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Hicks: My Life of Terror and Torture

[CSHRA NOTE: On March 26, 2007, David Hicks entered into a plea agreement at his military commissions trial. This agreement allowed him to leave Guantánamo and serve only nine months of his seven year sentence in Australia. In this agreement, Mr. Hicks made the following statement: "I have never been illegally treated by any person or persons while in the custody and control of the United States. This includes the period after my capture and transfer to US custody in Afghanistan in December 2001, through the entire period of my detention by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I agree that this agreement puts to rest any claims of mistreatment by the United States."]


The Sydney Morning Herald
March 2, 2007
By Tom Allard

Mr Hicks's Guantanamo Bay cell.

Mr Hicks's Guantanamo Bay cell. Photo: WIRE

The Australian has described in detail the brutality of his US captors, writes Tom Allard.

AFTER arriving in Guantanamo Bay, David Hicks was shown a photo of a battered Mamdouh Habib and told he would be sent to Egypt for similar, brutal treatment if he did not co-operate with his US interrogators.

The startling new claim of abuse is one of many made by Mr Hicks in a document to be presented in May to a British court as he pursues British citizenship.

It also provides unexpected insights into Mr Hicks. He says he is no longer a Muslim, is studying to complete high school by correspondence, getting top marks, and planning to attend university.

The document's main purpose is to chronicle mistreatment and torture by US guards and interrogators, as experienced and witnessed by Mr Hicks. He says that his captors' strategy was to create a climate of extreme fear that Mr Hicks says forced him to "say anything" to his interrogators to avoid further punishment.

In a disturbing portrayal of his first few months in US custody, Mr Hicks relates how interrogators showed him a photo of a badly beaten Mr Habib, the Sydney man arrested in Pakistan in a sweep following the September 11 attacks.

The account says Mr Hicks was told that if he did not co-operate he would be "sent to Egypt" as well. Mr Hicks and Mr Habib knew one other from Afghanistan, but by then Mr Hicks had no idea of Mr Habib's fate.

Mr Habib was abducted by the CIA and sent to Egypt, where he says he was subjected to electric shocks and simulated drowning, attacked by dogs and repeatedly beaten.

The US President, George Bush, admitted last year his country had a policy of kidnapping terrorist suspects, but denied it involved the use of torture. The photo presented to Mr Hicks suggests otherwise.

Like Mr Hicks, Mr Habib, who is 50, made "confessions" under duress. He was never charged, and was released in 2005.

Mr Hicks was arrested by the Northern Alliance at a taxi stand in Afghanistan in November 2001. He was handed to the Americans, reportedly for a fee of $US1000.

He says his first interrogation by five black-clad Americans was accompanied by smacks on the back of his head when he was told after answering each question that he was a liar. His second interrogation involved six

soldiers sitting outside a window with shotguns trained on him while his interrogator shook violently and waved a pistol in his face.

Hooded and shackled, Mr Hicks was taken to USS Peleliu and then USS Bataan. Among his fellow prisoners was John Walker Lindh, a young American who fought with the Taliban.

As other prisoners were taken for interrogation, their screams clearly audible, Mr Hicks said he heard a US guard tell Lindh "this will not happen to you because you are an American". Lindh was not sent to Guantanamo Bay nor required to face a military commission trial.

Mr Hicks says that at first he was spared the beatings given to other detainees. But that changed when he was moved to USS Bataan.

Thrown into a helicopter, he and a group of other blindfolded prisoners were whisked to an undisclosed "hangar-like" location where he says they were forced to kneel for 10 hours while being verbally and physically assaulted.

He says he was repeatedly hit on the back of a head with a rifle, slapped on the back of the head, spat on, kicked, stepped on by soldiers, and punched in the temple. Three days later, the experience was repeated.

He began the long journey to Guantanamo Bay soon after.

But first there was an inspection and interrogation in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

He says he was stripped, shaved and covered in a mysterious liquid applied by sponge, photographed, and then had a piece of plastic forced into his rectum "for no apparent reason". As it was inserted, a US soldier taunted him, saying the device was "extra ribbed" for his pleasure.

Mr Hicks says his introduction to Guantanamo was one of silent, disoriented dread. Injected with drugs, hooded, tightly bound and wearing goggles and ear muffs and the infamous orange overalls, he was thrown into one of the small, open-air cages of Camp X-Ray.

For weeks, he says, he and other prisoners were forbidden to talk and permitted to lie in only two positions - prone and looking up, or sitting looking straight down. No other movement was permitted other than at meal times, and any deviations from the edict, or muttered conversations, were met with savage beatings by the guards.

In their cages, he says, prisoners had one bucket of water and another to be used as a toilet. They also were given a toothbrush and, if requested, a copy of the Koran.

Guards interrupted them every hour, supposedly to check if they still had their toothbrushes, but in effect to deprive them of sleep.

If prisoners covered their faces to block out the sun or floodlights as they tried to sleep, he says, they were woken by screaming guards kicking their cages.

At this time, Mr Hicks said, he had his first experience of Guantanamo Bay's notorious "Initial Reaction Force", or IRF, squads of half a dozen men in body armour who rushed recalcitrant prisoners and beat them.

In the account, Mr Hicks tells of a one-legged prisoner in a nearby cell who was set upon by guards and dogs. Mr Hicks was ordered to face the other way, but listened to the screams. When he was allowed to turn around, there was blood all over the cell.

In 2003 a military police officer, Sean Baker, who was impersonating a prisoner during a training drill, was so badly beaten that he was taken to hospital with brain injuries, and later suffered seizures.

His attackers were unaware he was an imposter and did not hear him utter the "safe word".

Mr Hicks says the bashings were handed out regularly by the IRF, giving prisoners the terms being "IRFed" or receiving an "IRFing".

The attacks happened if rules were broken or a guard's directive was not followed quickly. Since few inmates spoke English, Mr Hicks says, this was common.

He says the psychological intimidation was no less subtle. There were the isolation, the lack of exercise - he was permitted 15 minutes a week - and refusal to allow him access to a lawyer, consular official or his family.

Mr Hicks says inmates were often accosted while praying and copies of the Koran were repeatedly thrown in the toilet, a grave sacrilege for devout Muslims.

He says prisoners were often told they would never leave Guantanamo.

Mr Hicks says it was a "harrowing experience", one that unfolded before he had been subject to the intensive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay about his activities in Afghanistan.

"These incidents taught me not to resist either guards or the interrogators," he said, adding that Guantanamo personnel had "complete control over me".

Mr Hicks said that as the interrogations began he was moved from cell to cell. He was also injected with a substance that "made my head feel strange". His weight plummeted.

When he needed an operation for a double hernia, he was mauled by guards, strapped in four-point restraints and treated aggressively by medical staff.

He was allowed to have the operation in more humane circumstances after pleas to his interrogators and promises of co-operation.

Mr Hicks says that although he was treated better than many prisoners at Guantanamo, the mere knowledge of what was going on continued to terrify him.

The "IRFings" continued around him. Sometimes he would hear excruciatingly loud music from nearby interrogation cells.

The interrogations came almost to a halt by July 2003, 2½ years after he was detained. He was moved to Camp Echo, in which he spent his first eight months in virtual isolation.

At this time he had his first contact with an Australian consular official, a 10-minute meeting. He had still not seen a lawyer.

It is clear that during his interrogations Mr Hicks made admissions to his captors. He reportedly signed a statement written by military investigators saying that "al-Qaeda camps provided a great opportunity for Muslims like myself from all over the world to train for military operations and jihad.

"I knew after six months that I was receiving training from al-Qaeda, who had declared war on numerous countries and peoples."

In an interview with the Australian Federal Police, he admitted training in camps in Afghanistan, and firing bullets from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir into the Indian-controlled part. But he said he disapproved of the September 11 attacks, and returned to Afghanistan only to collect his belongings, but was forced to go to the Taliban front line.

US prosecutors dispute his explanation, although they concede he quickly fled the front line. There is no evidence he ever fired a weapon at coalition forces.

The US has repeatedly denied that it has mistreated prisoners. Two investigations into earlier claims of mistreatment by Mr Hicks were dismissed for lack of corroborating evidence.

But there has been consistent testimony from former prisoners and US agencies to the contrary.

Late last year, leaked emails from the FBI detailed complaints by its agents who had witnessed abuses at Guantanamo in 2003.

The interrogation methods provide no useful intelligence, but were "torture techniques" that would have "destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee", one agent wrote.

The document containing Mr Hicks's claims is being presented to a British court because his lawyers say any statements he made were obtained illegally through coercion and should not be admissable.

Mr Hicks, whose mother is British, was granted citizenship for several hours, but it was rescinded over concerns that he posed a risk to national security.

He is appealing against that decision, which was based on an interview he gave to the British intelligence agency MI5 in April 2003. He says in the document that he is no threat to British security.

He wants British citizenship because the Blair Government has brought its Guantanamo prisoners home, having refused to allow them to be tried by a US military commission. Mr Hicks faces such a trial by the middle of the year, in which coerced testimony from himself and fellow inmates will be permitted.

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