after Gutmo - David Hicks - Inside and out - 17th
David Hicks is home and struggling
to adjust to life after Gitmo. In exclusive interviews,
his supporters reveal how he's changed since he
took up arms in the name of Islam - and what he
wants to fight for now. By Roy Eccleston.
David Hicks is weighing up his future, but it's
his past that's on display. Out of a large manila
envelope comes a small bracelet, something his
lawyer, David McLeod, has kept secret for months
in a safe in his Adelaide office.
a plastic wristband, the kind they put on babies
when they're born, or sick people in hospitals,
or swimmers at Wet'n'Wild. Except the wide blue
strap, faded in spots perhaps from sweat, came
from none of those places.
a few months ago, it was on Hicks' wrist. When
the convicted supporter of terrorism was bundled
onto a jet to take him from that small part of
Cuba run by the Americans, no one took it off.
So McLeod did, thinking it may be of interest
to a collector or museum.
it sits on the desk, the only tangible piece of
Hicks' years at Guantanamo Bay. And there he is
pictured, detainee 002 at GTMO: a pudgy-faced
man, in a jumpsuit, wearing blue mittens and holding
up an identification card. It looks nothing like
the usual shot of the young Hicks holding an RPG
is Hicks the inmate, a man imprisoned not just
in the top security G Division at Adelaide's Yatala
jail, but inside his own mind - heavily institutionalised,
wary of accepting even little freedoms like a
television, claustrophobic in an exercise enclosure,
and still becoming used to the idea of having
a light switch after five years without one.
another Hicks, though, the one who collected a
small library of about 70 books at Guantanamo
Bay. This is Hicks the reader and student, who
tells friends he is focused on a university education
and a job working to improve the environment.
he prepares to walk free on December 29, the question
is which one of these characters will emerge the
stronger. The man who met Osama bin Laden and
pleaded guilty to materially supporting terrorism
now says he's found new men to inspire him. The
first is adventurer and businessman Dick Smith;
the other is Australian of the Year, Tim Flannery.
is popular in prisons. When Playboy featured an
extract from his climate change bestseller The
Weather Makers, the environmental scientist was
flooded with fan mail from US inmates. What Flannery
didn't know was that his works had also found
their way to a prison in Cuba.
had seen Flannery's name in books he'd been sent
from Australia, and wanted to learn more. Back
in Adelaide, Bronwyn Mewett made a trip to the
South Australian Museum, where Flannery was director.
had a special interest. She was the first wife
of Terry Hicks, and while David had been born
long after they separated, the moment she learnt
of the young man's capture, she decided to help.
Mewett founded the group Fair Go for David, and
started sending him books: romances, Dickens,
and then Flannery.
who gives few interviews, recalls trying to get
Flannery's signature on the books, but he was
away. "I used to buy books for David every
couple of months," she says. She bought The
Future Eaters, an ecological history of Australia,
and another she can't remember.
someone who trained with terrorists links himself
to a national do-gooder, it might seem a clever
bit of spin. But Mewett's story suggests the sometime
jackaroo, horse trainer and chicken boner's interest
in Flannery seems to have been genuine.
Hicks is now a greenie? "I suspect he must
be," McLeod tells The Bulletin, adding Hicks
was looking for The Weather Makers. The lawyer,
an Air Force reserve group captain who served
in Iraq in 2003, visits his client regularly.
Hicks, who turned 32 in jail last week, has agreed
to a 12-month gag order that means he can't speak
to the media about his conduct or captivity.
there's no bar on him talking to people about
his hopes for the future, and he's told McLeod
and his family he'd like to work in the natural
world - perhaps in parks and wildlife, or with
mining companies to limit environmental damage
and restore the landscape if they do.
was unaware of Hicks' interest in his books, but
he is tickled by it. "Wow," he says.
"That's fantastic." If Hicks does end
up working in a natural environment, it might
do him some good, thinks Flannery. "People
who've had a hard life often find nature a more
easy and forgiving place to engage," he says.
"The natural world offers you some solace."
And he'd be happy to give advice, should Hicks
course I would - why wouldn't you? The man's served
his time, probably more than served his time.
I'm a great believer in Christian forgiveness.
I think redemption and people being able to reinvent
themselves is something everyone should have the
chance of doing. We're all victims of circumstance
to some degree. And the idea of redemption is
he hears of this, Hicks is chuffed. He tells McLeod
he'd be "honoured" to meet Flannery.
But can he really reinvent himself? It's a question
weighing heavily on the minds of his family and
advisers. There'll be supporters and detractors
whatever he does, but even those who called for
a fair trial still believe there are many questions
that need answers.
not surprising, since the US administration called
the Guantanamo inmates the worst of the worst,
and terrorists. The Howard government did little
to argue otherwise, and Hicks' own letters home
set out clearly his ill-chosen path.
even if he is just the "bullshit artist"
some who know him contend, he still trained with
the Kosovo Liberation Army, fired hundreds of
shots across the border towards Indian forces
in Kashmir, railed against Jews, met bin Laden,
returned to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks,
and guarded a tank.
will depend on what Hicks says and does when he
comes out. And that's unpredictable. Many of Hicks'
problems are in his own head. He still doesn't
readily leave his cell, says Mewett, who has visited
doesn't do his exercise period as yet. Like he
said, you go out there and it's the same as Guantanamo;
it's wall all the way around," says Terry
Hicks. But he says his son told him that for his
birthday last week, he planned on taking a big
step - going into the exercise area.
says he does exercise, he just prefers his cell
because it's more homely. It's also bigger than
the one in Guantanamo where he claims his head
went into the toilet during push-ups. He spends
much of his time in study, reading or writing.
He doesn't pray to Allah. "I think it's best
to simply say he's no longer interested in Islam,
and he hasn't been for several years," McLeod
reads papers, has the radio piped into the cell
- he listens to the football sometimes - and is
entitled to a TV. But he has declined the TV for
now, even though it would provide a window into
the strange world just outside the prison walls.
it's because that's how he got into trouble,"
quips Terry, a half-joking reference to suggestions
by Hicks' friends that TV news reports about the
killing of Albanian Muslims in Kosovo may have
spurred his involvement in the first place.
doesn't mind the solitary," his father says.
"The worst part is going to be when he's
out. It's OK when he's restricted to an area.
He copes with that. I think once he moves out
and he's got the whole world, he'll be pushing
Jon Jureidini, a psychiatrist at Adelaide's Women's
and Children's Hospital, hasn't seen Hicks but
has worked with refugees detained for long periods.
Jureidini says he expects Hicks to struggle. "Anyone,
even from a benign institution faces challenges
in coming out," he says.
interrogations, like Hicks had at Guantanamo Bay,
are aimed at "unminding" the prisoner,
so they become compliant. "I'd be surprised
if he came out functioning well," Jureidini
from all accounts Hicks is improving. He's lost
a lot of weight, regained some colour. And McLeod
says on a recent visit, he cut Hicks off in mid-sentence.
"David, are you listening to yourself?"
Hicks asked what he meant. "Mate, you are
talking normally!" McLeod says that was the
first time it had happened.
Guantanamo, it was all grunts and short sentences.
In 30 meetings and perhaps 100 hours he never
saw Hicks smile; his attitude was poor. "He's
a different person," he says. "He's
reverting to what he used to be like. And what's
coming out is positive."
200% better," says Terry.
is being advised not to look like a whinger. He
won't follow Mamdouh Habib, who claims to have
been tortured in Egypt and is suing the government.
But Hicks himself is worried he'll say something
stupid. And anything he does say will be carefully
scrutinised by police. "Jihad" Jack
Thomas' interview with Four Corners, in which
he admitted taking money from al Qaeda, formed
the basis for a new trial. Hicks also has a history
of running off at the mouth.
father says the family will try to prevent any
identification of him for the first three months,
until he can speak publicly. "You [media]
people are all very nice when he's not here,"
he says, "but when he's there, you'll all
want your piece of meat."
secrecy idea sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Given Australians have never heard him speak,
some argue he needs to use the first opportunity
to say thanks. Sneaking off will send the wrong
message. Nor will it get much study done.
bottom line is he just wants to get out and disappear
into the wilderness somewhere and get on with
his life," Terry says. Can he really disappear?
"No, I've been through that process for the
last three weeks with him. He seems to think he
should be able to."
Smith, who campaigned for Hicks to receive a fair
trial, says Hicks can't run away, nor can he take
any money. "If he accepts one cent for what's
happened, or one airfare, he will be destroyed
by the people of Australia," says Smith.
"So my advice to him would be, you basically
mustn't accept anything. There's no way you get
says he never argued Hicks should be released
without trial, only that the truth come out. Taking
that position produced an avalanche of angry responses.
"I got a tremendous amount of abuse from
people, you cannot believe it. Emails - I didn't
know Australians like that existed. They'd made
up their mind he was one of the most terrible
people in the world."
there are many questions. "Many people are
undecided about how bad he is; we don't really
know," says Smith. "I'd like to know
what he did. I must admit the message I seem to
be getting is he actually did nothing, which is
why he probably didn't have a proper trial.
main thing I'm concerned about with David Hicks
is he left his kids unsupported, and racked off
overseas. If he said I want to support my kids,
then I think people would give him a go. And most
people would say we're going to watch him and
see what he does."
he scoot off to the bush? "That would be
impossible. He created the bed he's lying in."
of Hicks' supporters would like to see him write
a book. He's said he's not interested, but that
may well change. As for trying to make money from
his notoriety, McLeod insists he's also decided
that's not the way to go - even if he could get
around the law.
a big turnaround from the letter he sent to his
former flatmate Louise Fletcher, telling her not
to write a book about him. "I would have
no chance to make any money when I got home otherwise,"
he wrote to her.
says Hicks thinks differently now. "He accepts
it would be inappropriate to commercialise his
experience and he accepts he owes a debt of gratitude
to the Australian people," says McLeod. "He
wants to repay society in a way that brings credit.
He doesn't want to cause ripples or bring any
attention to himself."
sees education as a way to tackle his problems,
says McLeod. While he left school in Grade 9,
he's now passed Grade 11 thanks to studies in
prison, and special entry to university is possible.
"He's very keen to obtain entry to a university
to pursue his interest in ecology and zoology,
basically an interest in the environment,"
says he's surprised by some of the things Hicks
knows about. He'll start talking about explorers
like John Eyre and Matthew Flinders. "He
can hold a conversation about them," he says.
"He'd do well as a student. He's a prolific
reader. The sort of material he was permitted
at Guantanamo Bay was limited. If there was any
aspect of content that was of a benign educational
nature, it was permitted. But if it was To Kill
a Mockingbird or Breaker Morant or anything with
a rebellious aspect, it wasn't permitted. So he's
been reading about the environment. There seems
to be plenty of work for skilled people in that
has had at least three visits from his kids, Bonnie,
14, and Terry, 12. Their mother, Jodie Sparrow,
declined to be interviewed. But if Hicks wants
to help provide for his children, whom he last
saw when they were toddlers, he has to make some
Smith says he shouldn't make money, there's a
lot on offer if he had the inclination and could
find a way around state and federal laws designed
to stop him profiting from his crime. Some lawyers
think it's possible.
Adler, publisher at Melbourne University Press,
has been talking to Terry Hicks, and she's not
alone. Adler, who published ABC reporter Leigh
Sales' book on Hicks, Detainee 002, says there's
a long history of people profiting from their
experience, including the likes of Mark "Chopper"
why shouldn't David Hicks be allowed to do that?"
she asks. "I do think a book ... on what
takes a young man from Adelaide all the way to
Guantanamo Bay would be a fascinating story and
I don't think there'd be a publisher in the country
who wouldn't be interested."
Kenny, the Adelaide lawyer who represented Hicks
before being sacked by his American representative,
Major Michael Mori, thinks there may be a way
around the ban, but only through a big court battle.
But if Hicks won, he'd get a double--barrel advantage.
First, he might make some money. "And the
second one is, he could clear his name, in a sense.
He could show he'd never committed any crime at
any time. This could be an avenue for doing it."
commercial deal is the best way to make sure the
story is heard, Kenny argues. "I think the
stories of what happened at Guantanamo Bay should
be told, and told in some detail, as a lesson
on how not to treat prisoners of war."
Hicks, however, doesn't want to write about his
story, or sell it. At least that's what he says
at the moment. "We explained the situation:
if he writes a book, he can get round the situation
by donating the money to charity," Terry
says. "He doesn't want to rock the boat.
If he does he's worried he'll disappear and end
up back where he came from. So what he said was,
'I'm not writing any books, I'm not doing anything
apparently he likes to write to the people, many
of them women, who send him mail. Mewett says
she saw Hicks a couple of months ago in jail,
the first time since he was a little kid who'd
play with her daughter - and his half-sister -
Stephanie. She says he wrote stories in Guantanamo.
"Would you believe while he was there one
of the things he did do, he wrote a book he called
a romance?" she says. "David wrote a
book in the romance genre. I would say along the
lines of a Mills and Boon. On another occasion
he told me he'd written a horror story. I'm not
surprised - that's more what you might expect."
Celebrity publicist Max Markson thinks Hicks has
a story worth a million dollars and could probably
keep half of it, if he could get around the law.
Markson says he wouldn't represent Hicks since
he's spouted anti-Semitic bile and been convicted
of supporting terrorism. But he thinks he can
redeem himself and build a life, "if he comes
out and says he's sorry, and apologises for his
actions, and tries to give something back to the
community - which may or may not accept it".
for money, Markson thinks he could accept some
benefit if he gave some away to charity. "If
someone wanted to give him 100 grand and he said,
'look, I'll keep half of it' and the other half
he's going to give to the children's hospital
in Adelaide, he may well get away with some money."
all the ifs and buts, the only safe bet is that
Hicks will look up his old fishing mate, Carl
Cripps. Cripps and wife Kerry, who has known Hicks
since primary school, have kept in touch and visited
him in Yatala.
"To me, appearance-wise he seems the same
old Hicksy," says Cripps. "He doesn't
look like he's changed at all. But I'm sure in
himself he has changed a bit."
says fishing is on the agenda. "We mainly
used to do a lot of shark fishing," he says.
"Probably won't get back into that. Pretty
expensive tackle we had to buy - say around $500
for a fishing rod and a bit more for a reel."
It didn't help them, though. "No. It was
very rare we ever bloody caught anything."
Hicks does get out, "there's no doubt we'll
wet a line somewhere". Whether Hicks can
wander freely is another matter. As someone who
trained with terrorists, he may be subject to
a police-monitored control order to ensure he
is no threat to the community. The fish, however,
look to be safe.