David Hicks: It feels good to be an innocent man
Daniel Hurst, Michael Safi and agencies
19 February 2015
Exclusive: Australian former Guantánamo Bay prisoner welcomes US review court decision to strike down his terrorism conviction, but says ‘the American and Australian authorities were aware of my innocence from day one’
David Hicks, the Australian former detainee at Guantánamo Bay, has described his relief at winning a legal challenge against his conviction of providing material support for terrorism.
The United States Court of Military Commission review found on Wednesday: “The findings of guilty are set aside and dismissed, and appellant’s sentence is vacated.”
A US Defense Department spokesman confirmed the government did not intend to appeal against the decision, noting that the decision flowed from a US court ruling
“that material support for terrorism was not a viable charge in military commissions for pre-2006 conduct”.
But the prime minister, Tony Abbott, refused to countenance an apology to Hicks, saying Hicks had been “up to no good on his own admission” in Afghanistan in 2001.
Hicks, who spent six years confined in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba after the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan turned him over to the US in late 2001,
welcomed the decision but said he was still suffering the effects of his detention.
“Obviously it feels good that I’m an innocent man. I don’t believe it should be surprising to anyone considering the circumstances over the years,” Hicks told Guardian Australia.
“I’m disappointed that even though the American and Australian authorities were aware of my innocence from day one,
I still have to go through years of torture that ruined my life for no reason, for political purposes.”
Hicks later told reporters in Sydney he was relieved the legal process was over, but not angry.
“No, there is not anger. I think I am too defeated to have anger. I am worn out.”
He said he was not seeking compensation at this point, but said the government should be responsible for his medical expenses because his time in
Guantánamo Bay had generated lasting health problems.
“It is due to the torture – being kept in freezing conditions, small rooms for years,” he said.
Hicks said even the Australian government had admitted he committed no crime.
“It is just unfortunate that because of politics, I was subjected to five and a half years of physical and psychological torture that I will now live with always.”
Hicks was repatriated to Australia in 2007 after striking a plea deal which allowed all but nine months of his seven-year sentence to be suspended.
His case had fuelled intense political debate in Australia over procedural fairness, focused on his lengthy period in detention before any charges were laid,
and he subsequently argued the plea deal was invalid.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said on Thursday the government should examine whether it had done enough
“to ensure injustice didn’t occur and to bring David Hicks back to Australia”.
Shorten said while Hicks was “foolish to get caught up in the Afghanistan conflict” the court decision showed an injustice.
“I think it’s a salutary lesson that whilst we want to absolutely maintain the security of this nation, we must always be really careful that injustice is not done to individuals,” Shorten said.
Abbott, a member of then prime minister John Howard’s cabinet at the time of Hicks’s detention in the US, rejected calls for an apology. The government “did what was needed”
but Hicks “was up to no good on his own admission”, he said.
“I’m not in the business of apologising for the actions that Australian governments take to protect our country – not now, not ever,” Abbott said.
A spokesman for Howard said the US decision was “about the legal process in that country”.
“Nothing alters the fact that by his own admission, Hicks trained with al-Qaida, met Osama bin Laden on several occasions – describing him as a brother,
” Howard’s spokesman said. “He revelled in jihad. He is not owed an apology by any Australian government.”
Hicks said the health effects of his detention included damage to his left knee, his right elbow, his back and his teeth. He said that at times during his imprisonment,
he thought the day his name would be cleared might never come. Hicks was subject to a rarely used “control order” under counter-terrorism laws when he returned to Australia.
“I was quite sceptical; I didn’t have much hope for justice to be done,” Hicks said.
A US Defense Department spokesman for Military Commissions said Hicks’s guilty plea in 2007 was “based on voluntary admissions that he had trained at
al-Qaida’s Farouq camp and Tarnak Farm complex in Afghanistan, met with Osama bin Laden, and joined al-Qaida and Taliban forces preparing to fight
United States and Northern Alliance forces near Kandahar in September of 2001”.
“He successfully appealed [against] his conviction at the United States Court of Military Commission Review on grounds that the
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had previously ruled that material support for terrorism was not a
viable charge in military commissions for pre-2006 conduct,” said the spokesman.
“The government does not intend to appeal.”
US lawyer Wells Dixon said Hicks was now “free to live his life without this conviction hanging over his head”.
Hicks, 39, has detailed extensive periods of solitary confinement, severe beatings and forced druggings at the hands of his American captors.
These torture methods and others, including waterboarding, extended use of stress positions and “rectal rehydration”,
were laid bare in a report by the US senate intelligence committee released November.
Father Terry Hicks said his son’s plea deal should be viewed in the context of duress and torture at Guantánamo Bay.
“I believe anyone would have signed a piece of paper to get out of that situation,” Terry Hicks told the ABC.
Hicks attempted to confront the Australian attorney general, George Brandis, at a human rights event in Sydney in December,
saying he was tortured at Guantánamo Bay “in the full knowledge of your party”.
Brandis told a Senate committee hearing the following day: “You do not expect to run into a terrorist at a human rights awards event …
There was a random individual who turned out to be a terrorist yelling at the side of a room for about three seconds.”
Responding to the US decision, Brandis said it was “about the validity of the US law under which he was convicted, not about whether he carried out the activities of which he was accused”.
“Those particular activities were carried out before the 2002 and subsequent counter-terrorism laws,” Brandis said.
“The type of activities that Mr Hicks has admitted to, including training with al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations in Afghanistan,
would likely now fall within the scope of Australian terrorism laws.”