[added July 2011]
See the following posts leading to this one:
- 27 October 2010 Howard on Q&A — 1.
- 8 November 2010 In the matter of David Hicks.
- 17 November 2010 In the matter of David Hicks — 2
- 20 November 2010 In the matter of David Hicks — 3.
This is the article to appear in December’s South Sydney Herald. The blog and the SSH hardly overlap, hence this preview.
Mr Howard vs David Hicks
A friend of mine was in Pakistan at the same time as David Hicks, and in many of the same places: Peshawar, Quetta, Pakistani Kashmir. There’s even a photo of my friend in Pashtun costume holding an AK47. That was a joke photo taken in a Peshawar arms bazaar. My friend went east and met the Dalai Lama. David Hicks went west and met Osama Bin Laden. My friend came home much sooner.
When David Hicks memorably confronted John Howard on Q&A in October he asked two questions: was I treated humanely? and was the Military Commission process fair? Howard answered neither question, applying the airbrush liberally to what really happened to Hicks between 2001 and 2008.
After distracting us with a motherhood statement about what a great country we have to allow Hicks to bail him up like this, Howard spun first into irrelevance: “Now, having said that, can I simply say that I defend what my government did in relation to Iraq, in relation to the military commissions….” How did Iraq get into this?
He went on: “We put a lot of pressure on the Americans to accelerate the charges being brought against David Hicks and I remind the people watching this program that David Hicks did plead guilty to a series of offences and they, of course, involved him in full knowledge of what had happened on 11 September, attempting to return to Afghanistan and rejoin the people with whom he had trained. So let’s understand the reality of that David Hicks pleaded guilty to.”
TONY JONES: Mr Howard, on this question of him pleading guilty, Mr Hicks says in his own book that his military lawyer, David (sic) Mori, was told by your staff that Hicks wouldn’t be released from Guantanamo Bay unless he pleaded guilty. Was that your position?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, I’m not aware of any such exchange but, look, I mean, there been a lot of criticism of that book by sources quite unrelated to me and I’ve read some very, very severe criticisms of that book…
Howard’s late-blooming desire to see Hicks returned to Australia had everything to do with VP Cheney’s visit to Australia in February 2007, when the deal that led to Hicks’s “conviction” was stitched up, and behind that was the 2007 Election. Howard knew the issue was losing him votes.
Colonel Morris Davis, the prosecutor in the case, recalls that in January 2007 he received a call from his superior Jim Haynes asking him how quickly he could charge David Hicks. (Now an attorney for Chevron, Haynes had in 2005 told Davis: “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We’ve got to have convictions.”) David Hicks was eventually charged on 2 February 2007, even though the details about how the commissions should be conducted weren’t published until late April. (Interview Amy Goodman and Col. Morris Davis 16 July 2008.)
Davis resigned from the Military Commission after prosecuting David Hicks, stating that “what’s taking place now, I would call neither military or justice.”
Howard assured us that the US had a long tradition of Military Commissions. He failed to mention that this particular Commission had been struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Hamden v Rumsfeld in June 2006 so that what David Hicks was dealing with was a reinvented version, but as much a kangaroo court, to quote a senior British judge, as the previous edition.
More airbrushing. And there’s more.
David Hicks’s guilty plea was an odd beast, an Alford Plea, something peculiar to US law. It is the plea of guilt you make when you don’t believe you are guilty but do believe the court is likely to find in favour of the prosecution. I may also add that David Hicks was never at any stage charged with or found guilty of terrorism. Some of the charges in Gitmo seem to have been invented specifically to justify the imprisonment of people there. Mr Howard passes over such technicalities.
Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, summed up his view of Guantanamo in an article published in November 2010.
…no intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement. This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.
Curiously, one item in Hicks’s book that even he had doubts about has just been shown to be exactly as Hicks tells it: the existence at Guantanamo of a “Camp NO”, so called because it didn’t officially exist. Murders took place there, according to Marine Sergeant Joe Hickman (Harpers: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.”)
Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain.
Those charged with accounting for what happened—the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and ultimately the attorney general himself—all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.
Not everyone who is involved in this matter views it from a political perspective, of course. General Al-Zahrani grieves for his son, but at the end of a lengthy interview he paused and his thoughts turned elsewhere. “The truth is what matters,” he said. “They practiced every form of torture on my son and on many others as well. What was the result? What facts did they find? They found nothing. They learned nothing. They accomplished nothing.”
I have been reading Guantanamo: My Journey very carefully for around four weeks. I have also done a lot of fact checking. I especially recommend the report on David Hicks’s trial by Lex Lasry QC, available on the Internet, which includes the texts of all the charges and the final plea bargain. Hicks had a choice: stay in Gitmo or sign the admissions and go home. What would you do after more than five years? And no, Mr Howard, he was not treated humanely, and no, the system was eminently unfair.
Former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Danna Vale (Liberal, Hughes) got it right as far back as November 2005:
… The longer Hicks is in Guantanamo Bay, his imprisonment without trial will begin to creep like an incongruent shadow, jarring the Australian consciousness
Let’s get real. The case of David Hicks clearly fails the commonsense test. It fails the commonsense test not only in the educated minds of the legal profession, but in the gut feelings of ordinary Australians who believe in a fair go, and who believe that truth and justice and that old hand-me-down from the Magna Carta that says men are innocent until proven guilty, still deserve some currency in our world. Just like you, just like me, as an Australian, he is entitled to a fair trial without further delay. And, after four years in Guantanamo Bay, if the Americans cannot deliver this to David Hicks, in all fairness, we must ask that he be sent home.
In one of the more considered reviews of David Hicks Guantanamo: My Journey (William Heinemann 2010) Sally Neighbour claims that Hicks has airbrushed some parts of his story. At least she has read the book. I too find it difficult to believe he first heard of Al Qaeda after his capture, but endorse his recommendation of Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam as the best on the subject.
By contrast look at Miranda Devine’s recent review of Hicks’s book, a sustained sledge against Dick Smith who assisted financially with David’s defence. Beyond that she descends into emotive claptrap or sheer ignorance, the latter being her inability to believe Hicks became a Muslim by looking up a mosque in the yellow pages and then meeting an imam. She doesn’t seem to have mastered Islam 101: one can become a Muslim simply by repeating “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” to another Muslim. No course necessary. On this I absolutely believe Hicks, who, incidentally, no longer considers himself a Muslim.
One telling item for Hicks in the book is the famous picture of David with the rocket launcher. We all remember how this was used to demonise him and purported to show him in Afghanistan. It turns out to be cut from a photo taken in Albania of three friends playing around with empty weapons. Yes, he took part in the Kosovo war, but never saw action. Another photo shows him saluting the NATO flag, under which he was really serving then.
Guantanamo: My Journey is a book we need to read. I am glad it has been published. Like Sally Neighbour, there are some things I would like clarified, but I now believe it to be mostly truthful. Hicks was a bit of a fool, you know, even if a desire to aid oppressed people is quite commendable in itself. He was after all a 20-something at the time, and “under-researched” as he now says. He hasn’t killed anyone or engaged in any act of terrorism; everyone admits that.
One of the most valuable features of Guantanamo: My Journey is the extensive footnotes, a marvellously detailed documentation of the material in the book. I wish they had been set in their places at the bottoms of relevant pages rather than being gathered in the back. The book also desperately needs a thorough index.
David was pretty much a pawn. Heroes? Well, I’d nominate David’s father, and Major Michael Mori, his defending counsel, whose career after that suffered. (See The Marine Corps News 20 September 2010.)
PS: not in the article
David Hicks is accurate in his depiction of the Tablighi. I know this because I have taught one and did considerable research about Tablighi Jamaat at the time. With regard to Lashkar-I Taiba, Hicks may have polished the image somewhat, but it is fair to say that what he says about that organisation in the areas he found them may well have been true at that time and place. The organisation was not yet a listed terrorist organisation in Australia. Certainly David’s depiction of the Taliban is much less admiring in the book than it was in his letters home as seen in the documentary The President versus David Hicks. On the other hand Hicks’s explanation about his letters reflecting what he was seeing and reading at the time in the Pakistani press may well be true. It is also notable that Terry Hicks seems to take David’s rhetoric in those letters with something of a grain of salt. The book leaves no doubt about what David feels about the Taliban now. His account of the training he received in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be true but I do have some doubts about this.
Miranda Devine’s characterisation of David’s account of Guantanamo as “whingeing” is quite outrageous. Says more about her than it does about him.
My spellings reflect usage in The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.