Review by Coral Wynter
Guantanamo: My Journey
By David Hicks
William Heinemann, 2010
February 25, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Everyone who is curious about David Hicks and his imprisonment at the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for six years, should read this book.
It is an honest account of Hicks’ life as a youngster and his torture at the hands of the US army. Contrary to what many of the mainstream reviews of Guantanamo: My Journey assert, Hicks goes into a lot of detail about why and how he first ended up in Pakistan, and then Afghanistan. He explains, in detail, the circumstances of how he became trapped in Afghanistan and his attempts to get back his Australian passport to be able to return home to Adelaide.
Hicks was like so many teenagers looking for adventure. He was also a confused young man, coming from a broken home when he was just nine years old and finding it difficult to find his place in his second family with his stepmother and stepbrothers.
Hicks fell in with a wild bunch of teenagers and left school early without having completed Year 9. This is the story of thousands of young men -- including many who went off to join the two world wars. In some cases, such as Hicks’, they were driven by a deep sense of social justice.
In the end, David Hicks was dogged by plain bad luck and bad timing.
The young Hicks loved fishing and the outdoor life. He was also interested in foreign affairs, and as life in suburban Adelaide became too crushing, he decided to become a jackeroo [farmhand] and travelled to the Northern Territory.
From there, Hicks ended up in Japan, training horses. He was a gifted handler of horses and became well respected for his training abilities. While in Japan, he met up with a young Israeli who encouraged him to see the world.
How often have many of us as a young person been inspired by strangers we have met and after long conversations been persuaded on a course of action?
It was in Japan that Hicks first saw a documentary on the war in Kosova. He was troubled by the Serbian-chauvinist attacks on the defenceless Kosovans, and decided to help their fight for independence.
Hicks explains this period in his life in detail and his experience with the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) and its eventual takeover by NATO forces.
Hicks returned to Adelaide in June 1999, inspired by his Kosova experience, keen to find out what the world was about. Why was there so much war and so much senseless destruction?
He became interested in the East Timorese struggle, and tried to join the Australian army. But he was rejected because of his low education level.
Unable to find meaningful answers to life’s questions, it was around this time that he became interested in Islam, mainly because he planned to travel to the Middle East. While he states that he was not looking for religion, the mosque he happened to visit had lots of international affairs magazines -- just the thing Hicks wanted to soak up.
Hicks decided to travel overseas again -- this time to Pakistan. He ended up in the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan as he had been inspired by the beauty of the mountains high up in the clouds.
Hicks travelled to Kashmir; his immaturity and naivety meant that he didn’t fully understand how the Kashmiri people’s struggle for independence was complicated by the Indian and Pakistani ruling classes political rivalry. It was only later on that he realised that Pakistan was using Kashmir as a weapon against India.
After a year away, Hicks found himself once again in Lahore, Pakistan, more than ever determined to get back to Australia. Then he heard of the attack on the Twin Towers in Washington. But he had left his passport in Afghanistan and so had to retrieve it. If only Hicks had accepted the offer of a false passport to get out of Pakistan, he may have escaped the horrors of what followed.
He didn’t realise the danger of travelling to Afghanistan, that the US had attacked and was supporting the reactionary Northern Alliance. He was trapped, caught by a soldier of the Northern Alliance and sold to the US army for US$5000.
The details of Hicks’ imprisonment and torture, and 18 months of solitary confinement is harrowing.
Any one of our sons, nephews or cousins could have got caught up in this horror story. The brutality of the US army and its violence against supposed enemies is unbelievable. Hicks’ accounts are supported by the words of top US army officials as well as by the US political machine, in particular George W. Bush.
Because of Hicks’ imprisonment in Guantanamo, conservative Australian PM John Howard was able to use him as a scapegoat and maintain the “war on terror” rhetoric. In the end, though, after a nationwide campaign for his release, Howard had to at least look like he was acting to get Hicks released. It seems though that Hicks did not realise how important his release was to Howard’s hopes for re-election.
After six years of imprisonment, Hicks was, understandably, on the point of suicide. What’s incredible is how he lasted that time. Given his mental and physical state, Hicks accepted a pre-trial agreement and was brought back to an Adelaide jail for another nine months.
Hicks maintains he had no interest in the Taliban nor the Northern Alliance, and that he never killed anyone, let alone children.
The first he heard of al Qaeda was in Guantanamo when his interrogators questioned him mercilessly. There were even stories he tried to blow up the airforce jet he was travelling in, by eating through copper wire, when he was transported as a prisoner to Guantanamo. All these lies were made up by Australian journalists, in the pocket of the Murdoch press.
Hicks is still so traumatised he finds it very difficult to face a crowd, under the lights of cameras, as it reminds him of the horrific interrogation techniques. He suffers from serious health problems and yet still receives no help from the Australian government.
Everyone who is interested in justice, human rights or fair play should read this book. It is extremely well written and edited with a heap of further reading provided.
Guantanamo: My Journey is an
window into the viciousness of the US war machine. It is also
a tribute to Hicks’ father, Terry Hicks, who led a prodigious
campaign for his son’s release. Terry Hicks’ experience of that
struggle is a book waiting to be written.