An Interview With David Hicks Following the Dismissal of His Guantánamo Conviction

13.3.15

A screenshot of of a news programme featuring David Hicks speaking about the dismissal of his conviction at Guantanamo for providing material support to terrorism, February 19, 2015.On February 18, David Hicks’ conviction for providing material support to terrorism was overturned by the US Court of Military Commission Review. Hicks, an Australian, had been charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo, unwisely brought back from the history books by the Bush administration, under the guidance of Dick Cheney, and his conviction came about through a plea deal in March 2007. Almost immediately repatriated, he was a free man by the end of 2007, but was haunted by his conviction and those who used it against him to portray him as some sort of terrorist, when he was no such thing.

As I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera following the ruling, this was the fourth conviction to be overturned, out of only eight cases that have resulted in convictions, and, as a result, it ought to sound the death knell for the commissions, which should never have been revived — either by the Bush administration, or, in 2009, by President Obama.

I continue to call for the commissions to be scrapped, but in the meantime, I wanted to publicize a rare interview on David Hicks’ part — with the World Socialist Web Site, conducted by Richard Phillips and published on March 5, in which, as the WSWS explained, he spoke “about the court ruling, the response of the Australian government and media, and his concerns about escalating attacks on basic democratic rights and preparations for war.”

As the WSWS also explained, Hicks “spent five and a half years in the prison hellhole where he was subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings, solitary confinement and was injected with unknown substances,” and the ruling provided “further proof that the US-led ‘war on terror’ and its associated crimes — illegal detention, torture and kangaroo courts — are built on lies.”

Writing about his plea deal, the WSWS noted, “Hicks was told that if he did not accept the deal, which was cooked up behind the scenes by the Howard government and the Bush administration, he could spend the rest of his life in Guantánamo.”

Here’s the interview (and see here and here for my archive of articles, from 2007 onwards, about David Hicks). Below it is a video of Hicks being interviewed for the Guardian.

Richard Phillips: First of all congratulations. When were you told, and what was your reaction?

David Hicks: Although we were expecting the decision we weren’t exactly sure when. My American lawyers said they wouldn’t hear about it until about an hour before the US media. Stephen Kenny, my lawyer in Adelaide, was contacted at about 4am on Thursday [February 19] and he phoned me straight away.

And my reaction? It was a combination of being tired and a bit of relief that all this business had finally come to an end. At last the media, I thought, could no longer keep accusing me of being a terrorist. Of course, they’ve kept doing it but they’ve got no legal basis to do it. I’m not really jumping up and down about the decision. Maybe I’m not as happy as people might think I should be, but it is the end of a process and I’m just glad it’s all over.

Richard Phillips: We commented on the WSWS that the ruling not only exonerates you but is another demonstration that the “war on terror” is built on lies.

David Hicks: Yes and that’s why the government and the media are so resistant to the US ruling.

Richard Phillips: What has been the response from ordinary people?

David Hicks: It’s been good. Supportive messages have been sent to my lawyer and lots of people at my work — many that have never spoken to me before — went out of their way to congratulate me and that was really good.

There’s a lot a people I have to thank during this long battle — my lawyers in the US and Australia and the thousands of others across Australia who fought to get me out of Guantánamo and who knew that the conviction was a frame-up.

Richard Phillips: You told the press conference that government and media critics who are still accusing you of being a terrorist were supporting torture. Could you elaborate?

David Hicks: My thinking is that if you’re not outraged by what happened to me at Guantánamo — the torture and everything else that went on there — then you must support it. These people seem to be looking for any kind of justification for my torture or developing propaganda to support this crime. What other conclusion is there?

Four or five weeks ago, when it looked like my conviction was going to be thrown out, most of the media appeared to be quite supportive. Now they are completely hostile, claiming that I hadn’t answered any hard questions and suggesting that I wanted millions of dollars in compensation. It was as if the clock had been wound back to when I was released from prison. I was in Guantánamo five-and-a-half years and would have committed suicide if I’d been held there any longer. There are people in Guantánamo who have been imprisoned there for more than 13 years. You can only imagine what state they are in.

Richard Phillips: You rejected suggestions last week that the government should apologise to you over what happened. Why is that?

David Hicks: I’m not interested in an apology and even if the government made one it wouldn’t be sincere. But the government should be paying for the medical treatment I need as a result of what happened in Guantánamo. My back is in bad shape and I’m in a lot of pain in my left knee, my right elbow and my wrist, and this is getting worse as time goes on. I’ve lost several teeth — they’ve had to be pulled out — because I couldn’t clean my teeth in Guantánamo.

Richard Phillips: You previously called for a public inquiry into your illegal imprisonment and torture. Are you still making that demand? No one has been charged or held accountable for your torture in Guantánamo.

David Hicks: It would be excellent to make them accountable for what happened but nobody seems to know how to do it and it would be big dollars if I lost any sort of legal case. Those responsible seemed to have covered their tracks.

We called for a public inquiry in order to fully expose who was responsible for this. Unless this is brought to light it will happen again, that’s guaranteed. This is not about me but protecting Australian citizens from being treated like I was.

I’ve done quite a few media appearances over the past five years, carefully explained what happened to me and answered what the journalists regard as the hard questions. Now they’re talking as if I’ve never said a word about it. I guess they’ve been telling their readers that I’ve been a terrorist for more than ten years and they can’t afford to reverse this.

Richard Phillips: The ongoing government and media denunciations of you are to justify the “war on terror” and its crimes.

David Hicks: Yes and this has been underway for some time. It feels like I’m being used for a purpose that I’m completely against, which is justification for the stripping of our basic legal rights and protections. The problem is that most Australians don’t understand what this is all about and how dangerous it is. I’m concerned that when they wake up to this it will be too late.

I’m disappointed that there has been no outcry over the latest legislation to stop whistleblowing by journalists. I’ve read some of the international comments on these laws. Many people from other countries are amazed about how laid back Australians seem to be about this and let these laws just go ahead. People have to protest and speak out against these things.

Below is a video of David Hicks being interviewed by Michael Safi for the Guardian after the press conference that followed the announcement of the dismissal of his conviction. And see the related article here.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    I’m posting early because I’m out this evening. Enjoy!
    Also it’s Day 5 of my quarterly fundraiser, and I’m still seeking $1500 (£900) to support me over the next three months – which I don’t think is a huge amount of money for the work I do. If you can help out at all – say, with a donation of $25 or £15 – it will be greatly appreciated. http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/03/09/quarterly-fundraiser-seeking-2500-to-support-my-guantanamo-work-2/

  2. arcticredriver says...

    Wow. Thanks Andy. I meant to buy a copy of his book, but it seems to have rapidly gone out of print.

    As I read his words I couldn’t help thinking of the day when Omar Khadr is able to give a similar interview.

    I am afraid Omar faces an even more uphill battle to convince the public he is not a dangerous terrorist.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    You may be able to get an e-book via Random House Australia:
    http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/david-hicks/guantanamo-my-journey-9781742752266.aspx
    I think once Omar is out of prison and a free man the haters won’t have any more traction, and I’m sure there’ll be a wide audience for his autobiography, if he chooses to write one, but first of all, of course, the Harper government needs to grow up, and needs to accept that he must be paroled and released.

  4. arcticredriver says...

    There are newspapers that allow readers to leave comments to articles. Although there are fewer haters leaving comments now, the number of haters hasn’t dropped that much.

    I fear for his safety.

    I am also concerned that security officials will monitor his email, mail, tweets, phone calls, texts. If I were him I would follow Kristine Huskey’s example. When she got the list of Guantanamo names in a Valentine’s card, she quickly informed a security official.

    First, she had no way of knowing the list was a genuine list, from a genuine, sincere whistleblower. It could have been a nasty attempt to entrap her, sent by an agent provocateur. Even if it was sent by a sincere whistleblower, it might have been intercepted, so it was still a test.

    I’d recommend to him that if he had fans to sounded like they were asking him advice about jihad, trying to recruit him to jihad, he tell his security liaison. Not only might they really be planning to attack our institutions, but security officials might be testing him with phony recruitment attempts, or they might be covertly monitoring his mail.

    Omar’s story is so complicated I would encourage him to follow Terry Hicks’ example. He kept to a simple message when he went around the world on his son’s behalf. He said something like, “I won’t claim my son has always been an angel. I am not asking for his release. All I am asking for is that he be given a fair trial.”

    I think the haters who assume he will become a jihadist or jihad supporter underestimate the power of growing up in a free country like Canada, or the USA or the UK. It’s my impression that the boys missed Canada, even though they had spent most of their childhood in Afghanistan and Pakistan, because Canada was such a culturally rich and stimulating environment for a child.

    I think he should stick to telling Canadians that. First, start by thanking Dennis and his other lawyers, the Professors at King’s University who drafted a personalized educational plan for him, and every other person who supported him. He can say that his Professor’s study plan helped reassure him that moderate muslims still had a place in Canada.

    Second, he should reassure those who call him a “Canadian of convenience”, who fear he hates Canada, and will use his release to attack Canada. He told CBC reporter Nazim Baksh that he looked forward to the day he could return, and enter the mainstream of Canada. I bet he looked forward to the day he could return to the mainstream of Canadian life every day since his capture. I bet he looked forward to returning to Canada in the years prior to his capture as well.

    Other people can be the first to point out that his guilty plea was meaningless; that he was a child, who didn’t choose to be on a battlefield. I think his story is so complicated that if he starts by defending his innocence, or starts by criticizing Harper, the most important parts of his story won’t get through.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I must admit I am less worried than you, because I think Omar is such a decent man, and has such solid support from so many friends and supporters, that he will not fall into any traps of be available for anyone’s dubious propagandist purposes. I certainly hope I’m right!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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