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Profile: David Hicks
David Hicks was a participant or observer in the following events:
After being indoctrinated by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London (see 1999-2000), a recruit named Feroz Abbasi travels to Pakistan and then Afghanistan for military training. On his journey to Pakistan he is accompanied by James Ujaama, who had tried to help Abu Hamza establish a militant training camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000). Before departure, Abu Hamza told Abbasi he would train with the Taliban, and that they would then expect him to fight for them, to which he agreed. After staying at an Islamic Jihad guest house in Kabul, for which Abu Hamza reportedly has the number, Abbasi undergoes basic training at Al Farooq camp, including instruction in weapons handling, battlefield maneuvers, and explosives. The camp is also visited by Osama bin Laden, who lectures the new recruits on politics. Abbasi later returns to Al Farooq for a more advanced course, covering reconnaissance, guerrilla warfare, and ambushes. After this, Abbasi, “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, and another man are interviewed by al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Abbasi agrees to perform missions for Atef, which may include a suicide bombing. Abbasi then has even more advanced training, focusing on assassinations and running a sleeper cell, at a camp by Kandahar airport. At some time in September 2001, he explicitly volunteers for a suicide mission. However, he is captured by the Northern Alliance three months later. When caught, he has a grenade concealed on him and could detonate it, killing himself and the two Northern Alliance soldiers that captured him. He hesitates because he does not want to kill fellow Muslims, and the grenade is found. The Afghans then put him in prison in Kandahar for two days, before formally transferring him to the US military. He is held in a prison at Kandahar airport, and then flown to Guantanamo in Cuba, where he will be held for three years. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 201-202, 208-213]
Feroz Abbasi. [Source: BBC]The US government announces that President Bush has named six Guantanamo detainees to be tried before a military commission. They are David Hicks from Australia, Moazzam Begg holding dual British and Pakistan nationality, Feroz Abbasi from Britain, Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, both from Yemen, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi from Sudan. [US Department of Defense, 7/3/2003]
David Hicks. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Rasul v. Bush, involving Guantanamo detainees Shafiq Rasul, Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks, and Asif Iqbal, the Supreme Court holds in a 6-3 ruling that the US exercises “complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantanamo Bay, and thus, that the Guantanamo prisoners have the right to challenge their detentions before a judge. Under the habeas corpus statute, Justice John Paul Stevens writes for the majority that “aliens held at the base, no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts’ authority.” [Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al., 6/28/2004] It is unclear whether the court’s ruling is intended to extend to detainees held in other parts of the world, but given the court’s reasoning, it appears that decision applies to detainees both in Guantanamo and elsewhere. [New York Times, 6/29/2004]
Conservative Dissent - The three dissenting justices are conservatives William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Scalia says the decision is “an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field.” He acknowledges that the location of Guantanamo has in fact been intended to keep detainees outside of the reach of the judiciary. “Today, the court springs a trap on the executive, subjecting Guantanamo Bay to the oversight of federal courts even though it has never before been thought to be within their jurisdiction, and thus making it a foolish place to have housed alien wartime detainees,” Scalia writes. Stevens writes that it does not matter what status the Guantanamo inmates have regarding the question of whether they should have access to a US court. “What is presently at stake is only whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the executive’s potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing.” And this, he writes, they do. The case is subsequently sent back to a lower court to consider the prisoners’ claims. [Guardian, 6/28/2004]
Side-Stepping the Ruling - The media characterizes the decision as a rebuke for the Bush administration, which had argued that the courts have no right to interfere in the commander in chief’s decisions involving wartime policies. However, the decision says nothing about what rights the detainees might have once they get inside a courtroom, and therefore actually places little real restraint on the government. White House officials will decide that the detainees have no rights in the courtroom whatsoever—although the Court has ruled that they can file lawsuits, those lawsuits must be dismissed out of hand because the detainees have no right to actually present a case. The Republican-led Congress will later pass a law stripping courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo lawsuits. [Savage, 2007, pp. 192]
An artist’s drawing of Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi appearing before a military commission on August 27, 2004. [Source: Art Lien/ Getty Images]The number of Guantanamo detainees charged with a crime and singled out for trial by military commission reaches 15. However, for the time being, hearings are scheduled for only four of them—David Hicks, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan. All are charged with conspiracy, except for Australian David Hicks, who is also charged with attempted murder and aiding the enemy. [New York Times, 8/25/2004]
Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes, whose involvement with a set of documents known as the “torture memos” threatens his nomination as an appellate court judge (see November 27, 2002), telephones Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor at Guantanamo, to pressure Davis to charge accused Australian terror suspect David Hicks. Haynes is apparently attempting to do a political favor for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Haynes is advised that his interference is improper, but calls Davis a second time and suggests that Davis charge other prisoners along with Hicks to avoid any impression that the charges are “a political solution to the Hicks case.” Davis will resign in part because of pressure from Washington to politicize his prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
The British human rights organization Reprieve claims that the US has detained around 26,000 terror suspects in its network of secret prisons. It also says that several prisoners were held on a network of secret prison ships, both for detention and for interrogation sessions that were held “off the books.” The prisoners allegedly included American-born John Walker Lindh (see December 2001-January 2002) and Australian David Hicks (see July 3, 2003). Reprieve says that the US has used ships stationed off the Somali coast and off the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to detain suspects (see June 2, 2008), including the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu; up to 17 naval vessels have been used, the group says. The Navy admits that its ships have sometimes housed prisoners for short periods of time, but denies that its vessels are used as long-term floating prisons. “We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” says Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. Reprieve bases its claims on evidence from the US military, the Council of Europe, and testimony from a former detainee at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
Brandon Neely. [Source: Associated Press]A former Guantanamo guard, Specialist Brandon Neely, discusses his experiences with MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. He also gives a lengthier interview to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, run by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas at the University of California at Davis. Neely was at Guantanamo when the first prisoners arrived in January 2002, and stayed for some six months before being transferred. Later, he served in Iraq. Neely says he is still haunted by the memories of what he saw during his time at Guantanamo. Neely, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, is the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
'I Was Ready for Revenge' - When he learned that he was being assigned to Guantanamo, as he recalls, “We were told… these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.” Neely says that from the outset, he and the other guards were trained to be very adversarial towards the detainees: “We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world.… I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war.” He recalls the day that the first detainees arrived (see January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). When they arrived, Neely was startled: “Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters.”
Fear of Execution Provoked Resistance - Neely recalls one physical incident between himself and an older prisoner that happened the first day. When the prisoner resisted being forced to his knees, Neely slammed him to the cement floor; other guards “went ahead and hog-tied him.” The next day, as Neely recalls: “I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised.… And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.” However, his fellow guards were pleased, saying, “Man, that was a good job; you got you some.” Neely witnessed other physical abuses, including one instance when a prisoner was beaten by a medic for refusing to drink a can of Ensure. Neely later learned that the prisoner believed the Ensure to have been poisoned. He also witnessed a detainee beaten unconscious for calling a female guard a “b_tch.” Guards sometimes called prisoners “sand n_ggers.” Guards sometimes told detainees that their villages or countries had been bombed and their families were all dead. Sometimes the guards told prisoners that they could be executed at any time.
Lack of Respect for Religious Beliefs - Neely knows of at least one incident where a guard, searching a prisoner’s cage, threw the prisoner’s Koran to the floor, provoking outrage among the detainees. Neely says the guard swore that he threw the Koran aside without thinking. Other incidents were more deliberately provocative: loud rock music or the national anthem would be played during the morning call to prayer; soldiers would mock and ridicule prisoners during their worship services, soldiers would blast praying detainees with water and call the incidents accidents; prisoners were fed pork, a proscribed food, without being informed of what they were eating.
David Hicks: Humanizing the 'Monsters' - Neely spent a good amount of time talking with Australian detainee David Hicks (see December 2000-December 2001). Hicks repeatedly insisted that he had been in Afghanistan fighting well before the Americans arrived, and that he would never fight Americans. He told Neely that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces while trying to leave the country, and his captors sold him to the Americans for $1,500. Neely recalls: “Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer that we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me.… During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were.”
'Trial and Error' - Neely says: “There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn’t work, we’ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.” He tells The Independent: “As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.” [MSNBC, 2/17/2009; Independent, 2/18/2009]
Conclusion - Neely says: “I think everyone can agree that, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But—innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are—there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It’s wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything the United States of America stands for.” [Independent, 2/18/2009]
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