Friday, 10 August 2012

Guantanamo: My Journey by David Hicks

Lowdown: A first hand account of David Hicks' life, including his Guantanamo ordeal.
Review:
Australians will not need an introduction but the rest of the world probably does. David Hicks is one of two Australians held by the USA at Guantanamo Bay's prison under terrorism allegations, having been caught at Afghanistan shortly after the events of September 11. Public opinion first had him a terrorist: that's what we've been told, a decent guy won't be hanging about at Afghanistan, and besides - the guy converted to Islam. However, as the years went by it became obvious the Americans are unable to put Hicks on trial; public opinion in Australia started to change. There was the feeling that something fishy is going on here, and that perhaps we are being tricked by the Howard & Bush Corporation. Then came the military trial that stunk of being rigged, after which that dangerous terrorist Hicks was finally brought to Australia - but only to serve a few more months at an Aussie jail. After his release he was still under orders to keep quiet, and only a while later could he start telling us his version of the story without the threat of penalization.
Or so he thought. Hicks wrote Guantanamo: My Journey, but shortly afterwards that book saw its own fiasco. Since terrorists are not allowed to make money out of their ill bearing acts, Hicks was not allowed to go on selling his book and make profits off it. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the government dropped the case against Hicks and his book was allowed to thrive (see here). However, one major question was not answered: if Hicks was indeed innocent, at least in the sense that his guilt could not be proven, then how come those that kept him in one of the most notorious jails ever for so many years are allowed to walk free? And if the case against Hicks has been dropped here, then why don't they just announce his innocence out loud?
Any way you look at it, foul play took active part in the life of David Hicks, his family and those who supported him along the way. It was time for me to read Hicks' version of the story by reading his book.
The first impression I got out of Hicks' tale is that the guy ain't no rocket scientist. That is no insult; I'm no rocket scientist either. However, his skills as a writer are obviously no match for, say, the language skills of Christopher Hitchens. This simplicity is projected in the story, too: we read about a young boy that dropped out of school at an early age and went looking for himself, doing things mainstream Australian teenagers won't be allowed to do. Things like going to work on remote Northern Territory farms, getting there in a wreck of a car without a license.
One thing led to another and our uninformed and extremely naive young Hicks decided his future lies with helping the cause of the oppressed in Kosovo. He flew there to volunteer to fight and took part in military training. His next escapade involved helping the oppressed in Kashmir, which saw him venture to Pakistan and become a Muslim. He didn't see real action at Kashmir, but instead ended up at the wrong place - Afghanistan - at the wrong time. Once again, Hicks' simpleton nature surfaces: he reports taking part in various forms of military training but claims to have never wished to be a terrorist or to harm anyone. I appreciate the thoughts, but let's be honest: what do people do at military training camps? Surely one cannot play with guns and such and still expect innocent consequences to follow. Hicks' case is even worse, because he politely avoids informing his readers about the scope of his training. The begging question is, does he have something to hide after all?
Maybe he does. However, as things stand, taking part in military training outside of Australia is no crime. I can vouch for that: I have done it myself while serving in the Israeli army. It is therefore pretty clear to me that whatever Hicks might have done - and he's in the same niche as virtually all young boys who do the silly act from time to time - he is still an innocent person. Definitely not a person that deserves the calamity that fell on him next.
Once caught at Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance, the story of David Hicks takes a different tone. Page after page, chapter after chapter, month after month and year after year we follow the tribulations of a young guy who is tortured by all sorts of sick means and sick minds. Most of this torturing is taking place at Guantanamo, and virtually all of it is at American hands. We are talking hundreds of pages of pure evil here: drugs, beatings, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, starvation, medical testing - you name it and it's there. Of course, one can argue David Hicks is lying and his days at Guantanamo were spent playing card games by the swimming pool; however, there is too much evidence to support the hypothesis that at least the core of Hicks' story is, indeed, true. I allow myself to make this statement based on three arguments: the information that's easily available to any informed Australian, the various citations quoted in the book to prove the claims it makes, and the undeniable fact David Hicks was never convicted in anything but a kangaroo court (pun intended). A court the UK refused to endorse and a court that since Hicks' trial has been disapproved by the Americans themselves.
Let me make this clear. What we have in Guantanamo: My Journey is the tale of an innocent guy who has been picked upon by the most powerful nation on earth while his own government stood by and even supported the evil that took place. The question is, how could this have happened?
I would argue the Australian side of the story is fairly easy to explain. Australia considers its relationship with the USA vital for its security, as Australia lacks the means to protect itself from any worthy enemy (say, China). Australia would therefore go a long way to protect this special relationship it aspires to have with the USA; the life of one innocent person is nothing in the grand scheme of things there. Especially if that person has crossed the chasm and turned into that vile thing many pure blooded Australians [of Anglo Saxon origins] don't like to see in our fair land: a Muslim! It seems obvious to me this is the exact calculation the Howard government made at the time: it thought the public would accept the sacrifice of a traitor (in the sense of Hicks betraying Christianity). The fact Howard turned out to be wrong in his calculation is flattering, but only mildly so; the majority of Australians are still allowing the perpetrators of this cynical calculation game to walk free.
Guantanamo: My Journey is therefore a must read for all Australians: the lesson in citizenship the book provides, the tale of how each and every one of us may be sacrificed on some political altar, is something we all need to take in mind whenever the government wants to enact some unreasonable legislation or another. Just like the legislation pack that is now on the agenda, calling for all Aussies to be tracked online and over the phone - all the time.
If Guantanamo: My Journey is a must read for all Australians, just imagine how important a read it is for all Americans. If I was a citizen of the USA I would imagine having severe trouble sleeping at night knowing what is done on my behalf to hundreds of innocent people. And if the Howard government needs to pay for dealing one of its citizens away, what justice should we demand from the likes of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld? And what about Obama, who promised to close Guantanamo but failed to do so thus far?
Guantanamo: My Journey is more than just a book and more than just a personal account of a guy who has been wronged by people at high places. It is an indictment for the regimes we live under, proof of their innately corrupt nature. The message is clear: if we don't get our act together and do our bit as individuals, we should not be surprised to hear of another David Hicks. And another, and then another. Until, eventually, the next David Hicks would be me. Or you.
The film Schindler's List was marketed with a tagline along the lines of "whoever saves one life saves the world entire". The case of David Hicks demonstrates the exact opposite act can have the exact opposite result. A society that fails to grant justice to a single person is not a society worth defending.
Overall: Not the best written book ever, but one of the politically furthest reaching ones through the strength of its personal story. 4.5 out of 5 stars, and at the risk of repeating myself: a must read.
P.S. Through comments spread around the book, David Hicks managed to make me think about the odd case of Bin Laden and his execution by American forces. While I am not exactly losing sleep over the guy's death, I did and still do think it would have been better to put him on trial. However, Hicks raises a few points that made me think that perhaps, just perhaps, the USA preferred Bin Laden dead without trial because it was afraid of what he would have to say during his day at the courts. I suspect we will never know exactly what led the USA to prefer killing to a trial.
P.P.S. One does wonder what Bradley Manning is going through.

11/12/2014 update:
Of course, now we know that Hicks wasn't lying and that the CIA was torturing inmates. I wonder if Hicks will get a chance for justice with the courts; he's certainly trying.

23/1/2015 update:
Today we learned that even the USA government no longer claims David Hicks did any wrong.
It's never to early to look into how an innocent person was wrongly imprisoned and tortured!

19/2/2015 update:
Finally, the USA has declared David Hicks officially innocent.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am one American who can't sleep at night. This book is also not available - anywhere!!! Perhaps for the reasons you cite...why aren't these people all in jail? Really wanted to read it.

I feel the same about Bin Laden. A trial preferable, but certainly the disrespect of the body and the lies surrounding the entire assassination do not seem professional or humanitarian even in the line of 'questionable' duty.

We've lost our way. And the drones...

Moshe Reuveni said...

I got the ebook off Amazon, but it could well be the book is unavailable to American markets.
It was unavailable for a while at Australia, where a court order ruled Hicks is not allowed to earn money off his terrorist's acts. I don't know if it's the passage of time or whether Hicks won his court case, but the book became available eventually.

Catherine Polumbus said...

I printed your review and just reread it in anticipation of sending it to a friend as I recommend this book to anyone who will listen. I paid $65 for this paperback as it was not 'available' in the US. Is a MUST READ. I hate Obama because he could "fix" Guantanamo even if he can't close it. JFK would have stopped it! He would have gone there, and if he couldn't he would have sent Bobby. Tears daily as hear on RT live about the torture of the forced feeding. Every doctor involved should loose his

Catherine Polumbus said...

loved your review. See above. ...license. All Mr Hicks went through seems now he could have so easily have been one of these remaining non charges cases being force fed. Not proud of my country.

Catherine Polumbus said...

You can find it at one bookstore in AU. Costs the earth! (Worth it). I think the NSA blocked our searches.