (to afghan) and this time with the Arabs direct to the Arab camps. So I will get to meet him (Osama) again. There is a group of us going.

    There are a lot of Muslims who want to meet Osama Bin Laden but after being a Muslim for 16 months I get to meet him.

  12. Malice In Wonderland

    I can only add my voice to the chorus of “thanks” already expressed in the comments.

    Thank you for taking the time to clarify that which I had already suspected. I have always supported you. Not because I knew you weren’t guilty of any crime, but simply because you at least deserved the rights we are ALL promised as citizens of this country… a fair go and a fair trial.

    So glad you finally came home and hope that in these intervening years you’ve been able to cobble a life for yourself after the trauma you suffered. You deserve that at the very least.

  13. rob ekstein

    It is good to finally read your own words posted above David, which are coherent and lucid. It confirms what I have long suspected about the veracity of the “official government line”. I will make your book my Xmas present to myself, and to my children, so hopefully the next generation understands how dangerous it is to let politicians and government agencies go unchallenged in matters of civil and legal rights.

  14. JDF

    Dear David Hicks,

    I actually don’t know what to say. I just wanted to sit here for a while near you. Thanks!

    JDF

  15. Smith

    @ Tamas Calderwood
    Tell us Tamas, do you take responsibility while Australia and our allies take part in an invasion on Iraq and Afghanistan?
    I guarantee that the amount of innocents murdered in these countries are a hundred fold of what happened in the US.
    David probably was in the same position as you are now, with his head stuck firmly in the sand…

  16. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Having read the link to the Australian newspaper (thanks MLF, above) I await some sort of response from David Hicks. If he cannot or will not disown the contents of the supposed ‘letters home’ then how to explain the disconnect? Sometimes he’s a soldier, sometimes he’s just a naughty boy and a showoff. If all of it is ‘true’ then half an explanation isn’t enough.

  17. WRE

    Cannot believe so many idiots actually have sympathy for someone who stands weapons of war in their hands and allows photos to be taken. As for the people who hold the weapons of war – may they be damned forever!

  18. zut alors

    @WRE: ‘Cannot believe so many idiots actually have sympathy for someone who stands weapons of war in their hands and allows photos to be taken. As for the people who hold the weapons of war – may they be damned forever!’

    And I assume you’re including Tony Abbott in that?

  19. WRE

    @Zut Alors – huh??? – hicks..the man who wanted to play with guns now expects eveyone to believe he was what……

    What does Abbot or any other politician have to do with that.

    Keep it to the subject my friend or is it to simply cloud the issue here. No one going to buy that pal.

  20. David

    WRE who is your current pinup boy?

  21. Rhona Johnson

    David; I have read your book and it made me ashamed of the then Howard government, however, the current government would probably have done the same when you consider how julian Assange is being treated. As far as I can see, from your book, all you did was what thousands of young people do every year and that is – travel in search of adventure – where is the crime in that?
    Rhona Johnson

  22. zut alors

    WRE,

    I’ll phrase this as simply as possible.

    My 2.27pm post was directly in response to your remark about “someone who stands weapons of war in their hands and allows photos to be taken”. Tony Abbott did precisely that on his recent post-election trip to Afghanistan. I’m assuming you follow current affairs.

  23. MLF

    Oh my lord. Especially @Rhona and @JDF. Are you guys for real?

    “As far as I can see, from your book, all you did was what thousands of young people do every year and that is – travel in search of adventure…”

    Yes, apart from the part where he trained to kill “infidels” that’s probably very true.

    I find it incredibly interesting – and to be honest somewhat frightening – that so many people can take the self-serving, un-cross examined word of David Hicks (in this post and in his book) as gospel, without even remotely acknowledging the other words of David Hicks as written by him and as printed in The Australian in 2007 – about which he has given no real comment or retraction.

    Just because David Hicks was treated appallingly does not mean he did not do, or plan to do, appalling things.

    Becoming his devotee simply because of his treatment at the hands of those who should have known better, without taking into account how and why he came to their attention in the first place, is, frankly, an insult to the citizens of all those nations whom he and his “jihad” (his words, not mine) “brothers” sought to harm. In case you need it spelt out, that would be all of us in “The West”.

    Please, at least have the sense to read the book with just a few of those critical thinking skills you were no doubt taught at university.

  24. rob ekstein

    I think the bigger issue is really about the role of our government in the mis-treatment and abandonment of legal standards by that supposed bastion of Jeffersonian ideals, the USA. It is hard to imagine any secret that Hicks knows of that justified his isolation and torture. So for me, it is interesting that this online dscussion has become about Hicks himself, who is surely unremarkable, rather than the much more important matter of shining light in areas where there is none! In the absence of a fair, transparent and reviewable legal process the matter of Hicks’s innocence or guilt becomes irrelevant. This is surely the crux of it….

  25. WRE

    @ David – sorry but personal pinups are of course private – so why would a forum on Hicks bring about a stupid question like that

    @ Zut Alors – every person aspiring to become leader of a country does same as Abbott – I wrongly assumed the discussion here was about Hicks so called defence of his actions – however it appears to be just a forum of idiots – so in response to your 6.47pm remarks my reply is ‘who cares what Abbott or anyone else, apart from Hicks did’

    bye bye idiots

  26. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    I’m sorry that this discussion has spiraled down into virtual irrelevance. Clearly there are two life stories being told by David Hicks – one the youthful naive journey of self discovery and then the angry response to an appalling injustice. David Hicks has chosen to keep each story compartmentalized. There’s no one thing that leads to another. Before Guantanamo was white, capture and incarceration in Guantanamo was black.
    The story I want to read is the grey area in the middle where the glaring white of perfect certainty (the letters home) turned into the rude black hole of wrongness and rejection. What was going on in David’s head when the shit began to hit the fan? Surely he wasn’t lost in some moment of spiritual ecstasy with visions of waiting virgins tending to friends and family in Heaven?
    I think Hicks lets something slip when he writes about his discovery of and conversion to Islam: “To become a Muslim, or to be accepted as one, takes no more time or effort than saying a few words. It is not a difficult or daunting task.” It brings to mind an observation from a Buddhist devotee: “Buddha often mentioned that the monk’s life, if lived loosely without making effort, does not bear great fruit.”
    Not-great-fruit can still make great fruit cake David, so have a beautiful and free Xmas.

  27. rob ekstein

    In the spirit of Hugh’s remarks – merry xmas David.

  28. tentomushi1

    Dear David,

    Thank you for giving Australia the chance to view the other side of the story. While people may not agree with your version of events I am sure that we can all agree that, in order for any sort of objective discussion to take place, your book is incredibly important.
    As many others have stated, I would personally encourage you to avoid the mainstream media circus altogether. These “institutions” are not interested in balance or objectivity, they are only interested in pushing their opinion.
    I hope as time goes on you are able to offer the people of Australia more information about your journey as I feel that there are many lessons, both positive and negative, that can be learned from your experience.
    Many thanks.

  29. waratah72

    Those last 2 paragraphs of that article are happening as we speak in Britian!, While assange is on bail the americans will be making new laws to extradite him over!

  30. John

    Well said.
    If only our beloved Politicians were so lucid and honest.

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