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Ten Years of Guantanamo: One of the Prison’s First Detainees Breaks His Silence

Ten Years of Guantanamo: One of the Prison’s First Detainees Breaks His Silence
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Written by Jason Leopold, Truthout

To mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison to house “war on terror” detainees captured after 9/11, Truthout will republish a handful of exclusive reports by Jason Leopold about the facility.

This exclusive interview with former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks was originally published on Truthout on February 16, 2011.

David Hicks was the Australian drifter who, years before 9/11, converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammed Dawood and ended up at training camps in Afghanistan the US government claimed was linked to al-Qaeda.

Hicks was picked up at a taxi stand by the Northern Alliance in November 2001 and sold to US forces for about $1,500. Hicks was detainee 002, the second person processed into Guantanamo on January 11, 2002, the day the facility opened. He is one of the small group of detainees who challenged President George W. Bush’s November 13, 2001 executive order authorizing indefinite detention, which led to a landmark 2004 Supreme Court case, Rasul v. Bush, in which the High-Court said detainees have access to federal courts to challenge their imprisonment at Guantanamo.

Hicks spent five-and-a-half years at Guantanamo, where he was tortured physically and psychologically. In 2007, he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of providing material support for terrorism in order to be freed from the prison facility. Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of Guantanamo, told Truthout in an interview  that Hicks’ war crimes charge was a “favor” for Australian Prime Minister John Howard from the Bush administration.

In October 2010, he published a memoir, “Guantanamo: My Journey.” The book is unavailable in the United States and is not available for sale on Amazon or other online booksellers to US readers. Last year, the Australian government initiated legal proceedings to try and seize an collect proceeds Hicks received from the publication of his book, alleging he violated the country’s law by profiting from a crime.

This is his first interview Hicks gave following his release from the “least worst place” on earth.

Please click here to read the main story about David Hicks, which includes exclusive interviews with former Guantanamo guards who he interacted with, one of whom was barred from reenlistment in the Army reserves for speaking to Truthout about his experience.

Truthout: Can you describe for me what you felt, emotionally, as you were writing the book and having to relive the torture you were subjected to?

David Hicks: At times I wrote as a third person, as if I was writing a chronological research report as part of my day job. At other times I had moments of vivid clarity. I would stop typing, sit back, and stare into nothing. The smells, sounds, the feeling of actually being there came flooding back as if had been transported to the camps of Guantanamo, clearly remembering what it was like to have actually been there.

TO: Solitary confinement appears to be among the worst of all the terrible experiences prisoners faced at Guantanamo. Can you explain what it does to you in a way that Americans, with no experience of such things, can understand what such isolation, especially with no knowledge of how long it will last, does to a person?

DH: Solitary and indefinite detention are two different things and are devastating when combined. Isolation has a powerful impact on the mind, especially when coupled with incommunicado detention as in GTMO. Everything outside the four walls is quickly forgotten. With no mental stimulation the mind becomes confused and dull. That state of mind is an advantage to interrogators who manipulate every aspect of your environment. They create a new world reality. Time ceases to exist. Talking becomes difficult, so when conversations do take place, you cannot form words or think. Even when hostility is not present such as during a visit with a lawyer or International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visit, coherent sentences become elusive and huge mental blanks become common, as though you are forgetting the very act of speaking. Everything you think and know is dictated by the interrogators. You become fully dependent with a childlike reliance on your captors. They pull you apart and put you back together, dismantling into smaller pieces each time, until you become something different, their creation, when eventually reassembled. Indefinite detention is draining and cruel. Only after five and a half years when I had been promised a date of release did the intense battle with insanity subside, and that I started to feel a little more normal again. I finally had some certainty and felt a glimmer of control return. I began to remember that another world existed and could once again dream about what that world used to feel like. Indefinite detention is draining because you are taken prisoner and thrown into a cage. No reason is given or any relevant information or explanation offered. There are no accusations, no court rooms or judges. Nobody informs “you will be here for X amount of time.” It’s an impossible situation to accept and every minute is spent silently asking and hoping, “this cannot last forever, I will have to be released soon‚”. But when the mind is so desperate, when you are on your last legs, you can’t let go of the thought that you could be released any moment, even if all seems lost and hopeless. In a strange way it is one of those things the mind latches onto for a source of strength, a reason to keep going: false hopes and dreams are better than nothing.

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Photo from Walt Jabsco via flickr

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8:03AM PDT on Apr 21, 2012

The worst part of this, is that men were held for a decade. Whether guilty of the crimes they were picked up for or not, every person should get a speedy trial. To languish in prison, not knowing what one's future is, is cruel and unusual punishment. I am not proud of our role in this practice.

2:45PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

Ann J., do you think of yourself as a good person?

"When these Mooselums are picked up, it's likely best just to shoot them while they are attempting to escape." Do you really think you're better than the people who flew those planes into the side of the World Trade Center? They thought they were justified, too. And here you are, spouting that they should be shot--simply because they were accused of something, then dragged away and locked up, to be tortured indefinitely.

If they were guilty, they should have been brought to trial, like any accused criminal in this country.

"Justice is blind" and "Innocent until proven guilty" is supposed to be a part of the American justice system. Not to mention a right to a speedy trial--by a jury of your peers.

And WE'RE supposed to be "the good guys."

Sandy E. asked, “Do they love us? Would they kill us if they had the chance?”

"Do they love us?" Why should they? Would YOU love someone who locked you up and tortured you? Is the person who does this to another human being worthy of love?

10:56AM PST on Jan 21, 2012

The book is forbidden, I thought there was a democracy in USA...

8:16PM PST on Jan 19, 2012

I don't understand how it's legal for his book to be censored/banned in the U.S. Makes me wonder what other fonts of information and truth we are being "protected" from.

Torture is terrorism. Those on high are guilty of ordering and knowing and hiding their war crimes. I hope he and the others can find some peace throughout their rehabilitation. I think I'll join Amnesty International now after reading this.

1:50AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

Weather you believe that Hick's was innocent or not this articulate clearly outlines how not only are the detainees who are suffering from this torture and treatment but also the foot soldiers who are their beyond their own control. This horrible crime of a prison needs to be shut down and those in true power and behind the making of it need to be punished for War Crimes themselves! Bush should be charged by every single nation that was effected and every single person(including Hick's) should be given compensation for suffering treatment that we'd never subject a person to under normal circumstances. You can't defeat terror with terror, it's just hypocritical and wrong.

8:51PM PST on Jan 15, 2012


1:03AM PST on Jan 13, 2012

Excellent article.

7:33PM PST on Jan 12, 2012

David Hicks was a political prisoner. The then Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his good buddy, George W. decided that he was to be a test case for the military commissions and US justice (?) system. Howard wanted it done quickly (?) as public pressure was mounting.The plea bargain was an attempt to get home and Hicks served a further 12 months jail on his return.

Not so the British "enemy combatants" who were repatriated to the UK and quickly released as Tony Blair insisted.

Although the now Labor Government is attempting to confiscate the royalties from Hick's book as the "proceeds of crime", which I gather is not available in the US (I wonder why), a respected
journalist, Leigh Sales has written a very well referenced and researched book called "Prisoner 002" which may be available.It may not be available in the US either as it is not very complimentary about the military commissions, permissible torture, the VP, etc. It too might have been censored.

7:18PM PST on Jan 12, 2012

AbdulAziz A. As to your comments, I realize that you are more confused than I am as to your post:
"Anne J, Micheal C: I wonder if you have a little piece of flesh inside you called a heart? I suppose you would never do to others what you expect do not expect for yourself."

What in to hell are you referring to? Remember, Ganja is illegal, it shouldn't be but under the current regime, they state that it should be so.

Have fun, please do not operate heavy machinery, fly small aircraft or operate computers.

Signed a Jew for Jesus

2:15PM PST on Jan 12, 2012

I would like to see GTMO closed and if it hadn't been for the Republicans I think it would have been close along time ago. I don't believe in torture, the war in Iraq or anywhere wlse for that mater. I think Bush and his gang should be tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity. Having said all that, if the editors of Care 2 think I am ready to believe a guy like DH you're crazy./

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