David Hicks: The 'Aussie Taliban'

A supporter of former Guantanamo Bay inmate Australian David Hicks protests outside the Supreme Court in Sydney To some, Hicks is a totem for the injustice and excess of the Bush administration's "war on terror"

Should David Hicks be allowed to profit from his memoir, Guantanamo: My Journey?

The book, published in October last year, provides an account of the five years that the "Aussie Taliban" spent as a detainee at America's controversial detention centre in Cuba, and details allegations of torture against his American captors.

Hicks, who famously wore the wristband Detainee 002, claims he was subjected to stress positions, sensory deprivation and music played at extremely high volume - ear-blasting tunes which reportedly included the theme from Bob the Builder.

The book has sold about 30,000 copies, and Hicks would have received a significant advance.

For the Australian government, the issue is clear-cut: David Hicks pleaded guilty before a US military commission of providing material support for terrorism and the book therefore comes under the Commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act, which prevents convicted criminals of profiting from their crimes.

For the Hicks family, the issue is also uncomplicated. They are arguing that his conviction should not be recognised by the Australian courts because the US military commission at Guantanamo Bay should not be recognised as a valid legal body. On this point, the entire case might ultimately turn.

Put simply: is the military commission legal, and, thus, is David Hicks a criminal in the strictly legal sense of that term?

The Australian Greens, which have labelled the prosecution a "political show trial," have argued that the US Supreme Court has already ruled that the military commission, are unconstitutional. End of story. But this ignores the crucial fact that the US Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in December 2006, which gave the commissions a statutory basis.

Hicks appeared in June 2007, after the legislation had come into effect, which, presumably, strengthens the Australian government's case. The Greens have also argued against the futility of an expensive legal process that will recoup a relatively small amount of money. They've also claimed that the prosecution smacks of censorship by another means: that it is designed to deter authors from publishing politically sensitive material.

Free publicity

What people think about the prosecution obviously will be determined to a large extent by what they think about David Hicks. To many on the left in Australia, he became a totem for the injustices and excesses of the Bush administration's "war on terror". His detention without trial at Guantanamo also violated a very elemental sense of Australian fair play. Controversially, the former jackaroo received a standing ovation when he made a rare public appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival in May.

For the right, meanwhile, the support he continues to receive offers more proof of the left's credulousness and instinctive anti-Americanism. How could it be, they ask, that a man accused of joining the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and who allegedly received weapons training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan could become a poster boy for progressives?

For some journalists and experts who have covered the post-9/11 beat, a central problem with the Hicks book is editorial rather than legal. It has been called a tell-all memoir, but the criticism is that the 35-year-old failed to deliver a more thorough account of his time in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As I have noted before, I share a publisher with David Hicks, Random House Australia, though I have never met him nor read his book. Like quite a few old Afghan hands, I was disappointed to hear that his time in Pakistan and Afghanistan did not receive more attention within its 450-plus pages.

The journalist, Sally Neighbour, who is an expert both on South Asia and militant Islam, gave it a scathing review. She called it "a self-serving, sanitised and disingenuous account".

Guantanamo was only part of the story, she argues.

"The other parts include how he got there in the first place, what he was doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan, why he was regarded as such an important catch and why he was held for more than five years while others were freed."

The government's prosecution has provided terrific free publicity for a book which has sold less copies than its publisher would have hoped. But should David Hicks reap any financial harvest?

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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Switch the shoe onto the other foot:

    Would Austrailians want someone to make money off of his potential plot to harm them?

    Why should terrorists be rewarded for evil?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I am not sure Sally Neighbour's review is up to much, the US indictments were never properly tested and new crimes were invented to cope with the lynch mob atmosphere prevalent at the time. Hick's "confession" has to be treated with a large grain of salt.

    Meanwhile Hicks has to live, he has been indicted of no crime in Australia and is therefore fully entitled to his royalties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Should Hicks be paid for his book?

    Yes. He should.

    Until he qualifies in a proper fashion under the law that would restrict this remuneration, then the court of public opinion has no jurisdiction.

    So sayeth me. Good day.

    Moz eating vegetables.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It's outrageous that people on the left hold Islamic extremists up as Robin Hood like figures of the terrorist world. Left leaning journalists here often suggest that there is some moral equivalance between military action in Iraq that goes wrong and the indiscriminate murder of civilians on public transport. It's crazy. Why does the left find it so hard to condemn Islamic extremism?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    "One mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter". Why in the west do we think we can empose/force our views on others belief/social structures. If you bring the crusades into the equation then they are only starting to even the playingfield- in my opinion all forms of terrorism are wrong, including our own illegal wars

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Surely there are two separate issues here? One, does he have the Surely there are two questions here. Does he have the right to publish the book, and two, does he have the right to profit financially from any criminal activities. He must have the right to free speech. Criminal guilt must be shown by evidence not detention without trial and torture or kangaroo court.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The US system of justice used to try Hicks has rightly been called into question, as was his treatment, and the fact that to get out of a poorly constructed justice system his only recourse was to plead guilty.

    This is and was a failure of the US to maintain fair justice and a failure of the Australian Government to recognise when justice had not been administered fairly. Both deliberate acts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    This legislation brought in by the Howard government smacks of neoconservative censorship.

    These repulsive laws were enacted in a bit to support a sickening war that was based on lies and rumours, that appear to have been deliberately spread, to secure US strategic interests abroad, in short, Oil and other Fossil Fuel supplies.

    Gillard is weak and should repeal this legislation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I am presuming that the Australian Commonwealth DPP will now also commence proceedings against Mark "Chopper" Read, former policeman Roger Rogerson and former MP Andrew Fraser, all convicted criminals who spent more time in Austalian jails than David Hicks, and all of whom have published books - so far unprosecuted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Since Davis Hicks has not had a trial yet, may I humbly suggest that he be taken to the Hague and tried as a TRAITOR OF HUMANITY.

    Al-Quada: Twin Tower Style terrorist group promoting violence murder and terror on innocent people without care of nationality or humanity.

    IF he is found to have had connection with / assisting Al-Quada,

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    "The government's prosecution has provided terrific free publicity for a book which has sold less copies than its publisher would have hoped." - the key sentence. I think I would not be too impressed with Hicks if I ever met him; however, if he'd published without all this ballyhoo, he would have made a modest amount of money and then been quickly forgotten

    Best wishes to the Bryants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    A Muslim picks up a weapon and kills.... what? Rabbits?

    With no idea who he was fighting WITH... he would not have known what he was fighting FOR.

    IF he was training as a Muslim Jihadist.. to kill people who are NOT Muslims or bad Muslims, the likelihood would be SOLDIERS.

    Rather than raise issue in the Australian DEMOCRATIC way it seems likely he became an EXTREMIST.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    David Hicks has been railroaded by the Australian establishment. I believe that he was an idealistic Muslim convert going to war to follow his beliefs. He had no idea that he was fighting for al Qaedia or the Taliban. What has happened to freedom of speech in Australia. Crime bosses here have written books and profited from them, without a noise from the establishment. Who are the real criminals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I've read the book and was appalled at the abuses carried out by the Americans. We need more books about this terrible situation, so that we can find out what awful things are in this so called "war on terror".

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Hicks will only profits if you buy the book, so stop winging and if you don't like it don't buy the book!
    If I believe coconut is not good for me I don't eat coconut, I don't forbid the rest of the planet of eating...

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Hicks was not found guilty under Australian law. There was nothing they could pin on him. There wasn't even an offence that the US military could pin on him other than "material support" for having trained with Al Qaeda. He spent five years in Guantanamo for that and then a further nine months in an Australia jail at John Howard's convenience.

    literary merit aside he has the right to publish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I would have more respect for Nick Bryant's journalistic integrity if he'd cared to mention that Sally Neighbour's "scathing attack" was written for a Murdoch newspaper.

    I am myself an expert on Afghanistan, and feel that what Hicks did there is pretty clear, and far less interesting than what the Americans--and company--did to him, and countless other innocent victims like him.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    jacbic: ..3): Guantamo Bay prison was an aberration which could only be dreamed up by American extremists
    You have no clue, do you? Guantanamo is Club Med compared to the dozens of Chinese black jails or North Korean gulags, where real torture and death occur daily.
    If Aussies buy his book, let him profit from it and let's see how much the fake gives to Islamic charities

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Just because one ends up as a guest of Bush & Blair at Guantanamo, does not make one a terrorist nor being a member of the Taliban make one a criminal. The fact this man was released shows there was in sufficienteveidence to charge him. Let the courts in Australia pass judgement- either he is a terrorist in which case he should be locked up and key thrown or he is innocent and let hime be


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