DAVID HICKS: AUSTRALIAN STORY SPECIAL
Tuesday 30th August at 8.30pm on ABC1
Captured in Afghanistan, detained for years in Guantanamo and then convicted of supporting terrorism, David Hicks has been one of the most controversial and reclusive figures in Australia – until now.
Over several months, award-winning Australian Story reporter/producer Helen Grasswill has explored the Hicks case, encouraging him to reflect on his past and challenging him to confront the ambiguities and inconsistencies in his story.
In this hour-long special, Hicks sheds light on his childhood and the steps that brought him to embrace Islam and become involved with fundamentalist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He opens up about his time in militant training camps and describes the conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
Helen Grasswill also asks the difficult questions about his motives and his actions. Hicks admits, for example, that motivational videos showing terror attacks were shown to trainees in Afghanistan, but says they made no impression on him.
In another exchange, Grasswill presses Hicks about his denial that he was aware of who ran the training camps he attended, despite the evidence of his own letters to his family which make it clear that he did know who was behind them.
Grasswill: “So that certainly indicates that you knew you were in camps of an organization headed by Bin Laden.”
Hicks responds: “It can sound like that, sure. To take it like that out of the context of what it’s placed in… Bin Laden did come numerous times as a guest speaker. And he seemed to have some clout because there were many guest speakers and when he came things were conducted very differently in the camp.”
It’s a response that doesn’t convince former Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer: “Well of course he came to the camps to speak, he’s the leader of Al-Qaeda. That’s what leaders do, they make speeches, he razzes up the troops, denounces the West and denounces apostates… I’m sorry, that’s not credible.”
As the 10th anniversary of the September 11 atrocities approaches, Hicks speaks about his reaction for the first time: “I think it was a disgusting act. So many people lost their life on that day… it’s hard to describe, when you’re watching something like that, that it’s even possible it could happen. I mean the devastation and the people jumping from the building and when they collapsed and, just, yeah, it was horrible.”
Grasswill also asks Hicks why he stayed in Afghanistan after September 11, and questions him about his activities there in the months leading to his arrest.
On torture, Hicks is clear. He claims to have been physically abused while in US military custody in Afghanistan, and to have suffered physical and mental torture once he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
His account is supported by international torture authority Professor Darius Rejali, who tells Grasswill: “Yes, I think David Hicks was tortured. Once you have been subjected to torture you will never be normal, ever. There will always be long-standing psychological and physical effects from torture.”
But Hicks has his sceptics. As Alexander Downer says in the program: “We asked the Americans to investigate and we sent our own consular officer there so he could see with his own eyes… But we saw no evidence of him having been tortured. But all people who’ve been associated with Al-Qaeda, who get captured, always claim they have been tortured. They always do.”
Grasswill also questions Downer on the validity of Hicks’ conviction under the US Military Commission. He says: “This guy was convicted in a court, duly established by the United States Congress, signed off by the President of the United States, and he was convicted. On his own evidence… he confessed his guilt.”
However, as Colonel Morris ‘Moe’ Davis, the US Chief Prosecutor who successfully prosecuted Hicks for the retrospective offence of Providing Material Support for Terrorism, says: “We wouldn’t agree to submit an American citizen to this process, so to try to argue with a straight face that, you know, that this is real American justice is a farce.”
As to Hicks’ credibility and his treatment by the US and Australian governments of the day, viewers will have the opportunity to decide for themselves after watching this powerful and intriguing Australian Story special, on ABC1 on Tuesday 30th August at 8.30pm. It will also be available on iview (abc.net.au/iview) shortly after the program has aired on ABC1.